If you don't do your own thinking someone else will do it for you.
WHEN THINKING about thinking, there are two contrast approaches we can bear in mind: authoritarian and sovereign.
The authoritarian approach is all about someone else doing your thinking for you. That's where THEY say: Do what you are told! Trust us. We know what is best for you. We are the chosen ones. We are right and you are wrong. You would understand. Do not question our authority. When we want your opinion we'll give it to you. And so on.
The sovereign approach is all about you doing your own thinking for yourself. That's where YOU say: Why? Why should I do as you say? Where do you get your authority? Why is this so? Why? Why? Why? What have you not told me? What bits have you left out? What proof do you have to offer? I'll think about your proposition and I'll let you know what I have decided. I reject your claim to authority over my mind. I abhor your attempt to bully me. I assert my individual sovereignty as a thinker. And so on.
On Sovereign Thinkers, Religions, Belief Systems and PTV
It is important to emphasise here that it is the right of a sovereign thinker to think what s/he likes and to believe what s/he wishes as long as they do not prevent other sovereign thinkers from doing the same.
A thinker respects the right of individuals to believe in any of the wide variety of human belief systems and religions which are a testimony to the richness, imagination and diversity of human thinking.
Many people derive benefits from believing in UFOs, angels, gods and goddesses, supreme beings, trinities, earthly incarnations or heavenly reincarnations, stars, fortune-tellers, dreams, scientific discoveries, miracles, snake-handling and so on.
One respects these believers in the way Voltaire found he could respect others without having to agree with them. What a thinker does not respect but fears, is PTV.
For example, one respects the sovereign right of a Christian to believe in Jesus or a Muslim to believe in Allah or an Atheist to believe in nothing. One does not respect an authoritarian Christian or Muslim or Atheist infected with PTV who feels that their belief is 'the truth' and others should be made to 'toe the line or else'! A truth may be right enough for the person who uses it but not right enough to force another person to use it.
In the past few chapters we've been looking at some of the consequences of the authoritarian approach to thinking proceeding from the ideas of Plato, Aristotle and Aquinas. But the richness of human thinking has produced other alternatives and now we can examine the ideas of some who have given their support to the sovereign approach to thinking.
There are many, of course, but let's meet one of my heroes. This man, like Thomas Aquinas, was also a monk. He was only a peasant German monk yet he defied the authoritarian power in history.
The Sovereign Thinker
"It is not safe to act against your own conscience". So said Martin Luther and with those words began the world's biggest movement away from authoritarianism towards individual sovereignty of thinking.
Luther's rebellion against the authority of the Pope provided the trigger that set off a chain of events which went on long after he died. His challenge to authoritarianism led on to the splitting of the Church, the destruction of the Pope's temporal power, the bursting of the Church's monopoly on The Truth and a greater freedom of people to question things without automatically being treated as heretics. Those of us who cherish personal freedom owe a lot to Luther. What kind of a man would defy a pope?
Martin Luther was born in 1483 into a peasant mining family in Germany. At 14 he showed sufficient promise to be prepared for university. By then his father had risen to be manager of a group of smelting works and could afford for his son Martin to read law.
So Martin went to Germany's top University of Erfurt and graduated in law, second in his class. Everyone knew that he had a promising law career ahead of him. But no, Martin changed his mind and one day he suddenly decided to join an Augustinian monastery and altered his direction from law to theology.
He began to absorb the predestination ideas of Saint Augustine that men are sinners (Original Sin) and are therefore predestined to whatever God has in store for them. Such a point-of-view reduces the role the Church plays in mediating a person's salvation.
At that time, Rome claimed that it, and it alone, had the only ticket to salvation. If you wanted to get to Heaven then you bought your ticket from its representatives on the only flights scheduled to get there. "You fly with us. You buy our ticket or you don't go to Heaven at all! That's it. Take it or leave it. You're in or you're out".
"Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely"
Brother Martin was already dissatisfied with the Church's claim to being God's exclusive 'travel agent' and so on his visit to Rome he was deeply depressed and revolted upon seeing the spoils of the indulgence scheme that had been collected from the faithful and displayed in the decadence and opulence of the court of Pope Leo X.
Today we are used to modern popes who live in a much more tolerant and multi-cultural world. A lot has changed since a 14th century John XXII said that to deny Aquinas was tantamount to heresy. Could you ever imagine a 20th century John XXIII saying such a thing?
The papacy is an extremely difficult job yet Papal prestige is now at an all-time high. Most modern popes appear to have been men of goodwill who seem to have tried very hard to balance the enormous burden of their office with the exigencies of a free society. That they have done so with such popular success is an extraordinary example of modern leadership.
John XXIII said, "I am not infallible", and called Vatican II to demonstrate it.
Paul VI showed great compassion to clergy opposing celibacy, releasing them from their vows.
John Paul I wanted to clean up the Vatican bank for which some, like investigative journalist David Yallop, say he was murdered.
John Paul II was wounded and very nearly assassinated for helping Ronald Reagan to defeat the 'evil' Russian Empire.
Today's popes are popular superstars who draw crowds wherever they go. But this was not always so. In the past, why did so many men, on securing the papacy, become corrupt?
Many have written about the extremes of papal corruption throughout history. Lord Acton wrote on the papacy "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely it may explain the long history of the papacy's libido dominandi, its insatiable lust for power.
Luther's pope was one of the most infamous. He was the youngest cardinal ever. Given a Red Hat for his 13th birthday he became pope when he was 38. It is recorded that as the triple tiara hit his head, Pope Leo X turned to his illegitimate cousin, Giulio de Medici, and exclaimed, "Now I can enjoy myself".
And he did!
Leo took papal greed to new heights that trivialise the corporate excesses of the 1980s. Instead of giving everything up for Christ, Leo grabbed everything he could, in Christ's name. History records the following:
Leo had 683 courtiers on his payroll, an orchestra, a theatre and a menagerie of wild animals including a white elephant that would bow to Leo three times.
Leo gave Bacchanalian banquets of 65 courses featuring such delicacies as peacock tongues, nightingales flying out of pies and naked boys jumping out of puddings.
Flaunting canon law, Leo planned hunting trips for weeks on end.
His Roman brothels, with 7,000 registered prostitute population of 50,000 still didn't bring in enough income for Pope Leo.
He was a gambler and big spender, borrowing vast sums from bankers at 40% interest.
Although simony - the buying and selling of sacred things - was a crime, Leo invented 2,150 papal offices and positions and auctioned them off. Cardinal's Red Hats went for around 30,000 ducats. And so on.
The St. Peters Scam
But it was Leo's ultimate act of obscene greed and blasphemy that finally pushed our hero Luther into action. In 1517 Pope Leo X, in cahoots with Prince Albert Hohenzollern, pulled a major scam on the long-suffering German people.
Leo offered to sell Albert the See of Mainz and the Primacy of Germany for 30,000 ducats. But, since Albert didn't have the money they conspired to raise the cash by selling indulgences to the German people saying the money was going into a building fund for St Peter's in Rome.
Luther fought back with a new weapon. Luck was on his side. Gutenberg had only recently invented the printing press and Luther not only officially submitted his arguments in Latin to ecclesiastical authorities but also wrote them in his native German tongue and published his pamphlets for general distribution to the German people.
This general distribution was a major new development the importance of which cannot be over emphasised. In one of his pamphlets he described Leo's papacy as: "more corrupt than any Babylon or Sodom ever was. It is a distress and terrible thing to see the Had of Christendom, who boasts of being the Vicar of Christ and successor to St Peter, living in a worldly pomp that no King or Emperor can equal; so that in him who calls himself most holy and most spiritual there is more worldliness than in the world itself".
Distribution of Luther's pamphlets to the general public broke the Church's monopoly on information and his arguments directly challenged the Pope's authority. The people and the local German princes had had enough! They stood behind Luther and protected him from the wrath of Pope Leo who, of course, excommunicated him. When Luther received his copy of the Pope's Bull of Excommunication, he simply burnt it in defiance.
Inventor of the Media
"The die is cast. I despise the fury and favour of Rome. I will have no reconciliation with the Pope for all eternity." These words are enough to make Martin Luther one of the greatest sovereign thinkers in history.
Using the new technology of the printing press to spread his ideas, Luther became the first thinker ever to bring his argument to the general public. His example, soon followed by others like Calvin, began the unravelling of the authority of Rome that led to the Reformation.
If Gutenberg was the inventor of the printing press, perhaps Martin Luther can be considered the inventor of the media, free speech and the right for individuals to think for themselves.
It may be that the Internet is the next biggest leap for sovereign thinkers since the printing press. Perhaps the Net is becoming the new medium that will provide a fresh hope for individuals who wish to think for themselves and who, like Brother Martin, wish to defy the authoritarianism that still exists in many of today's institutions in Big Government, Big Religion and Big Business.
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