Unintentional Reformation

The mariner was watching “Book Talk” on CSPAN2 recently. The author, Brad Gregory, presented his book The Unintentional Reformation. By his own admission, the book is a hard read. It is about the unintentional ramifications that arose when the established church (Holy Roman Catholic and Anglican) was no longer the universal keeper and interpreter of morality, ethics, God and daily behavior.

The state protected the right of people to choose their faith. Consequently, the “church” was no longer keeper and interpreter of common good. Each denomination could define common good from its own perspective.

This meant that individuals also could choose not to abide by any definition of the common good. Thus arose secularism, a new movement uncommitted to any definition of common good – the unintentional reformation.

Gregory defined the behavior of today’s masses as not having religion. He defined religion as a natural element in life that provides personal ethics and moral direction. When the reformation occurred, many did not look for a religious definition of morality and there was no universal interpreter of common good to advise them. Further, there were many definitions of common good that, by default, meant none was the true common good.

Gregory went on to say that the collapse of common good has led to extremism, fragmentation in government, greed and abuse in businesses and has left stranded lives. Religion is not present. What interested the mariner is the author’s separation of “religion” from organized churches. His only contention was that there must be a keeper and interpreter of the common good that is abided by the masses. He did not say who the keeper should be today, only that the Reformation unintentionally unleashed secularism, a movement that has no keeper of common good.

The Unintentional Reformation is an elaborate, intellectual accounting of the influence of commerce, politics, science and demographics that over time led to the Reformation. The book won the ISI Henry and Anne Paolucci Award for Excellence.  However, it is a history of the Reformation, not a guide for today’s troubles. Who is the keeper of the common good today? The Government? HA! We must ponder this a bit.

The mariner has written of the decline of pew-based faith. Many have left the church to join the secularists – even as they continue to sit in a pew. This may not mean that many have abandoned the common good that their church provided for them. However, one is hard pressed to believe the moral behavior of the new secularist will be sustained.

Many moralistic individuals believe there is a common good. Some are noteworthy and even influence large groups of people. What comes to mind first are the very rich who organize charitable projects. The rich operate outside the reach of governments and provide moralistic services to those in need. The mariner thinks of Warren Buffet, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and a host of show business personalities. Are the rich the keepers of religion in our lives? Economically, the rich are a problem in our economy, leaving many people poorer for the sake of the rich.

The Roman Catholic and Protestant Christian movement certainly is far from dead, though it shows signs of abiding secularism even as it proposes inadequate reinforcement of the common good. Organized religion provides significant funding for numerous charitable programs similar to the rich. The organized church is a major influence regarding moral behavior in society but, as Gregory indicated, it is not the only interpreter of morality, ethics, God and daily behavior. What is needed to unify the common good is a single source with the authority to impose the common good on today’s culture. That includes all elements: personal behavior, corporations, communities, and government.

Therein lays the dilemma. Once Henry the Eighth was able to break away from the Roman Catholic Church and once the Reformation broke the chains of church authority in favor of individual rights, government had the upper hand. Governments allow religious organizations to exist but take from them the authority to interpret and enforce the common good. Ironically, the concept of individual rights is a linchpin in secularism.

The mariner leaves the situation as it is. He has no solution. There may be no way to enforce common good when individuals have individual rights. He agrees with Gregory that secularism was an unintended result of the Reformation.

Ancient Mariner



1 thought on “Unintentional Reformation

  1. A solution would be for us to embrace secular humanism as a good thing, instead of rejecting it as an un-godly philosophy. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights could be celebrated as mankind’s aspirations for life on earth. It is inevitable that we will never agree about religion, but we ought to be able to agree on what constitutes the good life–and that includes individual rights, tempered by care for the environment and each other.

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