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Martin Luther and Karl Max

The year 2017 marks half a millennium anniversary of the year Martin Luther started the Reformation and a century when V. Lenin effected the teaching of Karl Max, the prophet of Communism.

Many people who may ask about the oldest Christian church, will be told that it is the Roman Catholic Church and that other churches are breakaways.

But some historians tell us that right from the beginning, other churches existed which were separate from the Catholic Church. They quote the Easter [or Greek] Orthodox Church, the Coptics of Egypt and the Church of Ethiopia. Perhaps, most startling is the most ancient denomination in India. When Christian missionaries went there for the first time thinking they were pioneers, they found a Christian community possibly in the state of what is now called Kerala. That community claimed it had been founded by Thomas Dydymus; one of the best known of Jesus’s disciples.

On October 13 1517, Luther, a priest and professor of the Augustinean Order, nailed a list of 62 or 95 theses on the door of a church in Wittenburg, complaining about what he called corrupt practices in the church. His main complaint was against the claim by the Pope and his loyal supporters that he had authority to forgive the sins of anyone who donated money to the construction of the Basilica or St Peters Cathedral in Rome. Luther argued that the Pope could only forgive those sins created by himself not those originated with God.

When ordered from Rome to recant his errors, Luther’s reply was “Here I stand I can do no other”. He was lucky to be supported and shielded by a German Prince (ruler); otherwise, like John Huss of Bohenia, he could have been burnt on the stake.

Today, 40 percent of Christians are Protestants and their numbers are increasing, especially outside Europe. Nigeria alone is said to have twice the number of Protestants in Germany. The rest of the Christians are mostly Catholic.

This is not a place to discuss the merits and demerits of the movement Martin Luther started but just to look at the sociological and economic consequences as discussed by scholars.

Max Weber, a German sociologist attributed to a branch of Protestantism the origin of capitalism. That branch, the Calvinist, believed in earning money but not spending it on luxuries, hard work and frugality. Students of democracy, according to The Economist of November 4 to 10 2017, say Protestantism believed in the separation of powers, toleration and freedom of conscience.

In 1848, two German Jews, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, issued a document titled “The Communist Manifesto” which began thus “Workers of the World unite, you have nothing to lose but your chain. You have the World to win.”

Its spirit was in contrast with that which had brought about the capitalist economic system. The manifesto advocated the abolition of private property. Land, businesses and banks would be owned by the State. Everybody else would be an employee.

In October 1917, V. Lenin, a Russian revolutionary leader, staged a coup d’etat in Russia, toppled the monarch and set up the Union of Socialist Republic (USSR) under the communist system. Up to 1989, the world was sharply divided between those who believed in the freedom of individuals to make a living by operating private business. This system has been variously described as capitalism or free market economy.

Among nations of the world, the United States led the capitalist while Soviet Union led the communist countries. The latter included the People’s Republic of China, eastern Europe and Cuba. Outside these countries, the system followed was capitalist with some elements of socialism.

Both the United States and Soviet Union made strenuous attempts to turn into satellites those countries which practised some kind of neutrality. There was constant fear that these great powers would go to war. In 1989, almost miraculously the Soviet Union collapsed. Since then, communist has lost appeal in most countries including Africa. The People’s Republic of China has prospered largely by embracing some capitalist practices and opening its doors to businesspeople from capitalist countries in exchange for their markets.

A perfect world for humankind has not yet been attained. The struggle continues. Both Luther and Marx were German.

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