Note: This post uses religious symbolism for secular purposes. It is not a tool of proselytization.
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Matthew 7:13-14 New International Version (NIV)
The origins of political polarity and bivalent thinking are complex in nature and more numerous in number than can be summarized in one unified account. A key tenet of the narrow path is the acceptance that most successes and failures have multiple variables at play. While it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact genesis of the ideological schism (perhaps it always existed), the second half of the twentieth century in the United States is a great place to start. Within that time frame, there is one series of events that stands as one of humanity’s finest moments: the American Civil Rights Movement.
Few would doubt that the movement was a positive step towards unity or that it showcased the apex of human goodness. It showed why the narrow path is difficult and much less traveled than its broad counterpart. One of the most profound axioms that the movement proved was that the narrow path defies the faculties of common sense and requires a nimble moral constitution that can resist ideological seduction. Sometimes, a radical thinker’s philosophy, when taken as a whole, is problematic, but components of it are indispensable. Sometimes, the strategy that begins with restraint becomes corrupted. Like a dormant cancer, misguided intentions can destroy a once healthy philosophy. Whenever something that’s an a priori good (meaning its justification is independent of experience) is breathed into existence, the possibility of a perversion of that a priori good is also born.
The Civil Rights movement was an a priori good. Borrowing from Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience, which successfully freed India from British colonial rule, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other activists (including Rep. John Lewis – a present-day Georgia Democrat and a true American hero) advocated for racial equality and preached that a person should not be judged by the color of their skin, but by their integrity and moral constitution. Through this statement, Dr. King damned the future concept of identity politics to hell, along with the rest of its resulting bigoted philosophies.
Dr. King’s nonviolent philosophy is an archetypal manifestation of the narrow path taken. It was (and still is) counterintuitive to human nature. It was the modern embodiment of Christ’s mandate to turn the other cheek. The amount of character, self-control and, above all, love that black civil rights activists showcased to the world has been an inspiration to all members of all races. In many cases, the protesters’ pacifism in the face of savage violence ensured that they suffered insult, injury and even death. I would argue that most people on the planet have never met anyone with that level of moral character. Their crucible allowed the world to see divinity, personified through the activists’ refusal to repay hate with hate.
Genesis declares that man and woman were made in the image of God and Christ said that there is no greater love than to give up one’s life for the life of his friend. God’s image has no skin color and simultaneously has all skin colors. This isn’t a cute paradox (and is by no means an endorsement of a literal interpretation of scripture), it’s a consequence of God’s immutability and his inability to be defined by finite physical characteristics. In the book of Exodus, when Moses first encountered God near the Burning Bush, the Almighty characterized himself as “I Am That I Am,” which poetically describes the infinity of divinity in its unadulterated form. The Civil Rights Activists reflected, as much as humanly possible, that perfect image of non-corporeal divinity through the lens of (near) perfect love. We all saw it and we all celebrate it.
Sadly, Americans have a very short attention span; it brings to mind one of the world’s oldest and most powerful stories: the Hebrews’ deliverance from the Egyptian Pharaoh. The story begins with Moses, a Hebrew raised as a prince of Egypt after the Pharaoh’s sister plucked him from the Nile river. Moses leaves Egypt and heads to Ghosn, where he meets the Almighty on Mt. Horeb. After Moses speaks with the divine at the Burning Bush, the Hebrew God delivers the Israelites from the tyrannical Pharaoh. Using Moses as a conduit, God opens the floodgates of Heaven and drenches Egypt with horrendous plagues, but the obstinate Pharaoh doesn’t relent. Finally, after the Angel of Death silences every first born child, the Egyptian ruler surrenders and frees the Israelites. He quickly regrets his acquiescence and marshals his soldiers to attack the fleeing former slaves. The Egyptians catch up with the Hebrews just as they reach the shores of the Red Sea. Harnessing the power of his lord, Adonai, Moses parts the Red Sea and leads his people to safety. The moment the last Hebrew steps foot onto dry land, the walls of water collapse under the weight of God’s will and engulf the Egyptian army. The Hebrews then marvel at the power of God, just as America marveled at Dr. King and his followers for reflecting God’s love back to the world and for reminding the world that judging someone based on their skin color and not on their character deconsecrates and defiles the image of God housed within each of us.
God had led the Hebrews to safety. He had proved that he would protect his chosen people, and that they would prosper if they obeyed his commands. Despite the constant display of majesty and divine intervention, the Hebrews quickly grew impatient. God’s blessings weren’t materializing fast enough for their liking. Much like modern Americans, the Hebrews placed a high premium on instant gratification. They turned to idolatry and wickedness, which led to decades of wandering in the wilderness.
As time moves farther away from the 1960s, Americans have forgotten about the Civil Rights movement’s fundamental values. We’ve all seen their power. We’ve all felt blessed by the movement’s outcomes. We’ve all been reminded of their societal and moral utility every Black History Month. Nevertheless, some activist organizations, such as the self-proclaimed anti-fascist resistance group, Antifa, view Ghandi and Dr. King’s methods as naive and not proportional to the level of vitriol being directed at certain minority groups (it’s worth noting that what made Christ’s life and sacrifice unique is his continuous repayment of hate with disproportionate love). Antifa prefer force, which is a much more comfortable response to injustice, and value instant gratification over patience. They’ve seen the power of the divine, but they’ve been seduced by the idol of arrogant certitude.
- Southern Poverty Law Center. (2018). “Civil Rights Martyrs.” SPLC.