Photo credit: http://www.theage.com.au
Only once every several centuries or so, does the opportunity come about for someone to fundamentally change the world for the good of all mankind and in the process, make their name known the world around for all time.
Arguably, the most recent person to do such a thing was Martin Luther, a German monk born nine years before Columbus discovered America. He is remembered for being a key figure in the Protestant Reformation. He was not a perfect man, but his objective was. He aimed to end the abuse of power by the Catholic Church (essentially all of Christianity, at that time) and have it return to the teaching that salvation comes from God and God alone. One of the things he objected to most, was the practice of the selling indulgences, which amounted to telling people that they could buy their way into heaven simply by donating money to the Church.
Luther did not desire to dismantle, or even leave the Catholic Church, he merely wanted to end the corruption and have its leadership admit that a person’s relationship with God is does not require a mortal middleman. The Church however did not see it that way. Luther was considered a threat to its power and authority, and eventually Luther was excommunicated, but not before he was able to get the attention of a large number of people. Although he did not condone it, inevitably tensions between Luther’s followers and the Catholic Church led to violence and even bloodshed.
In the end he and his followers organized their own church which gave rise to the Lutheran Church. Over the centuries, other new denominations of Christianity came into being and many people believe that Christianity in general, and even the Catholic Church itself, is better off because of what Luther started.
It’s now almost 500 years since the Protestant Reformation and what can we say we have learned. Well for one thing, as far as the Reformation was concerned, Luther was correct. The problem back in Luther’s time was that the Catholic Church had a huge influence over many of the Monarchies in Europe. In many areas, it essentially was the government and the abuse of power committed during that time is one of the best arguments for “the separation of church and state” there is.
A religion is the relationship between people and their god and a government is a relationship among people of a nation and the two about as interchangeable as a hammer and a screwdriver. When they become too intertwined, the government does a poor job of managing the common good of the people and the church does a poor job teaching the word of God. (Don’t take this as me saying we should not allow nativity scenes in the town square, I’m not, but that’s a discussion for another day)
God is perfect and man is not, but he did give us the ability to manage our affairs. This means that as long as we are going to live among other people, we are going to need some form of government, but as we see every day, imperfect people in government have negative impacts on our lives. Do we really want imperfect people dictating our relationship with God? What happens to us when their wrong?
Needless to say, living out here in rural Wisconsin, I do not know many Muslims, but I do know some. They are among the most fair, honest, moral, and hard-working people I know. I have to assume that like Christians, the vast majority of Muslims are good people, otherwise we would be in much deeper trouble than we are, as far as terrorism is concerned. I also believe that if you believe in equality of people, you have to assume that most people have similar feelings, thoughts, fears, and misgivings.
When I was a child, I was taught that the word of God is written in the hearts of men and this is the basis of our sense of right and wrong. In other words, people are born with the ability to know if what they and those around them are doing is favorable in the eyes of God. I was also taught that God made us inquisitive creatures, and questioning what mere mortals say concerning God does not mean that one’s faith is weak. I’m sure that most people of any religion occasionally question it’s teachings and writings, wondering at what point does the perfect word of God end and the imperfect word of man begin.
I therefore believe that there are hundreds of millions of Muslims throughout the world that disagree with the radical types, and they at least privately question what some mortal men are doing in the name of Islam.
Things are not identical in the Middle East of today and Germany in the 1500’s, but parallels can be drawn. Religion and governments have been fused, corrupting each other in the process. Many Islamic countries are among the poorest in the world and even in some oil rich Muslim countries, the lower classes live in extreme poverty. To make matters worse, human rights violations, beyond what anything people in the West can imagine, are part of everyday life. Almost all of this is due to corrupt people abusing the power and authority of religion and government.
There are two things that are preventing the masses from supporting an Islamic Reformation, fear and more importantly, the lack of a leader. History has shown again and again that a charismatic leader with a noble cause can convince multitudes to put their fears aside and stand up for what’s right.
So the call goes out to the Muslim world, to the Imams, Ayatollahs, and laymen. Who has the courage to become the Martin Luther of Islam, and lead the willing to follow a teaching of Islam that is not so much concerned with the infidels, but is focused on the wellbeing of its followers here on earth, and their salvation in the hereafter. The risks are enormous, but the rewards, both personally and for all of humanity are immeasurable, and in the meantime, the innocent die, their children cry, and the world waits.