When I suggested I might post 9.5 Theses from Wittenberg (a poor substitute for the 95 Theses Martin Luther supposedly nailed to the door of the Schlosskirche in 1517), I didn’t think it would be too difficult.
It is commonly thought that Luther, angry with the dodgy theology of the Pope, launched the Reformation and split the Church. However, Luther was doing more than this. The Church was raising funds to build St Peter’s in Rome by selling forgiveness and guarantees of heaven to gullible sinners. His protest was not just at the control-freakery of the Roman Catholic Church and its dodgy theology of atonement, but was also a strike against the political, cultural and economic power of the day. It was rooted in theology, but was aimed at ‘the Powers’.
So, against whom would he protest today? Not just the Church, but those political and cultural ‘powers’ that imprison people in today’s world. He went to the heart of what made life worth living for people of his world: key to this was the radical idea that you could be made right with God (happy?) without being manipulated by the Church. So, the Theses I propose here are aimed at wider targets than just the Church, but they include the Church.
Anyway, here goes (but I admit it sounds a bit trite – I can’t work up the anger of a Luther and it’s late):
1. Today’s big lie is that you can earn or buy happiness. Consumer culture is seductive, but things won’t being you joy. Nor will working yourself to death. There is more to life than ‘stuff’. Freedom from our slavery to consumer culture can be found in discovering that we are known by a God who cannot be surprised.
2. Systems are supposed to serve people, not the other way round. Visa does not make the world go around. Money might bring power, but it does not necessarily bring freedom and it certainly brings accountability. If banks cannot be allowed to fail, why can millions of poor people? If banks can be saved, why is it the poorest who will suffer the most?
3. Economic decisions have moral consequences – what is done in one part of the world affects real people everywhere else. Everything is connected and moral responsibility for the fate of others cannot be ducked. (That also goes for discouraging use of condoms in Africa…)
4. The material world should not be exploited by today’s powerful or greedy consumers, the price being paid by our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We must be prepared to pay a price for reducing our consumer demands. Responsibility means making hard choices now.
5. Celebrity culture is a form of distraction therapy from the reality of the world. Think of Weimar Berlin… or Marx’s ‘opiate of the people’ observation (which he aimed at religion). Ask why our media collude in this destructive and ridiculous fantasy.
6. Get a sense of perspective. Human beings might be clever, but we are not omnicompetent and we are expert in screwing up the world, ourselves and our societies. It is not clever to be selective in our historical remembering, harbouring grievances from long ago that serve merely to fuel (justify?) our corporate resentments and narcissism. (And, pace the French, you can’t just pretend Europe’s Christian history – for good or ill – did not happen…)
7. Security will only be found where the security of ‘the other’ is also protected. Building fences and walls will not ultimately protect – just prolong (and justify?) the cycles of violence. Love of one’s neighbour makes forgiveness possible and new relationships imaginable. Self-protection without regard to the security of others is futile.
8. Those who hold others to account must themselves be made accountable. Freedom of the press cannot be extricated from the responsibility of the press to act justly, fairly and accountably. If no other group (MPs, for example) can be trusted to police themselves, then why should the media be allowed to do so?
9. Hierarchies of victimhood are a symptom of a feeble, introspective and rootless culture. Some Christians (including the Pope) and others who think Christians are being ‘persecuted’ in Europe need to drop the whingeing. Vigorous debate should be enjoined with confidence, joy and freedom. Not surprisingly, this demands a recovery of intellectual rigour and apologetic confidence.
9.5. The Christian Church should get into perspective its primary vocation which is to look, feel and sound like the Jesus we read about in the Gospels. Anything else is a fraud. The divisions between Christians – and the ways they are expressed – are a scandal, an offence and a distraction for the world that needs to discover joy, freedom, forgiveness, new life and generosity.
OK, this is a start. I could have written 9.5 specifically addressed to the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope while he is in my country and I am at the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation. I could have addressed them to the Church of England, business, the banks, the ubiquitous gambling industry or the military. I could have addressed them directly to myself. It all gets a bit confusing in the end.
So, there is my ‘starter for 9.5’ (as it were). Over to you for your ‘Theses’ to ‘the powers of this world’.