On October 31, 488 years ago, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg Germany. Little did he know, I imagine, the cultural craziness that was about to ensue, or the tradition of church schisms that would continue for the next 500 years plus (to be perfectly fair, the east-west schism had happened hundreds of years before that anyway, so somebody else really started it).
We mention the Protestant Reformation a lot in my Rhetorical Theory class, and it seems that the reformation has something to do with the history of ideas. It was clearly grounded in what was going on culturally at the time – the Guttenburg press enabled the reformation as well as the development of democratic ideas. Luther’s idea of the Priesthood of All Beleivers either led to or was influenced by the individualistic turn in thought at that time. My colleagues in the Rhetoric of Science tell me that Dr Lessl believes the Protestant reformation led to the development of Science. I had no idea before recently how interrelated all these events are.
So what has the reformation given us, and what has it left us with? It lead to some necessary changes within the Catholic church in Europe, and undermined the hegemony of church officials, which was being abused plenty. It began a tradition of criticizing the church and, unintentionally, of division within the church. I think the criticism is a proud tradition – we need sincere voices of dissent. I wonder if the constant division, sectarianism, dogmatism and defensiveness is a necessary side effect of an atmosphere that allows for dissent. I’m sure Luther would be appalled at the sorts of Protestant-Catholic fighting that has been going on since the Reformation, the entirely un-christian tribalism that even leads to war and terrorism in extreme cases. Must Reform lead to fighting? How do we change a bad system while acting in love? Can we be both prophets for change and voices of unity?