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L. Neil Smith's
Number 539, October 4, 2009

"The Age of Authority draws to a close"

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Time for Another Another Reformation
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

The Medici were a family of merchants and bankers in 14th-16th century Italy who more or less created the Renaissance (think of them as the original secular humanists) by underwriting various artists, sculptors, architects, and builders like Donatello, Fra Angelico, Felippo Brunelleschi, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michaelangelo. Love them or hate them, their historical significance in this regard cannot be overstated.

The Medici were also responsible (more or less) for jumpstarting the Protestant Reformation, although they almost certainly didn't mean to be. Despite its secularity—mostly because the Holy See had real power during these times—the family supplied no fewer than four Popes to the Roman Catholic church. The first of these, Pope Leo X, had such a swell time being the Pontiff that he rapidly spent the Vatican treasury dry. Undismayed, and cheerfully determined to continue in the lifestyle to which he had become accustomed—like many another Pope before him—he got into the business of selling "indulgences".

Perhaps I need to explain, here.

The fuel of every religion, one way or another, is guilt. Properly indoctrinated—generally from birth—a religious individual cannot eat, sleep, work, make love, or do much of anything else, either as a living organism in general, or a human being in particular, without automatically accumulating a burden of guilt that has to be discharged somehow from time to time, preferably (that is, preferably to those in the guilt-discharging industry) through the heavenly apparatus, sacred plumbing, and holy mechanics of whatever religion controls the territory.

Throw a nickel on the drum, save another drunken bum.

Churches are generally in the business of peddling forgiveness—for having done things nobody can avoid doing if they're a living, physical creature. They're middlemen between God and sinner (this means you). They may only want you to come to church on a regular basis, sing the songs, say the prayers, drop a quarter in the plate. Or they may want something else, your witness, your testimony, your speaking in "tongues". In this hemisphere, once upon a time, climbing to the top of a pyramid and having your heart chopped out was highly encouraged.

What Leo X wanted was money, and he wanted lots of it. For some specified amount, he could arrange for God (whom he represented on Earth) to forgive you, even if you'd cheated on your wife, embezzled from your business, purchased children for sexual purposes, rustled a neighbor's oxen, or maybe even killed somebody. What you got for your "contribution" was a kind of receipt, signed by the Pope (on a sort of assembly line, apparently) that certified your having officially been forgiven.

Other Popes had sold the "indulgences" before, but Leo X got into the business wholesale. You could avoid the fires of hell by buying redemption for yourself, you could rescue a loved one by buying it for them, and you could even buy somebody's way into Heaven of they were already dead. (Some Buddhists still do this kind of thing today, and Mormons can get ancestors baptized who lived and died centuries before Joseph Smith.) And if you couldn't get to Rome to do your shopping, legions of priestly traveling salesmen could sell you forgiveness on your very doorstep, in your village, all over Italy, and well up into Europe.

Which turned out to be Leo's big mistake.

I suppose it must be the weather that makes northern Europeans so gloomy. It's been said that the British conquered the world because they couldn't stand the cold and drizzle back home. When I was in college, it was a popular exercise of pseudointellectuality to show a week-long series of Ingmar Bergman films, horrible, depressing things no sane college boy would think of going to—unless the girl he was hoping to get closer to wanted him to go. I called them "suicide film festivals" and learned to find girls who got as bored with them as I did.

But, as usual, I digress.

One dour northern theology professor in one of the Germanies got fed up with seeing his parish, not to mention the rest of Christendom, drained of discretionary cash in order to finance what he saw as the frivolities and Earthly excesses of the Medici Popes. He felt the church had forgotten or abandoned its original mission. He wasn't the first, and he wouldn't be the last; he was just the one who made it stick—literally, by nailing 95 complaints to a church door in Wittenberg.

In those days, it was the closest thing they had to the Internet.

The professor, a fellow named Martin Luther, was also a priest who had only wanted to reform the church that he served. Instead, he found himself defrocked, excommunicated, and declared an outlaw, with some consequences unintended by the authorities in Rome. He accidentally wound up starting not just one new church, but all Protestant churches we know today, and, on personal note, he got married—to a former nun.

At some point, the selling of indulgences finally trailed off.

Until today.

A few paragraphs earlier, I said the fuel of religion is guilt. A properly indoctrinated individual can't do anything without piling it up. In the past, he couldn't eat, sleep, work, or make love without feeling guilt, which the purveyors of religion found very useful. In today's twisted world, where a rock 8000 miles in diameter is revered as a deity, he can't even breathe, because with each breath he exhales what the indoctrinators assert is the very essence of evil, carbon dioxide.

Breathing is Original Sin.

You're guilty every moment you live, and you must pay.

But don't worry, sinner, help is coming. Pope Algore I, spiritual head of the new religion we call environmentalism, will be happy to sell you all the indulgences you'll ever need, in the form of carbon tax credits. Progress may come to a screeching halt, and civilization itself may collapse, unable to bear the penalty weight of this toxic notion. We may all end up as detechnologized peasants, living nasty, brutal, and short lives in mud huts while the parasites are whooping it up in the shining castle on the hill, but we'll sleep well in the knowledge that we have been absolved of the unspeakable crime of being alive.

Meanwhile, Algore will use the wealth we generate and he steals to build lasting monumental works of art like the American Embassy in Baghdad. Or the vast hive-arcologies into which we'll be herded under the UN's Agenda 21, so the open countryside can be cleared for the exclusive recreational use of the environmentalist _nomenklatura_ and our more attractive sons and daughters, conscripted into National Service.

Looked at it this way, it's not even that ideological. It's just another racket, as ancient as the rawhide rattles of some paleolithic shaman.

Looked at another way, we are today's Protestants, fighting an overblown, voracious, corrupt state that has held the world in its vile and decadent grasp for thousands upon thousands of years. Its perfumed and pampered minions must be stripped of their opulent robes and extravagant jewelry, all of the paintings, sculptures, and fancy architecture that we paid for taken from them and sold to provide restitution, and they must be cast out of society into the cold and darkness.

It's a dirty job, starting a Reformation, but somebody has to do it.

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of more than 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Where We Stand: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels. Links to Neil's books at are on his website


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