Speaking of his ‘intellectual pilgrimage to nonviolence’ in terms of stages, Boston University provided Martin Luther King a stage that caused him to sift through some very strong theological and philosophical positions held by the great thinkers of the day. He writes, “Boston University School of Theology, under the influence of Dean Walter Muelder and Prof. Alan Knight Chalmers, had a deep sympathy for the pacifist position. Both Muelder and Chalmers had a passion for social justice. One never got the impression that this passion stemmed from a superficial optimism concerning human nature, but from a deep faith in the possibilities of human beings when they allow themselves to become co-workers with God.”
He chose Personalistic Theology— “the theory that the clue to the meaning of ultimate reality is found in personality. This personal idealism remains today my basic philosophical position. Personalism’s insistence that only personality —finite and infinite— is ultimately real strengthened me in two convictions: it gave me metaphysical and philosophical grounding for the idea of a personal God, and it gave me a metaphysical basis for the dignity and worth of all human personality.” He titled his dissertation “a comparison of the conception of God in the thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman” and while writing it, he delivered the sermon: “Rediscovering Lost Values” to the second Baptist Church of Detroit. Tucked away in the Boston University Chapter of his Autobiography is this sermon.
“The thing that we need in the world today, is a group of men and women who will stand up for right and be opposed to wrong, where ever it is. A group of people who have come to see that some things are wrong, whether they’re never caught up with. Some things are right, whether nobody sees you doing them or not.
All I’m trying to say is, our world hinges on moral foundations. God has made it so! God has made the universe to be based on a moral law. … This universe hinges on moral foundations.
There is something in this universe that justifies Carlyle in saying, “No lie can live forever.”
There is something in this universe that justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying, “Truth crushed to earth, will rise again.”
There is something in this universe that justify James Russell Lowell in saying,
“Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne.
With that scaffold sways the future.
Behind the dim unknown stands God,
Within the shadow keeping watch above his own.”
There is something in this universe that justifies the biblical writer in saying, “You shall reap what you sow.”
As a young man with most of my life ahead of me I decided early to give my life to something eternal and absolute. Not to these little gods that are here today and gone tomorrow. But to God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
I’m not going to put my ultimate faith in the little gods that can be destroyed in an atomic age, but the God who has been our help in ages past, and our hope for years to come, and our shelter in the time of storm, and our eternal home. That’s the God that I’m putting my ultimate faith in… The God that I’m talking about this morning is the God of the universe and the God that will last through the ages. If we are to go forward this morning, we’ve got to go back and find that God. That is the God that demands and commands our ultimate allegiance.
If we are to go forward we must go back and rediscover these precious values— that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.”
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