Going Back

King stresses the importance of bringing back our old beliefs in compassion, honesty and integrity in his speech “Rediscovering Lost Values.” “May it not be that modern man has gotten on the wrong parkway? And if he is to go forward to the city of salvation, he’s got to go back and get on the right parkway.”

King stresses the importance of bringing back our old beliefs in compassion, honesty and integrity in his speech “Rediscovering Lost Values.” “May it not be that modern man has gotten on the wrong parkway? And if he is to go forward to the city of salvation, he’s got to go back and get on the right parkway.”

Rachel McCord, Staff Writer

“If we are to go forward today, we’ve got to back and rediscover some mighty precious values that we’ve left behind.” “Rediscovering Lost Values”, King’s first recorded sermon, was given at Detroit Second Baptist Church in Michigan. King began by stating the simple and well-known fact that our world is sick. There is no question that there is something wrong with the society that we live in, and King begins his speech by addressing this and recognizing the need to rediscover lost values.

King begins by pointing out what he believes to be the root of the decay of values in society: “The real problem is that through our scientific genius we’ve made of the world a neighborhood, but through our moral and spiritual genius we’ve failed to make of it a brotherhood.” He talks about how, over time, as we have grown in scientific and psychological knowledge, we have lost knowledge of the heart. The notion that people are nothing more than a number in society or a player in an experiment has become the norm.

King believed that part of the reason for our loss in values is our failure to realize the severity of breaking those values: “There is a moral universe, and there are moral laws of the universe, just as abiding as the physical laws. I’m not sure we all believe that. We never doubt that there are physical laws of the universe that we must obey. We never doubt that. And so we don’t just jump out of airplanes or jump off of high buildings for the fun of it. Because we unconsciously know that there is a final law of gravitation and if you disobey it, you’ll suffer the consequences. Even if we don’t know it in its Newtonian form, we know it intuitively and so we don’t just jump off the highest building in Detroit for the fun of it. Because we know there is a law of gravitation which is final in the universe. If we disobey it, we’ll suffer the consequences.”           His words help to open our eyes to something that seems obvious but few of us have ever truly thought about. People are born with a conscience, and, therefore, the majority of people will say that they believe there is a right and wrong; however, our actions do not always display this. That is not to say that we should be perfect; perfection is unattainable, but would our actions or occasional apathy towards immorality change if we truly believed that the moral laws of the universe were just as present and powerful as the law of gravity?

King tells the story of Jesus at twelve years old, while visiting Jerusalem. When his parents left to return to Nazareth, they left him behind, and it was a whole day before they realized they had forgotten him. The significance in King mentioning this story is that Jesus symbolizes goodness, righteousness and morality. Somewhere over the course of our lives and of history, we have left behind the values that were once a priority. Mary and Joseph did not intentionally leave Jesus behind, and, very often, we do not even realize that we are leaving anything behind either. When King refers back to Mary and Joseph, he is sure to mention that “they went back to Jerusalem and found him there, in the temple with the doctors of the law.” In other words, they went back. This is such a key part of what King is trying to communicate. Sometimes, in order to move forward, we have to go back.

When I think of childhood, innocence is one of the first adjectives that comes to mind. Innocence is the absence of apathy toward evil and stereotype. As a child, it is written in our hearts that it is wrong to hurt others. It is wrong to take a life and it is wrong to take someone’s lunch. As we grow older, though, life and circumstances slowly erode these values. Over time, the line between good and evil becomes so disintegrated that, if we allow it to, life makes evil seem “not so bad” and makes values seem “not so important.” While there are very important aspects of growing up such as maturity and responsibility, we should allow our hearts to always remain like a child’s. This is not something that comes naturally to many of us. However, it should be a priority to guard our thoughts each day and strive to think like an adult with our minds, but like a child with our hearts. We should continually remind ourselves to go back and rediscover those values of kindness, compassion and honesty.

Along with going back to rediscover lost values, it is important to recognize what our values actually are. In other words, we need to recognize that evil is not limited to the things that we do, but extends to our thoughts and the things that we allow others to do: “Nonviolence means avoiding not only external violence but also internal violence of the spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man but you refuse to hate him.”

King points out that values are not just things that are visible or done so that others may believe that we are “good” individuals. They are matters of the heart. He again humorously points out our tendency to be hypocrites: “It’s alright to disobey the Ten Commandments, but just don’t disobey the Eleventh: Thou shall not get caught.”

The exact opposite applies as well: when we do good, we should not do it “to be caught,” but rather, simply because we know it is the right thing. In other words, pursue righteousness even when and especially when no one is looking.

The fourteen year period between when King delivered this sermon to Detroit Second Baptist Church in 1954 and his assassination in 1968 saw King do extraordinary things, from helping to end the segregation on Montgomery buses, to leading the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a group that promoted nonviolent protests and the equality of all men. His influence and passion extended far beyond the Civil Rights movement though. King was an advocate for anyone who was mistreated, and even today, he is a symbol of justice obtained through nonviolence. While segregation has ended, and racism is dwindling, King’s concern for the decay in our values is still a very real problem. Let us follow King’s example and rediscover the values of respect, love, loyalty, honesty and humility.