Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Reformation: Then and Now

As I attended my niece's confirmation into the Lutheran Church (yes, they had confirmation in October) the minister spoke about the Protestant Reformation, which celebrates its anniversary this month. It was a good history review, as my own confirmation classes were many moons ago.

In the middle ages the Catholic Church had grown bloated and corrupt. (This is not an indictment of my many friends and family who are members of the modern Catholic Church, just a review.) In 1517 a German monk named Martin Luther challenged the church's systemic corruption by posting his "95 Theses." Chief among the grievances listed was the church's sale of indulgences, the forgiveness of sin based upon monetary payments to the church.

Luther's protest sparked a backlash against the Church that spread across Northern Europe. Many religious reformers followed in Luther's footsteps: such as Zwingli in Switzerland and Calvin in France (before he partnered with Hobbes). The message of these men was aided immensely by a new invention, the movable type printing press.

The printing press was invented in Europe (the Asians invented it first) by Johannes Gutenberg around 1450. Just as significant as the mass production aspects was the fact that Gutenberg began printing the Bible in German. Prior to this the Bible was only available in Latin, which could be read only by the well-educated minority of priests and scholars. No longer did the people have to rely on the learned few to interpret the word of God. The people could now do it themselves.

Fast forward 500 years and we can see similarities with the tremors of change that the "Information Age" (or the "Third Wave" of human progress as Alvin Toffler calls it) is promising to bring to the entrenched power structure. In their book "The Sovereign Individual" authors James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg posit the theory that, just as the printing press was the wrecking ball to the all-powerful medieval church, the internet promises to be a wrecking ball to the big government nation-state (also bloated and corrupt).

In addition to allowing the rapid transfer of money between nations, keeping it one step ahead of the tax collector, the internet allows the people unfiltered access to all kinds of information (and plenty of crap too, as readers of this blog are no doubt aware). Just as early Protestants could suddenly read the Bible in their own language, we no longer require any "learned few" to interpret our news and information for us.

I remember when the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill was being debated, many people declared it to be an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment right to political speech. I recall a letter in the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette stating that the bill should be passed, because it was up to the Supreme Court, not the people or even Congress, to decide what is and what is not constitutional. Imagine: only nine philosopher kings (or queens) in black robes being allowed to interpret the framework for a government supposedly of the people, by the people, and for the people. Probably not an uncommon belief these days.

I encourage everyone to read the Constitution for themselves and make up your own minds about what it means. Don't rely upon the interpretation of people who want to control you. (That goes for everything else too, not just the Constitution.)

Here are a few links:
[These links will now also be located in the "Important Documents" section at the right of the page.]

And you thought this post was going to be about my niece's confirmation!

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