Revolution in the Wild, Wild West, part two

The American Revolution was a liberal revolution. A new country was established, based upon new ideas, including the existence of human rights and the need to limit government’s power through checks and balances. By comparison, the French Revolution was a radical revolution. Everything was attacked, from government and religion to weights and measures and the calendar. The United States settled into a relatively stable country with one dramatic Civil War, while France’s history was marked by instability, with a new form of government attempted every few years. Meanwhile, much of the rest of the western hemisphere entered a new phase of revolutions that were neither radical nor liberal, but were largely conservative in nature.

Every rule has an exception, and in this case the exception is Haiti. Spain and France had divided the island of Hispaniola between them, both colonial governments honoring the thirteenth century reformer Dominic by their names—Santo Domingo for the Spanish, and Saint Domingue by the French. The principle exports of the island were sugar and coffee, and the cultivation of these crops led to a population that consisted of ten black slaves for every white European citizen. During the French Revolution, the slaves living in the French half of the island revolted, declaring an independent nation called Haiti. Embroiled in its own conflicts, France was unable to squelch the rebellion. Finally in 1804, when Napoleon was in charge of France, the new nation of Haiti was recognized as independent, and it has remained such to the present.

In 1807, France and its allies invaded Portugal, and the next year Napoleon placed his brother on the throne of Spain. These conquests led to unrest in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies of the New World. The Portuguese royal family escaped to Brazil where they maintained a government in exile. Brazil achieved a semi-independent status from Portugal during these years. When Napoleon was defeated in Europe, most of the royal family returned to Lisbon, but Dom Pedro remained in Brazil and achieved control of the new Brazilian Empire, whose independence was finally confirmed by the Portuguese government in 1825. Some battles were fought in Brazil during the struggle for independence, but the revolutionary war and independence were largely accomplished without bloodshed.

Argentina, Mexico, and other Spanish-speaking colonies experienced similar exchanges of power, although none of them received royalty from Europe. Revolutionary leaders, including Simon Bolivar, hoped to create a grand, western-hemisphere, Spanish speaking Republic, but regional differences prevented that goal from being accomplished. With military support from Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay fought for independence from the Argentine government in Sao Paolo; further north, Columbia and Venezuela and Nicaragua and Guatemala and other regions each formed their own government instead of cooperating to form the grand republic imagined by Bolivar.

These new countries were not based on the proposition that all people are created equal, endowed with human rights. Nor did they espouse the concept of limited government. Instead, they continued the traditional belief that only a few people have the gift of leadership; the bulk of the people are followers, whether they are free workers or slaves. Cut off from European royal families, these nations placed control of the government into the hands of caudillos, strong rulers who maintained the status quo in each nation. If they were challenged and overthrown, their replacements were always from the same class, a new caudillo seizing power and ruling in the same manner as his predecessor.

The fifth President of the United States, James Monroe, warned European powers to respect the independence of American nations and warned them not to interfere in the western hemisphere. Weakened by the Napoleonic wars, most European nations did as Monroe asked. Only the United Kingdom challenged the Monroe Doctrine, continuing to trade with the former Spanish colonies, deriving raw materials while selling finished products made in Europe. The United States treated these neighbors in much the same way. Industrialization remained, for a time, in Europe and North America, while the rest of the Americas joined Africa and Asia in subjugation to those nations formed by Enlightenment ideals, capitalist economies, and industrial successes.

One attempt to override the Monroe Doctrine happened while the United States was distracted by its Civil War. Napoleon III of France supported Archduke Maximilian of Austria in an attempt to create a new empire in the western hemisphere. Maximilian and his forces captured the capital, Mexico City, and held it for a time, but they never gained control over the rest of Mexico. Instead, they were overthrown by the Mexican population, with the chief Mexican victory won in the battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 (thus creating the holiday Cinco de Mayo). One legacy of the conflict was a bit of propaganda created by Napoleon III to drive a barrier between the new nations of the west. Distinguishing the Spanish, Portuguese, and French speaking nations from their English speaking neighbors to the north (the United States and Canada), Napoleon described the former group as “Latin America.” Not only did the label remain; the attitude of division has remained, as citizens of Latin American countries continue to regard the United States and its leaders with suspicion and distrust.

If the thirteen colonies had remained under British rule, slavery would have been abolished there by the Act of 1833. Abolition of slavery throughout the world followed industrialization, the development of machines to replace human labor. Slavery effectively ended in the islands of Great Britain by 1800; the slave trade was ended in 1803, with abolition of slavery enforced throughout the Empire thirty years later. The idea of abolishing slavery was already strong in the northern states by the time of independence, but compromises allowed slavery to continue in the southern states, and new states were admitted into the nation in pairs—one a free state, the other a slave state. Meanwhile, the fledgling nation grew in population and in size. Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon. Settlers from the United States moved into northern Mexico, then declared independence, forming the new country of Texas. A year later, Texas voted to join the United States. Military opposition from the Mexican government led to war, with the further loss to Mexico of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and Colorado. Tensions between the slave-owning south and the abolitionist north finally boiled over in a Civil War which was won by the industrialized north. Through it all, the United States continued to prosper, discovering gold and other minerals in its western territories, accepting immigrants by the thousands from Europe and Asia, and putting to work industrial accomplishments such as the railroad, followed in the twentieth century by the automobile and the airplane. But many other new things were happening in the rest of the world that would also reshape life in the American nations. J.

Giving thanks

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for many things.

I am thankful to have food available—tasty food, healthy and nutritious food, food in great variety, for a family feast and later a light supper and the next day delicious leftovers. I am thankful for clothing and shelter—shelter with flush toilets, with hot and cold running water, with control over the temperature of the air in winter and summer and every day of the year, and with a wide variety of entertainment available at the push of a few buttons. These are not the greatest blessings I enjoy, but they are blessings all the same, and I am thankful.

I am thankful to live in a nation based upon liberty, a nation that protects its citizens from violence, a nation that shows compassion to those in need. I am thankful to live in a nation founded upon ideas and not upon military victories or the power of one ruler. I am thankful for freedom to think as I wish, to speak as I wish, to write as I wish, and to gather with like-minded people. I am thankful for freedom of religion. I am thankful that other people are free to disagree, even to insist that we have too much freedom, and that such opinions can be discussed and debated among ourselves.

With that freedom of religion, I am thankful to know the God who created all things and still upholds them by his power. I am thankful to know the God who tells us why he made us, yet who pays our debt when we fall short of his plans and rescues us from evil, even from the consequences of our own rebellion. I am thankful to know the God who calls us to repent and to believe, then gives us power to do those very things through his call. I am thankful to know the God who gathers his people around his promises, keeps us in the true faith, and promises eternal life in a perfect world to all those who hold to that faith. These blessings outshine all others.

I am thankful that my employer pays me not to come to work Thursday and Friday but allows me to observe the holiday of Thanksgiving with family and with the congregation. I am thankful for a four-day weekend in which I can sleep late some mornings, accomplish some tasks around the house, do some reading and some writing, and maybe even start unpacking decorations for Advent and Christmas. At the same time, I am grateful for those people (including two of my daughters) who will be working during this holiday, caring for those whose medical needs do not take a holiday. I am thankful that professionals will be available if needed should a problem arise. I am thankful for the man who came to our house Thanksgiving evening several years ago because our carbon monoxide detector was sounding an alarm. He checked for gas leaks and other dangers, and he correctly determined that the detector was at fault. I am thankful that we were not in danger that day, and that we did not have to wait for the holiday to end before we knew that we were safe.

I am thankful that family will gather and will celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving together, even if some members will arrive late to the celebration. I am thankful that we will be able to enjoy each other’s company and that we will also be able to contact those who are living elsewhere and share the joy of the holiday with them. I also am thankful that, when the weekend is over, the children will return to their various homes and living spaces and I will once again have a quiet house for reading, writing, and other leisure activities.

I am thankful for my online friends in the WordPress community, those who read my blogs and comment on my posts, those who leave their likes, those whose blogs I read and enjoy, those who share a piece of their lives online and are willing also to let me share my thoughts and experiences with them. May each of us, however we observe and remember this holiday, find joy in giving thanks and have a pleasant and enriching holiday weekend. J.

Revolution in Europe

Because of the cost of the Seven Years’ War, the British government raised taxes… which prompted a tax revolt by their colonists in North America… which led to a Revolutionary War. Eventually, the British government decided that suppressing the revolution of the thirteen colonies was not cost-effective, and so they granted independence to the United States. Meanwhile, France lost the Seven Years’ War, and then provided assistance to the revolting colonists in America, thus creating a budget crisis of its own.

France did not have an agreement as powerful as Britain’s Magna Carta, but it was agreed that the King could not raise taxes in France without permission from the Estates General. Regional parlements allowed short-term taxes, but as the government debt grew, King Louis XVI realized he would have to summon the Estates General, which had not met since 1614. This national body consisted of three groups, or Estates. The First Estate represented roughly 100,000 church workers living in France. The Second Estate represented roughly 400,000 members of the nobility, major land-owners in the country. The Third Estate represented everyone else in France. Out of a population of 26 million, the Third Estate was not exactly the “ninety-nine percent,” but they were clearly underrepresented in this gathering. Since each Estate received one vote, the minority of church workers and nobles could block the will of the rest of the nation on any issue. Even some deputies elected by the First and Second Estates recognized the fundamental injustice of the situation and began calling for change. From this call came formation of a new collection of representative French rulers calling themselves the General Assembly.

Accounts differ explaining why the doors were locked when the General Assembly tried to meet. Many historians insist that the problem was an oversight—the person responsible for unlocking the doors slept late that morning. Others say that King Louis reserved the room for a speech he planned to deliver. Either way, the members of the General Assembly took the locked doors as an insult and met across the street on a tennis court. (Yes, they had tennis in France in the eighteenth century.) In that meeting, on June 20, 1789, the deputies vowed to let nothing stop them until they had reformed the government of France, making it more just for all the people.

A second misunderstanding enflamed France into revolution. A street protest, initially intended to protect the General Assembly from royal interference, was somehow redirected to storm the Bastille, a castle in the heart of Paris. Protesters believed that the Bastille held political prisoners and also contained a cache of weapons that could be used against them (or could be captured and used in their defense). The protesters were wrong on both counts, but their ability to overpower guards at a government facility opened their eyes to the power of the people. To this day, the French nation celebrates its independence on the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille.

Leaders of the new government drew inspiration from the Enlightenment philosophy that had already been used to start a new government in North America. They failed, though, to achieve the stability provided by the Constitution of the United States. Arresting the king and queen for attempting to leave Paris, they eventually executed both monarchs. The queen, Marie Antoinette, had been the victim of propaganda which said that, when she heard that the French peasants were starving because they had no bread, responded, “Let them eat cake.” While this may be history’s first blonde joke, it had been around longer than the queen had even been alive, already appearing in print in the writings of Jean Jacque Rousseau. On many other occasions, the French people were guided by emotion and propaganda rather than by reason and facts. At one point, a Reign of Terror led to the arrest and execution of thousands of French citizens, all accused of opposing the government of France and the will of the people.

Along the way, the new government tried to change everything in France. Not only did they execute the king and queen and declare a Republic; they also outlawed Christianity—both Roman Catholic and Protestant versions—and attempted to declare a religion based on reason. They change the calendar, renaming months and days of the week and starting year one with the dawn of the revolution. They invented a new machine for executions, the guillotine. (It was designed by a Doctor Guillot, who was personally opposed to execution of criminals, but who also insisted that if such executions were to be done, they should be mercifully swift.) The French Revolution even designed a new system of measuring length and volume and weight. This new system worked with multiples of ten, making some calculations easier but abandoning older systems of measuring that provided for quick determinations of thirds and quarters. This metric system is an enduring result of the French Revolution.

In their aspiration for creating a new, revolutionary nation that recognized human rights of all people and ended all oppression and injustice, the French people moved from chaos into chaos. Eventually, they turned to an army hero to pull order out of the chaos. Napoleon Bonaparte had been born in Corsica, an island that became part of France the same year Napoleon was born. His greatest military success to date had been in a war with Austria; at the time he was called to lead France, he was actually losing a battle in Egypt, a fact not yet known in France. Napoleon began as First Citizen but gradually acquired authority until he became Emperor. Like Charlemagne a thousand years earlier, Napoleon involved the Pope in his coronation. Unlike Charlemagne, Napoleon took the crown from the Pope and placed it own his own head, showing that the Pope and the Church had no power over the Emperor. During his brief years of power, Napoleon ruled much of Europe. He expanded the borders of France while making Spain, the Italian peninsula, and the German-speaking lands satellite countries under French control. Eventually, Napoleon repeated the mistake of King Charles of Sweden, invading Russia. His massive army, drawing soldiers from many European nations, marched into Russia with little opposition as the Russian army retreated. Napoleon even captured Moscow, but his victory was hollow. Overcome by winter weather and by failure of his supply routes, Napoleon had to return to Paris; on the way, he lost most of his soldiers to disease, frostbite and hypothermia, and guerilla attacks from the Russians. After that catastrophe, Napoleon was overthrown. He briefly returned to power the next year, but once again he was defeated, this time conclusively at the Battle of Waterloo.

In the aftermath of Napoleon’s Empire, Europe was redrawn by the Congress of Vienna. The Holy Roman Empire vanished, replaced by a confederation of German-speaking governments, led by those of Austria and Prussia. The United Kingdom, France, and Russia were also recognized as Great Powers. Those five governments maintained a balance of power for roughly a century, avoiding wars among themselves (with a brief exception around the year 1870, as Prussia became Germany). But the impact of Enlightenment philosophy expressed in France during the Revolution and continued under the reign of Napoleon was shared with the rest of Europe. Human rights were recognized. Justice was seen as a right for all people. Freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, and even of religion were largely affirmed across Europe. Governments that represented the people and heard the voice of the people became the goal.

Not that they always achieved this goal. Governments rose and fell in France every few years—monarchies, republics, even a second Empire under another Napoleon. Enlightened rulers tolerated human rights when it suited them and violated those rights when it suited them. Masses of citizens often resorted to street protests, sometimes to violence, to force their governments to recognize and defend their rights. These political changes, coming in the wake of industrialization, changed life in Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century and were also exported to the rest of the world through European presence in Asia, Africa, and the western hemisphere. J.

Revolution in the Wild, Wild West, part one

Several European countries participated in exploration and colonization of the western hemisphere, but eventually control of the land fell into the hands of four governments: the Spanish, the Portuguese, the French, and Great Britain (consisting of England and Scotland). French explorers traveled deep into North America, seeking game, fish, and furs. French explorers tended to be single men; they often took Native American women as brides. The English were more likely to bring their families and attempt to recreate European life; they first settled the eastern coast of North America. The Spanish and Portuguese created plantations (haciendas) which grew crops under a few supervisors who oversaw many workers—including Native American and African slaves and also poorer workers from Europe. Some of the European population came as workers to pay off debt—both debts acquired in Europe and the debt for transportation to the Americas. In some cases, their debt grew as fast or faster than their income, leading to a state of continual debt and virtual enslavement called debt peonage. Children born to French men and Native American women were called Metis; among the Spanish and Portuguese, inhabitants included the Creole—born in the western hemisphere but of European descent; Mestizos—of European and Native American descent; Mulattos—of African and European descent; and Sambos—of Native American and African descent. In some places, such as Louisiana, distinctions were even made to identify quadroons and octoroons, measuring several generations of descent from assorted cultures.

Meanwhile, the same European nations controlling the Americas fought one another in world wars, albeit that these world wars were not assigned Roman numerals. The Seven Years War pitted Great Britain—with its allies Prussia, Hanover, and Portugal—against France—with its allies Saxony. Sweden, Russia, and Spain. In addition to battles in Europe, the war was also fought in the Americas, India, the Philippine Islands, and on the oceans. In North America, some Indian tribes were allied with Great Britain while others were allied with France. As a result, the conflict is known in United States history as the ”French and Indian War.” Part of the aftermath of the war was that France surrendered its North American territory east of the Mississippi River to Great Britain while ceding the land it claimed west of the river to Spain.

This war was very expensive for Great Britain and for France. Both governments attempted to pay their bills by raising taxes upon their citizens. Because the British effort had protected colonists in North America from French and Indian attacks, the British Parliament assumed that the colonists would willingly pay higher taxes in gratitude for their protection. Instead, leaders among the colonists demanded representation in Parliament, saying they would not tolerate “taxation without representation.” Another issue, not often expressed at the time but important in the minds of the colonists, was British industrialization. The British government wanted to purchase raw materials from the colonies, ship them across the ocean, provide jobs to British workers, and sell the finished products back to the colonies. Investors in the colonies wanted factories in North America to provide jobs closer to home. Increasingly, tempers flared, with the colonies eventually in full-scale revolt against Great Britain by 1775. The Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia during the summer of 1776, wrote and signed a document explaining and justifying the revolt and declaring themselves to be a new nation, the United States of America.

Some colonists welcomed the Revolutionary War; others opposed it as illicit rebellion against their government. Thomas Jefferson—the primary author of the Declaration of Independence—drew upon Enlightenment philosophers to defend the revolt. He explained that all people are created equal and are given human rights by their Creator—drawing upon John Locke, Jefferson listed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as basic human rights, protected by human governments. He affirmed that governments are instituted to defend human rights and that they can and should be overthrown when they fail in that duty. This Declaration—drawing not only upon the Enlightenment but also upon medieval statements such as the Magna Carta—became a foundational document for the first new nation formed by European settlers in the western hemisphere. Of course it neglected to mention the rights of Native Americans, of Africans forced into slavery, or even of women. Those would be proposed, discussed, and added to the law of the United States later in history, building upon Jefferson’s foundation.

Great Britain had military power to crush the rebellion, but the British government was not inclined to use crushing power on its colonists. As the war dragged on, the colonists began to receive assistance from France, Spain, and other European cultures that welcomed the British embarrassment. Eventually, the British government decided that the cost of ending the colonial Revolution was greater than it was willing to pay. Independence was granted, and the thirteen American states were free to build a new nation.

The writers and earliest defenders of the Constitution of the United States proceeded to design a nation patterned upon the Enlightenment philosophy Jefferson and others favored. They sought to limit the power of their national government by installing checks and balances in the structure of government. Some functions of government were centralized in the national government, while others were left to the states. Government was divided into three branches: the Executive Branch, or presidency; the Legislative Branch, or Congress; and the Judicial Branch, or the courts. Congress was further divided into a House and a Senate, the first consisting of proportional representation from the states and frequently up for election, the latter consisting of equal representation from every state and with longer terms of office—able to take a longer view of any situation. Laws were difficult to create and enforce, requiring agreement among so many different spheres of interest in the government. The Constitution was approved only after a Bill of Rights was added, affirming specific human rights and mandating that the Congress could not establish a national religion by law or prohibit the free exercise thereof.

For all its faults—because American government was created by imperfect humans and has since been performed by imperfect humans—the genius of the American Constitution is seen by its survival to the present. The government of that Constitution has survived conflict of every kind, both internal and external. It has adapted to changing situations, as the country grew from thirteen states on the eastern coast to fifty states extending into the Pacific Ocean. It has maintained stability in spite of weak leaders and of would-be tyrants. It is imitated by most other governments in the world today. What began as an experiment has become a beacon shining in the world, lighting the way to freedom and justice for all people. J.

The Industrial Revolution, part two

The Industrial Revolution did not happen overnight. Everywhere it occurred, it was a gradual process. Ways were developed to manufacture more and more items that people needed or wanted. High-quality steel and steam power were applied to more and more uses. Transportation radically changed with the introduction of railroads and steam-powered boats. Later would come the horseless carriage, or automobile, first powered by an electric battery, but soon improved with gasoline engines. By the twentieth century, air travel also appeared.

Technology led to more technology, and also to scientific discoveries, and then new scientific discoveries offered new technology. Electricity was understood and harnessed for technology. Glass lenses, already invented in the late Middle Ages, were combined into telescopes—Galileo was one of the first to aim a telescope at the sky rather than at distant features on earth—and then into microscopes. Chemical research and development multiplied the rate of innovation. Cheaper production of paper—made from wood pulp rather than from cotton rags—opened a new world of books, magazines, and newspapers. Before long, technology offered instant communication and the preservation of sounds and images, all of which would have seemed magical to people who lived only a short time earlier.

Every historic change brings both gains and losses. Access to new forms of material wealth and comfort enticed many people away from the timeless promises of religion and of the Church. Meanwhile, urban poverty also multiplied as more families left agriculture and crowded into the cities. Factory owners hired women and children; their smaller hands and bodies suited the new machinery, and they were less likely than men to demand better working conditions and higher pay. Unemployed men sometimes turned to crime or to alcoholism. Prisons were filled with petty criminals and with men whose only crime was debts they could not repay. Frequently their wives and children joined them in the prisons because they had nowhere else to live. Meanwhile, the crowded conditions of the cities and the output of the factories caused pollution of the air, the water, and the land.

In theory, the capitalist laws of supply and demand would fix these problems. Factory owners, seeking to maximize their profits, would compete with each other for the better workers, offering higher wages. Competition for more customers would result, not only in lower prices, but in higher-quality products. In theory, governments would remain uninvolved in the economy—“laissez-faire,” meaning “leave it alone,” was the capitalist message to governments. But even Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations acknowledged a need for some government regulation. Governments exist to protect citizens from dangers abroad and dangers at home. Governments do more than arrest and punish thieves and murderers. They inspect factories and their products, ensuring safety for workers and for customers. They respond to pollution, treating sewage and gathering garbage and requiring respect for the environment. Governments even created child labor laws, sending the children to school instead of the factories. An image was created of the Victorian family—the father earning wages to support the family, the women staying home to care for the house and the children, and the children having time to play and lessons to learn. Many families were unable to achieve this dream, but the ideal existed all the same.

Christians in Europe resisted the problems of industrialization. Christians denounced the emptiness of life with more wealth and comforts but no spiritual meaning or significance. They also reached out to their neighbors most in need. Often the romantic arm of the Church—the Pietists and Methodists and others of that ilk—were most active in resisting the darkness. Members were urged to turn from petty crime and from addictions to alcohol, tobacco, opium, and other dangers. Doing so, they were also equipped to reach out to the poor, the hopeless, and the victims of addiction. Sunday Schools met the needs of children still employed six days a week in the factories. Food and shelter and medical care was offered to families in need. Even though more lives reflected the novels of Charles Dickens than those of Jane Austen, Christianity offered spiritual hope and practical help to many who otherwise were victims of the dark side of industrialization.

The same Christianity also defended the Enlightenment principle that all people are created equal, with human rights to be respected and protected. Abolition of slavery followed industrialization as it moved from the United Kingdom to other European nations and to parts of the world colonized by European nations. At times, the freed slaves and their descendants were as badly oppressed in a wage-earning economy as they had been under slavery. Still, the message of equal rights and equal opportunity sent educators and social rights activists to the people with the greatest needs—and those who sent them were generally leaders of the Church.

For a while, the proposals of Enlightenment thinkers remained interesting theories. European governments grew increasingly powerful, centered around royal leaders such as Louis XIV of France and Peter the Great of Russia. Warfare over national policy was just as destructive as warfare over Christian doctrine had been. Indeed, exploration and colonization meant that European wars had now become World Wars, even without Roman numerals to identify them. The War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748), the War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-1748), and the Seven Years War (1756-1763) all involved many European governments, their armies, their navies, and their possessions overseas. King Charles of Sweden set a pattern later to be followed by Napoleon and Hitler when, in 1708 he invaded Russia, eventually destroying an empire (his own). But Enlightenment theories and industrialization would soon lead to a new kind of conflict, revolutions which would not be industrial or scientific, but which would be political, economic, and world-changing. J.

The Industrial Revolution, part one

One thousand years ago, China led the world in research and technology. The wheelbarrow was invented in China. So was the water wheel. The magnetic compass was a Chinese invention. The printing press also came from China. Gradually, this technology traveled along the Silk Roads, adding to the resources of other nations and cultures. The printing press was adapted in Europe just in time to help spread Martin Luther’s contributions to the Reformation of the Church.

Chinese chemists discovered gunpowder. They recognized the military potential of this discovery, but they did not develop it as thoroughly as other cultures. The Mongol Empire used cannons and bombs based on Chinese inventions. The Ottomans effectively used the same weapons against the Byzantine Empire. Firearms began to be used by Europeans during the Hundred Years War between England and France. Eventually, European refinements of this technology would be effectively used in their exploration and conquest of much of the world, even including China.

Another chemical innovation in China may be more important to history than gunpowder. Around a thousand years ago, Chinese chemists developed a new recipe for steel. Iron technology began among the Hittites (living in what is now called Turkey) about three thousand years ago. Knowledge of iron working gradually spread, or was independently discovered, throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe. Pure iron is a powder, useless for any kind of tool or craft. But pure iron does not occur naturally; it is contained in ores, which are reduced by heat. When the oxygen is released from iron ore and a little carbon is added, the resulting alloy makes a strong metal substance called cast iron. Because cast iron cannot be melted by a wood-burning fire, skillets and kettles are made from cast iron. A hotter fire, produced by blowing air into the blaze, melts iron to make it shapable into tools such as skillets and kettles, plows, knives and swords, horseshoes, and many other items. Because iron was always smelted in wood-burning fires, carbon was accidently added to the iron from its first discovery. Better refinement of iron only happened after the metal was being used for many generations.

The new Chinese recipe for steel controlled the amount of carbon added to the iron. Such control was managed more easily by using coal instead of wood as a carbon source. This knowledge, like other Chinese technology, gradually spread along the Silk Roads until it reached the British Isles, where—as was the case with the printing press—history was ready for a new direction made possible by this new knowledge.

In China, iron ore deposits were not near coal deposits, and neither was near major rivers (which were useful for both transportation and for generating power). In the United Kingdom, iron and coal were found near each other and near rivers. Moreover, the new steel recipe arrived in western Europe at a time that the population was recovering from its losses due to the Black Death. Population growth was assisted by new food sources coming from the western hemisphere, such as maize (corn) and potatoes. On top of that, many landowners were shifting agriculture from food crops to wool production, which required grazing land for sheep. The Enclosure movement, as landowners fenced their land for grazing, sent peasants out of the country and into the city. This urban migration meant that workers would be available to operate the new technology that defined the Industrial Revolution.

The other innovation (besides better steel) was turning wheels with steam power rather than river power. Steam was produced by heating water—wood was useful fuel for that process, but coal was even more efficient. Even today, burning fossil fuels provides far greater energy at a lower cost than wind power, water power, or solar power. Even electrical devices, from light bulbs to cars, draw their power from generators that burn fossil fuels. (In the United States, in the year 2020, sixty percent of the electricity generated came from burning fossil fuels; twenty percent from nuclear reactors, and twenty percent from wind and water and other resources.) Burning coal, natural gas, and petroleum was as important to the Industrial Revolution as was steel, as important as the growing population of available workers, who also were available customers for the products being made and sold.

The United Kingdom was also prime for creating an Industrial Revolution because of the European understanding of human rights and of capitalism. A capitalistic economy had started to be developed by the guilds and leagues of the Middle Ages. This development was hastened by banking practices in Italy, then in other European lands, during the Renaissance. Also the principles of capitalism would not be enunciated until Adam Smith published An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776, his ideas were popular because they were already firmly entrenched in the practices of England, Scotland, and the Netherlands.

When Spain and Portugal sent explorers, colonists, and trade missions across the ocean, their governments financed these missions and profited directly from their results. Spain, for example, claimed twenty percent of the silver mined in their western hemisphere colonies. But England and other countries chose only to task profits made from exploration and trade. The governments did not invest in these activities, not profiting directly from them and not risking loss of money in them. Instead, wealthy individuals sponsored colonies and trade missions. Often several investors would combine resources to share the risk and the profit, thus creating the corporation. This same business model was used when raw materials arrived at the European ports, ready to be converted into products that customers wanted to buy.

Cotton was planted, grown, and harvested overseas, then shipped to the Old World. This cotton had to be spun into thread, woven into cloth, chemically treated to make the cloth fuller, and then cut into pieces that were sewn into garments. At first, the capitalist investors and corporations employed the oddly-named “putting-out system.” The cotton was given to one person or family to spin into thread; the thread was given to another person or family to weave; the cloth was given to a third person or family to be treated; the treated cloth was given to a fourth person or family to be tailored. Spinners and Weavers and Fullers and Tailors were all paid by the job for their work (and many families carry on these names, even as later generations have moved on to other kinds of work).

Steel production, steam power, and some clever inventors combined to produce machines that could do more work more rapidly than individuals and families working in their homes. The putting-out system was replaced by factories. Such factories and their machinery were expensive to build, but the investment produced a large profit. Therefore, only wealthy capitalists and corporations could build factories. Once they did so, they put the smaller producers out of business. Now workers reported to the factories and were paid an hourly rate for running the machines. Cotton garments were rapidly produced, providing affordable clothing for Europeans and even for the colonists serving the system overseas.

The United Kingdom tried to maintain a monopoly on the technology of the Industrial Revolution, but ideas were bought or stolen, and soon other European nations were also participating in the Revolution. This major economic change made it possible for societies to experiment with some of the other ideas that had sprung from the Enlightenment. These ideas, accompanied by the success of industry under capitalism, would eventually change the world. J.

Two sides of the modern era

The modern era, with its Baroque or Enlightenment beginnings, soon developed two frames of mind. Opposing in some ways, they proved to be more complementary than oppositional. Often discussed separately, they actually overlapped, challenging one another and feeding one another. But both frames of mind were thoroughly modern—believing in progress, in reason, and in objective and complete access to truth.

These frames of mind have acquired various labels. They have been called classic and romantic, rational and emotional, head and heart, even Apollonian and Dionysian. While many people have favored one and spoken against the other, most individuals contain aspects of both in their outlook and in their daily lives. In the arts, the classical expressions are generally regarded as earlier and the romantic expressions as later, as if the romantic artists challenged the classical artists. But both continued to be expressed, to be enjoyed, and to be imitated throughout the modern era right up to the present time.

In music, Mozart represents the classical mindset, and Beethoven represents the romantic. In literature, Shakespeare writes in the classical style, and Goethe writes the romantic way. The contrast can be found in visual arts, in historical studies, and even in theology. Among Lutherans, the contrast is sometimes phrased as “dead orthodoxy” as compared to “pietism.” The former refers to faith as expressed through correct doctrine and formal, traditional worship; the later emphasizes faith as a personal relationship with the Lord, felt in the heart and not merely in the mind. Clearly, value is found in both; they do not have to be an either/or (although often they are described as either/or, one correct and one incorrect). Among Anglicans, the contrast is sometimes phrased as High Church vs. Low Church, or as Episcopal vs. Methodist.

It might seem that the classical mindset is more open to science and technology, but people with the romantic mindset also willingly benefit from the benefits of science and technology. In fact, a romantic mind might explore “what if” questions that lead to scientific or technological breakthroughs that would not come from a purely classical mindset.

Others might relate classical and romantic mindsets to conservative and liberal attitudes. But the contrasts vary in different dimensions. Both classical and romantic people might be conservative, wanting to keep things the way they are; both classical and romantic people might be liberal, wanting to improve things, assuming that they can be better than they are. Conservatism and liberalism both belong to the modern world in a way that does not relate as neatly to pre-modern thinking or to post-modern thinking.

Every human institution found it necessary to adapt to modern thinking. The Church, the governments, the schools, the workplaces, even the families were affected by modern thinking. Classical and romantic contrasts increased the turmoil of the transition. But probably no change was more earthshaking than the technological changes that are described as the Industrial Revolution. J.

Entering the modern world

Repugnance over the violent wars of the Reformation helped to usher in the modern era. But modern thought and activity would not have been possible without a rich inheritance bestowed by the high and late Middle Ages, the age of European exploration, the Renaissance, and the Reformation.

Chinese technology had traveled west along the Silk Roads until it sparked revolutionary change in Europe. The wheelbarrow, the water wheel, and the magnetic compass all came from China. So did gunpowder. So did printing. Johannes Gutenberg is credited with inventing the printing press in Europe, but he merely adapted technology already in use. Even so, the development of printing arguably allowed Martin Luther’s ideas to be transmitted more easily than those of Waldo, Wycliffe, and Huss, making Luther the hero of the Reformation.

Knowledge and wealth flowed into Europe from new trade routes along the coast of Africa and then to Asia, as well as into the Western Hemisphere. Capitalism had already developed from the medieval guilds and leagues and from Renaissance bankers, but trade and colonization opened new avenues of capital investment and profit. Scientific thought began with medieval philosophers. Galileo and Newton could not have been heroes of the early Modern Era without Nicholas of Cusa, Roger Bacon, and Nicholas Copernicus. These ingredients simmered together during the crisis years of the Reformation, yielding a stew of new thoughts and ideas that can only be described as modern.

Modern thought is characterized by confidence in the superiority of reason, belief in the objective assessment of data, expectation of a comprehensive explanation of whatever is being examined, and certainty of inevitable progress. All four of these have been challenged by post-modern thought in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries; post-modern thinkers question reason, doubt that any delivery of information is untainted by subjective opinions, treat most explanations as only partial views of reality, and assess both gains and losses with every change. Modern thinkers credit science and education with the ability to improve the world and solve its problems; post-modern thinkers readily challenge science and education without assuming that they are undoubtedly right and their results will be completely beneficial.

Early modern thinkers called their time the Enlightenment. Historians reluctant to bestow such a value-laden label on those years are shifting to the term Baroque. Already used to describe music from that time (Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, and so on) and painting from that time (Rembrandt and Rubens, among others), the term Baroque provides a value-free description of the time period that begins with the Peace of Westphalia (1648) and continues to the American Revolution and French Revolution of the late eighteenth century.

The first important Baroque philosopher was Rene Descartes (1596-1650). To encounter truth, Descartes began by doubting everything. He asked if he could be certain of anything, and proved to be certain of one thing—that someone, by doubting, was thinking. “I think, therefore I exist,” he concluded. But information was reaching his thinking mind; something else must exist outside of his mind. That something must have a source, a First Cause, a God who made its existence possible. Descartes insisted that any God who made the flow of information from an outside world possible must be good; he said it was unthinkable that an evil God would be playing tricks on his perception. (The Matrix movies had not yet been filmed.) Therefore, he could rely on his senses and learn about the world around him. Starting from himself and moving on to God, Descartes found himself living in a reasonable world.

Baroque philosophers generally conceded the existence of God, but they were careful not to define God. In fact, they insisted upon each individual’s right to encounter God and understand God in his or her own way. Reformation warfare soured them upon government-supported religion. As Luther had already been willing to separate Church and State, so the Baroque philosophers wanted the Church and the State to leave each other alone.

Their undefined God is often called the Deist God. Deists believe in a God who created the world and set all its rules; they do not acknowledge a God who interferes with the world and breaks his own rules. Scientists like Newton can study the world and learn the rules of its Creator. Nature always follows the rules of the Creator. His ethical or moral rules are just as important, and people should follow those rules. Among those rules, as listed by John Locke, are human rights: the right to life, to liberty, and to property. Governments exist to protect those rights. Governments cannot bestow them, and governments cannot remove them without good cause. Other Baroque philosophers wrote about a Social Contract in which some rights are surrendered to the government for the sake of society as a whole. But Baroque philosophers, for the most part, emphasized the need to limit governments, to allow them as little power as is necessary. The human individual matters more; governments should not be allowed to stifle the freedom of individual people.

Of course Baroque governments did not fall into line behind Baroque philosophers. The kings and queens of Europe were becoming more powerful than ever before. New wealth from the rest of the world and new technology made it possible to control more people and to battle more enemies. War did not cease with the Peace of Westphalia and the halt to religious wars. Nations now went to war against nations for purely political, economic, and nationalistic reasons. Although they did not receive Roman numerals, the first world wars were fought in this era. Britain and France and Spain and Prussia and Austria and Russia wrestled for dominance on the land and on the sea. English pirates sank Spanish ships and were rewarded by the crown. Louis XIV spent half the national treasury of France on luxury for himself (such as the palace of Versailles) and spent the other half at war with his neighbors. Enlightenment ideas were merely ideas at first; only later would they be tested in new forms of government, first in North America, and then, finally, in Europe.

Even among philosophers and scientists and artists, modern thought and modern methods were not universal across the culture. But the two sides of modern thought will require a separate post. J.

Speaking Truth on Campus

For much of my life, I have been defending historic and traditional Christianity against those who would mock it or who would replace it with something more timely, more in tune with the present times. When I began this journey, I was graciously given an opportunity to start off on the right foot.

Forty years ago I was a college sophomore, studying at a liberal arts college, majoring in religion. My first two semesters I had taken classes on the Old Testament and New Testament, with the rare opportunity also to study the Apocrypha during our brief January term. Now, in my second year, I finally enrolled in the course that was supposed to be an introduction to religious studies. This class happened to be taught by the Academic Dean of the college, one of his rare appearances in the classroom. His teaching style was more typical of a Masters’ level course, given the amount of reading and writing he expected from us, and the depth of material he assigned. Our textbook, The Philosophy of Religion, contained essays from all the great names in the field, ranging from Plotinus to Aquinas, Hume, Kant, Feuerbach, Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, Barth, Brunner, Bultmann, Dewey, James, and Wittgenstein. Topics included the definition of religion, the existence of God, and the problem of evil. We were required to write a short paper on each topic and a longer paper on one of the seven topics, with a comprehensive final at the end of the course. The professor, in classroom lectures, informed us that anyone who still believed in the Bible and traditional Christianity must picture God as an old man with a long white beard, sitting on a chair up in the clouds. He offered his own definition of God as “an oblong blur.”

Outside of class one day, I met with the professor and informed him that I was a believer in the Bible and traditional Christianity and that God was not, to me, an old man with a long white beard sitting on a chair in the clouds. We talked for a time about religion and faith, and the professor suggested that I might appreciate some additional reading. He offered a list featuring one of his favorites, Kierkegaard, but also focusing on Karl Barth, whom he thought would appeal to me. (He also revealed his partiality toward Paul Tillich, like Barth an heir to Kierkegaard’s thought.) I found the recommended books in the library, checked them out, and read the suggested essays, about eight hundred pages added to my assignments for his classes and for the others I was taking that semester. I became, at that time, a fan of Kierkegaard, and remain his fan today. Barth, on the other hand, left me cold. Although he used traditional words, he emptied them of meaning, offering nothing worthwhile in place of the traditional and Biblical message they convey.

In the last week before the final exam, the professor began to pull the themes of the class together into one master lecture. (He distributed an outline for us to follow his thoughts.) Religion, he proposed, came from three origins: from human relationships with nature, from human understanding of history, and from human encounters inside our minds. All religious thought and expression, the professor said, came from those three sources. It took more than one class session to summarize the three sources, and then he was prepared to discuss how these three sources of religion handled the topics we had been pursuing all semester.

With his outline in front of me, I saw where the transition occurred from his summary of sources to their response to the topics, and I raised my hand during that transition. When the professor called upon me, I directed his attention to one of the assigned essays read earlier in the course, one from the textbook. Written by Rudolf Otto, from his book The Idea of the Holy, it described God as “Wholly Other,” a reality distinct and different from everything humans encounter in themselves and in the surrounding world. The professor admitted that yes, that assigned essay did take a position beyond the three sources of religion he had described. With that admission, he proceeded to complete his intended lecture.

When we met to take the final exam, we were given blue books (ask your parents or grandparents if you don’t know about exam day blue books) and a mimeographed sheet assigning our essay, due in two hours. The assignment began, “There are three sources of religion…” and told us to choose one of the three sources, describe it, and explain how it responded to one of the topics we had covered. But, following those three points, the assignment continued, “It has been suggested in class that religion can also come from the Wholly Other. Evaluate that possibility from the point of view of the source you have been describing.”

I sensed (correctly) that the professor’s preferred source of religion was human encounter within, a Freudian view that people create religion to replace our parents when they fall short of our idealized concept what parents should be. If your human father is less than perfect, well, then you have a perfect Father in heaven (but you will one day outgrow that Father as well). I described religion coming from that source and proceeded to demonstrate how a religion coming out of that source completely fails to answer the problem of evil. From there, I wrote how a God who is Wholly Other can be the center of a better religion, a religion that provides acceptable answers to the problem of evil in our lives. I knew the risk I was taking, telling the professor that he was wrong, but I had no intention of writing anything different in my blue books.

Even though I disagreed with the professor, I did so in his own language, using the vocabulary and the approaches that were modeled by his lectures and his assigned readings. In the end, I received a strong A for the final exam and earned an A in the class. Of course, I did not convert the professor to traditional Christianity, but I did demonstrate that a traditional, Biblical Christian could function effectively on his academic playing field. That, for me, was part of the joy of a liberal arts education, at least as those existed on college campuses forty years ago. Students could remain true to themselves, defend their beliefs and opinions, and—so long as they followed the academic rules about communication and mutual respect—receive full credit for being capable scholars and thinkers.

That’s how it was then. That’s how it should be today. J.

Reformation, part five

Jesus is called the Prince of Peace. The night he was born, angels sang about “peace on earth.” Yet Jesus himself warned that he came to bring, not peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). The Reformation of the Church triggered violence and warfare in Europe. Fighting between different versions of the Christian faith threatened to destroy the Church; it also seriously undermined the message of the Church, the Good News about Jesus Christ.

Some violence that was already happening attempted to seize hold of the Reformation. Since the Black Death, peasants in Europe had sensed their greater economic power; since fewer of them survived to do the work, the workers were more valuable. They made demands of lords and kings and nobility. Some demands were granted, but some were refused. Sometimes the two sides negotiated; sometimes they fought. Luther’s Reformation gave the peasants an ideological weapon. Pointing to abuses in the Church and connecting them to abuses in secular politics, they called more loudly for change or for revolt. Because Luther’s interests were purely spiritual, he could see the truth of both sides in the conflict. He urged worldly rulers to listen to the peasants and to correct injustices. He also insisted that revolution was ungodly. Luther advised the peasants to state their case but to accept resistance and hardship as part of life in a sinful world. While urging leaders to hear the peasants’ complaints, he also urged them to forbid revolution, to meet violence with violence. When peasants rioted, the riots were handled with violence from the government. Luther acknowledged that the nobility had gone too far in its response. Both sides were disappointed in Luther, sometimes even feeling betrayed by the Reformer. They could not perceive that he was dealing with ideas that matter more than political and economic justice at the present time.

Emperor Charles was slow to respond to the Reformation. His land was threatened by the Ottoman Empire; he was also at war with France. Eventually, Charles followed through with his words spoken at Worms; he called military power to overthrow the Reformation by invading lands where the Roman Church had been removed and Lutheran ideas prevailed. His troops even reached Wittenberg after Luther had died. Some of the Emperor’s soldiers wanted to remove Luther’s body from the grave and punish the remains of the heretic, but Charles said that he was fighting the living, not the dead. Luther’s grave remained undisturbed. Eventually, fighting in the Holy Roman Empire was ended through a compromise agreement. The head of state in each part of the Empire could declare the religion of that part, choosing between Roman Catholic or Lutheran. People who disagreed with the choice of their ruler had permission to move. While this settlement satisfied no one, it managed to provide an uncomfortable time of peace and stability.

Meanwhile, France descended into turmoil. Most of the French Protestants were Calvinist, although they bore the label Huguenot. Sometimes the French government tried to shut down the Huguenot movement; other times it was willing to tolerate the Huguenots. At times, it appeared that the Huguenots might gain the upper hand and seize control of the French government. Street riots, massacres, and assassinations were common. Three grandsons of King Francis held the throne, one after another, but the family line was failing. At one point, three men named Henry battled for the throne, each with a powerful army personally loyal to himself. In the end, Henry of Navarre—the Huguenot candidate—accepted a compromise which permitted him to seize the throne, provided he embraced the Roman Catholic faith. “The crown of France is worth a mass,” he is reported to have said. But his rise to power, which began the Bourbon line of kings in France, included an edict of toleration for the Huguenots and all Protestants in France, an edict that held more than a century before it was repudiated by Henry’s grandson, King Louis XIV.

Spain was less troubled by Protestant resistance to power, in part because of the (unexpected) power of the Inquisition, which added Protestants to the list of undesirables in Spain, a list that already included Jews, Muslims, and heretics. The son of Emperor Charles, King Philip, resolved to battle the Reformation in the Netherlands (under Spanish rule, but home to many Protestants) and in the British Isles. The famous Spanish Armada arrived intact at the Netherlands but faltered on its way to England. In large part, the failure of the Armada happened because of unfavorable weather, although clever English strategy also played a part. The Spanish Armada ranks with the Persian army that failed to conquer Greece and the Chinese invasion under Kublai Khan that failed to conquer Japan. Each of these failures was seen by the opposition as a national point of pride, an indication that they were on the side of what is right and true, and the beginning of growth toward greater achievement in the world.

King Henry declared the Church of England independent of the Pope in Rome. His son Edward affirmed the Reformation in England, but when Edward died, Mary tried to move England back toward Rome. Instead, she was replaced by her sister Elizabeth, who stabilized the Church of England while tolerating more diversity than many European governments. Mary’s son James became King of Scotland, but only on the condition that he remain Protestant. He also became the heir of Elizabeth; when she died, King James became the first monarch of the United Kingdom. James also authorized the English translation of the Bible which bears his name. Charles, son of James, appeared less likely to hold the course. An opposition group called Puritans managed through elections to gain control of Parliament; under Oliver Cromwell, they arrested, condemned, and executed King Charles and declared a Republic. The Puritan Revolution outlived Cromwell, but only by a few years. A moderating group won the next set of elections, placing Charles II (the son of King Charles) on the throne. The Puritans proceeded to pay more attention to their colony in Massachusetts rather than trying to regain control of the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, the unstable peace of the Holy Roman Empire eventually disintegrated into violence, a time known as the Thirty Years War. This aptly-named violence can be compared to the American Civil War of the 1860s—both were fought over ideas, both divided communities and families, both led to devastating death and injury and widespread destruction of property. But the Thirty Years War extended several times as long as the American War Between the States. It appeared at one point that the Roman Catholic forces would prevail and Lutheranism would be stamped out of the Empire. But when times were darkest for the Reformation, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden brought his army onto the battlefield. An alliance of German-speaking Lutherans, the Lutheran Swedes, and the Roman Catholic forces from France (under King Louis XIII and his advisor, Cardinal Richelieu, fought the Emperor’s forces to a standstill. In 1648, a treaty was negotiated at Westphalia. It was much like the agreement from a century earlier, acknowledging the right of each local ruler to choose the religion of that land. The biggest difference was that Calvinism was now on the menu along with Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism.

With that agreement, the time of Reformation came to an end. Europe, weary of religious conflict and wars, was ready to enter the modern era. J.