How MLK and Gandhi Used the Idea of Religion

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The world has seen all types of movements from history some being religious, rights, wars and many more. It goes without saying however that the most known movements in recent history have to go to MLK and Gandhi. Both were the leaders of each of their movements all fighting for a better version of there country. MLK and Gandhi both use the idea of religion as a focal point in order to progress their civil rights movement.

Faith in many instances has been the fuel that has fed the passionate flame in the fight for freedom. Our American history is replete with examples of people of faith, who have in a defiant manner, broken the vessels of traditional and sacred values in order to serve up revolutionary social change. The church was not only the meeting place for the movement in the South, it also was the center of the movement in that it served as the symbol of the movement. That is to say that the church represented the freedom that the movement participants sought. It was a facility in the community beyond the control of the white power structure. It was a place where people could express themselves without reprisal. It was a place where people could speak the truth, where they could sing and even shout.

Dr. King made it very clear of the urgency to change the injustice occurring to himself and his people. In his letter to the pastors, Dr. King is trying support his rebellious actions through his high standing, ‘ I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights.”(MLK 3). Dr. King here tries to issue his credibility to his opposers but also to his fellow supporters. By doing so he seeks to show how he is not some deranged man seeking publicity but a man on a mission to create change for his people.

The ‘Letter’ transformed the idea of reasonableness from the province of moderation alone and united it with justifications for direct civil disobedience. Consequently, the ‘Letter’ as rhetorical response opened a new public frame for pragmatic, value-based identification with civil rights for historical and contemporary audiences.” MLK’s uses Religion as well as Civil Disobedience in order to persuade his opponents. Religion is something regardless if you’re a follower or not you know about it and MLK uses this to his advantage with his quote about the apostle Paul. “Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.

Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.” Religion is something that embodies this idea of equality and right vs wrong. MLK wants people to see this that can we not all strive for this ideal life. If people during a time so long ago strive for this idea of equality then who we are to not finish what they at least started. Like many the use of this supernatural being Jesus Christ is constantly used to encapture what this movement is all about.

To many, Jesus was an extremist that frankly embodied this rebellious attitude. However it was what he was fighting for that people can respect; he was not someone who inflicted violence on his oppressors but rather non violent protests. To MLK this is what he wants his movement to be about. He wants a movement surrounded by a rebellion against injustice but that encompasses this idea of a peaceful nonviolent action. MLK wants to be his own extremist for love, truth, and goodness that others could follow and continue to use for many years to come. Moreover King’s ‘Letter’ speaks deep chords in the American psyche.

King insisted on viewing the struggle of civil rights on a larger canvas. The religious institutions at the time were directed towards preventing civil unrest, to protect the fragile peace in the country. In contrast. King argued that justice was more important than civil tranquillity. At this point in time there serious unrest at the treatment of African Americans and MLK states this by saying, “We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights.” In addition this treatment has led these unjust laws that like not being able to go into certain restaurants just to name a few. In 1963, all of these clergy considered themselves moderates and gradualists although each had his own idea of what those terms meant. ‘There are many ways to fight injustice’ one of the ministers wrote in 1963, and many types of gradualism. The fight demanded time, patience, and moderation, they believed. . . . Although they agreed on a few basic moral and ethical principles and signed joint public statements, they had conflicting and often evolving ideas about civil rights and race relations, just like the rest of the Souths white moderates. MLK understood his people’s cry over this treatment and used the idea of civil disobedience. Like Gandhi, King used civil disobedience as a means of effectuating government change.

Gandhi is a second figure who cannot be forgotten with his own civil rights movement in India. He is probably one of the most influential individuals of his time and continues to influence others to this day. Like MLK Gandhi was very in touch with his people and their suffering. ““He called the people of low class ‘Harijan’ meaning ‘People of God’. He used to live with them. His prayers and bhajans like :Vaishnav jan to tene kahiye’ stressed the need to love all people.” In addition, he also embodied the idea of non violent protest that actually influenced MLK and his civil rights movement. nly in this context of prayer.

The Gandhian conception of non violence is so comprehensive, so all embracing in its moral and religious demands, that we are surely compelled to make our own judgement and strive for nonviolence just like MLK and Gandhi did. All non violent action to any degree is broad, vigorous, and requires a extremely powerful spiritual level. To Gandhi “Nonviolence is a religion meant for the common people. It is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant to the brute, and he knows no law but that of physical might.” Gandhi sees non violence as the strength of ones spirit. This religion to Gandhi was satyagraha. Gandhi used satyagraha as an advocate against British rule in India. Gandhi went on to describe it as, “The milk of human kindness’ is only tasted in combination with the most powerful spirits. It is in the dialect with violence that Satyagraha efficacious.

“Blessed are those who suffer persecution in the cause of right; the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” Gandhi’s allegiance to this self-chosen mission did not waver even when it necessitated changing his basic positions and led him to notable contradictions in the process. When speaking to some Christian missionaries in 1925, Gandhi expressed an opinion on the New Testament and the Gita, and stated his preference for the latter. It was not because he failed to ‘praise the idea presented’ in the Sermon which had ‘left a deep impression upon him.

Gandhi who made his way from the coastal town of Porbandar in western India to London and South Africa before returning to India and in time becoming India’s most iconic figure around the world, is commonly believed to have had, at best, an ambivalent relationship with the West. Gandhi was a relentless critic of modern industrial civilization, and on more than one occasion he described Western civilization as ‘Satanic’; on the other hand, there is a strong body of scholarly opinion that holds, on what appears to be unimpeachable evidence, that Leo Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau, and John Ruskin exercised something close to a seminal influence upon Gandhi. “Gandhi continued to entertain about the West and its unprecedented role in shaping the course of human history over the last five hundred years. It is also remarkable that however critical Gandhi’s views of Western civilization, at no point in his adult life did Gandhi lack British, European, and American friends.”

The specific role of the Western tradition has been, perhaps, to impart to the Gandhian concepts the validity of an articulate and reasoned statement. The selective thinkers of the West aided and perfected the effective communication of his basic ideas to vast numbers of peoples of different faiths and regions. The sources of the highest Western tradition, such as the New Testament and Christianity, provided an authentic revelation and lasting support to Gandhi’s inherent religious ideas and impulses. The messages of Tolstoy and Ruskin and Thoreau undoubtedly molded the contents and the working of the non-violent philosophy of Gandhi. This process necessitated a rational enunciation of its ideas to convince the doubtful and constant revitalization of its spiritual basis to sustain the faith. The Western traditions and beliefs opened Gandhis eyes to the big picture of how important equality is. He was able to learn so many things like christianity, like civil disobedience, and many other things that were able to develop him into the figure so many people have come to know and love.

MLK and Gandhi both influenced their movements through religion. Although they had some diffeent methods they also had similar ones like using non violence and civil disobedience. Religion will always play a factor in any real type of social change in the world and both MLK and Gandhi show this through their movements.


  1. “The Role of Religion in the Civil Rights Movements.” Center for American Progress, 16 Nov. 2010, www.americanprogress.org/issues/courts/news/2004/06/09/861/the-role-of-religion-in-the-civil-rights-movements/.
  2. Patton, John H. “A Transforming Response: Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.’” Rhetoric and Public Affairs, vol. 7, no. 1, 2004, pp. 53–65. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41939890
  3. Watson, Martha Solomon. “The Issue Is Justice: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Response to the Birmingham Clergy.” Rhetoric and Public Affairs, vol. 7, no. 1, 2004, pp. 1–22. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41939887.
  4. karunakaran, K P. “Martin Luther King and Civil Disobedience.” India International Centre Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 2, 1976, pp. 95–106. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23001944.
  5. V. V. Ramana Murti. “Influence of the Western Tradition on Gandhian Doctrine.” Philosophy East and West, vol. 18, no. 1/2, 1968, pp. 55–65. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1398036.
  6. source 6; CHAIGNE, HERVÉ, and Martin J. Corbin. “THE SPIRIT AND TECHNIQUES OF GANDHIAN NON-VIOLENCE.” CrossCurrents, vol. 11, no. 2, 1961, pp. 117–136. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24456825.
  7. V. V. Ramana Murti. “Influence of the Western Tradition on Gandhian Doctrine.” Philosophy East and West, vol. 18, no. 1/2, 1968, pp. 55–65. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1398036

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How MLK and Gandhi Used the Idea of Religion. (2021, Oct 04). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/how-mlk-and-gandhi-used-the-idea-of-religion/

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