People are marching in protest in hope of a turnaround in human consciousness and in our Daily Meditations we are calling on the wisdom of two ancestors in particular, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thomas Aquinas, to offer some wise guidance as to the deeper issues on display.

“Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream,” speech during the Aug. 28, 1963, march on Washington, D.C.” From; on Wikimedia Commons.

Aquinas links the common good to civil disobedience when he says:

Law is nothing else than an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by one who has care of the community and has promulgated the law [to the community].  

Notice that for him healthy law has the common good as its focus and even definition.  Working for the common good transcends mere individualism.

What is the opposite of healthy law that works for the common good?  Aquinas says:

tyrannical law, because it is not according to reason, is not a law strictly speaking, but rather a perversion of law.  Unjust laws are acts of violence rather than laws…Such laws do not bind in conscience…Laws of this kind must in no way be observed.

Raleigh, NC police take a knee in solidarity, side by side with Black Lives Matter protestors, 6/2/2020. Photo by James Willamor on Flickr.

 The environmental crisis (and this surely includes the coronavirus crisis) demands a sense of the common good.  After all, the “commons” is what is in jeopardy and that includes our common water, soil, forests, air, insects, birds, animals.  We do not breathe individual air or drink individual water.  We all abide in one home we call Earth.

Economist Herman E. Daly and process theologian John B. Cobb, Jr., who are both from Protestant traditions, invoke the common good in the very title of their important book For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future. 

Daly and Cobb also confess that Protestantism, emerging in a time of individualism, has a far less developed theology of the common good than does Roman Catholicism. 

Pre-modern thinkers—as well as today’s cosmology–see the cosmos as more primal than just the human.  Aquinas and Hildegard, Francis and Eckhart, are prime examples of that. 

The whole is more important than the part.  This is another powerful instance of why pre-modern wisdom is emerging as so important in our post-modern times. 

Also, Cobb and Daly remind us that “modern economic theory originated and developed in the context of Calvinism.”  They propose as a solution the following, “instead of Homo economicus as pure individual we propose Homo economicus as person-in-community.”* 

MLK’s “Birth of a New Nation” Speech, April 7, 1957, at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Uploaded to YouTube by Brett Bymaster

The King Center reminds us that “the triple evils of Poverty, Racism and Militarism” are forms of violence that serve as barriers to our living in the Beloved Community.  King calls for the creation of community from non-violent response to injustice:

The aftermath of violence is bitterness; the aftermath of non-violence is the creation of the beloved community…redemption and reconciliation.** 

The desire for justice, community, the common good.  Is this not what is happening on the streets of America and many other countries?

* For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future, pp. 6f.

**Martin Luther King, Jr, “Justice without Violence,” April 3, 1957.

See Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp. 480f.

Banner Image: Peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors kneel and raise their hands in London’s Oxford Street – 8 July 2016. Photo by Alisdare Hickson on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

How important is it that a Protestant economist and a Protestant theologian are recognizing that individualism is not sustainable and that community and the common good must be the guidelines to an economic system that is deserving of being called human? 

What does the “Beloved Community” mean to you?  Do you see it on the horizon?

Recommended Reading

Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox renders Thomas Aquinas accessible by interviewing him and thus descholasticizing him.  He also translated many of his works such as Biblical commentaries never before in English (or Italian or German of French).  He  gives Aquinas a forum so that he can be heard in our own time. He presents Thomas Aquinas entirely in his own words, but in a form designed to allow late 20th-century minds and hearts to hear him in a fresh way. 
“The teaching of Aquinas comes through will a fullness and an insight that has never been present in English before and [with] a vital message for the world today.” ~ Fr. Bede Griffiths (Afterword).
Foreword by Rupert Sheldrake

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