Imagine you go to a church in town, but you’ve just realized that your church is doing something very wrong. You’ve discovered that your own church has been lying to people about what happens to them when they die, and tricking them to take their money. You’re wondering what you can possibly do about this to make it right, so you decide to write up a list of all the things you think the church is doing wrong. You know this could get you in trouble, but you decide to do something even more crazy: you’re going to nail your list right on the front door of that church, posting it there for all to see. You don’t know what will happen to you after you post it, but this is too important to you to keep silent any longer. People need to know… let them decide for themselves!
This is the story of Martin Luther, a priest with a bad haircut, who nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of his church in Wittenberg, Germany. This bold act of protest at a small-town church kick-started the Protestant Reformation and changed the course of history. It was significant because it dared to challenge the all-powerful Catholic Church’s authority to tell everyone what to believe, and skeptically called out their greedy corruption. It led to the translation of the Latin bible into languages people could understand, empowering anyone to question its meaning and debate the merits of the religion for themselves.
Martin Luther meets Twitter
This October 31, 2017, marks the 500th year since Martin Luther posted his historic 95 Theses. Each thesis was a brief statement that challenged a particular church doctrine or corrupt practice. Interestingly, each thesis was only a few lines long – just like the 140 characters of a Twitter post! This historic milestone combined with the power of social media offers a unique opportunity for thoughtful people to collaboratively share answers to age-old questions about the powers and pitfalls of religion.
Are the moral questions we face today the same as those in Luther's time? Are the answers due for a 500 years update? Has our understanding progressed in the 500 years since Luther's days, when people didn't know where the Sun went at night? The 95 Tweets project extends this opportunity for the continued thoughtful, careful, skeptical, and impassioned critique.
As one example, for starters, Luther was known to be anti-Semitic, and his harsh treatment of the Jews was not without historical impact. As another example, Luther’s achievement is celebrated in heroic terms by the Protestants, who have since themselves become the predominant religious power in many places – perhaps it is now the Protestant Church’s turn for some scrutiny?