MLK on Three Types of Love

Now, there is another thing about this philosophy — I guess it’s one of the most misunderstood
aspects. It says that it is possible to struggle passionately and unrelentingly against an unjust
system and yet not stoop to hatred in the process. The love ethic can stand at the center of a
nonviolent movement.
And people always ask me, “What in the world do you mean by this?
How can you love people who are bombing yourhome, and people who are threatening your
children, and people who are using violence against your every move?” I guess they have a point.
I’m not talking about emotional bosh at this point. It is nonsense to urge oppressed people to
love their oppressor in an affectionate sense. This isn’t what we are talking about.
Fortunately the Greek language comes to our aid in trying to discover the meaning of love in this context.
There are three words in the Greek language for love. One is the word “eros.” Eros is a
sort of aesthetic love. Plato used to talk about it a great deal in his dialogues, a yearning of the
soul for the realm of the divine. It has come to us to be a sort of romantic love, and so in this
sense we have all read about eros in the beauties of literature. In a sense Edgar Allen Poe was
talking about eros when he talked about his beautiful Annabelle Lee with a love surrounded by
the halo of eternity. In a sense Shakespeare wastalking about eros when he said, “Love is not
love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the removerto remove.
It is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempest and is never shaken. It is a star to every wanderingbarque.” You know, I can remember that because Iused to quote it to my wife when we were courting.
That’s eros…(laughter)…Then there is “philia.” The Greek language talks about this kind of reciprocal love, a sort of…a love that develops out of the fact that you, you like the person. You love because you are loved. This is friendship.
There is another word in the Greek language. Itis the word “agape.” Agape is more than
friendship, agape is more than aesthetic or romantic love. Agape is understanding, creative,
redemptive good will for all men. It is an overflowing love that seeks nothing in return.
Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. And when one
rises to love on this level, he loves every man, not because he likes him but because God loves.
“The American Dream” by Martin Luther King, Jr.
February 5, 1964
Drew University
him. And he rises to the level of loving the pe
rson who does the evil deed
while hating the deed
that the person does.
And I think that this is the kind of love that
can guide us through the days and weeks and years
ahead. This is the kind of love that can help
us achieve and create the beloved community. I
think this is what Jesus meant when he said,
“Love your enemies,” and I’m so happy he didn’t
say, “Like your enemies,” it’s pre
tty difficult to like some people.
Like is an affection. It has
sentimental qualities and, frankly, it is difficult to
like, I find it very difficult to like Senator
Thurmond and Senator Eastland and the things that
they are doing on this Civil Rights issue and
the way they are voting, I really don’t like it. Bu
t Jesus says, “Love them” and love is greater
than like. Love is understanding, creative, rede
mptive good will for all men.

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