Wednesday, October 31, 2012

This Day in 1517...

On this date in 1517, history changed forever.

It was on October 31, 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The resulting uproar can be felt to this day. From what we know, Luther  never intended to formally sever his ties with the Catholic Church. In fact, he denounced the peasant revolt that his writings sparked and sided with the nobles. He simply felt compelled to speak out against the corruption and heretical practices of his day. Little did he know that armies would march against each other in his name. Little did he know that, because of his gesture, kings would extricate themselves from the Roman Catholic church and forever change the course of their nations' history. Little did he know that the Wittenberg door would come to symbolize one of the greatest schisms in history.

Luther was no saint. He is believed to have held strong anti-Semitic beliefs. But his passion to see man in direct communication and relationship with God led him to translate the Scriptures into the language of the people, defying the exclusivity of Latin as the language of the Church.

And you thought October 31 was just Halloween.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The (Lost) Land of Civility

A recent article in The Economist struck a chord that was already resounding more and more loudly. I read The Economist for a number of reasons: being a British publication, it gives the badly needed perspective of an outside observer on US issues. Its global scope also covers international issues many American periodicals ignore. 

The writer (anonymous, an Economist trademark), put his or her finger on yet another paradox of life in these United States. Lexington, as said writer is called, has lived in a number of world capitals, including London, Beijing, Brussels, and Washington, DC. Only in Washington, however was the newly arrived Lexington met with such friendly neighbors as to offer home-cooked food and invitations to backyard softball. Such civility is actually documented by the OECD (Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development), which states that "Americans are far likelier than its average citizen to have helped a stranger in the previous month...and twice as generous when volunteering their time."

The paradox is that such a civil country is engaging in more and more UNcivil politics. Lexington observes that, although both presidential candidates talk a lot about the future, their campaigns are actually nostalgic attempts to recover the mythical power of the American dream. What the two campaigns have in common -- and the camps they represent -- is that each side blames the other for the economic woes of our time. "Seeking to blame each other for economic shifts that are bigger than either party," Democrats and Republicans openly accuse each other of sabotaging the American ethos. It has suddenly become more about being on the right side than being an American. Period.

This polarization can have devastating consequences over the long term. As partisans become increasingly inflamed by the righteousness of their relatively short-term cause, each election leaves the nation licking its progressively deeper, self-inflicted wounds. The result: a weak and introverted society incapable of confronting the challenges of being a world leader with any sort of united front. As Lexington remarks, American "trust and generosity cannot forever survive a widespread sense that they are being abused."