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Martin Luther King Day, 2014
by Fred F. Farkel, Monday, January 20th, 2014


Guest editorial by Stan Stahl, Ph.D.

I publish 6 or so essays a year in honor of the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, etc. My objective is to write in ways that bring us together around the ideals of America, rather than in ways that separate us. I am proud that readers often tell me they find my essays inspiring, for it means that I have captured that inspiration which is America.

My website The Agnostic Patriot provides a platform for my essays, which, as my readers know, are about America’s search for common ground as we the people continually co-create America’s more perfect union.

Why the name The Agnostic Patriot? My sole axiom is the Declaration’s self-evident assertion that we are all created equal. On all other matters, I strive to be politically agnostic.

America to me is not about “winning;” it is in steering that course of liberty between the tyranny of the King and the tyranny of the mob.

Like my essays, The Agnostic Patriot is a work in progress. In addition to holding all of my essays since 2005. I continue to populate a “Favorites” page, containing various writings and links that I find particularly meaningful. I also have a “News & Commentary” page which contain my “Let Freedom Ring” Twitter feeds broken into categories ranging from politics to philosophy. I have recently added a page to hold the writings of my son, Jonathan, as he thanks the veterans of the vietnamese war, one soldier to another. His is a reminder that freedom is never free.

This essay begins my 13th year of writing these freedom essays. I wrote my first essay on the Thanksgiving after 9/11, giving thanks to the the fundamental principles of the American dream: freedom, liberty and a civil body politic.

I hope you find this essay of interest. If you do, I encourage you to forward this email to your friends and colleagues. If you don’t, please don’t hesitate to unsubscribe. (A link for doing so is located at the bottom of this email.)

Cheers –


 If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against.
The struggle between “for” and “against” is the mind’s worst disease.

– Sent ts’an, c. 700 C. E.


Martin Luther King Day, 2014

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.

Martin Luther King
Letters from a Birmingham Jail

Rita and I read these words again last September in London, etched on a glass panel above the entrance to the library of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. Etched on this same glass panel are also written “The first duty of man is the seeking after and the investigation of truth” and “Justice is truth in action.”

Sometimes it’s easy to find truth, to know what justice requires. The truth in Birmingham Alabama in 1963 when Martin Luther King wrote those words while a prisoner in the Birmingham city jail was easy. Fifty-one years ago in Birmingham, Alabama, Blacks could not drink from public water fountains, could not sit at “whites only” lunch counters, could not attend the University of Alabama, could not vote, and could not peacefully demonstrate for their freedom. This was not justice.

Sometimes it’s not so easy to find truth, to know what justice requires. Sometimes it’s hard. And — truth be told — we are wired to make it hard on ourselves.

Take for example the recent brouhaha over Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson. Robertson, you may recall, said in an interview in GQ that he believed homosexuality to be a sin and that he never saw the mistreatment of any black person growing up in Louisiana before the civil rights era.

The left, as expected, took Robertson to task for being homophobic and incredibly naïve about race relations in Louisiana in the 1950s. The right, also as expected, accused the left of denying Robertson his right to free speech, his right to his own opinion – good, bad, foolish or wise — arguing as they regularly do that political correctness is driving honest differences of opinion out of the public square.

A&E – the TV network that broadcasts Duck Dynasty – played its part, first “caving to the left” by dropping Robertson from the show and then “caving to the right” by bringing him back.

So where is truth? Where is Justice? Would it be just to take Phil Robertson off the air? Or is justice better served by leaving him on the air? [1]


If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against.
The struggle between “for” and “against” is the mind’s worst disease.
Sent ts’an, c. 700 C. E.

Two hundred thousand years of evolution — from our origins in Africa to our spread across the planet — have designed into us certain traits. Each of us feels connected to whatever “group” we happen to belong to. We also feel separate from – disconnected from – other groups.

All of us come into the world prewired to prefer whatever group we belong to over other groups. The preference isn’t conscious; we don’t rationally consider our own group and come to the objective determination that it’s best. We feel our group is the best and then construct ‘arguments’ proving we are the best. Basically, we delude ourselves into believing that our group is best.

You can test your own racial preferences on the website [2] It’s a 5-10 minute test that’s been taken by thousands of people and it’s able to tell you the extent to which you prefer Europeans over African Americans or vice versa. I recently took the test and — yes — I have a preference for one race over another. All of us do.

What this means – whichever race one prefers – is that we all notice race – we pay attention to race – we profile people based on their race. We do it pre-consciously … but we do it.

But then, how can it be otherwise? It’s inevitable.

Imagine you’re living 185,000 years ago, somewhere in Africa. One morning you see the tribe who lives across the river swimming over to your side. Do you wave a welcome to them? Do you say to your wife: “Mabel. Look who’s coming across the river. Why don’t you make some of your nice ostrich omelets for our guests?” If you do, thwack!!! You’re dead and Mabel’s DNA – if it survives at all – only does so in combination with the people who just killed you.

The fact that you and I are here means that our ancestors paid attention. They knew who was in their group and who wasn’t. If others came along who weren’t in the group and who were perceived to be a threat, then our ancestors had no trouble killing them. Our presence here today means our ancestors won these battles.

These are our roots. Racial — and other group — preferences are built into who we are. We spend a lot of time denying that we have these racial preferences, pretending to be race neutral in our post-racial Obama age. But it’s not true. We are very race conscious.

So rather than deny it, let’s admit it. Let’s acknowledge that we are race conscious and that our own evolution blinds us to this truth. When we do, we turn it into a strength.

Acknowledging the truth of our own racial preferences allows us to appreciate how difficult it is for us to accept King’s truth that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. True as these words are, we just aren’t wired to believe them. We have to work at it.

Magic happens when we work at accepting this, When I stop feeling the need to defend my gut-level instinct that Phil Robertson is dangerously wrong; when I allow myself to acknowledge that he and I are woven together in a single garment of destiny, that’s when I come to appreciate the deep truth that whatever affects Phil’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of his happiness affects my own right to life, liberty and the pursuit of my happiness … And conversely; whatever affects my rights affects his. It’s no longer about my side ‘winning’ or his side ‘winning;’ now it’s about finding ways to live together in peace, harmony and justice, each exercising our inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Martin Luther King articulated this deep moral truth — not just for his own people in their struggle for justice — but for all people who feel they don’t belong, who feel that this is someone else’s world, that they just get to live here.

We are — all of us — caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Blacks and Whites. Straights and Gays. Bible-quoting duck hunters and atheist vegans. Whatever affects one directly affects us all indirectly.

This can’t just be my world. Nor can it just be your world. The experiment in self-government that is America, the meaning of We the People and E Pluribus Unum, the promise of the Blessings of Liberty require that we make it our world, our destiny.

Let Freedom Ring.

[1] I encourage you to take a look at Michael Sandel’s Harvard course entitled Justice.

[2] is a collaboration among social psychologists who study morality and politics. Jonathan Haidt’s recent book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion” explores this emerging field. I highly recommend Haidt’s TED talk on the same topic:  The moral roots of liberals and conservatives.


Copyright © 2014. Stan Stahl, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay provided the essay is reproduced unedited and in its entirety, its source is identified as The Agnostic Patriot at and this copyright notice is included.

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