Rebel yell

rebel in the rankReview by NICK MATTISKE

Book | Rebel in the Ranks | Brad Gregory

The Reformation is sometimes spoken of as creating the proliferation of churches we see today. It can also been seen as concerning dogmatic nit-picking over religious matters that have little relevance for the majority of society outside the churches.

But for Brad Gregory, whose new book is a distillation for popular audiences of his large and important The Unintended Reformation, the Reformation is still with us, as it ultimately created our present individualistic society, complete with unresolvable culture wars.

Current champions of the Enlightenment think the modern world began then and everything before was impenetrable dark ages. Gregory challenges this assumption. He traces modern pluralism and freedom back to Martin Luther’s questioning of the Catholic Church’s authority (triggered by his deduction that indulgences had to be money-making charlatanism), and its replacement with the individual’s right to interpret Scripture.

Luther would not have put it that way exactly and the word ‘unintended’ recurs in Gregory’s narrative. He acknowledges that Luther and the other Reformers would throw up their hands and ask ‘how has it come to this?’ if they surveyed the modern separation of church and state, the decline of public Christianity, the compartmentalisation of spirituality and the freedom to reject religion altogether. Instead of the spiritual penetrating deeper into the everyday (as it arguably did for a few years), the opposite has occurred.

It had to, in some respects, because the affirmation of the right to believe whatever you liked was, ironically, the only way to hold society together, after the horrific wars of religion that accompanied the Reformation.

And eventually as religion gradually became a private matter it was not Enlightenment values that took the driver’s seat, but consumerism. Religion, Gregory decides, lost out to money.

Available at www.harpercollins.com.au RRP: $54.99

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