“I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand. God help me. Amen.”
~ Martin Luther
These were the infamous words uttered by Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms, at which he defied the church, which at the time believed itself to be on par with God Himself.
Martin Luther’s rise to fame was facilitated by a technological invention of the same magnitude as the internet, the printing press. When he posted his ninety-five theses, he condemned, amongst other things, the Catholic Church’s exploitation of indulgences, which he argued they had no right to bestow. Indulgences, which at the time were already receiving staunch criticism, were in essence a way for Catholic rulers to fund-raise. In giving what little you had, you could ‘buy’ salvation and forgiveness from the church for yourself or your deceased family members. For example, in my hypothetical purchasing of an indulgence during the 16th century, I would receive 300 less years in purgatory. Martin Luther, who at the Diet of Worms was asked to recant his written works (which by this time had grown to several books with several additions, published in several languages: herein lies the substantial effect of the printing press), would go on to ignite a reformist movement which he had not intended to, forever changing the practices and religious doctrines of Christian churches across Europe and beyond.
His story is not unlike those we see today. In our technology-dependent society, which compared to Martin Luther’s time is otherworldly, the dissemination of information, and disinformation, is both a tool and a virus. Daily, we receive an overload of information that we do not have the time nor means to necessarily fact check. At the same time, this heightened projection of our voice allows our thoughts to be heard in ways that have never been experienced in human history. It is up to us to determine whether or not we wish to propagate genuine, honest and personal thoughts, or whether we wish to put forth into the world thoughts not our own, perhaps a regurgitation of something we have heard from someone else, or even outright lies. Societal pressure, enhanced by social media, further pressurizes us to conform. The path lies somewhere in the middle; acceptance of the existence and utility of societal norms tempered by a foundation of individualized beliefs and values.