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MLKDid you know Martin Luther King Jr. was pro-choice? Did you know Jesus was in favor of the second amendment? Did you know Gandhi would have Occupied Wall Street?

I didn’t either, but that’s what the news is saying.

I’m not making these opinions up, but I’m afraid the folks who penned them might be.

Probing history is essential for planning for the future. But that doesn’t mean we get to rewrite history.

Of course, ideas of an MLK throwing his weight behind abortion clinics, of a gun-toting Jesus and Gandhi inhaling teargas at Zuccotti Park aren’t exactly rewriting history. Anyone can cherry-pick quotations or over-extrapolate paradigms. We can hyper-interpret every syllable and twitch to reach any conclusions we want.

jesusNevermind context.

It’s impossible to say officially that any of these ideas are right or wrong. Maybe each is true. It’s not as though there is no evidence.

The thing is, there is evidence on all sides. As such, we just don’t know. And I think it’s dangerous—and possibly dishonoring—to pin these post-hoc crowd-sourced labels on history’s heroes… or villains, for that matter.

Dr. King never publicly offered his official stance on abortion. Jesus obviously didn’t pack heat; he didn’t even know what a glock was. And Gandhi was too busy practicing peace and nonviolence in the streets of India to be concerned with Wall Street in America, let alone the Wall Street of 2011.

gandhiOf course we can hypothesize and theorize and all that. We can even make educated guesses. But, where the record is silent, we can’t say with any great authority, “King would have done this!” or “Jesus would have my back on this!” or “Gandhi would beat this drum!”

We like to have our mascots. It’s especially nice when we can turn real-life icons into figureheads for modern movements and issues and opinions.

But that doesn’t mean we should.

None of us speak for MLK or Jesus or Gandhi, or any other such champion. Let them speak for themselves. And that means looking at what they actually said and did and wrote, not what we hope they would.

Martin Luther King is not a puppet to be manipulated. Jesus is not a mouthpiece for any person’s agenda. Gandhi is not a strawman we can prop up however we wish.

To turn history’s heroes into tokens, into stereotypes, into fronts is an abuse of Time itself. Just because we come after doesn’t mean we can redefine those who came before. We can try—and we will—but we shouldn’t.

We’ve all seen today’s celebrities—those we like and those we don’t—turned into caricatures. At least they can set the record straight because they’re still here.

History doesn’t have that privilege.

I wouldn’t like it if, in a few hundred years, the world presumes to know my every word and move regarding issues that are nonexistent to me. I don’t want the future to superimpose my 21st century life on its post-21st century present. Not where I was silent. Not where I had no opportunity to form an opinion.

You cannot appropriate a man. Not really. Not with all his infinite complexities of thought and hope and deed.

We can suppose things, but we can’t turn suppositions into facts.

We have enough problems interpreting what really was said and done and written. Let’s stick to that can of worms, rather than open the other, which is all presumption and imagination.

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