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Rick Steves and Martin Luther

There’s an episode of Rick Steves’ travel show where he deals with Martin Luther, the Renaissance, the invention of the printing press and the Reformation. It is possibly the best thing I have ever seen on PBS.  Up until Guttenberg, most of us couldn’t read, libraries were owned and controlled by the church, the Mass was in Latin, which, for the most part, only clerics understood, and most of humanity was compelled to submit blindly to the church’s presumptions of authority.

They didn’t call it the Dark Ages for nothing.

So along came Martin Luther, who famously nailed his 95 Theses to a church door.  They, too, were written in Latin, because he didn’t intend them for general consumption. Naturally, Luther was not the first reform-minded cleric to make some noise about ignorance and corruption, but his predecessors were all burned, impaled or otherwise dispatched to their eternal rewards before their heretical ideas got much traction. What saved Luther from an obscure and premature fate was a technical marvel that we take for granted: the printing press. What happened was that someone translated his theses, turned them into a pamphlet, printed up a bunch and spread them around. This technological revolution broke the church’s stranglehold on information and Luther’s ideas set Europe on fire. Technology had given ordinary men and women access to facts. The rage that resulted from that took about a century to die down.

Christianity has never been the same.

I bet you are rarely far from a smartphone, a tablet or a computer. The world is quite literally at your fingertips, and the way you interact with reality has fundamentally changed. No matter what your curiosity asks, Google or a thousand of its relatives will bury you in information, you can see or learn about virtually anything. It seems to me now that the primary thing we need to teach kids is how to think critically, how to separate truth from bullshit, and how to know when they’re being conned. Recent political events in the US do not reassure me.

The revolution has begun. I wonder where it will take us.



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