Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Who Are These People?

Dear people of England, 16th century:

Do you even know what you believe?



I find myself confused by invisible majorities—the people in the eastern states who switch political parties every eight years, for example. Or the people of England during the Renaissance, most of whom didn't immediately move to Timbuktu after the throne forced them to switch religions. Twice. How does a person do that?

I think there are a couple of answers to that question.

First of all, those who cut against the grain on religious topics during this era were persecuted or killed (take the Thirty Years' War, which wiped out something over a quarter of Germany, as an example). So refusing to follow King Henry into his new divorce-friendly religion of Anglicanism was ostensibly injurious to one's health. I like to think that the English people, on an individual level, held some clearly defined beliefs which they were just unable to share for fear of retribution. The majority was Silent, not Mindless.

Second, it would appear that resisting the religious authority of the state involved a whole lot of studying and letter-writing, thanks to which fact we have access to almost the entirety of the discourse between the Church and such reformers as Martin Luther. Luther writes, "for my own self I am certain that the Word of God is with me and not with them, for I have the Scriptures on my side" (Luther 10). Luther's extensive study of the Bible was a prerequisite to his break with the Catholic Church, and the result was constant scorn and ridicule by the single most authoritative organization in the Western hemisphere, which included threats of excommunication and the label of "heresy" (Francisco 11). Aside from being painful, it might just have required too much dedication for most people.

So, despite the world's new-found access to original scripture, it was a matter of great personal effort, rebellion, and persecution to read it, internalize it, and act on it.

Let's switch gears. Welcome to the Occident, 2015. You can be whatever religion you want. You have freedom of speech. We're so progressive, la la la la la.

Do some of the same factors affect the Western hemisphere still? I submit that they do.

It's still difficult to be a freethinker. The difference is, instead of there being one clearly-defined organization to disagree with, there are hundreds battling for our loyalty. The art of persuasion is well-understood in this century and it's difficult for a person to reach his own conclusions independently, without being swayed by one interpretation or another (just try saying the word "Trinity" in a multi-lateral religious gathering, I dare you). Instead of being persecuted by a massive, ancient Catholic church if we disagree with it, we're persecuted by thousands of much smaller, younger sects no matter whom we agree with.

And the matter of dedication persists. Reading the Old Testament hasn't ever been a walk in the park. Understanding it is even harder. Have we gone to that trouble? Do we know what we believe? How many of our beliefs could be whipped out from under us before we would take issue? Would we be among the Martin Luthers, the deportees, the anathemas of the Renaissance?

The American spirit of individuality in me says "yes," but I'm not even sure if that's the best answer.

Works Cited

Francisco, Adam S. "'Arguing About Religion': Luther's Ongoing Debate with Islam." Parish, Helen, Fulton, Elaine, and Webster, Peter, eds. St Andrews Studies in Reformation History: Search for Authority in Reformation Europe. Farnham, Surrey, GBR: Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2014. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 16 September 2015.

Luther, Martin. An Argument in Defense of All the Articles of Dr. Martin Luther Wrongly Condemned in the Roman Bull. Albany, OR: AGES Digital Library Collections, 1997. Web. <>


  1. I like to comparison to present day situations. We may think that we are more removed from the people in the times of the Reformation than we actually are. What kinds of Reformations are we going through now? Are things any clearer or easier because we have this freedom to choose? Interesting points.

  2. Your Gif in the beginning is hilarious. And I like your first point a lot. A lot of the times I think we get caught up in thinking that the people who didn't speak up were "mindless." But its important to remember that they were probably just not willing to die for what they believed in. But does that make them just silent? or still even mindless?