We face a choice...we're at a fork in the road with three branches: Renaissance, Reformation, or Revolution. We stand, in other words, at the same crossroads we stood at about half a millennium ago, and for similar reasons.
Consider only the parallels. Then an elite prevailed that had been in power for well over a millennium. It was an elite that controlled the mechanisms of bureaucracy, of money, and most importantly, of information and general culture. It could and did depose kings, and arrange the fates of nations. It launched - on its pretended divine authority - massive invasions of the Middle East and a "clash of civilizations."It launched one of the bloodiest internal purges in history against the Cathars. It enforced its own version of political correctness and hate speech legislation, burning people alive who dared disagree with it, and hypocritically washing its hands of the deed by making "the secular authority" perform the executions. Its institutional claims, in spite of its modern face of gentility, have not changed. Nor has it repented and disavowed many of those deeds.
Opposing that elite was another: a hidden underground stream that had preserved a rudimentary knowledge of, and connection to, the "ancient wisdom", to the prisca theologia of Egypt. And they openly talked and published their ideas, utilizing a new technology that made it difficult for the other elite to control the flow of information: the moveable type printing press. And the movement was called the Renaissance. What came of that movement, with its open avowal of Hermetic principles, were the scientific revolutions of Copernicus (who cites the Hermetica in the preface of his revolutionary scientific treatise), of Newton (an alchemist), even -if one stretches the timeline - of Lebniz and his search for a universal symbolic language, and a formula of religious tolerance. And that was the key: in the face of recovered ancient wisdom and the scientific advances it made possible, cultural tolerance of differing ideas - especially in religion - became an implicit implication.
There was, however, another result: the Reformation, which, for our purposes, we may also view as a Revolution, a violent revolt against the old elite. We know the result: wars of religion followed... what we may call the "First First World War," a European wide orgy of bloodletting that lasted Thirty years, that saw nearly every power in Europe involved. And that ended, after all that expenditure of blood and treasure, with more or less the same situation, with the significant point that the Renaissance gains were only partial, and still submerged beneath the veneer of religion and national churches.
We stand at a similar cultural crossroads. We too have seen the advent of a new technology that has allowed the quick and global dissemination of information. We have seen the rise of badly polarized societies from Tea Party to Occupy, and insane fundamentalisms of all sorts vowing to fight for their particular truth.We too are dealing with a millennium's old elite, clinging to power and outmoded ideas and fanning the fuels of fundamentalisms and conducting purges and toppling kings and nations. We don't need a Reformation, nor a Revolution. We need a Renaissance of culture, of learning, and most importantly, of tolerance and civility.