This is from a Martin Luther King Jr. sermon preached in November, 1954 at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama:

We know more about mathematics, about science, about social science, and philosophy, than we’ve ever known in any period of the world’s history…For our scientific progress over the past years has been amazing. Man through his scientific genius has been able to warp distance and place time in chains, so that today it’s possible to eat breakfast in New York City and supper in London, England. Back in about 1753 it took a letter three days to go from New York City to Washington, and today you can go from here to China in less time than that. It can’t be because man is stagnant in his scientific progress. Man’s scientific genius has been amazing.

Martin Luther King on Hate and Selfishness

I think we have to look much deeper than that if we are to find the real cause of man’s problems and the real cause of the world’s ills today. If we are to really find it I think we will have to look in the hearts and souls of men. 

The trouble isn’t so much that we don’t know enough, but it’s that we aren’t good enough. The trouble isn’t so much that our scientific genius lags behind, but our moral genius lags behind. The great problem facing modern man is that, that the means by which we live, have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live. So we find ourselves caught in a messed-up world. The problem is with man himself and man’s soul. We haven’t learned how to be just and honest and kind and true and loving. And that is the basis of our problem. The real problem is that through our scientific genius we’ve made of the world a neighborhood, but through our moral and spiritual genius we’ve failed to make of it a brotherhood. And the great danger facing us today is not so much the atomic bomb that was created by physical science. Not so much that atomic bomb that you can put in an airplane and drop on the heads of hundreds and thousands of people—as dangerous as that is. But the real danger confronting civilization today is that atomic bomb which lies in the hearts and souls of men, capable of exploding into the vilest of hate and into the most damaging selfishness. That’s the atomic bomb that we’ve got to fear today. The problem is with the men. Within the heart and the souls of men. That is the real basis of our problem. 

My friends, all I’m trying to say is that if we are to go forward today, we’ve got to go back and rediscover some mighty precious values that we’ve left behind.  That’s the only way that we would be able to make of our world a better world, and to make of this world what God wants it to be and the real purpose and meaning of it. The only way we can do it is to go back, and rediscover some mighty precious values that we’ve left behind. – Martin Luther King, Jr. Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 1954.

I believe that Martin Luther King Jr. has here rightly and eloquently diagnosed the problem with modern man: Our scientific genius is astounding, our moral genius and ability to love is…primitive. Spend five minutes browsing a contentious Facebook or Reddit discussion on politics or anything controversial, and you will see the vilest of hate and the basest of accusations. King is right about the problem. I believe he is not fully on target, however, about the cure. When he says, “We haven’t learned how to be just and honest and kind and true and loving,” I believe he is pointing to education as the cure for our lack of love, selfish hearts, and simmering hatred. Were that true, we would expect to see a lessening of hate in the 62 plus years since King preached that sermon. However, the percentage of all races in America with high school and college degrees have shot up since then. Yes – we are more civilized. Yes, Civil Rights are light years ahead of where they were in 1954, and praise God for that. However – I would argue (based on volumes of multimedia evidence on the internet, tv and radio) that our level of hatred and selfishness has not decreased at all, but only risen. Education is good, but it does NOT produce heart change. I believe it is the good news of Jesus – the Gospel – that brings transformation to hearts and ways of thinking. Here is Tim Keller, writing in his book The Prodigal God, explaining this dynamic:

It is only when you see the desire to be your own Savior and Lord -lying beneath both your sins and your moral goodness- that you are on the verge of understanding the gospel and becoming a Christian indeed.  When you realize that the antidote to being bad is not just being good, you are on the brink.  If you follow through, it will change everything: how you relate to God, self, others, the world, your work, your sins, your virtue.  It’s called the new birth because it’s so radical. (p. 78) Jesus Christ, who had all the power in the world, saw us enslaved by the very things we thought would free us.  So he emptied himself of his glory and became a servant.  He laid aside the infinities and immensities of his being and, at the cost of his life, paid the debt for our sins, purchasing us the only place our hearts can rest, in his Father’s house…  Knowing this will transform us from the inside out… Why wouldn’t you want to offer yourself to someone like this? Selfless love destroys the mistrust in our hearts toward God that makes us either younger brothers or elder brothers… We will never stop being younger brothers of elder brothers until we acknowledge our need, rest by faith, and gaze in wonder at the work of our true elder brother, Jesus Christ.  – Tim Keller

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