and while the disreputable sort of Calvinist and the disreputable sort of Catholic still brawl online, in official ecclesiastical circles the rule is to speak of the Reformation in regretful tones, like children following a bad divorce who hope that now that many years have passed the divided family can come together for a holiday, or at least an ecumenical communion service.
Meanwhile, the secular intelligentsia can only really celebrate the Reformation’s anniversary in instrumental terms. From the perspective of official liberalism, most of the Reformation fathers were fundamentalists and bigots, even worse in some cases than the Catholics they opposed. So for the Lutheran and Calvinist rebellions to be worth memorializing, it must be as a means to secularizing ends — the liberation of the individual from the shackles of religious authority, which allowed scientific inquiry and capitalism to flourish, made secular politics possible, and ultimately permitted liberalism to triumph.
.. a world that was built on the wreckage created by Christian civilization’s civil war. Neither the Protestants nor Catholics won that war between the faiths: The instrumentalists did, the Machiavellians, the Westerners who wanted political and economic life set free from the meddling of troublesome priests and turbulent prophets.
.. 500 years after Luther threaded his 95 tweets together and pinned them to a door in Wittenberg, it’s their propaganda that deserves the most scrutiny, the most skepticism, the strongest doubts.
At the heart of that propaganda is a simple story about authority and the individual. First, this story goes, Protestantism replaced the authority of the church with the authority of the Bible. Then, once it became clear that nobody could agree on what the Bible meant, the authority of conscience became pre-eminent — and from there we entered naturally (if with some bloody resistance from various reactionary forces) into the age of liberty, democracy and human rights.
.. The Reformation and its wars did indeed diminish religious authority, secularize politics and allow certain kinds of individualism to flourish. But they also empowered (and were exploited and worsened by) the great new gods of modernity, the almighty market and the centralizing state, which claimed their own kind of authority
.. eventually revived the worst tendencies of the old Christendom, anti-Semitism and millenarianism, in fascist and Communist experiments that added the genocide of millions to the modern state’s list of crimes.
.. because Cromwellism, mass murder in the service of secular power and commercial wealth, has just as strong a claim as liberty or individualism to define the world that succeeded Christendom’s collapse.
.. It is also possible to imagine a world where an undivided Roman church harnessed science and technology to its own sort of religious-totalitarian ends, and became a theocratic boot stamping on a human face, forever.
So perhaps the modern world as we know it was the best we could do, the only path to liberty and pluralism and mass prosperity, however many Cromwells it required to get here.
.. But my own (biased, Catholic) guess is that given the technological and social changes already at work in early modern Europe, the great new modern powers, the state and the commercial interest, would have come to bestride the world no matter what happened to Christian unity.
.. the history of Western colonial ventures, in which for hundreds of years it was mostly the intensely religious (as compromised and corrupted as their churches often were) that remonstrated against mass murder and enslavement, that sought to defend natives and establish norms for their protection
.. What are our pan-national institutions, our United Nations and European Union, all our interlocking NGOs, if not an attempt to recreate a kind of ecclesiastical power, a churchlike form of sovereignty, on the basis of thinner, less dogmatic but still essentially metaphysical ideas — the belief in human dignity and human rights?
.. But they are a made-up religion whose acolytes at some level know it — and the thinness of their metaphysics, their weak claim on human loyalties, makes them mostly just a pleasing cloak over the dark power that’s actually stabilized the modern world, the terrifying threat of nuclear war.
The Donald Trump Gold Rush
But who’s laughing now? Upon exiting his job he apparently had his pick of posh lecture-circuit agents, one of whom told Mike Allen of Axios that Spicer scoffed at the suggestion that he might be worth only $20,000 to $30,000 per speech, which is what other former press secretaries made.
.. Ask Anthony Scaramucci. He was sent packing after just 10 profane and ignominious days as the White House communications director, and what do you suppose he did? Change his name and enter the political equivalent of witness protection? Retreat to a monastery for prayerful atonement until the shame dissipated?
.. For decades, it has been customary for the former attendants of presidents and presidential candidates to cash in. The Clintons were a money train with no shortage of passengers, and Bill and Hillary themselves never shrank from turning political pain into financial gain. She’ll mint fresh millions from her new book, “What Happened,” and from engagements to promote it.
.. They weren’t idealists in grateful thrall to some coherent vision or exalted principles that he was advancing. They were more or less flunkies for a bully whose top priorities have always been an immense fortune and immeasurable celebrity, though not necessarily in that order. Spicer and Scaramucci are paying their onetime boss the highest of compliments. They’re emulating him... Mike Flynn .. He’s weighed down by actual scandal, while Spicer and Scaramucci are weighed down only by their volitional debasement, and that’s apparently no drag at all... The ethos of enrichment in this administration starts at the very top, with Trump and his family, for whom the presidency represents the ultimate branding opportunity... This separates Trump from his predecessors, none of whom had or held onto the array of business interests that remain in his possession, managed by his flesh and blood. And he’s hardly shy about advertising that empire. He and members of his cabinet swan and sup at the Trump International Hotel in Washington whose earnings since his inauguration have handily exceeded expectations... Of course the initiation fee to join Mar-a-Loco doubled shortly after his election, to $200,000.. To judge by what has happened in only its first seven and a half months, the office’s degradations under Trump may well include its commercialization beyond anything seen before... And the marketability of the Trump clan and those around them proves anew that visibility and notoriety are their own rewards, regardless of how they come about.. No matter what people thought of him, they wanted to ogle him, and he’ll be merrily monetizing that for some time to come.
So will Spicer, who at least had the good sense to turn down an offer from “Dancing With the Stars,” which is more than Energy Secretary Rick Perry can say.
.. “His name ID is massive,” said the speaking agent who talked with Mike Allen, referring to Spicer. “He’s obsessed with that.”
.. Spicer bragged to Allen about how his White House press briefings had been nightly prime-time viewing in parts of Europe. “I’m one of the most popular guys in Ireland,” he crowed.
.. So what if he trashed his previous reputation as a reasonably straight shooter? Who cares if he spread the lies of a serial fabulist? That’s entertainment! And it’s lucrative.
I hope he goes on to make a tremendous amount of money,” Scaramucci told reporters as Spicer left the White House. What a poignant farewell. And what a perfect tell.