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Sunday, April 8, 2007

On Religion, Or, Is It Time For A New Martin Luther?

“Above all things I beseech the Christian reader and beg him for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, to read my earliest books very circumspectly and with much pity, knowing that before now I too was a monk, and one of the right frantic and raving papists. When I took up this matter against Indulgences, I was so full and drunken, yea, so besotted in papal doctrine that, out of my great zeal, I would have been ready to do murder -- at least, I would have been glad to see and help that murder should be done -- on all who would not be obedient and subject to the pope, even to his smallest word.

Such a Saul was I at that time; and I meant it right earnestly; and there are still many such to-day. In a word, I was not such a frozen and ice-cold champion of the papacy as Eck and others of his kind have been and still are. They defend the Roman See more for the sake of the shameful belly, which is their god, than because they are really attached to its cause. Indeed I am wholly of the opinion that like latter-day Epicureans, they only laugh at the pope. But I verily espoused this cause in deepest earnest and in all fidelity; the more so because I shrank from the Last Day with great anxiety and fear and terror, and yet from the depths of my heart desired to be saved.”

--from “Dr. Martin Luther to the Christian Reader”, 1545

486 years ago come April 16th Martin Luther appeared in Worms to be offered the opportunity to recant his statements (“The 95 Theses”) regarding the power of the Pope to sell dispensation (Indulgences) for earthly sins to the living and the families of the dead.

What do you mean "dispensation"? Early in the sixteenth century the Church discovered a new business opportunity-why limit yourself to offering forgiveness to the marketplace of the living, when you could “grow the brand”, as it were, and offer the same services to the deceased for sins they committed during life?

How can you make money from the dead? Easily, if you convince their living descendants that forgiveness in the “afterlife” (the ability to move from Purgatory to Heaven, for example) depends on a steady stream of payments from the living. And thus the “Indulgences” industry was born.

How far had the Catholic Church strayed from Christian principles? In 1536 William Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake (taking no chances, apparently) for translating the Bible into English-versions of the Bible not translated by the Church were listed in the Church’s “Index of Banned Books”, and violation of the rule was a capital offense.

He declined. With that act, resistance to Church authority achieved moral authority-an authority that needs to be exercised today.

The actions of Martin Luther are the basis for the formation of the Protestant Church (“Lutheran” of course, being derived from his name).

So here we are, 486 years later, and the wheel seems to have turned full circle.

It is not difficult today to find examples of those who would teach hate as enlightenment, or those who would assert the gathering of wealth is serving a higher purpose.

It is easy to find those who call themselves Christian, but who would ignore the missive “...If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (John 3:16-18).

There are even those who suggest that a final battle will cause the death of the Unbelievers, and bring, in a final show of God’s love, the Second Coming-and that we should do all we can to encourage the process.

With all this in mind, I humbly offer a few New Theses for today.

--Hate is not a tool for spreading understanding.

--Revenge is not a means to achieve righteousness.

--Taking away from the poor because you need the money to kill others will not get you into Heaven.

--If your religion is guided by voices from Heaven, be careful of voices from Earth.

--I don’t care who you are, if you think you understand the One and only Truth about anything metaphysical-you don’t.

--As regards a Second Coming: be careful what you wish for-you may get it.

This is a community.
Let’s all be Martin Luther today.

Do you have a thesis of your own?
Add it to the list-think of it as your own Easter egg to the rest of us.

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