Exactly 500 years ago today, a German priest named Martin Luther is said to have nailed a statement to a church door in Wittenberg. That seems doubtful. What he did do on this day was send his 95 Theses to his Bishop. They were a detailed list of complaints about the Catholic Church doctrine of his day, complaints that would have him excommunicated three years later.
Luther’s basic position was that salvation came solely from the grace of God — from simple faith and belief — and required no good deeds on the part of the believer. His other important statement was that the Bible needed to be read and understood by the common people in their own language rather than interpreted by the priests.
Over the next few hundred years, hundreds of millions (without exaggeration) of human beings were killed in an effort to prove one side of the argument was more right than the other. We see the same things still happening today in the doctrinal disputes between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam. And that doesn’t even count the countless millions more killed in disputes between different religions.
Looking back over these terrible and terrifying centuries, I am ever more convinced that “religion” began as, and has always continued to be, an effort to control others and take power over them. It may be that some sects started with generous desires but always — always — they devolve into political struggles for power.
It is very hard to argue that “religion” is a worthy end in and of itself.