Monday, January 18, 2016

Should Historic Figures Be Untouchable?

It is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in America and that means that among other things banks and government offices are closed along with schools. It also means that my social media world is littered with memes and quotes from King. One thing you almost certainly won't see is any hint of critical examination of King. MLK is in the historic trinity of recent historical figures who are untouchable along with "Mother Teresa" and Gandhi. You are simply not permitted to examine with a critical eye any of these three even though all three have parts of their life that don't fit into the prevailing narrative. For example, try bringing up the writings of Teresa where she expressed serious doubts or point out the silliness of the Gandhi quote about liking Christ but not His followers. You are sure to get a frothing at the mouth response almost immediately: "How dare you!". The carefully crafted and infinitely repeated image of each is inviolable in our society. I find this practice to be dishonest and ultimately cheapening to the true value that they have for those who come after them.

For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a complex figure and was more than a collection of pithy sayings. He was a flawed man like all of us, perhaps even someone who could be described as deeply flawed. That reality and complexity doesn't take away from what he taught and accomplished, to the contrary that very reality makes what he accomplished richer. He wasn't a perfect man dispensing inspiring talks like a sound-byte ATM, he was a real man with real flaws who, in spite of that reality we all share, was able to make a lasting impact on our nation. It should inspire others that they can make an impact even if they are not morally pure and above reproach. None of us can ever aspire to meet the phony image of King but all of us can make a difference in spite or (or perhaps because of) our flaws just as he did.

In the same way we can examine critically the movement he was a major part of , the civil rights movement, and see where it has stayed true to the vision he espoused and also where (more often in my opinion) it has spiraled out of control and become a self-perpetuating movement that is mostly concerned with cashing in on racial animus, even if that means standing in the way of real progress toward reconciliation. A great deal of mischief has been perpetuated by those who have hijacked the civil rights movement and hiding them behind the historical caricature of King has done great harm to the cause of real civil rights and even more so it has deeply damaged the very people that King fought on behalf of.

The great men and women of history, from Martin Luther to Abraham Lincoln to Winston Churchill to Martin Luther King Jr. were all real people. We who have come after them deserve and deeply need to see them as real people with real flaws rather than historical fictional characters. An honest assessment of these people is of far more value than offering up a sanitized version that no real person could ever have hoped to achieve. So go ahead and ask hard questions of our most beloved historical figures. If they can't hold up to examination they probably aren't really worthy of adoration in the first place.

1 comment:

Aussie John said...

The idolatry of historic figures has caused the Christianity of today to become a mindless repetition of what has always been, without the Berean wisdom being practiced (Acts 17:11). It is no wonder we hear the famous last words of the church being offered so often,"We never did it that way before".