Reach for the Stars : The arc of the moral Universe

Reach for the Stars : The arc of the moral Universe

“The arc of the moral Universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

One Friday night

One Friday night, not so many years ago, I was indulging in one of the few sinful pleasures still available to a senior citizen. And it wasn’t just the frozen yogurt with shredded All-Bran, but the TV show playing on my Christmas-new wide screen TV while I was enjoying the late night snack: Bill Mahr’s Real Time on HBO. Mahr is unapologetically sacrilegious and politically incorrect, a passionate, libertarian comedian with a penchant for off-color humor, but he is quite often spot on in his analysis of the contemporary American scene. I don’t always agree with him or approve of his linguistic repertoire, but Mahr and his panelists frequently go where the more timid CNN and mainstream media fear to tread.

The Possibility for Change

That week a main topic was gun control, and the panel more or less agreed that the possibility for actual change in American values about guns and violence was very slim. Then one of Mahr’s panelists–Martin Short, another comic–made a startling observation. He noted that twenty years ago, they would have been sitting around that table smoking cigarettes while they talked, but now the whole building is smoke-free. He suggested this evolutionary shift in health consciousness was cause for the advocates of rational control to take heart.

Martin Short’s remark suddenly brought to mind the words of another Martin, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who became a victim of gun violence after a life of tireless advocacy for peace and non-violence. “The arc of the moral Universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The Moral Universe

The source of this oft-quoted/paraphrased comment was actually a paraphrase of words spoken by the Rev. Theodore Parker, 19th century abolitionist, religious progressive, Unitarian minister:

I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

Sometimes, change happens so gradually that you wake up one day and say, “Oh, yeah. I remember when we did that. Way back there in the 20th century.”

It takes time…

Most meaningful change takes time. Seasons drift incrementally onward. Today a little cooler… next month winter…. then warming, new life, and summer again. Human consciousness is impatient. If I have a cold that lasts more than a few days, I start wondering if I will ever stop coughing. If I cannot master a new task quickly, I catch myself muttering, “I’ll never get this right!” But I do get better; I do master the task. (My Smart Phone will not make me feel stupid forever, just for a while.)

The key to the equation is to find a common denominator—faith in the arc of learning, the potential for slow but ineluctable change. We started in the seas; we shall sail the stars. But not today. Cool winds must play across our landscape before the warming breath of Spring. Patience. Swords will melt into ploughshares. Nation shall not take up arms against nation. The moral arc bends toward justice, and we ride its rainbow with confidence toward a future that reaches into the Cosmos.

Tom Shepherd,

Tucson, AZ

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