NOTE: This post is my own opinion. It has not been reviewed by or endorsed by any insitution of the Bahá’í Faith. For official information on the Bahá’í Faith, please see these sites. U.S. Bahá’í website and Bahá’í International Community website.
I’ve been bored the past week or so. Anniversaries of significant dates can bring out the boredom in me. It’s all the unoriginal things people write and say, in this case around Martin Luther King and the commemmoration of his death. It is obligatory to wax poetic about “King’s legacy” and the “dream” and to analyze “how far have we come and how far we still have to go.” If I were a gambling man, I would bet someone a nice sum that I could compile a speech or article about Dr. King using nothing but strung-together clichès, and get compliments about it.
Now don’t get me wrong. I admire Dr. King and I hope and pray for the further development of his legacy. I just get suspicious when people across the entire political spectrum can invoke King’s “legacy” or a few cherry-picked phrases in order to gain some kind of political credit. When you turn a man and his legacy into clichès, you make him safe and boring. And Martin Luther King, in his day, was neither safe nor boring.
King was not assassinated so that school children could write reports about his dream and his legacy, or to make him an icon for fireplace mantles, often next to JFK. He was killed because he was dangerous. That now much-loved dream was a nightmare to many. If justice flowed and righteousness cascaded, that would threaten the unjust and scourge the wicked. The fulfillment of that dream would have ended the racial power and privilege so vigorously amassed and fiercely defended. The unfolding of King’s legacy was chipping away at the entire social order, and his moves into economic issues and anti-war activism expanded the threat. In an op-ed piece in the the Sunday New York Times, King biographer and historian Taylor Branch wrote: “The St. Louis Globe-Democrat called Dr. King ‘one of the most menacing men in America today …’ ” At least one newspaper publically acknowledged King’s dangerousness.
Why was Mahatma Gandhi assassinated? He, too, was a threat to the social order, indeed, the cultural and religious order. He was killed by an orthodox Hindu, not an agent of the British Empire, although the empire had fought him and persecuted him for decades. Gandhi was a champion of the downtrodden, of the Untouchables; he did not respect the ancient, established order. That made him a threat. With India’s independence won, Gandhi’s continued presence posed a threat to the interests of many within India. Gandhi — that paragon of non-violence — was more dangerous than an army with guns and bombs.
Let’s discuss even greater, more dangerous men. Why was Jesus Christ crucified? He, too, was a threat. He was a threat to the Jewish hieararchy and a threat to the Roman Empire and its social and political order. Anyone who liked the established order didn’t want this Jewish agitator to gain a following. This man who counseled turning the other cheek, this healer, this friend to prostitutes and all the lowly and despised, was more of a threat than armed revolutionaries.
Why did the Arabs make war on the Prophet Muhammad — peace be upon him — and force him into exile? Again, he threatened the established order and all its arrangements of power and privilege. The Messenger of God and his followers exposed the decadence into which the Arabs had fallen. That made him a threat to many.
Likewise, when The Bab arose in Persia in the 19th century and preached a new revelation, he threatened the power and privilege of the mullahs, and endangered the social order. He was imprisoned and eventually shot by firing squad (of that incident I’ll have more to say in a future post).
The Bab announced the advent of Bahá’u’lláh. He, too, was persecuted: tortured, robbed of his considerable wealth, and exiled repeatedly. That mild-mannered, slight man was a threat to both the Persian and Ottoman empires. Thousands of his followers were tortured and murdered. That persecution continues today in Iran. Baha’u’llah was dangerous. Those who followed him believed such dangerous things as harmony of science and relgion, indepdendent inquiry into truth, equality of men and women, the oneness of God, religion and humanity — and a new revelation from God.
And so, next January 15 or April 4, or whenever the matter comes up, don’t bore me with more clichès about a pretty dream and a benevolent legacy. Excite me, stir me up, agitate me — threaten me, with tales of the dangerous man who demanded that Christians be Christians and that America live up to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. On Easter and Christmas or any other day, tighten my guts with stories of that dangerous, yet meek, Jewish man who scared the mightiest empire on earth — and eventually conquered it.
I am a Bahá’í. I follow a dangerous man, Bahá’u’lláh, who came to unite humanity, who came to drag us from the dungeons of our materialism, who hauls us kicking and screaming from the passions and divisions of our beloved politics. He brings a world in which “none may exalt himself over another.” He promises a future in which “these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars, shall pass away and the Most Great Peace shall come.” He gives a global society: “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.” If nationalism is in your soul, and you don’t have time for the duties of citizenship, then that’s a dangerous thing.
I’m working to bring about these dangerous things. But I come, as my Lord and Master Bahá’u’lláh commands me, in love, with open arms.