Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Thoughts on the Middle East's Reformation

So profound and disruptive are the changes or growing pains experienced in the Middle East right now that many believe the best historical comparable is none other than the Protestant Reformation. That is not a good thing. At least in the short term.

If the Protestant Reformation is only a vague memory from school years past then we may be forgiven for remembering the Reformation as a quaint time of religious hipsters wanting to "do church a little more local" and cool priests posting their ideas on rustic solid wooden doors that their also cool friend reclaimed from another older, church.

So... anyways. The Protestant Reformation was well over one century of chaos, violence, and new religious ideas. If you were to attribute the cause of the Reformation into one idea, it would be Luther's famous solo scriptura which meant rejecting the central interpretations in favor of direct study of the Bible by local churches and individual parishioners.

This would lead to an enormous struggle between the Catholic Church and the splintering Protestants. There would have been economic, political, and historical aspects to the civil war that ensued as well, but it was certainly a religious war... which are always the messiest. And it was long, too. Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses in 1517while one suitable enough end point for the period is the end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648... 131 years. Read the excerpt below and see how easy it would read today replacing a few words with Shia, Sunni, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc:
Initially a war between Protestant and Catholic states in the fragmenting Holy Roman Empire, it gradually developed into a more general conflict involving most of the great powers of Europe, becoming less about religion and more a continuation of the France–Habsburg rivalry for European political pre-eminence.
The more you read about the Reformation, the less comforted one feels about the Middle East, at least for the next few generations. Huge religious societal shifts in thinking can take a very long time and be very violent. 30% of Germany died in the Thirty Years' War alone; deaths were in the tens of millions. Finally, though the Reformation ultimately led to positive change in Europe there is no guarantee that what is going on in the Middle East will leave the society better off.

Some questions to think about:

1. When was the "95 Theses" moment for the current reformation? Tunisian uprisings? Birth of Wahhabism in the late 18th century?
2. The world now is far more connected. Does that affect things? How did unaffected neighboring countries behave toward the conflict in Europe?
3. If both reformations can be viewed as a "return to scripture" does it matter that the two books in question are different?


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