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Gary Horton: Occupiers’ thesis mirrors Reformation

Full speed to port!

Posted: November 2, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: November 2, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Last Sunday, Lutherans around the world celebrated “Reformation Day” — a day when Lutherans and other Protestant faiths pay special recognition to those whose work and effort sparked the Protestant Reformation.

History teaches that Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of All Saints Church on Oct. 31, 1517. The theses touched on a variety of theological topics, primary being Luther’s complaint against the heavily promoted practice of selling indulgences to free loved ones’ souls from purgatory — said practice being essentially a cash cow for the corporate church.

Luther took issue with the notion attributed to Johann Tetzel that, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” To Luther, eternal salvation, or at least a “get out of jail free card,” shouldn’t be limited to those with the bucks, or the connections, to buy the requisite ticket.

Such seems like basic common sense to believers today. But in Luther’s day, such talk was high heresy and, well, the rest is history. Wars, revolutions, families torn apart — all for the sake of an idea that individual salvation is by God’s grace and not by one’s ability to purchase indulgences.

Luther’s public discussion of spiritual equality resonated with downtrodden Northern Europeans, but frightened the day’s power interests with their need to protect cash flows and living standards. His was the power of ideas against power itself.

In response, the power interests cast Luther as the devil himself, sentenced him to death and forced him to hide.

Yet, backed first by hundreds, then thousands and then millions, Luther’s influence on grace and indulgences changed the Christian world.

That’s the raw power of the idea of freedom during times of oppression and inequity.

This year, we’ve witnessed “Arab springs” with hyper-rich dictators being cut down by their abused subjects. When folks finally have had enough, out come the protests and in comes (generally) change. Of course, change can be a messy business.

The U.S. press has had a field day vilifying and spoofing the Occupy Wall Street folks. They’ve been called everything, perhaps including, the devil himself. But they’re still out there by the tens of thousands all around the world, and their often-rambling ideas are beginning to get the proper coverage some deserve.

Of course, Luther was wrong on many things, as will be the Arab revolutionaries. But all were right in seeking greater equality and say in their lives.

So what do these Wall Street Occupiers want, other than the gibberish you might be seeing on TV? What is their “thesis?”

Turns out the Occupiers are more like you or me than we knew, and they want more or less the same things you and I hope for. Shave off their beards, lost the beads, ignore the tent cities and funny signs and you’ll hear a practical message loud and clear.

Too bad they don’t have a designated leader, nailing 95 theses up on the plate glass doors of JP Morgan’s world headquarters.

Read here, torn from the Occupiers’ thesis:

1. Why, since we were compelled to bail out reckless banks that triggered much of the mayhem perpetrated against the public and our economy, have their leaders not been subject to justice and held legally and civilly liable for misdeeds and gross negligence? Instead, we see large and record bonuses and increased nepotism between C-suite brethren.

2. Why, if America is the land of liberty and justice for all, have we become one of the worst nations in income and wealth equality? How can we keep company with Jamaica and Iran in this regard and hold ourselves out as “fair?” Are we really willing to become a land separated by extremes of the super-wealthy and the have-nots?

3. Why do we allow ultra-rich interests to directly influence our economic policy through paid lobbyists who control our representatives like puppets on strings? Where is real democracy when the voice of the people is subjected to the voice of the money?

4. Why, when the nation is running large deficits that threaten us all, do we have tax policy that allows those with the greatest returns from our economy to enjoy the lowest per dollar tax rates in our economy?

5. Why, when the nation is running large deficits that threaten us all, do we deficit-fund the world’s largest military (more than all other nations combined) at the direct expense of important public and social works that more directly benefit all of us?

6. Why does the government tax subsidize oil and energy companies even as they work every lever to maximize gas and energy costs to the tax-paying public at large, damaging our economic recovery in the process?

These are but some concepts of the Occupy thesis just now getting proper airplay. The concepts aren’t any further flung than Luther’s complaint against the injustice of indulgences.

Free thinkers welcomed the airing out of bad theology in Luther’s time, but power interests hated it. Power interests today also despise such open public discourse of economic injustice.

When asked to recant his teachings, Luther stated, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

Differently, but similarly, thousands today stand for common sense economic and political justice as they occupy Wall Street. Similarly, there might be hell to pay for it. But freedom, America knows, is not free.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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