Protesting versus Tolerating

Sometimes it happens that events take place that force you to make a choice. This is part of life and in some cases the choice you make impacts everything you do afterwards. Sometimes this impact is felt as subtle and in other instances a choice affects everything you do. This made me reflect on a choice I once in a while make, namely to protest or to tolerate.

The moment I became aware of the influence of choices was when I really started to understand the power my own thoughts as a child. To describe what thoughts do is simple. When you think about something and formulate it in a sentence ready for sharing by writing or speech it can lead you to make a choice. The moment you share in writing or speech that formulation  of thoughts the words are perceived and reacted to.

The last two years I have encountered many situations. In some cases I tolerated and chose to make the most out of it. In some cases I could not accept the situation and I walked out. In some cases I chose to speak up as a sign of protest. Whatever the situation people in all kinds of situations made the choice to protest or to tolerate.

The context of the choices to protest or to tolerate are some of the most interesting examples of people and their breaking points in specific situations. When you have an interest in history and course of civilisation through the millennia the are patterns of change that begin at situations where people were at a breaking point in a specific situation.

A good example is the introduction of the printing press machine and the first Bible translations in Medieval Europe and how church and state reacted. For centuries the church and its members of the clergy had the monopoly to almost all knowledge in Europe. This monopoly gave them unprecedented intellectual, social, political and most of all religious power. People who were able to speak and write in Latin, Greek and Hebrew while not being a member of the clergy were perceived to be a threat.

In this situation of church and clergy with an almost absolute monopoly over knowledge the first Bible translators could either tolerate the status quo or protest it.  Thankfully Desiderius Erasmus, Martin Luther, John Wycliffe and William Tyndale chose to translate and share their Bible translations. It might not seem like much right now but if it was not for the first Bible translations generations of common people would not have had to chance to learn to read and write. The ability to read and write is essential to set up administration systems and to pass on knowledge in every civilisation.

From the Bible to Martin Luther there is the year 1517. In 476 A.D. the Western Roman empire had fallen. After about 800 A.D. Charlemagne made the Christian Faith the official religion of his territories and court. Despite some instability in Rome through the centuries Roman Catholic Christianity was the religion of most Europeans. In 1517 though a monk named Martin Luther wrote his bishop to rethink the “indulgences.” These indulgence gave the buyer a place in heaven and the sales revenues directly went to Rome and the pope. Martin Luther pointed out that God alone decided who was to enter heaven, not an indulgence.

Rome did not like Martin Luther’s critique. Additionally German translations found their way into the public. This critique of sorts is knows as the “95 Theses” and you can compare it to the Snowden case in impact. The more people learnt and understood how a rich pope in the wealthy city of Rome was selling pieces of heaven the more people became of aware how they were exploited by their own clergy. In 1520 Luther publicly burnt the “papal bull” that ordered him to take back his word in the “95 Theses” and permanently broke with Rome and the pope. In 1521 Luther was excommunicated and the Reformation was permanently set in motion. Luther was to set off a movement against the then “corrupt” Rome.

My choice for these examples is simple. I was raised a in a Christian family and these specific situations have changed Europe and indirectly the rest of the world of today. The first Bible translation for the common people set off the first steps to freedom and access of information. Would I have been able to read the Bible without the first translations centuries ago? I do not know for sure. What I do know is that the monopoly on knowledge had to be broken.

The choice of Luther to defend his “95 Theses” made people aware that the Roman Catholic was not as almighty as it presented itself. A lone monk and his friends could oppose this powerful centre of religious, political and military power. In this context I referred to the case of Edward Snowden. Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA and the American government and trembled the political platform of Washington. That political platform is still trembling and the intelligence “back-doors” require an explanation.

There are more examples I could mention here from the somewhat mythical Socrates to Rosa Parks. I could write about the Arminius-Gomarus matter, Semmelweis and Anton de Kom. What matters is that not everything the people or organisations in power say or do is valid or even right. When that happens it is important to ask “why?” and “how so?” What follows is a choice, namely to tolerate or to protest. 

I am part of a generation that has to face the challenges of the 21st century. Some people and organisations in power do not care about the challenges of the 21st century. I cannot sit on the sidelines and say nothing. The world is changing and what is left for others in the future depends on the choices people make now. I have to make choices too.

Protesting versus tolerating, now and in the past remains a relevant topic…