On Resistence and Metaphysics

As we struggle toward a better future in America in the arena of race relations, it has often been pointed out how Martin Luther King, Jr. gets weaponized. King's non-violence, rooted in Christ's call for enemy love, is often used to silence or critique modern movements like Black Lives Matter.

It is true that we need to be reminded over and over again that King was not the tame figure we've enshrined in our cultural consciousness. King was a dangerous man, an agitator. Let us keep reading "The Letter from a Birmingham Jail" to remind ourselves of this.

That said, I do think it important to pay attention to the metaphysical, theological shift that has occurred among modern movements seeking racial equality and justice.

For example, I'd like to compare the metaphysics of King to Ta-Nehisi Coates.

King, we know, believed in the Christian metaphysical worldview. The American civil rights movement was rooted in the black church. King always saw himself as a minister of the gospel. Local churches organized the movement.

King's non-violence flowed out of this worldview and its hopeful eschatology. The arc of the universe bends toward justice. Because of this, one could give one's life away as a vital contribution toward bending that arc.

Christian theologians have long made that point, that non-violence and eschatology go hand in hand. If the arc of the universe is not bending toward justice, and your death doesn't contribute toward that future, then you should fight to preserve your life. It's as simple as that

If this is the only life you have, and your death won't matter, eschatologically speaking, then you shouldn't throw it away.

That is precisely the argument Ta-Nehisi Coates makes in Between the World and Me. Because Coates doesn't believe in God he has an ambivalent relationship with the American civil rights movement. Having rejected the Christian worldview, Coates cannot accept King's non-violence or hope.

This is what makes Ta-Nehisi Coates so grim and hard for many to understand when they try to fit him into King's worldview. As Ezra Klein recently wrote, "Ta-Nehisi Coates is not here to comfort you." And I'm not suggesting that he should. And it is not, and will never be, my place to tell a black person what to do with their body in a white supremacist society.

My point is that there is a difference between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Martin Luther King, Jr., and it is rooted in eschatology. King and Coates have very different metaphysical worldviews, worldviews which inform their attitudes toward non-violence.

Without God, non-violence isn't really an option, not for race relations or for anything else. On this point, Coates diverges from King. As Coates said during his appearance on Klein's podcast, "I think these things don't tend to happen peacefully."

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