Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hier stehe ich

The famous stand by Luther at Worms epitomizes to many modern politically correct academics the vast sins of the era of the reformation: the monstrous Western ego, the manic strive for domination, the single track railroads to Auschwitz and what you have. Of course Protestantism is seen these days more as a concequence than cause of modernity (when it is thought about analytically at all), but nevertheless it is very popular to see the emergence of the post-medieval Europe as a costly moral failure. I don't share that perspective: in my eyes Protestantism very obviously opened the gates for enlightenment and emancipation. (This is not to deny the existence of the monstrous ego and the bloody strive for domination - but that is only one aspect of a complex whole.) The American Puritans started by hunting witches - mere two centuries later they were freeing slaves, fighting for gender equality, combatting imperialism and aggression, renouncing primitive theologies. Or the best of them were: there is a deep duality to the experience, a highminded, progressive and enlightened impulse resisted by know-nothing, panicky fundamentalism. And as much as I admire the majestic liberal turn of the Anglo-American non-conformism, there is a certain note of abstraction and distance in this admiration - which probably comes from my Lutheran Finnish pietist background - compared with icy Calvin, Luther certainly was a wretched sinner, a monstrous man, who somehow still managed to form in parts a universally meaningful message on human experience, the kind of height that Calvin never achieved: simul peccator et iustus. Which is the most anyone can really be in this imperfect, cruel human world. But that note of mysticism perhaps makes one less inclined to activism and concrete deeds...

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