They Don’t Want You Seeing The Moral Arc Of The Universe

“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.” Theodore Parker, 1853

Over a century later, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King shortened this sentiment when he said: “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This distance between the two quotes shows how long an arc it is, but it also shows the undeniable moral progress that is made. Theodore Parks could not have predicted that within a dozen years after speaking these words that the institution of slavery would be abolished in the United States. But had he known, having some sense of the long arc of justice, he would have realized that real and meaningful change would not come so quickly. Without the need for foresight but being abundant in hindsight, Dr. King knew only too well that the promised and presumed change had not only failed to be brought to fruition but that it required a determined push of justice-minded people for it to ever come to pass. The moral arc does not shape itself, it is shaped by those who hold justice as a duty and even a sacred obligation.

To shape the moral arc of a nation and of humankind, it is necessary to look far enough behind us and far enough into the future to have some understanding of where we’ve been, where we wish to go, and what road we must travel to get there. And if we cannot see the future we desire, we must employ faith to guide our actions until we have furthered ourselves enough for future justice to fall within our sight.

We must never lose sight of this future justice, must never lose sight of a better world, the kind of world that makes all our struggles and sacrifices tolerable. However our backs might be bent by the labor of the present, we must still from time to time straighten them to cast our eyes upon the horizon and gain a sense of what lay beyond.

Those who crack the whip, those who reap the harvest of your present toil and deprivation would have you keep your eyes on the task at hand. The whip is used on those who raise their eyes to the horizon, who dare to imagine a different reality or a future where justice is attained.

Keep alert for those who are always placing the present in front of your face in order to prevent you from seeing the kind of future you long for. They are the kind who have been telling you the current election is the most crucial election of our lifetimes over and over again and who will never cease telling you that. They are the ones who encourage immediate gratification by doing what serves the system rather than delaying gratification in order to gain that which serves YOUR best interests. They are the ones who are doing their best to get you to mortgage your future for what you might have today. They are the ones who would have you invest in the laws of the moment rather than eternal laws. They label it common sense for you to take the simplest and most convenient path that they themselves have paved. They tell you that any deviation from the established path has a destination set too far in the future to have any meaning. Meanwhile, they set climate goals half a century away and tell you that someday, someday, they will release all the JFK Assassination files.

It is up to you to perceive — or at least imagine — this moral arc. And if you yourself are unable to envision a future where justice is achieved, at least find yourself leaders who do more than keep your gaze at the present and your head bowed in fear. You can but glance at your current crop of leaders and see that they have not bothered to do the work themselves, nor is their agenda leading to any perceivable future where real justice is at last attained. Reverend Martin Luther King knew only too well that to leave justice up to those who lacked vision of the future would be to damn us to the eternal injustice of the present.

Look beyond, and be guided by what you see. Look beyond, and paint the picture for yourself if no one else is doing it. Walk your way towards justice and a better world in faith alone if you cannot see the way. The moral arc of the universe bends toward justice, but it is not fashioned by those too short-sighted or subservient to look beyond the present. Dare to straighten your back to look beyond the present moment, though it becomes a target of the correcting whip.

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