Martin Luther King Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for Civil Rights and Social Justice. In his Nobel Lecture, “The Quest for Peace and Justice,” Dr. King speaks not only to the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Parliament but the world at large.
More than half a century has passed, but his significant points about “living together as brothers” during an age of scientific and technological progress, and the disproportionate growth of the soul whilst "enlarged material powers," are points that can still resonate today. Maybe more than ever.
While ‘modern man brought the whole world to an awe-inspiring threshold of the future’, if it were at the expense of the wealth and health of man's interiority, man nevertheless faces spiritual and moral poverty.
Here’s a look at the part of his lecture that highlight how material accomplishment is problematic when mankind allows “the internal to become lost in the external.”
“Modern man has brought this whole world to an awe-inspiring threshold of the future. He has reached new and astonishing peaks of scientific success. He has produced machines that think and instruments that peer into the unfathomable ranges of interstellar space.
He has built gigantic bridges to span the seas and gargantuan buildings to kiss the skies. His airplanes and spaceships have dwarfed distance, placed time in chains, and carved highways through the stratosphere. This is a dazzling picture of modern man’s scientific and technological progress.
Yet, in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, and still unlimited ones to come, something basic is missing. There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance.
The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.
Every man lives in two realms, the internal and the external. [...] Our problem today is that we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external. [...]
This is the serious predicament, the deep and haunting problem confronting modern man. If we are to survive today, our moral and spiritual “lag” must be eliminated. Enlarged material powers spell enlarged peril if there is not proportionate growth of the soul."
Indeed, scientific and technological abundance has not been all negative; it has produced salutary effects for mankind just as it has created negative; in health, medicine, communications and transportation for instance.
But Reverend King refers to neglect or decay that is of man's internal world, "poverty of the spirit", a subject matter apt for a time when technology has pushed itself into more than just a select group - of engineers, scientists, and wealthy sponsors for instance - but has become part of the very culture of today.