Oct. 31 has been noted as the 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The event provided a sufficient beginning to what is now referred to as the Reformation.
The 16th century Reformation was a widespread revolution of theological teachings and practices. It opened the doors for religious growth with the emergence of Protestants, people who protested the positions of western Christianity as endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church at the time.
A 2017 Pew Research Center reported that the theological differences of the 16th century have tempered over the years, “And while the Reformation led to more than a century of devastating wars and persecution in Europe, both Protestants and Catholics across the continent now overwhelmingly express willingness to accept each other as neighbors and even as family members.”
The Pew poll in the United States found: 57 percent Protestants and 65 percent Catholics believe they are more similar than 41 percent Protestants and 32 percent Catholics who believe they are different.
Within the statistics, the optimism in me sees hope in the willing expression to accept each other.
The pessimism in me doesn’t forget that the transition from intolerance to tolerance took more than a century.
Instead of asking myself why friends turned into enemies so quick, and why it took so darn long to come back around, I also remember there is nothing new about this scenario.
Throughout time, changing circumstances and differing ideals have made friends into enemies, and enemies into friends. Not only in religion, but also in politics, the sciences, and nations.
It’s difficult to be and do what’s right when we think we are right, now.
Even today, our image of Luther may not be right. My own image of Luther carries a reputation of spiritual courage. However, when viewing this legend through the hard-wired human habits to resist change and divide the ranks, I can easily imagine that in his day, Luther was burdensomely regarded as irreligious.
Church authorities certainly believed Luther was irreligious. Luther himself probably felt sacrilegious for behavior that amounted to addressing the convictions of church authorities, pointing out the backwardness of false promises linked to indulgences, and realizing that the written sacred word needs to speak to the common people rather than only an isolated few.
But he stood his ground, and as happens, Luther wasn’t the only person questioning the unquestionable. He just happened to be the person to clarify, organize and publicize the useful knowledge floating in the general mental atmosphere of the early 1500s.
Because useful knowledge isn’t bought or owned, but is self-revealing, available to everyone in all fields of study, the knowledge coddled by church authorities, that progress or truth can be bought and owned, showed itself useless.
Useless knowledge leads to intolerance and chokes human rights, even chokes the right to know a God worth knowing. A progressive God.
Useful knowledge, however, leads to humility, accountability, bravery, inclusive human rights, unselfishness, forgiveness and progress, all of which can show itself, hopefully sooner than a century later, with a willingness to accept one another’s similarities.
Cheryl Petersen lives in Delhi and is a freelance religion writer. Her books include “I Am My Father-Mother’s Daughter,” and “from science & religion to God: A narrative of Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.”