Malcolm X: His Later Religious Views

Malcolm X, Minister of Islam and Prominent Civil Rights Leader

Like many human persons, Malcolm X, during the course of his life, changed, so that there is an “early version” of Malcolm and a “later one.” The early Malcolm X did, in fact, view the white man as “the devil.” But after visiting the holy land of Mecca, he had “a change of heart,” moving away from the Black Muslim movement and having a greater appreciation of Islam itself, which he calls “the real religion of Islam,” a religion for people of all colors, whether they are black or white.1 The later Malcolm X clarified his views on race-relations, saying,

“So before I get involved in anything nowadays, I have to straighten out my own position, which is clear. I am not a racist in any form whatsoever. I don’t believe in any form of racism. I don’t believe in any form of discrimination or segregation. I believe in Islam. I am a Muslim.”2

For the later Malcolm X, a human being should not be judged, receive a “blanket condemnation,” on the basis of the color of his or her skin. Rather, says Malcom,

“The yardstick that is used by the Muslim to measure another man is not the man’s color but the man’s deeds, the man’s conscious behavior, the man’s intentions.”3

In fact, Malcolm goes even further, saying,

“But when you just judge a man because of the color of his skin, then you’re committing a crime, because that’s the worst kind of judgment.”4

It is the “worst kind of judgment,” precisely because it is a gross injustice to any human being.5 Such a judgment is superficial and rash, a judgment or verdict “without a hearing in court,” to condemn a human for his or her color or skin pigmentation.

The earlier views of Malcolm X about the whites were shaped by some incorrect teachings that Malcolm had received. The later Malcolm himself admitted as much, observing,

“[P]rior to going into the Muslim world, … Elijah Muhammad had taught us that the white man could not enter into Makkah in Arabia, and all of us who followed him, we believed it. And he said the reason he couldn’t enter was because he’s white and inherently evil, it’s impossible to change him. And the only thing that would change him is Islam, and he can’t accept Islam because by nature he’s evil.”6

For Malcolm, his earlier teachings contributed greatly to his negative views about whites. But the later Malcolm, due to his fuller conversion to the religion of Islam, regarded color as secondary to being a person. As he explains,

“[I]n Asia or the Arab world or in Africa, where the Muslims are, if you find one who says he’s white, all he’s doing is using an adjective to describe something that’s incidental about him, one of his incidental characteristics; so there’s nothing else to it, he’s just white.”7

While, of course, Malcolm would admit that a human being’s color is important, his or her humanity, the fact of being a person, is even more important. In other words, color, such as being white, is, says Malcolm, “incidental,” meaning “secondary,” to being a person.8 That is the philosophy Malcolm brought back with him to the United States.

On that point, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., both of whom were prominent civil rights leaders, agree. For instance, in his sermon on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, King says,

“If the Samaritan had considered the wounded man as a Jew first, he would not have stopped [to help him],” for the Jews and the Samaritans had no dealings. He saw him as a human being first, who was a Jew only by accident [i.e., external or outer properties of a human being]. The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers.”9

Americans today, living in the 21st century, regardless of the color of their skin, need to take a lesson from Malcolm X, the Minister of Islam. For example, white Americans should not consider themselves superior black Americans, because both whites and blacks are persons. Nor should black Americans consider themselves inferior to anyone. Therefore, for the Malcolm X, Americans , whether black or white, are persons, being equal in worth or human dignity.

When Malcolm X was murdered, he did not hate whites. In fact, Malcolm’s speech from which I have quoted was given a week before his own death. As Malcolm struggled to better understand race-relations in America, he was guided by love. He had love in his heart for all people, even whites, while he “fought” to advance the civil rights of his black brothers and sisters – in Islam and people of all faiths.

Endnotes

1.Malcolm X. 14 February 1965, 2010. Speech at Ford Auditorium. Black Past. [Web:] https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/speeches-african-american-history/1965-malcolm-x-speech-ford-auditorium [Date of access: 25 January 2022].

2.Ibid.

3.Ibid.

4.Ibid.

5.Ibid.

6.Ibid.

7.Ibid.

8.Ibid.

9.Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press, 2010), pp. 24-25.

Remembering My Friend, Quincey Bowens (1957 — 1974)

I want to tell you about a friend of mine from “back in the day.” His name was Quincey Bowens. While a teenager living on Russell Street in Kingston, New York, I met Quincey. One day, I had gotten into a fight with him in front of the hedges at Mrs. Jones’ house (my neighbor). I was no match for Quincey! In our struggle, he punched me in the chest, knocking me straight through the hedges. I had the “wind knocked out” of me.

The story, though, did not end with him knocking me through the hedges. That was not Quincey! Instead, he walked around the hedges and picked me up from the ground. Laughing, he said, “Are you okay, Timmy?”

I often think about Quincey and wonder why he did not gloat over “kicking my butt.” I think, though, that some people admire their opponents, even in defeating them. I would like to think that way about Quincey. After that day, we became friends until the day he died at the young age of 16. I hope to see him in the life to come. I want to ask him, ‘When I was down, why did you help me up?’ ‘Why did you not just let me stay on the ground, defeated?’

My literal experience with Quincy has taught me a metaphorical lesson about helping others and it is this: Love “picks up” people when they are “down;” when they are brought low. Love does not look down on them. That is a lesson about life! It is also a profound lesson about a teenager, my old friend whom I love and miss, Quincey Bowens.

Today, after searching for years online, I finally found a very old photo Quincey Bowens. He was beautiful. That is still how I remember him. He was tragically killed by a drunk driver on my birthday, which was April 28, 1974. Rest in Peace, Quincey!

 

Minute Meditation: When Philosophy and Religion “Meet” with Classic Rock Music — Fleetwood Mac’s Song “Landslide” (1975)

Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac

 

In Fleetwood Mac’s song “Landslide,” which was written and sung by Stevie Nicks, she became rather “philosophical” about what time does to human beings. She wrote, for example,
 
“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing ’cause I’ve built my life around you. But time makes you bolder, even children get older. And I’m getting older, too. Oh, I’m getting older, too .”
 
The song is 47 years old, yet Stevie is right! Time will “carve lines” on the human body, especially in the face, around the eyes, on the forehead and in the neck. Even teenagers, while they may take some measure of comfort in their youth, should make no mistake about this existential fact: The young, right now, at this very moment, are getting old! Time “robs” people of their youth. It does that to everybody, “children too.”
 
However, instead of fleeing in denial from that fact of aging, it must be “embraced” and realistically faced. While human beings still have time, they are challenged by time to make the most of their lives, to find some kind of meaning and purpose in living, hopefully becoming “bolder,” not timid, as they age.
 
 

Minute Meditation: When Philosophy, Psychology and Religion “Meet” with Classic Rock Music — Chicago’s Song “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long” (1974)

Album Cover of Chicago VII, 1974
Human beings, whether they know it or not, are in search of meaning to their lives. That search is a peculiarly human phenomenon. In other words, trees, dogs, bids and insects do not care about a meaning to their existence, but humans do. They have questions about being alive, such as “What is the point of living?” “What is the meaning of life?” “Why is it worthwhile to continue to live?”
 
In popular American culture, on the album Chicago VII (1974), the band deals with the human search for a meaning to life in the song “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long.” For instance, in the lyrics by James Pankow, there is the refrain,
 
“I’ve been searchin’ so long to find an answer. Now I know my life has meaning.”
 
So the point is keep on searching, until you find your answer to the question, “Why does my life have meaning?” For some, maybe the answer is love. For others, maybe it is work. For still others, maybe it is family. Then again, maybe it is helping others. Still again, maybe it is all four pursuits.
 
Human beings are not meant merely to exist but to live, to find a meaning to their lives. In the words of the Good Book, “Seek and you shall find.”
 

Minute Meditation on the Manifestations of the “Existential Vacuum” in Popular, American Culture: The Song “Is That All There Is?”

The Title of the Song by Peggy Lee
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote the lyrics to the soul-searching song “Is That All There Is?” It was made popular in American culture by Peggy Lee in 1969. The song’s major theme is there must be something more to life than that big, beautiful house; that nice car, that fine woman; that handsome man; that well-paying job; expensive jewelry and even death itself.
 
When a person finally “has it all,” then, deep inside, “welling up” from within, the profound human questions, the existential questions, come to the surface, to consciousness: “Is that all there is?” “Isn’t there more to life than that?” That pursuit is not everything it was made out to be! As Viktor Frank notes in his book The Unheard Cry for Meaning, when such a person finally achieves “success,” “having it all,” then that person, being dissatisfied, asks, ”’What has all my success been for?'”
 
Then comes the “haunting” line of the song: “I had the feeling that something was missing. I don’t know what….” Might that feeling be, in Frankl’s words, “the existential vacuum,” the experience of an inner emptiness, a lack or loss “of an ultimate meaning to one’s existence that would make life worthwhile[?]”
 
The song is very thought-provoking, introspective. I dare you to listen to it, focusing on the lyrics! Then ask yourself, “What’s it all about?” “Is there a meaning to life?” Is it, in the words of William Shakespeare, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?” I think not!
 
 

When Philosophy, Religion and Poetry “Meet”​ with Classic Rock Music: The Longing for Immortality

Terry Kath (1946 – 1978): Former Lead Guitarist of Chicago

In a song on Chicago II’s (1970) double album, Robert Lamm and Terry Kath write the lyrics to “It Better End Soon,” an anti-Vietnam War song about the fundamental longing of human beings to live, not die. Speaking for the America people, Kath sings,

“No more dying! No more killing. No more dying. No more fighting. We don’t want to die. No, we don’t want to die.”

Similarly, in his book The Tragic Sense of Life, Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno (1864 – 1936) admits what most people feel in the depths of their being and even admit to themselves, namely, that there is a sense of immortality in the human heart. In other words, human beings, in general, recoil and rebel at the thought of death. Deep inside, humans gravitate toward being, living, not dying. As Unamuno writes,

“I do not want to die — no, I neither want to die; nor do I want to want to die. I want to live — always, always, always. And I want this ‘I’ to live — this poor I that I am and that I feel myself to be here and now.“

Likewise, Dylan Thomas (1914 —1953), the Welsh poet expresses well the natural aversion of human beings to death, especially their own death. In Thomas’ words,

“Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

There is, as Pete Seeger (1919 – 2014) writes in “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (1965), a song by the Byrds, “‘A time to be born, a time to die.’” Curiously enough, Seeger quotes from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, which is in the Bible. “’A time to be born, a time to die’” (Ecclesiastes 3:2a) is a natural truth, a biological fact, about life. However, the line which Seeger does not quote in Ecclesiastes is that the Creator of human beings “has also set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11b, NIV).

The longing for immortality, to live forever, is in human beings, because their Creator places it there. That is why they do not want to die. They want time, but they also want more than that, namely, eternity. That is also why, throughout the world, many people believe that death does not have the final say over human beings. There is, then, more to living in this world than dying in it. Theologically, the movie-character James Bond is right: “The world is not enough.”

 

 

Supertramp in Concert, Paris, 1979

When was the last time you heard from you? The first time I heard “The Logical Song” (1979) on the radio, I was “shocked.” I could not believe how profoundly soul-searching, introspective, some of the lyrics were. For example, Roger Hodgson wrote,

“There are times when all the world’s asleep; the questions run too deep, for such a simple man. Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned. I know it sounds absurd: Please tell me who I am.”

The refrain of the songs stresses its theme, adding,

“Please tell me who I am, who I am, who I am, who I am.”

Sooner or later, one’s humanity “wells up from within,” especially when one is alone, when one’s attention is not directed away from oneself by all kinds of diversions, such as life’s daily activities and amusements. Eventually, the unconscious self surfaces, becoming conscious, becoming aware of what is inside oneself. To be alone with oneself is to face oneself.

But fear of what is inside oneself, what is “buried” underneath the conscious self, may result in a flight from the self. One of the many tragedies of life is existential alienation, “the split within,” psychological estrangement. In other words, one goes throughout one’s entire life, being surrounded by all kinds of people, constantly in association with them, even laughing and having a good time with them, without ever having known the one human person that is closest to oneself, namely, one’s very own self!

The ancient Greek dictum “Know thyself” is applicable to today. The point of the dictum is to be “in touch” with oneself, to take some lessons from within, becoming familiar with one’s inner thoughts and feelings, both the negative and positive ones. Therefore, take some time away from all the “hustle and bustle of life,” with all its noise, “sound and fury.” Then the self will learn to know oneself, to value its own being; in short, to love oneself.

When was the last time you heard from you?

 

Viktor Frankl: A Psychiatrist’s Understanding of Despair

Viktor Frankl, Psychiatrist and Holocaust Survivor

A Sign of Intellectual Honesty

One of the reasons Viktor Frankl, the eminent psychiatrist and Holocausts st survivor, wrote Man’s Search for Meaning was that he “thought it might be helpful to people who are prone to despair.”1 However, many people are embarrassed to admit their despair, because they assume they are emotionally sick. Frankl disagreed with that assumption. For him,

“There is no need to feel ashamed of existential despair because of the assumption that it is an emotional disease, for it is … a human achievement and accomplishment. Above all, it is a manifestation of intellectual sincerity and honesty.”2

A Distinctively Human Phenomenon

Despair, then, is a distinctively human phenomenon, that is, a peculiarly human trait. After all, dogs and cats do not go into despair and commit suicide, but human beings can and, in fact, do. Frankl teaches that when humans are in despair, they are “in touch” with themselves. In other words, they are being true to themselves, namely, the truly human part of their being that struggles to find answers to life’s problems.

A Challenge to Believe in Life’s Meaning

So when men and women – both the young and the old – feel the dark cloud of negativity hanging over them; when they want to give up on their dreams, because they have been dashed to pieces so many times; when such persons feel like their lives are falling apart and cannot be put back together, then, and precisely then, they must believe that the answer to their despair is near; the solution is at hand. That is to say, they must endure the despair and, at the same time, take a “leap of faith,” believing that their despair is leading them to a new phase and, thus, a new meaning to their lives.

Therefore, in a moment of despair, such persons must, to paraphrase Frankl, have patience, mustering up enough courage to wait for the answer to their despair, believing that meaning will, once again, dawn upon them.3

Endnotes

1. Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, 3rd ed. (New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 12.

2. ———-, The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy (New York, N.Y.: New American Library, 1969, 1st printing 1970), p. 91.

3. Ibid.

 

Minute Meditation on Applying Viktor Frankl’s Concept of “Self-Transcendence” to Listening to Another Person

Viktor Frankl, Psychiatrist and Holocaust Survivor

Listening is both passive, that is, an act of receiving; and active, a “reaching out” to another human being, connecting, however briefly, with him or her. Listening is an acknowledgment and affirmation of another person’s existence. It is an act of respecting someone. Listening is also an act of love in that one is giving one’s time and attention to another person, what he or she is saying. Listening is, first, to understand, not interrupting him or her; then, if appropriate, to reply. So many talk; so few listen. At the essence of listening, then, is self-transcendence, the unselfish act of love, of giving oneself – one’s time and attention – to another human being.

 

Auschwitz: “Hell”​ on Earth

Elie Wiesel

For Elie Wiesel, faith and hope are subjective powers, issuing from a person’s inner life, his or her choices in responding to life’s adversities. That is to say, faith and hope are not only directed to an afterlife but also to living in the here-and-now, this life. In particular, faith and hope are forms of suicide prevention, because they are necessary for human survival, for staying alive, for choosing to live rather than die, especially during the most inconceivable conditions of suffering, such as being in the concentration camp at Auschwitz.

Elie Wiesel often defined “hell” with one word — Auschwitz. He could do that, I suppose, because he himself lived through it, being a survivor of Auschwitz. He wrote a book about it, Night, which chronicled his experiences of suffering, depression, hopelessness, despair, hunger, dehydration, starvation, emaciation, near-encounters with death and the witness of countless murders of Jews by the Nazis.

Wiesel remembered the most humane words which were spoken by a Polish man to the Jewish men upon their arrival at Auschwitz:

“Comrades, you are now in the concentration camp Auschwitz. Ahead of you lies a long road paved with suffering. Don’t lose hope. You have already eluded the worst danger: the selection. Therefore, muster your strength and keep your faith. We shall see the day of liberation. Have faith in life, a thousand times faith. By driving out despair, you will move away from death.”

For Wiesel, faith and hope did not necessarily prove that the prisoners in the Auschwitz would be released, that their future would be better. However, without faith and hope, suffering can become intolerable, leading a person to despair, even suicidal ideation or suicide itself. It is, then, psychologically speaking, better to have faith in the future than to give up on life. Similarly, it is better to hope, even hoping against hope, than to live in a state of despair.