Religion 21st Century

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Protestant Churches

In Western Europe, Papal Authority in Rome was eventually challenged by Protestants and new Christian churches emerged with derivative versions of beliefs, sacraments and rules. Wars in Europe emerged as new Protestants fought with members of the Roman Church.

The history of the protestant reformation is long and complex. The key understanding is that a number of protestant groups emerged all over Europe with different versions of Christianity. Martin Luther’s church began in Germany and spread through Scandinavia. In England, King Henry VIII wanted a divorce from his wife, Catherine, which the Roman Pope would not grant, so Henry divorced the Pope and the Roman Church. England was destined to endure conflicts among Roman Church devotees, the Anglican Church, and increasing numbers of protestant churches who generated different inflections of Christianity.

Lilla suggested: “In the late Middle Ages, the sense of crisis was palpable, and even the Roman Church recognized that reforms were in order. But by the 16th century, thanks to Martin Luther and John Calvin, there was no unified Christendom to reform, just a variety of churches and sects, most allied with absolute secular rulers eager to assert their independence. In the Wars of Religion that followed, doctrinal differences fueled political ambitions and vice versa, in a deadly, vicious cycle that lasted a century and a half. Some Christians, addled by apocalyptic dreams, hunted and killed other Christians with a maniacal fury they had once reserved for Muslims, Jews and heretics. It was madness.”

Puritan families left England in opposition to some of the expressions of the Anglican Church established by King Henry VIII after the Roman Pope refused to grant him a divorce. The Puritans established New England on the Atlantic coast of what would become the USA. The first great migration to the new world occurred between 1630 and 1640. The influence of protestant groups in Canada and the US continues to this day somewhat transformed by a profusion of new churches, especially the Christian evangelical religious-political groups.

Several themes eventually emerged in protestant congregations. One theme was the elevation of individual experience and permission to have a direct relationship with Jesus and God. Another was the elevation of the bible as the ultimate authority, rather that the dogma of the Roman Church.

The strength of the Roman Church lay in its dogma, liturgy and rituals. As protestant churches emerged, dogma and ritual were not emphasized. From a psychologist’s point of view, Carl Jung suggested: “Protestantism, having pulled down so many walls carefully erected by the Roman Church, immediately began to experience the disintegrating effect of individual revelation… man had to face his inner experience without the protection and guidance of dogma and ritual… the mass, confession, the greater part of the liturgy and the vicarious function of the priesthood.”

The Scandinavian countries are among the most liberal and progressive despite the fact that Norway, Iceland, Finland and Denmark have constitutional links between church and state. In these countries, polls report the lowest levels of church attendance. Sweden disconnected Church and state as late as the year 2000. In my case, my Icelandic grandmother was a devout Lutheran. She told stories of her life in Iceland, taught me Icelandic songs and history, but almost nothing about her Lutheran religion. I did recite the bedtime prayer she taught me: Now I lay me down to sleep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” My grandmother gave me the legacy of the good person. She was gentle, kind, and affectionate. She was a practical woman who raised nine children, worked hard all her life and knew suffering. As a result of all her life experiences, she was a good person. Thanks to grandmother, I have no difficulty recognizing good people. I have no difficulty recognizing bad people, regardless of what they say, their social status, beliefs, or religious affiliation. What continues to surprise me is how many bad people can hide in the disguise of a religious person.


  • Religion for the 21st Century is available as an eBook download. The book is intended for a well-educated smart reader who is interested in a world view of religious expressions past, present and future. The main theme is that each religious group has its own claims and stories and will tend to reject others. A reader committed to one point of view may not accept the egalitarian review presented here. Innate tendencies are expressed as religions and in the past have created conflicts that hinder progress towards the real and true. The book examines paths for religious renewal in the 21st century.

    The author is Stephen Gislason

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