In his sermon critiquing the Vietnam War, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. noted a strange inconsistency and hypocrisy. People lauded him for his stance on non-violence against white oppressors and denounced him for his opposition to the Vietnam War, which involved killing “little brown Vietnamese children.”
There’s something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that will praise you when you say, “Be non-violent toward Jim Clark,” but will curse and damn you when you say, “Be non-violent toward little brown Vietnamese children. There’s something wrong with that press!”
King called on the nation to undergo a revolution of values, which moves us beyond tribalism, racism, classism and nationalism to an affirmation and embrace of all humanity:
A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing, unconditional love for all men.
For King, all people matter—not simply some kinds of people, not simply wealthy people, not simply all whites and perhaps some blacks, but all people, including all black and brown people, and all the nations that we humans represent. It is worth noting that Dr. King’s critique came during the height of the Cold War, which spilled over ideologically into the Vietnam War. The Cold War involved among other things competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, including the space race. The two superpowers could easily transfer research developed in the space industry to military uses. They also sought to demonstrate their superiority over one another through their race into outer space:
… the military benefits of the Space Race were not the only driving force behind the American and Soviet attempts to explore space. The populations of both countries took a great interest in their respective space programs and it was a useful way for both superpowers to demonstrate their superiority. Nikita Khruschev, the Premier of the Soviet Union, used the country’s early success in the Space Race to claim that the “economy, science, culture and the creative genius of people in all areas of life develop better and faster under communism.” The American President John F. Kennedy, on the other hand, is quoted as saying “Everything we do ought to… be tied in to getting on to the Moon ahead of the Russians… we hope to beat the USSR to demonstrate that instead of being behind by a couple of years, by God, we passed them.”
The movie “The Martian” gives us a glimpse of how space exploration need not be divisive. Indeed, it may assist us in moving beyond “sectional” loyalties to those that embrace all peoples. In the movie, the Chinese assist NASA in seeking to rescue astronaut Mark Waitley from the abandoned mission on Mars. It is worth noting that one “Martian” movie commentator indicates that the Chinese space program is a “spin off” of the Russian space program “and uses similar modules to this day.” The whole world is invested in the mission to Mars, not just one or two nations. As others have argued, if we could come to realize how unique we and our planet are, perhaps we would be in a better position to cultivate unity rather than give way to hostility involving tribalism, racism and nationalism on what Carl Sagan called this “Pale Blue Dot”.
This brings us to the title of this post. Hopefully, without resorting to tribalism and seeking to subjugate intelligent life that we might find on other planets, we would come to cherish all of human life here by accounting for life there and how we might be able to sustain human life on spheres like the red planet—Mars. All too often, we protect our kin and the larger groups with which we are aligned. It is part of our biological makeup as humans, according to the father of sociobiology, E. O. Wilson. While competition is good for sports, we need to move beyond that form of competition expressed in war. Such biological urges to face off with “the other” (whoever he or she or they may be) must give way to the better angels of our nature. If we could come to realize how much we are alike as humans, and that there is not this or that race, but one race, perhaps the race to space would truly become a race for the human race as the movie “The Martian” portrays.
The preceding reflections should not be taken to suggest that we can ignore the problems on this globe and escape to another planet. Otherwise, we will simply bring our dirty laundry with us in our baggage. By accounting for the possibility of life out there, we should take all the more seriously life here in all its fragility, and consider strategically how to cause it to flourish. Among other things, we need to move beyond racism that turns people into things, and urgently move from a culture of things to people, as Dr. King exhorted in the same sermon on the Vietnam War. We must never objectify and denigrate some for the benefit of others. For example, it is not just white people who matter, and not just some black or brown people who matter, but all people of different colors, genders and ages, including Travon Martin, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, among others.
So, what can be done? Regarding the allusions to these and other young African Americans who were shot to death, we must continue to move forward with concrete ways that demonstrate that “Black Lives Matter” here on Earth. I close with Lisa Sharon Harper’s reflections in her article written to our Evangelical tribe. She concludes with four principles that are found in the Black Lives Matter movement, and that while secular, resonate with the Scriptures, which champion equity and contend against injustice: (1) “The Rejection of ‘Respectability Politics;’” (2) “Promotion of Young Black Leaders;” (3) “Fundamental Focus on Structural/Systemic Change;” and (4) “Nonviolent Resistance of Unjust Systems.”
The reader is encouraged to read and account for Harper’s timely article, “Four Things Evangelicals Should Know About Black Lives Matter,” which appeared in print on January 15th. As we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King this weekend, we must also celebrate the work of others who champion his legacy. And as we move forward with the exploration of the possibility of life on other planets, may we continue to explore the ethical implications of the fragility of life on this planet and how we must work to make it more inhabitable for people of all colors.
http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/MRC/pacificaviet/riversidetranscript.html; Note: James Gardner “Jim” Clark, Jr. was the sheriff of Dallas County, Alabama at the time of the violent arrests during the 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery.
Reference the following interview with E. O. Wilson in SPIEGEL Magazine: http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/spiegel-interview-with-edward-wilson-on-the-formation-of-morals-a-884767-2.html.
C. S. Lewis writes about our diabolical propensity as humans to subjugate others, and how it is alive and well in our exploration of other planets. See his Space Trilogy (New York: Scribner Book Company, 1986).