It was this sudden shift to the left as well as the clergy's reaction to the printing press that ultimately started the Protestant Reformation. The invention of Gutenberg's moveable type greatly aided the spread of Martin Luther's reform movement and inevitably led to the Protestant zeal for translating the Holy Bible. To the Church's dismay, the Protestants rapid dispersal of printed sermons and pamphlets advanced the culture of biblical literacy to include the common laity. However, the Protestant Reformation soon became just as rigid and repressive in its inner workings as the papacy from which it claimed liberation. Martin Luther simply replaced the infallibility of the pope with the infallibility of the Bible. Along with other reformers, Luther adopted the standard of sola scriptura, rigidly rendering the Bible the sole measure of all fields of human knowledge. He elevated in importance certain passages that emphasized God's stern and wrathful nature, being particularly fond of the Old Testament in general and Paul's Epistle to the Romans in particular. The Reformation Protestants indulged in wholesale patriarchal denigration of feminine values and stern repression of joy, love, laughter, and beauty.
This repressive tendency of literalistic dogma among the Protestants stood in stark contrast to the Renaissance. The Renaissance was all about a new humanistic attitude toward life that inspired new clothes, new dances, new music, a new attitude toward sexuality, etc. The Renaissance produced a colorful diversity of cultural and intellectual innovations that was clearly at odds with the strict religiosity of Protestant theologians such as Luther and Calvin.
It was against this backdrop of cultural and religious tensions that the religious wars between the Protestants and Catholics erupted. These religious wars raged for two hundred years. And then the Enlightenment occurred in the late eighteenth century, ushering in a new age of reason that marked a principled departure from the State & Church-mandated oppression, toward an era of rational human discourse, freedom of belief, scientific advancement, and modernity.
The historical trend I have just described is a trend that I see being played out once again in recent history, beginning with the invention of television and culminating in the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. This is a trend I am very encouraged and excited by.
In the 1950s, television arrived on the cultural scene and transformed the world in much the same way as the printing press had. Whereas the printing press widely disseminated written words, television disseminated images through the fusion of photography and electromagnetism. The advent of television has produced an unprecedented cultural and social revolution that is in many ways quite similar to the Renaissance period of the 14th-17th centuries. It inspired new clothes, new dances, new music, a new attitude toward sexuality, and even a new approach to humanism.
This unprecedented emergence of cultural progressiveness flew in the face of the conservative values that had previously held sway in society. This produced the Reformation of the 1990s, in which the right-wing evangelical community harshly opposed anything in the culture they saw as a threat to their strict and rigid subservience to religious dogma. The heinous attempts of such organizations as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition of America to suppress basic human rights and destroy freedom of belief and scientific advancement offer a truly disturbing picture indeed of the dangers that blind religious dogma poses to modern society.
And now we have entered yet another era of religious war, as the events of September 11, 2001 has indelibly indicated. Yet it is not only Muslim Jihadists that have waged war with us. Our secular and freethinking nation is now also under attack by the right-wing evangelical base, who have egregiously violated the separation of church and state in their attempts to force their religious beliefs into the public and political arena. Needless to say, this right-wing fundamentalist community poses just as serious a threat to the continued well-being of our nation as does the extremist Muslim community. This conservative right-wing influence is a threat insofar as they are tacitly embracing the anti-progressive trend of their irrationally dogmatic religious forebears who instigated two hundred years of bloodshed in the name of God and suppression of human rights.
In light of these two easily discernible historical trends, I believe Barack Obama represents the new generation of the Enlightenment. The pace of history has quickened since the Renaissance, but we have seen essentially the same pattern. Instead of taking two hundred years for an enlightened approach to come to fruition, it has taken a mere thirty years. We are now witnessing what I believe is a very dramatic change, one that I believe is crucially important to recognize and embrace.
In his history-making Inaugural Address on January 20, 2009, President Obama outlined a vision for a more inclusive and progressive America, promising to "restore science to its rightful place." He also affirmed the pluralistic character of American society, expressly including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and atheists as part of the body politic. I enthusiastically applaud this much-needed progressive vision just as I applaud the era of rational human discourse, freedom of belief, scientific advancement, and modernity that characterized the Enlightenment.