Dr. Martin Luther King, whose Feast Day we celebrate today, had his criticism of church and religion. 

Original black & white negative by Marion S. Trikosko. Taken August 26th, 1964, Washington D.C, United States (@libraryofcongress). Colorized by Jordan J. Lloyd. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. Photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash.

He talked of a “mighty struggle” that he and the civil rights movement were engaged in and criticized the churches for hiding behind both the comfort of “stained glass windows” and dualistic philosophies that refused to engage in that struggle. 

Said he: I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other-worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular. All too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

Notice that King’s disappointment with ministers who claim that the gospel is not concerned with social issues is fired by an awareness of the philosophy behind that morally lackadaisical attitude: the dualistic theology that separates body from soul and sacred from secular. To ignore the body is to ignore the body politic and the suffering in the body politic.

King rightly points out that these dualisms are “un-Biblical.”  The prophets were not “ascetic,” as Abraham Heschel makes clear–they were passionate people passionate about injustice and suffering caused by humans against humans and against the earth. 

Thich Nhat Hanh sitting next to his friend, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Photo taken from website of Plum Village.

This is why the world view of St. Augustine is so dangerous, he was so enamored of Neo Platonism that he downplayed injustice and favored an “introspective conscience” over societal justice.  This is why he became, as Carol Quigley, an historian and professor from the Catholic University of America called a “lightning rod” for right wing movements for almost 1500 years. 

This is also why a Nobel prize winning physicist said that Augustine “killed science in the West for 1000 years.”

The late Pope Benedict XVI was thoroughly Augustinian and thoroughly dualistic in his mindset.  He too has become a “lightening rod” for extreme right wing Catholics who are invested in killing thinking and theologians in the church, hell bent on preventing leadership by women and refuse to study what science has taught us about homosexuality.  

To be continued


Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, pp. 324f.

To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: The third Selma Civil Rights March frontline. From far left: John Lewis, an unidentified nun; Rev. Ralph Abernathy; Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Nobel laureate Ralph Bunche; Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel; Rev. Frederick Douglas Reese. Second row: Rev. Joseph Ellwanger; between Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Bunche is Rabbi Maurice Davis. Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

What happens when one separates body from soul and matter from spirit and science from theology as Augustine and Benedict did and as King critiques?

Recommended Reading

Christian Mystics: 365 Readings & Meditations

As Matthew Fox notes, when an aging Albert Einstein was asked if he had any regrets, he replied, “I wish I had read more of the mystics earlier in my life.” The 365 writings in Christian Mystics represent a wide-ranging sampling of these readings for modern-day seekers of all faiths — or no faith. The visionaries quoted range from Julian of Norwich to Martin Luther King, Jr., from Thomas Merton to Dorothee Soelle and Thomas Berry.
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6 thoughts on “Dr. King on the Failures of Religion”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you tell us that “Dr. Martin Luther King, whose Feast Day we celebrate today, had his criticism of church and religion. He talked of a ‘mighty struggle’ that he and the civil rights movement were engaged in, and criticized the churches for their dualistic philosophies that refused to engage in that struggle. He said: “I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other-worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular…” Notice that King’s disappointment was with ministers who claim that the gospel is not concerned with social issues, and which hold a dualistic theology that separates body from soul and sacred from secular. To ignore the body is to ignore the body politic and the suffering in the body politic. And Matthew says that: “King rightly points out that these dualisms are ‘un-Biblical.’ The prophets were not ‘ascetic,’ as Abraham Heschel makes clear–they were passionate people, passionate about injustice and suffering caused by humans against humans and against the earth. This is why the world view of St. Augustine is so dangerous, he was so enamored of Neo Platonism that he downplayed injustice and favored an ‘introspective conscience’ over social justice.” The late Pope Benedict XVI was thoroughly Augustinian, and thoroughly dualistic in his mindset. He was invested in killing thinking and theologians in the church–hell bent on preventing leadership by women, and refused to study what science has taught us about homosexuality.

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    It never ceases to amaze me, how the Catholic Church has completely ignored the wisdom teachings of the mystics/prophets down through the ages If only they had just listened with a curious mind, an open heart and a surrendered soul to what the Holy Spirit is desiring to unfold, evolve, and emerge through trusting visionaries and seekers of love, truth and justice. I’m grateful for this remnant, and to identify myself as one among them, in my own little way.

    What comes from the illusion of seperation, other than duality…. fragmentation, a deep soul wound in which one finds oneself longing for healing, wholeness and oneness, and an enduring, persevering seeking for love, truth and justice. That is if you can find your way through the maze, by trusting your own intimate, connection of relationship with God/Goddess/Christ and the Holy Spirit… along with a little help from the remnant of mystics/prophets that have walked this laberynth path before you. These ones have left us all, lit lanterns of their wisdom teachings, founded on personal experience and direct encounters with the living essence and presence of the Holy Spirit that offers us all comfort, consolation and spiritual counsel. “The path is narrow, and so few seem to find it. You need no other to teach you the way, for the gift of the Holy Spirit has been freely given you. Remember, you’ll get by with a little help from your friends, just try with a little help from your friends…”

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    Beautiful and profound meditation today Matthew honoring Martin Luther King Day! To answer your question of what happens when we separate body and soul, and matter and spirit, is that it separates us from awareness in our hearts of the Loving Sacred Living Presence within and among us, especially our Eternal Souls, Beautiful Sacred Mother Earth and all Her graceful abundance and creatures, and our Sacred co-Creating~Evolving multidimensional-multiverse Cosmos in our Loving Diverse Compassionate Oneness….
    ????

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    Thank you for your tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, he of blessed memory. I was reminded years ago to include the “Rev” because all that he did and all that he was came out of his deep faith. The consequence of separating mind and body is soul carnage both individually and corporately, as Matthew has pointed out before. The Rev. King put his body on the line–literally–over and over again. It is so sad that his memory is literally defaced in some places, and that so many refuse to honor this day. I tear up every time I read this from a sermon in 1957 that was written in jail: “To our most bitter opponents we say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you….Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. Be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.” The courage and the grace of this man are overwhelming.

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    Augustine failed to understand the deeper implications of his (Neoplatonic) mystical experience. He lived in an extremely dualistic society. He was incredibly neurotic and sexually fixated. Unfortunately, he was also eloquent, well-trained in logic, and worst of all, exceedingly prolific in issuing his interpretations of everything biblical. He just HAD to give his interpretation about everything. He “legitimized” Christianity with a sweeping body of logic and analysis, “elevating” the young religion by handing it a theology — HIS theology. The fact that it violated the ethics of Jesus and the deeper lessons of the mystical revelation didn’t matter. Augustine’s “logical” ethics prevailed — and continue to do so for many Christians.
    The fault is NOT of “Neoplatonic mysticism” — after all, Meister Eckhart was a Neoplatonic mystic, too, and he demonstrated the other end of the spectrum of non-duality (and was condemned by the Inquisition for a few of his more daring statements). Instead, blame can be placed with the dualism of the society Augustine lived in AND the required dualism of “I (and) Thou worship”, which demands separation between worshiper and God. The fact that non-dualistic mysticism is embraced by Jesus, the Gospel of John, etc, as a template of God’s love (and therefore as the suggested model for deepening love between people and with God) has always been held in a tension within the religion. Finding the right balance is always the challenge.

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