Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Protest and Reform

Digging potatoes is conducive to pondering.

I had an insight while digging potatoes:
There are significant parallels between the conditions of today and the period immediately before the Protestant Reformation.

How can things that are entirely transparent to me can be completely opaque to others?  For instance, I see the direction of our society as an imminent train wreck.  Many others see it as inexorable progress.  In some cases it is due to differences in the content of our education.  I was exposed to classical, western civilization.  Later students were exposed to more contemporary, less western oriented "history".

OK, I know some are going through a big eye-roll.  But the fact remains that the Protestant Reformation was cataclysmic.  It upended dynasties.  It ushered in a period of civil liberties, individual rights and the primacy of reasoning.  Those liberties and the concepts of individualism sparked an economic boom in the Western World.  It also resulted in the deaths of 40% of the population in Germany and significant portions of the population elsewhere.

Three major causes of the Protestant Reformation

Movable type printing
The first book to be printed in Europe was the Gutenberg Bible in Germany.  Bibles used to be very rare and very precious.  They were hand written.  They were difficult to decipher.  They were protected and were used as rarely accessed references.  The mass printing of Bibles made God's word accessible to at least a 1000 times more people.  It is not surprising that Gutenberg and Luther (both Germans) are linked in the minds of most historians.

The easy access of Bibles was more of an enabler of the Reformation than a cause.  There had been other, earlier protests against the Roman Church that had been easily squashed.  The Roman Church controlled the information, command and control mechanisms.  The printed Bible replicated the information beyond what could be contained.  That knowledge served as nuclei and a multitude of parallel command-and-control structures spontaneously sprang forth.

The internet, smart phones and cheap printers are today's Gutenberg Bible.

Captured wealth
The Roman Church was eternal.  Property was often willed to the Church in the hopes of greasing the skids for salvation.  When property was willed to an individual, that property would re-enter the market when that individual died.  The amount of property owned by the Church continued to ratchet up over the centuries because the Church did not die.

Complaisant bureaucrats in the Church had a stranglehold on the means of production while aggressive, go-getters were left sucking dust.
This played into the Reformation in two ways.  The economy was impoverished as the best lands and businesses were absorbed into Church holdings.  Starving people with no economic prospects get angry, especially when they can look across a fence and see fat people goofing off.
The other way it factored in is that political entities...kings, dukes, barons...saw all that Church property as spoils-to-the-victor.  It was not just the starving peasants that envied the Church's captured wealth.  It was coveted by people with armies, castles and cannon:  They had the means to both seize and to protect that wealth.

Corrupt people in positions of power
One of the burning issues that drove the Protestant Reformation was "the selling of indulgences".  Today, we would call it pay-to-play.

"Selling indulgences" was the giving of absolution (and therefore a free pass into heaven) in exchange for payment or a transfer of wealth.  This often occurred on the miscreant's deathbed.

I suspect that this has always happened, smoldering at some low level.  Shortly before the Reformation the practice was both flagrant and crassly practiced.  People of lower means were held to one set of standards while people with power or money were allowed to skate.

Does that sound familiar?

Bonus observation
Martin Luther first tried to work within the system.

He dutifully pointed out issues.
Then he was persecuted by the powers and vested interests.

There was sufficient "potential energy" captured  in the system that it blew up, absolutely fragmented when he did not shut up.

The world was never the same afterward.  And 40% of the German population, the epicenter of the Protestant Reformation, were still dead by fratricide.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank-you, sir. You are very kind.

      I only plan to write when I have something I need to say. It probably will not be very often.

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