In October 1517, some five hundred years ago, Martin Luther defiantly nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg Castle church and, in the process, gave birth to the Reformation and Protestantism. Luther’s hammer changed Christianity forever; but around this iconic event swirls a great deal misinformation and mythology about the positive and negative effects of Luther’s actions.
Many believe that, in 1517, when Luther struck a blow for faith and Biblically based Christianity, Europe was stuck in an era of spiritual lethargy. The Roman Catholic church, we are often told, was not only corrupt, it was in a state of religious atrophy. The Reformation, we are told, prompted a renewal of religious piety led by devoted God-fearing monarchs who were willing to abandon the politically expedient idea of the Divine Right of Kings in order to follow their conscience.
But as Rodney Stark has shown in his recently published Reformation Myths: Five Centuries of Misconceptions and (some) Misfortunes, Lutheran Germans were as uninterested in church attendance after the Reformation as they had been when they were Roman Catholics.