This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation pioneered by Martin Luther. On October 31, 1517, he published his ideas in a work titled Ninety-five Theses which strongly disputed the Catholic Church's sale of plenary indulgences. He argued that these external sacramental confessions desecrated and insulted God's fairness and justice. This opposition to the papal authority became a model for future generations. The Forum on “Reformation of Law and Tax Code, Saving the World with Conscience” held by the World Association of Citizens (AWC) and other organizations explores the importance of preserving human rights while enforcing tax laws. In Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, and Taiwan, a total of 16 forums were convened. In Taiwan, the event was hosted by Zhilong Chen, a professor at the Taiwan Institute of Financial Criminal Law. The event brought together experts from various fields such as law, taxation, media, and human rights. The famous political commentator Zhongxin Hu was invited to address the topic, and Dr. Suitbert Oberreiter from Austria was invited to talk about Martin Luther's profound influences on Europe.
Dr. Oberreiter pointed out that Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, thus contributing to the academic and scientific developments of Germany and influencing great musicians such as JS Bach. He emphasized that we live in an era of upheaval and rebellion, just like the period of the Reformation. We are in danger of losing our cultural heritage if we do not make an effort to preserve it, he added. In addition to scholarly experts, up to 3000 people attended the event, including teachers and students from 20 schools, and the young generation stood up and voiced the concerns.The forum hosted in Cupertino in Silicon Valley, California included many speakers from younger generations: Chris Tsai, a student at San Jose State University; Alan Hung, a 10th grade high school student; Gill Wang, a senior at Monta Vista High School; Yi-Chuan Lu, a postdoctoral candidate at UC Berkeley; and Melissa Wu, a freshman at UC Berkeley. Jenny Kuo, an educator and observer for the Federation of World Peace and Love (FOWPAL) was also invited.
As Chris Tsai pointed out, “Martin Luther launched off the Protestant Reformation, but it was not merely a religious movement but had lasting impact throughout the world even today. The Catholic Church controlled society and manipulated its people through financial and behavioral means. As a result of Martin Luther’s actions, the Catholic Church went through its own reformation, the Counter-Reformation and also set the foundation for the Renaissance and modern ideas. Democracy, human rights, and fair taxation all became issues that were brought forth and debated throughout the centuries. We must embrace his ideals and challenge the government whenever injustice occurs and fight for a fairer government.”
Alan Hung mentioned that “traditions are beliefs that are passed from generation to generation. This is usually considered a fine practice, but one must question from time to time the traditions that one follows to ensure that it is morally right. The Catholic Church preyed upon the tradition of Christianity and its authority over people’s lives by selling indulgences to anyone who wanted forgiveness for their sins. The people grew up with Catholicism and would generally follow blind policies. Martin Luther was one notable individual who challenged the authority and policies of the Catholic Church, specifically on the topic on indulgences. The tax bureau in Taiwan keeps the cycle of taxation against Tai Ji Men going by preying upon the loopholes in legislation. Doing the right thing is always more important than following what others do.”
Gill Wang shared another story: “In 1636, more than 100 years after Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation, a similar event took place in colonial America. Roger Williams went against conventional views and established the Rhode Island colony. Williams’ courage to advocate for separation of church and state even if it meant going against the majority of colonists is not only applauded for, but influential, paving way for the freedom of religion in America. Like Williams, who stood up for freedom and righteousness, Shifu and Tai Ji Men are standing up for what is right. And as we continue to do so, we will create a better Taiwan, in which the government and its citizens live life cooperatively and fairly. Beyond that, once the taxation debate is resolved, we will be an example to the world, showing that human rights can be preserved in light of conscience and justice.”
Yi-Chuan Lu said, “it has been 500 years since Dr. Martin Luther revealed the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church. Today the Tax Bureau issues tax bills contrary to the verdict of the Supreme Court. History will repeat itself as long as greed still exists in the human mind. After 500 years of religious reform, we are in a new position in urgent need of a tax reform.”
Melissa Wu also shared that “from the example of the Roman Catholic Empire, we see how the livelihood of the people greatly depends on the ruling authority. It shows how important it is for a leader to have a clear set of moral values and to abide by his/her conscience. This is also why AWC has been promoting the movement, An Era of Conscience, and visiting numerous authoritative figures such as the heads of states and prime ministers of countries all over the world in order to share the notion of love and peace.”
Jenny Kuo mentioned that “Taiwan’s tax reform by Tai Ji Men could be viewed as the contemporary counterpart of Martin Luther’s religious reform five centuries ago. Both leaders, Luther and Dr. Hong, resonate with each other then and now with the wisdom of valuing conscience as the foundation of all righteous deeds.”
The human rights of taxation has an impact on everyone. At all times and in all countries, there are protests against unfair tax systems abound. For example, the "Tea Act” imposed on the American colonists by the British government led to the American Revolutionary War. Muhammad Ahmad, a religious leader of Islam, condemned authoritarian governments that cruelly exploited and oppressed their people. He called for the masses of farmers, herdsmen, and handicrafts men to resist taxes and announced the establishment of a "beautiful society that is universal, fair, and just.” Human rights advocate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” The younger generations have spoken in the hope that righteousness will make the country rise up and bravely stand to follow the example of Martin Luther.
P1: A group photo of attendees of the forum together to defend taxpayer’s rights
P2: Melissa Wu, a freshman at University of California at Berkeley, points out that leaders need clear ethical values and respect for their conscience.