You Say You Want a Reformation …

crescent IIMartin Luther unleashed his attack on the monolithic Catholic Church exactly 499 years ago on All Saints Eve Now (now popularly known as Halloween) when he nailed his 95 theological theses on the Church door of Wittenberg. Now, as we approach the quincentenary of that momentous event it is possible to gain some long-term perspective on its essential nature and impact on modern history. In particular, it is an ideal time to explore the grim implications of such a religious upheaval for the crisis of Islam, which is engulfing much of the world in the same type of internecine and sectarian violence that characterized the epochal upheaval that convulsed Christian Europe.

Continually there are demands for Islam to undergo its own ‘reformation’ akin to that endured by the West half a millennium ago. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s polemic, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now (2015), exemplifies this campaign, envisaging a reformed Islam akin to liberal Christianity in its capacity to accommodate the modern world. She states the case against the savagery of fundamentalist Islamism in a defiant and optimistic fashion, drawing great encouragement from the various calls for reform that were manifest in the Muslim world during the so-called Arab Spring. Equally optimistic calls come from Muslim intellectuals who imagine that Muslims around the world could band together to overthrow Muslim despots, reject Sharia law, establish new liberal constitutions, and deploy diaspora Muslims living in Western countries like Australia as “ambassadors [to] educate their non-Muslim neighbours about the peaceful, compassionate and sharing nature of Islam in order to bring Muslims and non-Muslims closer together”.

Tragically, much of this is fanciful. In their enthusiasm, these commentators have imposed an idealised vision of the rationalism of the 18th century Enlightenment upon the brutal religious passions of the 16th century Reformation. Moreover, there seems to be little evidence that the contemporary despots, theocrats, and jihadists that dominate the Muslim world will relinquish their wealth and power or give up on their apocalyptic dreams of global conquest. Moreover, these Muslim leaders and their many supporters are heirs to an ancient intellectual counter-revolution that diverted Islam away from the rationalism that facilitated the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment in the West. Instead they embrace a theological obscurantism that Robert R. Reilly has carefully analysed in The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis (2010). As I have observed:

“Reilly details how the emerging religion of Islam initially embraced the rationality and scientific orientation of the Hellenic world to which it was a successor before it abruptly turned its back on this heritage and embraced a quite primitive form of theological irrationalism. The resulting world-view fundamentally undermined Islam’s capacity to embrace science, democracy and economic development down to the present day.”

Nothing has changed: Islam remains constitutionally unable to embrace the open society that the West enjoys. Instead Islamists and other devotees of ultra-reactionary Saudi-backed Salafi fundamentalism are vigorously seeking to reassert this medieval theological irrationalism throughout the Muslim world. They are never going to yield to calls for reform.

Nor is there any likelihood that the backward-looking Muslim diaspora exploiting the welfare states of the West will rise to the challenge, contest this obscurantism, and modernize Islam, perhaps transforming it into something akin to liberal Christianity by capitulating abjectly to secular consumerism, political correctness, Green-Left ideology, and becoming a Uniting Church of Islam. Such suggestions are preposterous, as these diaspora are largely funded and controlled by Salafists, as part of the ‘Arabization of Islam’. Consequently, Western Muslims, protected by their political front men and cultural quislings in the media and academia, are far more likely to develop and entrench their enclaves and no-go areas in the cities of the West where they can enforce the more brutal and benighted aspects of Salafist Islam. This is especially the case with their womenfolk, with radical Muslim intellectuals even prepared to defend honour killings.   As their reticence to take a stand against jihadism and their eagerness to claim victimhood reveals, they are more likely to be part of the problem than part of the solution.

In fact, the Reformation that Ali and other commentators want the Islamic world to emulate offers lessons diametrically opposed to their optimism. To begin with, it didn’t establish the separation between church and state:  various theocratic Protestant regimes were established in Europe and North America, Henry VIII made the Monarch head of the Church of England, and religious orthodoxy was brutally enforced through capital punishment, including innumerable burnings at the stake. Subsequently, church and state battled for supremacy for centuries after the Reformation.

Indeed, considered at a deeper metahistorical level, the Reformation can be seen as a truly cataclysmic event that nobody would want to emulate. In its assault on the Catholic Church it fatally mauled the immense institutional structure that encompassed all aspects of late medieval life in Europe, so vividly portrayed in Johan Huizinga’s famous study of The Waning of the Middle Ages (1924) and explored in the works of conservative scholars like Christopher Dawson (Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, 1950), and Richard M. Weaver (Ideas Have Consequences, 1948). Above all, it uprooted the spiritual certainties that sustained people through their daily lives in the century-and-a-half that followed the unimaginable trauma of the Black Death. As C.S.L. Davies notes in Peace, Print and Protestantism (1977), the medieval masses were surrounded by misery and faced the near-certainty of an early and often agonizing death. Inevitably they embraced the comfort offered by the Church:

“They were locked into a system of belief in the supernatural by the brute facts of life; a hazardous, unpredictable world could only be understood in terms of the operation of apparently arbitrary spiritual forces.”

Consequently, as Lewis Spitz emphasizes in The Protestant Reformation 1517-1559 (1985):

“On the eve of the reformation the Roman Catholic Church was the most universal institution, and the Christian religion the most pervasive spiritual and intellectual force, in Europe [possessing] a hierarchical organization that reached into every parish, and a bureaucracy that rivalled that of kings and emperors [and touching] the private life of every individual.”

The Church administered an elaborate system of sacraments – baptism, confirmation, marriage, the Eucharist, penance, holy orders, and extreme unction – instituted by Jesus, entrusted to the Church, and administered only by an ordained priest. They were seen as visible signs of the grace of God and closely accompanied the faithful in an orderly fashion as they passed through the various phases of their lives.

Consequently, the clergy accounted for around 10 percent of the population (e.g., Cologne had 6000 priests for a population of 40,000) while the Church employed virtually all the intellectual elite and owned some 25 percent of society’s wealth, while playing a central role in politics. However complacent and riddled with corruption it may have been, it sat resolutely at the centre of people’s lives and they invested their wealth and hopes in its promises of salvation, gladly funding, as Spitz observes,

“local parish churches, monastic houses and confraternities, brotherhoods for prayers, side alters, memorial windows, statues of saints, organs, vestments, crucifers, reliquaries, chapels in hospitals, colleges and professorships, pilgrimages, new shrines, benefices, and endowments.”

All of this helped constitute an ever-present, all-encompassing regime of religious personnel, dogma, ceremony, and imagery that gave vivid meaning, coherence, and hope to the European masses as they toiled through their daily lives, sustained by the sure and certain hope of salvation that the Church promised, and all of it was underpinned by a vast system of scholastic theology that answered every question and stifled every doubt that might have afflicted the faithful. Much of this highly elaborate structure was swept aside and destroyed in the lands where the Reformation prevailed.

It was against this ancient ecclesiastical edifice that Martin Luther unleashed his attack on 31 October, 1517.  All Saints Eve is the start of Allhallowtide, which runs from October 31 to November 2 annually and also includes All Souls Day and All Saints Day. The basic point of this vigil was to pray for the souls of the faithful departed and especially for the saints and martyrs in Purgatory. It was an important occasion in the Christian calendar as it addressed the ever-present reality of death and the looming spectre of the agonies of Purgatory, where all Christians could expect to spend eons of time, atoning for their sins before finally being received into Heaven. It very much involved the fears and hopes of the common people, (with, for example, contemporary Trick & Treating having its origins in the making and distribution of ‘Soul Cakes’ to children and beggars who would in return say prayers for the dead). It was Church teaching that souls could be freed from Purgatory or have their time there remitted through various practices. In particular, relief could be obtained through the purchase of indulgences from the Church, and it was to contest this idea that Luther chose that day to post his Theses.

In so doing Luther was following the conventional procedure and seeking an orderly theological disputation in the academic fashion. He was inviting debate on a range of central elements of the Catholic faith, but in particular he was concerned with the widespread sale of indulgences, which had become an essential source of revenue for the dissolute Renaissance Papacy and was being heavily promoted from local pulpits and by travelling priests. Although Luther was an eager, resourceful, and pugnacious disputant, he had no idea his dissenting propositions and the Church’s reactions to them would escalate quickly into a major conflict or that his life would be threatened. Indeed, his challenge to the Church only gained traction because, unlike other ‘heretics’ like Jan Hus, William Tyndale, and other innumerable victims of the medieval ‘persecuting society’, Luther managed to stay alive.

Under the patronage and protection of German princes and fighting for his life, Luther further developed his theology and wrote his three great works: Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, The Babylonish Captivity of the Church, and The Liberty of the Christian Man. These were immediately taken up by the new and vigorous printing industry and served as the manifestoes of a self-sustaining religious revolution that quickly found further leaders like Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin and opened the door to ultra-radicals like Thomas Müntzer and the Anabaptists

In a few short epoch-shaping years the Papacy and the states of Central and Northern Europe were embroiled in conflicts that set the continent ablaze, much to Luther’s mortification. He was appalled by the Great Peasants’ War that was inspired by radical versions of his theology and swept through the German lands in 1524-5, leading to over 100,000 deaths as the aristocracy crushed dissent, in what was the greatest popular uprising in Europe before the French Revolution.  He couldn’t have foreseen the appalling Sack of Rome (1527) that produced 45,000 casualties, or the carnage of the Spanish Sack of Antwerp in 1576, which decimated the city and left 7000 dead; or the French Wars of Religion (1562–98) between Catholics and Huguenots, involving open warfare and vast massacres that led to between 2 and 4 million deaths and prompted the emigration of hundreds of thousands of French Protestants. Nor could he have possibly guessed at the lethal twists and turns of the English Reformation that proved fatal for royalty, aristocrats, ecclesiastics, intellectuals, and common folk alike, and also saw the dissolution of the monasteries and the transfer of great wealth into the hands of the monarchy. Indeed, nobody could have foreseen the endless religious wars that engulfed the entire continent over the next 150 years, or predicted how they would fundamentally split Christendom asunder. Eventually they consumed the lives of 15-20 million people, devastated and transformed Europe, and culminated in the cataclysmic Thirty Years War (1618-48), which involved all the European powers, killed around half the population of the German lands, severely dislocated society, and institutionalized the Catholic/Protestant chasm.

How could such a prolonged and devastating catastrophe have happened, and what lessons are there to be learnt for the present day? There are many economic, political, and demographic factors that have to be considered. Marxists, for example, see it in terms of the collapse of feudalism and the rise of the urban bourgeoisie.   However, it happened pre-eminently because the immense, 1200-year-old edifice of Catholic Christendom couldn’t withstand the ideological onslaught that Luther and an army of fiercely committed successors unleashed against it. The all-encompassing Christian world-view that held medieval society together largely disintegrated and the masses were suddenly left spiritually bereft in a hideously violent and unpredictable world.

Various Protestant sects did, of course, spring up to replace the Catholic Church and these proved very attractive – especially to the intellectual, commercial, and political elites who were happy to imagine themselves amongst the Protestant elect predestined for salvation. However, as Max Weber famously argued in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) this form of religion culminated in a rigorous and obsessive Puritanism and was more likely to generate an ever-present state of anxiety about one’s salvation, rather than the comforting reassurance offered by the older faith. Its underlying tendency was towards an atomized society of individuals fretting about their personal fate rather than the more organic and cohesive community that characterized Catholicism.  At any rate, the unity of Christendom was shattered and has never been repaired.  In a very short time the masses of people across Northern and Western Europe had experienced the collapse into chaos of the millennium-old system of belief and practice that had previously sustained them and their families as they made their pilgrimage through the veil of tears that was their lives.

Such a sudden collapse into an existential void may be difficult for modern people to comprehend, given our generally secular and rationalist outlook, spiritual disinterest, the never-ending cavalcade of media-driven distractions, the confidence we invest in medical science and public health, and the complacency we have about the after-life. After all, for denizens of secular society, as Davies notes in Peace, Print and Protestantism, “economics and politics are the fundamental issues: all else is top-dressing”, but such an outlook would have been unintelligible to the people of the Late Middle Ages. For them the spiritual ‘top-dressing’ was the very foundation of their lives.

Nevertheless, if we are adequately to understand both the impact of the Reformation on the West, and identify its implications for the present crisis of the Muslim world then we must make the leap into an alien mental world where religion encompasses every aspect of life and offers comfort and refuge to people who would otherwise be left adrift in a hostile and volatile world. Like the Christian masses 500 years ago, this is the situation presently faced by hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world, for whom the traditional forms of Islam that served as the foundation of their lives are now under lethal attack.

Tragically, throughout Africa, the Middle East, and South- and South-East Asia these masses are trapped in a world-historical crisis. Largely through no fault of their own, the traditional world within which they and their forebears have lived for centuries is suffering a dual onslaught. On one hand, they confront the culturally corrosive impact of a secular and consumerist form of globalization that bedazzles them on every form of media, but offers only empty promises and will deliver only despair. On the other hand, they face the reactionary strictures of a lavishly funded and highly aggressive Salafism that wants to sweep away their traditional Muslim beliefs and practices and anchor them instead to a fundamentalist and sectarian version of Islam centred on the feudal world of Saudi Arabia.

This is the infamous Arabization of Islam that is occurring in both the Muslim world and the Muslim diasporas of the West. Like the first Reformation it pits iconoclastic fanatics against traditional forms of religiosity, brutally seeking the latter’s suppression and destruction. As I pointed out in “Global Jihad and the Battle for the Soul of Islam”, file:///C:/Users/Merv%20Bendle/Downloads/9002-23557-1-SM%20(1).pdf the present warfare, terrorism and violence that characterizes jihadism obscures the significance of this internal battle within Islam, although it may have a greater long-term impact. It is being waged by Saudi-backed Salafists pursuing an ideal of a radically purified Islam; mobilized as a militant political force to be imposed universally across the Muslim world and beyond:

“Its targets are the popular forms of Islamic religiosity, represented above all by and the many diverse forms of traditional Islam and Sufism that have existed across the globe for centuries. Given the significance of this religiosity, and especially the importance of Sufism, this is an epoch defining battle with major implications for the future of Islam and therefore potentially for the future religious history of the world.”

Driven by an inter-continental demographic explosion affecting a billion Muslims, the outcome of this crisis can only be an era of war, terrorism, sectarian violence, mass illegal migration and human-wave assaults on Europe and other Western nations unprecedented outside of wartime.

Tragically, there is no historical evidence to justify an alternative, less pessimistic projection of what is transpiring in the Muslim world. This bleak outlook is therefore the true lesson of the Reformation: the collapse of traditional religious systems that have served societies and great masses of people for centuries, whether they be Christian, Muslim (or, for that matter, Hindu or Confucian), can be expected to generate violence on a  large scale stretching over decades or even centuries.

Ultimately, therefore, those calling for a Muslim Reformation are not only naïve, they also radically underestimate the world-historical trauma and epoch-shaping destructiveness of the Reformation that they are presently calling upon Muslims to emulate. Indeed, the devastating effects of the first Reformation are resonating still, some 500 years after the event, as its implications work themselves out and Western Christendom suffers its own final death throes under the impact of modernity. If there is any message to be gained from the Reformation experience it is that any contemporary religious upheaval on a comparable scale will involve the mobilization of hundreds of millions of people inflamed with religious passions and millennialist expectations, together with widespread violence and massive disruption on an inter-continental scale. Like the first Reformation, such an event will convulse the world for centuries.

Mervyn Bendle PhD taught history, religion, and social theory for 20 years at James Cook University

26 thoughts on “You Say You Want a Reformation …

  • johnhenry says:

    “Martin Luther unleashed his attack on the monolithic Catholic Church exactly 499 years…when he nailed his 95 theological theses on the Church door of Wittenberg.”

    I’m perfectly willing to accept that he did in fact nail his theses to that church door. I wish it had been his testes instead, but what bugs me is how famous accounts like that are now almost invariably denounced and scorned as “urban legends”. What say you, Merv?

  • Keith Kennelly says:

    Merv is getting closer.

    We are all experiencing the death of monotheis

    The Muslim world has been beset with internal violence and division almost since its beginnings.
    The are other divisions between Muslims than the commonly known Shia 20% /Sunni 80% divide. There are huge divisions between Sunni. Many Sunni sects, like the Shia, have mechanisms for moderating the violent passages of the Quran. The salafists etc don’t they rely on a literal meaning of the texts. The other great divide between the Sunnis is in the temporal with the House of Saud the dominant but at odds with the salafists and the many other fundamentalist sects and tribal dominated regions within the Saudi peninsular. Another issue with almost all is the appointment by western governments of the house of Saud as the Temporal leader of the Arabic nation. Temporal and spiritual are indistinct in Islam.

    On top of these fundamental divisions is the new influence of scientific achievement of the west. Islam holds all truth resides in its texts. This is the irreconcilable challenge… and not the other fundamentalviolent and repressive beliefs. The domination of women, the suppression of self
    are all able to be moderated and reconciled with western mores. We see a such Sunni Islam in Indonesian and sometimes Pakistan’ and Palestine and Australia(among Muslim communities which have been here over 100 years.

    Eventually, with the demise of Saudi and Arabian fundamentalism, which will occur, the more moderate of the Muslim communities will grow to embrace the community values, those which rejected the domination of the monotheist churches. Or the liberal democratic philosophers from David Hume forward.

    We in the west are today rejecting monotheism and are seeking a further refinement of our liberal democracies. The Muslim believers are on the same path, albeit a century or two behind us.


    • mvgalak@bigpond.com says:

      Keith, your response reminds me of the similar hopes the Western democracies held towards the USSR, hoping against hope that the Soviets would reform and gradually will become “one of us”. These hopes proved to be groundless. Similarly, in my opinion, the totalitarian doctrine of Islam is incapable of reforming. To believe otherwise is to engage in wishful thinking.

    • pgang says:

      Christianity isn’t monotheistic in the sense that Islam is, it’s trinitarian. There is a universe of differences between the two worldviews, yet this essential fact is always overlooked by those who would lump all religion together. Your point is therefore somewhat moot since the two mindsets are utterly incongruent, as are the arguments of Bendle who seats all evils home to the Reformation because of his historical and theological misunderstandings. His critique of the effects of the Reformation are shallow and blinkered, to put it nicely. He blames the Reformation for all of the worst impacts of modernity while excusing the Catholic church for centuries of abuse of power and paganistic theological dualism. Perhaps the “the collapse of traditional religious systems that have served societies and great masses of people for centuries” would never have occurred under a sola-Catholica regime, but to suggest so is merely question begging. It’s laughable and has zero relationship with Islam now or ever in the past.

  • rosross says:

    Given the centuries which have passed since the Christian reformation, surely a little context is wise in pondering a possible Muslim reformation? The fact is that Islam does not have the sort of structure and managerial bodies which have always existed in Christianity and which have made considered and comprehensive change possible.

  • Homer Sapien says:

    Luther was fighting corruption not the church, the 95 thesis where in written in Latin which brings a different slant to the story,it speaks volumes.Go figure.

  • Keith Kennelly says:

    Rosross many of the different sects within Islam do have mechanisms to allow for changing interpretations of the Islamic texts. It is predominantly Wahibi and salafist sects of Sunni Islam that don’t.

  • brian.doak@bigpond.com says:

    If only the Mohammedan world were headed as Keith Kennelly writes: “moderated and reconciled with western mores. We see such Sunni Islam in Indonesia and sometimes Pakistan and —–“. To the contrary,the Indonesian community is said to be under constant pressure from Saudi funding to become more Arabised.
    That Australian wild child Robin Hutchinson after arriving in Bali as a RC Christian observed the the effects of Saudi influences to ‘purify’ the ideology from residual Hindu customs. She overcame her objection to the ideology for its endorsed polygamous practice when she became attracted to a local Indonesian and converted to facilitate marriage.
    The Sally Neighbour biography “The Mother of Mohammed” tells of Rabiah Hutchinson’s radicalisation until she became a member of the jihadist elite. Truly no one matches the zeal of a new convert!

    • Jack Brown says:

      Many converts, or reverts as they prefer to be styled, are females marrying Muslin males.

      It has been noted that women married to Muslim males will often be doubly pious and zealous as a subconscious way of making good their Koranic decreed deficiency as being worth only 50% at best of a Muslin male.

      For female reverts, such as Hutchinson, and Samantha Lewthwaite, on top of that doubling they must redouble again to compensate for the fact that they are from an inferior race, and come with western baggage, in order to establish their credentials as True Believers.

  • denandsel@optusnet.com.au says:

    The lethal dangers to civil society presented by Islam would be significantly less to most western countries if the would be totalitarian leftists dominating our institutions like the media and academia did not have sadomasochistic suicidal delusions that they can weaken the west to the extent that they can establish their mythical secular socialist Nirvana. The biggest reason that the ABC and other socialist media units attack Christianity so enthusiastically is that Christianity is so closely aligned to capitalism and freedom.

  • Keith Kennelly says:

    The point I made was the Indonesia is not Arabic but like many Saudis Indonesians practise a moderate form of Sunni Islam.

    It is alarmist to say Indonesian is being radicalised. The Saudi funding is not from the House of Saud the funding is from extremist who follow either Wahibib or Salafiist fundamentalism or from other Saudi Arabian tribal sources.

    It might target some Indonesian Muslims but generally the Indonesian Muslim community would reject violence. It is not their practise and their form of Islam has rejected violence.
    The only realongoing violence is in Aceh and that is mostly Muslim against Muslim although occasionally is directed against Christians.

  • Keith Kennelly says:

    Denandsayou are right about the lefties attacking the west but to attach any great effect on attacking Christianity is not realistic.

    Most of us have rejected the churches and religions of Christianity.

    We have accepted the nonsecular world of liberal democracy … which is completely at odds with the requirements of formal religions and the churches.

    We have however as a society adopted the underlying philosophies of the Christians, re love, forgiveness and doing unto others, into our legal systems, constitutions and common law.

    • Jim Kapetangiannis says:

      “Most of us have rejected the churches and religions of Christianity”

      True enough but is that really a good thing? In my view, the rejection of Christianity in the West is because the teachings of Jesus set all earthly aspirations at nought. He above all others is the ultimate realist. We are the “dreamers” who think that through our own efforts we can bring about some kind of “just” society. That will forever remain a dream – we shall always have the poor among us and there are much higher loyalties to any earthly power that demands our obeisance.

      This realism is the very basis of a liberal democracy and as you have correctly pointed out, the philosophical and ethical bedrock of our “secular” (I’m sure that’s what you meant to say) liberal democracy is firmly grounded in New Testament realism. The conviction that we are by nature, weak, fallible and given to overreaching pride is the best way to preserve personal liberty and ensure a relatively peaceful society as far as it is possible this side of kingdom come. So that no one group can oppress another, we have ensured that powers are diffuse and separated so that the dangerous mischief of our leaders can be mitigated. The alternative is totalitarianism in all it’s secular and religious forms.

      Sadly, the “throwing off” of our Christian heritage will not lead to greater liberty. Just look at what is happening even now in our courts with those three poor students in Queensland. Disagree with any currently fashionable, politically correct view and rather than reasoned debate on the merits or otherwise of the view (even in Latin would be good!) there is a tirade of invective and the most “uncharitable” name calling – mainly from the “secular left”. Where “love”, “forgiveness” and “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” has been emptied from the human heart and mind, the Devil will soon fill it with “hatred”, “malice”, “envy”, “party spirit”…read any article in the Guardian of Fairfax press for examples of more.

      My thesis is that the rejection of Christianity is the first step in national decline and the ultimate triumph of some form of totalitarianism. Thankfully at my age, I may not be around to shed tears.

  • prsmith14@gmail.com says:

    Unfortunately, whatever the merits of this essay – and I am not qualified to assess them – it gives credence to a view that the reformation in Christianity is potentially akin to something that could be achieved in Islam; albeit with accompanying violence. This is simply untrue. Whatever ructions it caused, the reformation was much ado about nothing much at all. Not one word of scripture has been changed and the belief systems of Catholicism and Protestantism are the same in all important respects. “Reforming” Islam or more aptly “revolutionising” it (as aptly described by President El Sisi) is quite another kettle of fish. Putting any kind of civilised face on Islam would mean changing the Koran and the canonical hadiths. This is impossible. The faith would have to be discarded. While this would be the best outcome we shall have to await Christ’s return.

  • whitelaughter says:

    That – was so much wrong.

    For starters, the ‘monolithic’ church hadn’t been for at a minimum of 5 centuries (with the final split between Catholic and Orthodox) and probably never was. Believing that the church encouraged spiritual complacency is an error that can easily corrected by reading some of the excellent spiritual literature left to us by the Middle Ages; say the Imitation of Christ, or the Interior Castle. Meanwhile the profoundly sustaining nature of the Gospel shines through in Protestant Europe as much or more than in Catholic Europe, and was a driving force behind the rapid growth of the following centuries.

    Then, the wars – IIRC Gustavus Aldolphus said that if he had been fighting a religious war, he would have declared war on the Pope. Europe was a tinderbox, with multiple different wars fought for different reasons. The Spanish wanted a land link to the Netherlands, the French were challenging Spanish domination, the Swedes were expanding; all these wars swept across Germany.

    Finally, to get back to your original point – it was a Reformation – “Re-form”, ie ‘REturn to the original form’. Returning Christianity to its’ origins means a return to Jesus Christ. Reforming Islam – which sadly has already happened – meant returning to the teachings of Mohammad, every evil one of them. The reformation of Islam is the problem.

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

    After thanking Merv Bendle for this most interesting and educational article, also paying homage to his detailed familiarity of the subject, I venture the following simple observation. All the adherents of Islam, regardless of the variation they profess, fervently believe that their particular version of the faith is absolutely perfect in every way. Therefore, should any of them even contemplate the notion of reforming it would automatically become a hypocrite at the very least and probably even an apostle, both punishable by death. Case closed.

  • Keith Kennelly says:

    Bill Martin

    How would you label the Muslim community in Australia. It’s been here for over 100 years, has caused no trouble, and I doubt very much you’d be able to recognise many of these people as Muslim.

    It is the repeated and observable behaviour of Muslim populations to adopt the mores and attributes of the cultures which host them. The great exceptions being Muslims of the Sunni sects Salafism and Wahabism.

    • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

      It is simple, Keith. A Muslim who is not bound by the tenets of Islam is a Muslim in name only. Genuine Muslims fervently believe that they are superior to non-Muslims; that they are duty bound to be loyal to Islam above all else; that Sharia is the only valid law; that Islam is divinely ordained to rule the world; that women are inferior to men; that homosexuality should be punished by death; that…. There is heaps more but these should suffice for the purpose.

  • brian.doak@bigpond.com says:

    Keith Kennelly says ‘here for over 100 years, caused no trouble –‘. Actually before the ANZAC landing in 1915 local history records the first jihadist attack by two Mohammedans at Broken Hill who were defending,on Australian soil, the Ottoman Caliphate after Britain and the Empire declared war in response to Germany and its co-belligerents. The Broken Hill Christmas Picnic train was ambushed Keith, and Australians were killed!
    Any connection to the doppelganger from Manly, Qld, in whose letter in The Australian today seems ambivalent as to whether Malcolm Turnbull is ‘ineffectual’ or ‘effective’? In a nice way just being curious!

  • Keith Kennelly says:

    Seems the person who edited that letter understood, whereas you show you might lack a little in the comprehension department.

    Brian Dee I have never needed to hide behind a pseudonym.

    I’m certainly no ghost nor have a twin but I’m usually ambilivent to opinions are narrowly focused and nitpickingly critical.

    Yes of course. I could have said ‘relatively little trouble’ in over 100 years.
    But I didn’t.

    I’m perfectly correct if over 100years excludes any point prior to October 1916.

    And Of course there is also the possible meaning that over 100 years refers to the actual occurrence of trouble over the period of 100 years.
    Again perfectly correct.

    Or in the context of comments about the homegrown Australian Community of Muslims born here and descended from those Muslims who settled here over the past 100 years. Now when read in that context it would have been obvious to anyone with a modicum of sophisticated comprehension I wasn’t talking about immigrants… from anytime.


  • Keith Kennelly says:


    The Australian has often published my opinions. The standards are very high. Not only are letters edited but facts are checked and I’ve found letters with cogent well present arguments are nearly always published.
    Letter focusing on supplying factual information or I sometimes think mirroring the attitudes of The Letters Editor or a line the Australian might highlight gain publication. Quite often letters with humour or highlighting unusual aspects of current issue get published.

    Never criticise Nikki Sava. Never get published.

    You should have a go.


  • brian.doak@bigpond.com says:

    Keith you kept your best comment for last!
    An extension of the ‘never criticise’ list I suggest could have included PVO, a university type with a most annoying typical Leftist slant.
    In summary, damning with faint praise is often about the only criticism editors allow.
    Finally, to restore focus, Merv Bendle writes so impressively and although unsaid here, the ideology of Mohammedanism is the world’s renewed National/International Socialism and the scourge of a free society. It may be dangerous to say that without a nom de plume.

  • Keith Kennelly says:

    I’m of the view all Islam is not such a scourge, it’s dangerous to suggest otherwise. Some of the practises of Islam particularly the fundamentalist are a scourge, not only to our western liberal democracies but also to those Muslim sects which have mechanisms which can moderate the interpretation of Islamic texts. Those Muslims suffer and have always suffered greater violence than we in the west.

    This is the nuanced view which will defeat and contain the fundamentalist expansion. The enemy of our enemy is our friend or Allie.

    Much more sensible than lumping all Muslims in to a monolithic construct. Evidence suggests fairly strongly Islam is more fractured that Christianity ever was.


    Someone who seems to have changed is George Megalanious.(?) I hope he’s not offended because I can’t spell his name.

  • ian.macdougall says:

    A ‘reformation’ in a religion will occur, as it did with Christiaity, when there is sufficient tension between docrine, as set forth in holy texts, and clerical practice.
    Islam has no Pope. There is no formal training a believer has to undergo before setting himself up as an imam and starting his own mosque. So every mosque is a little ‘capitalist’ enterprise, with a ‘self-starting’ history in its own right. And it is in competition with every other mosque around; as the minaret tower building competition in every city in the Islamic world bears testimony to. The muezzins’ calls to prayer which so captivate visitors to Islamic world cities are a bit like the competing neon signs in the night skies of Western cities.
    Moreover, Islam is in fact in the midst of its own ‘reformation’, but it is not along the lines of the Christian one. In Christianity’s reformation, the first actors were dissident theologians like Luther. The grim-living Puritans were the last cab off the rank. Not so in Islam: precisely the reverse. Islam’s Puritans (eg Osmama bin Laden) are the Islamists, who seek to ‘return’ Islam to some glorious Medieval Caliphate period of global ascendancy, and believe that terrorist acts are the most powerful way for the making of that point. Islam’s Puritans, are rebelling against Islamic ‘peaceful coexistence’ with its theological enemies.

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