Response: Letter from a Birmingham Jail

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In this letter, addressed to eight “fellow clergymen” from Alabama who collectively published a letter of criticism in a newspaper on the handling of protests by King and his cohorts in Birmingham, King gives a few different takes on the difference between a just and unjust law. They've all to do with, as King says, “difference made legal”; as to say, “An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself.” It is necessary before pursuing further to explain that King believed that a just law was one, as he says, “is one that squares with the moral law, or the law of God;” by extension, King believes in absolute morality, and this becomes a foundational tenet of his argument. Likewise, an unjust law is defined as a code out of harmony with the moral law, one “that is not rooted in eternal or natural law.” (Aquinas) We can reasonably assume that the pastors to whom this letter is addressed believed at least in the concept of absolute morality or natural law as defined by God. So, King levels the playing field in that sense from the start. This, then, means that that which “distorts the soul and damages the personality”, as segregation does, is unjust; therefore, King refutes segregation by virtue of being out of line with an absolute moral law handed down to humans by God, and so condones disobeying laws that are thus. I disagree with King on these points, that there exists an absolute moral law; that a law, or anything really, may be called moral or immoral and then justified by the selfsame system of thinking. Actually, I think this was something of an error on King’s part, for, while he contends that segregation exists out of hatred, segregation and slavery has been justified by the same modality of thought that his argument uses, but with a different definition of what the “natural law” is. This is, of course, not surprising, given the glaringly inconsistent nature of the bible. One...
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