Money isn’t our primary purpose for living, but it seeps into every nook and cranny. I was reminded of this once again when I read this absolutely fascinating piece in The Economist about social media’s role in the Reformation 500 years ago. Martin Luther used pamphlets written and printed in common language to face off against the Vicar of Christ Pope Leo X and other members of the Roman Catholic religious establishment, who communicated primarily in Latin–the language of the clergy and the rich.
Here’s where money comes into it. Martin Luther was righteously pissed that friar Johann Tetzell was raising cash for Il Papa’s reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica by selling church members get-out-of-Purgatory-free cards, known as indulgences. For a certain amount, you could ensure that souls of you and your loved ones wouldn’t be stuck in limbo in the afterlife.
Martin Luther’s writings, songs, sermons, and lectures calling out this corruption, among other rottenness permeating the church, launched the Protestant Reformation. It was Christianity’s second big split–the first being the split of the Orthodox church from Roman Catholicism in 1054 a.d. Today the the 2-billion-plus Christians are split four ways: 50.1% Catholic, 36.7% Protestant, 11.9% Orthodox, and 1.3% other, according to The Pew Forum On Religion & Public Life.
Money played a starring role in reshaping the world’s largest religion.
It’s not just religion that money has impacted. In the 1700s, the smoldering of the Colonies revolutionary fervor ignited because of a tea tax. The desire and ideology for a country free from England’s mothering had long been there, and the widespread dissemination of printed literature from the likes of Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin provided talking points for public debate, but that last hit to colonist’s pocketbooks provided the final impetus to open rebellion.
This year much of the Arab world rose up and overthrew, or attempted to overthrow, governments–it’s still going on in countries like Syria. They organized with social media and rallied around the desire for better government. One of the main underlying issues was the lack of jobs and and career opportunities for an increasingly educated populace. Again, it comes down to money.
Here in the states, Occupy Wall Street protests first called for by anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters and taken viral through Facebook and Twitter are still rolling along. It’s a loosely organized movement with many targets, but the recurring theme is money: from economic inequality to money’s supposed misuse in both the political and corporate arenas and the ensuing effects on the lives of individuals and broader society.
Money is the filament that strings together movements as varied as a religious reformation and a secular protest of corporate greed. It’s what takes us from Martin Luther’s 95 handwritten Theses nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517 to a group of activists filing dispatches on Mac laptops in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, New York in 2011. That’s why it’s so fascinating. That’s why we try to explain the money side of life.