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MLK Jr. and Nietzsche Respond to Injustice

Some people try to deal with the problem of senseless suffering by abandoning belief in God. But that leaves some big questions: If there is no God, why should we be outraged when bad or unjust things happen to people? Violence, cruelty, and injustice happen all the time. On what basis can we say that they are wrong?

Two famous thinkers gave very different answers to those questions. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his 1963 "Letter from Birmingham Jail," said that if there were no higher divine law—that defined what justice is—there would be no way to tell if anything we do was unjust or not. And of course we know that Dr. King, a follower of Christ, spent his life fighting against injustice.

In contrast, when the German philosopher and atheist Friedrich Nietzsche heard that a volcanic eruption followed by tsunamis had destroyed Java in 1883, he wrote a friend: "Two hundred thousand wiped out at a stroke—how magnificent!" Nietzsche was just being logically consistent. Because he didn't believe in God, he concluded that all value judgments are arbitrary. All definitions of justice are based on your culture or temperament—not objective morality.

As different as their views were, King and Nietzsche agreed on one point. If there is no God or higher divine law, then injustice is perfectly natural. So abandoning belief in God doesn't help with the problem of suffering at all.

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