Eric Christen: Two anniversaries seminal events in human history
As we’ve come to the end of 2017, it is important to reflect on two anniversaries recognized this year.
The first was the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, one of the signal events of Western history. It occurred when Martin Luther, a German Augustinian (Catholic) monk, posted 95 theses on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. That act was common academic practice of the day and served as an invitation to debate.
Luther’s propositions challenged some portions of Roman Catholic doctrine and several specific practices such as the payment of “indulgences” for certain sins. The Catholic Church excommunicated Luther and the Reformation was on. Luther had determined that the orthodoxy of the Church was not in line with what the Bible said on such important issues as personal salvation and the place that grace played in the Christian faith.
Luther and average citizens were now able to read what the Bible had to say thanks to the invention of the Guttenberg printing press. The Bible suddenly went from something that a few Priests had and that was written in Latin, to something almost anyone could have and that was written in the language of the common man (German in this case.)
The resulting reformation allowed for the spread of a Christian faith that stressed the supremacy of the individual in their relationship with God, one where all that was required for salvation was an acceptance of Jesus as your savior with no need for earthly middlemen. The prevailing orthodoxy and hierarchy of the Church was thereby challenged by a much more decentralized and diffuse faith that allowed for critical thought, thought that saw men as individuals and not cogs in a machine.
It is not a coincidence that from this point on Europe’s technological, economic, and political supremacy, as compared to that of the rest of the world, most of which had organized societies that had been in existence for centuries longer, became unrivaled. The Age of Exploration, just underway, was accelerated and culminated in the settlement of the Americas. The liberalization of the West that has led to a standard of living and of personal freedom unequaled in human history in many ways owes its origins to a religious reformation that re-introduced individualism into the realm of faith.
The year 2017 also witnessed the 100th anniversary of a very different kind of revolution. This was the November (Bolshevik) Revolution of 1917 where armed communists seized the Winter Palace in Petrograd, Russia (now St. Petersburg), and dissolved the Provisional Government that had been created after the fall of Russia’s last Czarist dynasty, the Romanovs. When Russians woke up that morning they woke up in a different universe.
Although the Bolsheviks called for the abolition of private property their real goal was, like the Protestant Reformation, spiritual: to translate Marxist-Leninist ideology into reality. For the first time a state had been created that was to be based explicitly on atheism that claimed infallibility. This was totally incompatible with Western Civilization, which presumed the existence of a higher power over and above the supremacy of the state.
As opposed to the human advancement in all realms of life that followed the Protestant Reformation, the Communist Revolution was proceeded by a trail of blood and death unequaled in history with more than 100 million killed because of it. How did this happen?
In countries where communism came to hold sway, it hallowed out society’s moral core, degrading the individual and turning him into a cog in the machinery of the state. Communists, from Russia to Eastern Europe, from the America’s to Asia, committed murder on an industrial scale, a scale that all but eliminated the value of life and that destroyed the individual conscience of the survivors.
These two anniversaries are seminal events in human history that bare testament to what can occur in a society that places the state above the individual and replaces absolute moral principles with transitory, materialistic ones.
We would be wise to study these lessons, so they are not repeated.
Eric Christen lives in Grass Valley.
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