Friday, May 26, 2017

Troublemakers in history


First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

It was on this day in 1521 that German priest and theologian Martin Luther was declared an outlaw and his writings were banned by the Edict of Worms. The edict made Luther more of a hero than he already was, and it's a big reason that Protestantism caught on so quickly.

Luther decided to become a priest after getting caught out in a thunderstorm one night. He swore to God that if he survived he would enter the religious life. He did survive, and he went on to study theology, become ordained, and get a job as a professor in Wittenberg. As he became more and more involved in the church, he began to grow disgusted with some of its practices. He was especially angry about the church's sales of indulgences, which were said to decrease the time a person had to spend in purgatory.

On the eve of All Saints' Day in 1517, Luther nailed to the door of his church 95 theses attacking the sale of indulgences and other excesses of the church. They were originally written in Latin, but they became so popular that people demanded they be translated into German, and so they were. Hundreds of copies were printed up on a printing press, which was still a fairly recent invention, and Luther's message spread throughout Germany and Europe.

Religious leaders and politicians began to realize how dangerous he was becoming to the traditional church, and in April of 1521, a group of Roman princes pressured Emperor Charles V into forming an assembly in the city of Worms to try to get Luther to reject his writings.

On his trip to Worms, Luther was celebrated as a hero at most of the towns he passed through. He refused to recant and went back to Wittenberg to start the reformation.

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And there is this personal postscript:

I am interested in troublemakers, people who defied authority and (for better or worse) influenced history. Luther ranks near the top of my hit parade of golden oldies because of the profound changes he provoked. Closer to home, even John Brown (the pre-Civil War America fanatic and murderer) fascinates me. Casting my net wider, here is a link to a list of troublemakers. And, giving equal time to women, here is another list. Going even further, here is another list.

Choose either from the lists or from elsewhere, and tell me what troublemaker most fascinates you? 



11 comments:

  1. I'm glad to see Elizabeth Warren on the list you suggested. I'm a great admirer of hers. And you know, I have a deep respect for Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Margaret Sanger, both of whom had a powerful influence on women's health and empowerment. Sanger also did much to serve the poor.

    And, to be fair to both sexes, I'm a fan of Jacob Riis and Upton Sinclair, among others, who raised the curtain on the lives and needs of the poor.

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  2. what strikes me is how perfectly normal most of them appear... not always, of course, but often... so i guess that's why it's impossible to tell anything about anyone by just looking at them... an encouraging and also a terrifying thought as well...

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    1. maybe that's why communication over the web is a good thing: what you get is the essence of thought and reflection, not confused with physical characteristics...
      another thought provoking and interesting subject, Tim, tx...

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  3. Margot and Mudpuddle, what I notice in all these lists (and the comments) is the blurred line between heroes and villains, winners and losers, builders and destroyers. I also note that every human being starts as an innocent baby; how people become certain kinds of adults (good, bad, and/or ugly) is mind-boggling. What a curious world!

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    1. Luther, following St. Augustine, did not believe in the innocence of babies. In Book 1, Section 7 of the Confessions, St. Augustine writes

      "Who remindeth me of the sins of my infancy? for in Thy sight none is pure from sin, not even the infant whose life is but a day upon the earth.... The weakness then of infant limbs, not its will, is its innocence. Myself have seen and known even a baby envious; it could not speak, yet it turned pale and looked bitterly on its foster-brother."

      See http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3296/3296-h/3296-h.htm#link2H_4_0001

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    2. George, I've never been comfortable with that original sin concept. I prefer a tabula rasa concept.

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  4. I suppose that in some ways one of my favorites would be John Jay Chapman. As far as public actions go, the most notable would have to be the memorial service he held (attended by one other person) in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, where there had been a lynching. But his essays "The Unity of Human Experience"(? not sure about the last word), "Between Elections", his extended essay on William Lloyd Garrison, and others are worth reading on the topic of troublemaking that counts.

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    1. Hmmm. If I ever knew about Chapman, George, I've forgotten, so thanks for giving me someone to (re)discover.

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    2. Gutenberg has Emerson and Other Essays; the University of Pennsylvania online books project has links to a few other books. Unfortunately, the University of Illinois let an excellent selection of Chapman's essays go out of print; but it isn't hard to find on-line.

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  5. Such characters are fascinating.

    I am also interested in John Brown. He is a historical figure worth knowing about. He was not just a trouble maker, he was an enigma in many ways.

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