Sunday, September 16, 2007

How Protestants Saved Western Civilization

JZ argues…

Well…well…well. I am writing for a bunch of Catholic boyz. Well, I will need to set y’all straight on how Protestants saved the world.

The Protestant Reformation introduced the needed antidotes to the Catholic mindset for Western civilization. It was only because of the religious revolution initiated by Martin Luther that democracy, capitalism, and a sense of individualism could eventually win out over the deadening feudalism of the past.

The Catholic civilization was built upon three essential ingredients that Luther attacked: priestly authority, communal values, and hierarchy. The Church was structured like a pyramid with the Pope on the top and his underlings below him in a ladder of political power. The Priests (symbolically including Cardinals, bishops, and priests) were given a mysterious higher power in society. This allowed them to rule over the common person in all matters that would lead to change in society. Priests would educate the commoner in the truths of the church and tradition. This meant that they held the credentials for information and advice. No one else was allowed to develop ideas and creations that would undermine the priestly class’ opinions. Finally, people were instructed to believe in this rigid hierarchy based upon the notion that all people were essentially corrupt in nature and needed a community, led by a higher authority, to keep them in line.

Okay, so along comes Martin Luther who challenges each one of these beliefs. Martin Luther first challenged the notion of showing external works for salvation. Instead, he stressed internal purity of faith and understanding of God. While this was meant for spiritual issues, Luther was opening the door to individual thought and creativity. Next, Luther attacked the priestly class by arguing that all followers of God were essentially priests and equal in the eyes of God. This implied that all people were capable of achieving equality in function depending upon their individual skills and talents. Finally, he challenged the notion that the Church would be sole source of information and a reflection of God. He argued that the individual should go to the Bible and read it for him or herself. He meant to do this for purposes of salvation. But, check it out! This lays the ground for independent journalism, the need for an educated populace, and the value of individual critical thought.

Now connect all of this to current day Democracy, Capitalism, and Individualism. These are the three foundations of our modern day western civilization that we cherish. Each one of these foundations fits back into the Protestant spiritual rebellion against the Catholic hierarchy. Yes, Luther was rebelling for spiritual reasons. In fact, he argued against a local peasant rebellion against one of the German princes. He argued that his rebellion was only about religious issues and had nothing to do with political or economic equality. But, by attacking the traditions of the Catholic Church, he was opening the possibilities for individualism, critical thought, empowerment of the common people, and an equality based upon ability not position in society.

Well, have I convinced y’all? I know you are all Catholic children. Have I thoroughly changed you? If you would like, I have the address of the local Lutheran church. They accept conversions on a daily basis!!!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Middle Ages and Urbanization

JZ argues…

The creation of urban centers during the Medieval Ages was the beginning of the end for Western civilization. Urban centers begun the long sliding slope to the current day problems that we see with cities and largely populated areas. Cities have led to pollution, congestion, social anonymity, political corruption, and a degraded culture.

Most people think that the Medieval Ages were a dark period in Western civilization in which people lived under a cloud of oppression and ignorance. The stereotype of the “Dark Ages” is that people were just waiting to be freed by science, Enlightenment and Democracy. We typically assume that our lives are so much better today because we live longer and have better living conditions for housing, diet and education. We look at all of this proclaim that we have attained “progress” in our civilization. However, aren’t we just taking the positive elements of our civilization and using them to mask the real lack of progress made by urbanization and the growth of congregated populations?

Cities in European population primarily began as a way for merchants and craftsman to operate in congregated markets. They demanded more freedom from the traditional Church and State relationship. Local cities created their own political organizations and laws. Local craftsmen, like tailors, butchers, glass creators, and carpenters, all created businesses that offered hand made goods at prices demanded by the consumers. Laborers were attracted to work as apprentices and then to become their own masters. Labor formed guilds, sort of like unions, to create protections for labor and business. Thus, many people could believe that this was a demonstration of the positive aspects of some sort of primitive capitalist economy.

However, take a closer look at what was created. These towns created their own forms of governance placing them outside of the traditional forms of leadership of the government and church. This led to more extreme individualism and competition. The community lost a sense of identity and coherence that simply got worse as towns increased in size and scope. Business competition led to the growth of wealth amongst certain families. These families used their money to corrupt local politicians. Often these families created their own “turf” for business and would literally kill the competition in a mafiaesque style. Towns created problems for sanitation and trash. People in towns tended to use more and waste more since they were not under the limited conditions of the farmlands where farmers had learned to live with what they had.

One could argue that this was simply a part of the evolutionary process. As time would go by, the towns would become more sophisticated and learn from these errors of development. One could argue that we today have progressed over time far beyond these primitive moments. But have we?

We live in a “democracy”. But how many people really feel that they have a personal contact with their government. We get to vote every two, four, or six years. But, most people feel that the wealthy and powerful still influence those in charge. We may have a formal voice in government. But, isn’t this just a sham to cover up the reality of how little influence we have? Yes, it is true that we have become much better about our sanitation systems. But, don’t we still produce much more waste than was ever produced by farmers? Just look at how much your family will produce in trash in one week. Where does all that go? And, what effect does that have on our overall environment? Is it true that we are freer than the peasant of the Middle Ages? Well, yes, we are free in name. But, we actually work more and experience more stress. The peasants had so many church feast days that they actually worked less than we do. Ah, yes, but we live longer! But, for what? Do people have a sense of purpose and meaning in life today? Or is life simply a game to make more profit?

Still, aren’t we more educated? Well, yes, but for what purpose? The most popular shows on television today are Reality TV shows. And, more people vote for the next star on American Idol and Dancing with the Stars than for President. If this is the effect of an educated populace, then what is the point?

For all of these reasons, I would argue that the creation of cities were at best a new form of living and at worst a prison for western civilization. Now that argument is Zucktastic!!