MLK’s Faith Crisis Sparked His Fight For Justice
“More and more I could see a gap between what I had learned in Sunday school and what I was learning in college.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. went to college at the young age of 15 and was immediately enthralled with the conversations he encountered there. “My days in college were very exciting ones,” he writes. “There was a free atmosphere.”
It was there he found Henry David Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience that would shape his worldview for the rest of his life. King writes, “I was so deeply moved that I reread the work several times.”
But King also encountered ideas that troubled his faith — ideas that shattered his former beliefs. As he tells it: “My college training, especially the first two years, brought many doubts into my mind. It was then that the shackles of fundamentalism were removed from my body. More and more I could see a gap between what I had learned in Sunday school and what I was learning in college. My studies had made me skeptical, and I could not see how many of the facts of science could be squared with religion.”
“I could not see how many of the facts of science could be squared with religion.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
He learned that religious scholarship had made leaps and bounds since the translation of the King James Version of the Bible in 1611. He learned that each book of the Bible was written by flawed human beings. He learned, above all, that there were grave reasons to doubt the concept of biblical inerrancy.
King said that he was able to overcome these new doubts only once he learned to view the Bible from a different perspective. He wrote, “I came to see that behind the legends and myths of the Book were many profound truths which one could not escape.” As a result he said, “the shackles of fundamentalism were removed from my body.”
We can see these shackles falling away in King’s writings at divinity school. Here he analyzed how Greek philosophy influenced core Christian doctrines, including the doctrine of the virgin birth.