Strength to Love

Martin Luther King Jr.

Book cover

I found this book of King’s sermons to be very moving. I started thinking about reading it because of the whole tiff-taff over the fake King quote circulating on Twitter after the OBL assassination. (Despite not being a direct quote from King, it certainly expressed a sentiment consistent with his philosophy, and was more or less a paraphrase of a passage in this book.)

Before reading StL, I was of course familiar with King in a cultural sense and had read a couple of his writings such as “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” but none of his more intellectual or religious work. If you are the same way, I would urge you to read StL, particularly if you consider yourself a Christian. It evinces a depth of intellectual engagement (both theological and philosophical) that adds a lot of perspective to the work King did in the world.

One intellectual concept that particularly stuck with me, which King actually attributes to someone else (Harry Emerson Fosdick, for those of you keeping score at home), is the distinction between enforceable and unenforceable obligations, which he discusses in the context of the story of the Good Samaritan. Unenforceable obligations, writes King, “concern inner attitudes, genuine person-to-person relations, and expressions of compassion which law books cannot regulate and jails cannot rectify” (37). The story of the Good Samaritan is significant because of his commitment to unenforceable obligations. (King, obviously, also cared a great deal about enforceable obligations!) I feel like discussion of unenforceable obligations is largely missing in modern political discourse, and that’s part of why I find significance in reading King, Teddy Roosevelt, Stanley Hauerwas, and others who pay attention to virtue.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars