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January 19, 2009

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Joyless Moralist

I find it hard not to by cynical about MLK Day. Martin Luther King is perhaps the closest thing Americans had to a secular saint -- and yet, he was also a philanderer and a plagiarist, had significant communist connections (though it's hard to know how serious that really was since the hottest FBI files have been sealed until 2027), and some evidence suggests that he brutalized some of the prostitutes he hired. Rather ironic for the prophet of non-violence, no?

Certainly many aspects of the Civil Rights movement are rightly inspiring to us, and I agree with you that the United States is one of the least racist countries on earth, and that this is certainly something to cherish. (Though, as you observe, there are times when our greatest impediment is actually our extreme efforts to publicly cherish it... I'll always remember in this vein the pre-Cana class I took, wherein one of the organizers apologized to me that they no longer had enough interested couples to make it feasible to run a special class for "inter-racial couples." It took me a few seconds to make the connection as to why she was offering this random information... in fact my husband is of Asian descent, and I am white, but until that moment it had never occurred to me to think of us as an "inter-racial couple.")

Still, it seems problematic to me to laud so intensely, internationally or domestically, a person who was so clearly lacking in virtue and personal integrity. Obviously you couldn't tell the story of the Civil Rights movement without making reference to King, but I'd rather celebrate the movement than the man.

Nathan Smith

Hmm. I'd heard those rumors, I was never sure what to make of them. I wonder: with the exception of saints whose lives are recognized and admired by the religious and deliberately publicized to set an example of good behavior to others, are famous people disproportionately bad? I'd have to know more about the timing of these misdeeds to judge... well, except the prostitutes and brutality, that's really damning if it occurred. Plagiarism and even philandering might be forgivable if they occurred early and there was some repentance or turning away from them later... Hmm. Troubling.Hmm. I'd heard those rumors, I was never sure what to make of them. I wonder: with the exception of saints whose lives are recognized and admired by the religious and deliberately publicized to set an example of good behavior to others, are famous people disproportionately bad? I'd have to know more about the timing of these misdeeds to judge... well, except the prostitutes and brutality, that's really damning if it occurred. Plagiarism and even philandering might be forgivable if they occurred early and there was some repentance or turning away from them later... Hmm. Troubling.

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