The Reformation, still
: The death of John Paul II is reminding me of an essential difference in worldviews — and the tension among them — that affects so much today — more than we recognize — and that stretches back to the Reformation.
Last night, I went to the middle school’s performance of 1776 (heckuva John Adams, by the way) and, you know me, I’ll celebrate anything that celebrates democracy. While I sat there, hours after the pope had died, I had this fleeting thought: Is it time to democratize the Catholic church? Shouldn’t the people be electing their pope? If we democracy advocates are demanding popular control and transparency of every nation — not to mention political, media, and marketing institutions — can’t we advocate that for the church?
Obviously that’s an absurd notion; it is by definition of the Catholic church impossible: The pope is elected by the college of cardinals in a process of annointing a man who is then seen as a direct link to God, even His infallible agent, in a line that continues straight back to Peter and Christ. This is the heiarchy of the Catholic church; there is no more purely heirarchical institution I can name.
Of course, that was what Martin Luther rejected when he argued that the people can talk directly with God, without priests as their agents; and when he translated the Bible into the vulgate, the people’s language; and when he created a church that rejected that one-way heirarchy. The populist movement he sparked went even further, of course, when the Presbyterians created a governing structure based on representative democracy that has been the basis for governments since; when the Congregationalists went yet further with a structure that gives the congregation control over any decision, even theology; and, in another direction, when the Bapists and other fundamentalists proclaimed the the Bible as their sole authority, not clergy. Obviously, this is an oversimplification, but the point is that we end up today with three world views that I see around me (apart from Asian and other religions):
There is the heiararchical worldview of the Catholics that places authority in the pope and his priests.
There is the fundamentalist worldview that puts authority in the Word and strict interpretation of it. This, I’ll argue, is the view not only of Protestant fundamentalists but even moreso of Muslims, who believe the word is not only the authority but the embodiment of God.
And then there is the Protestant reformed worldview — in this context, I’d say that Congregationalism is the clearest exhibit — that says man must grapple with the word and the word made whole in Christ to discern the will of God. I’d also argue that this is similar to the worldview of Judaism, in which man takes the law of God and tries to interpret it, via the Talmud and study, to decide how to live under that law.
These are three fundamentally different ways to look at the world and we see this reflected not only in religious institutions and arguments about religion but also, simply, in the inability of people of one worldview to understand those of another.
I was raised Presbyterian and I am now a Congregationalist (not of the UCC stripe). It is the perfect fit for — and probably the origin of — my populist view and my incessant indecision.
I hear others look at my tradition and judge it to be too humanistic — giving too much authority to man — and even relativistic, a charge that is often snarled: Fundamentalists think that we adjust moral standards for convenience, while we believe that right and wrong cannot be found in a particular sentence (or a particular person) but must be found in prayer, deliberation, education, and practice. The heirarchical think we do not have a respect for authority when we believe that the authority of the powerful is derived from the authority of the people, which is derived from the freedom given us by God.
And, in turn, people from my worldview can think that fundamentalists are inflexible when they are devout and that those who put their trust in a hierarchy are sheep when they are respectful.
When we disagree about religion and morals and ethics and issues, the root of that is often more fundamental than a clash of opinions but instead a basic divergence of worldviews that goes back to the Reformation.
I think we saw this profound disconnect of worldviews in the Schiavo case, where some saw what to them was a clear rule of God that was being trampled by the opinions of man and courts, while others saw an ethical issue of individual God-given freedom. I make no judgment about either here but mean instead to say that there is a misunderstanding that goes back to the Reformation.
This is reflected in more than religion. It is reflected in much of the rest of life. And I believe that whether you are religious or not, your views of many things are likely to consistent within your own worldview, your own tradition.
In politics, there are those who see things through heirarchy and established power and others who see thing through the political orthodoxy and “correctness” and yet others who see things via the authority of the people.
In business and the academe you can see parallels as well.
And what would a post from me be without bringing even this to a view of media and, yes, citizens’ media. Some see journalism through heirarchy: Journalists so often believe they are the priests who intepret and communicate from on high; hell, Dan Rather thought he was the pope of news. Others see in journalism an orothodoxy of rules and standards: professionalism, they usually call it. And others — yes, the bloggers pounding their theses on the door — see journalism as a process that can now be written by the people in the vulgate. Jay Rosen has written about journalism as a theology and journalists as its priests. The reference to the Reformation is quite apt.
No doubt, some will try to read criticism of one religious (or journalistic) worldview versus another in this; that’s not what I intended. Instead, I’m merely saying that it’s important to recognize these worldviews and the distances among them.
: LATER: I keep telling Andrew Tyndall tha the should be blogging not only because he’s smart and witty and has a lot to say but simply because his comments are too good not to blog. His comment on this post:
My ancestor, William Tyndale, was the first to translate the Bible from the original Greek and Hebrew into English. Tyndale smuggled New Testaments into England from Antwerp and feuded with Tomas More, before being burned at the stake for heresy.
Arguing with a Roman prelate, Tyndale famously said (according to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs):
“I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life, ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth a plough shall know more of the scripture than thou dost.”
Tyndale’s testaments were printed in miniature format, like today’s paperbacks, so that they could be more easily smuggled–and also fit into that ploughhand’s pocket.
My father, Timothy Tyndall, is fond of saying that Tyndale, if he were alive in these times, would have used the Internet rather than the printing press to spread the word.