Friday, January 02, 2009

Bono, Luther, and the Seeds of Modernity

I’ve been on a bit of a ‘90s U2 kick of late (possibly due to the scheduled release of No Line on the Horizon in March, which has been compared to Achtung Baby), and so I’m (re)reading Bill Flanagan’s U2 at the End of the World. The author has been a close friend of the band’s since the early ‘80s and was given permission to follow them around during their ZooTv tour (’92-’93) and basically be privy to every show, every party, every conversation, and every recording session. Not a bad job this Flanagan fellow has.

Anyway, I read this passage the other night that I found interesting:

Bono is quick to admit that many of his ideas are instinctive, not intellectual—he does not have the time to be rigorous in researching or testing them. One of the theories that gets him into great arguments is that he believes that modernism started with Luther, with the Reformation, with the dismantling of the iconography of the culture and insistence on simplicity and function…. Bono is convinced that all this stripping down and directness goes back to the Protestant impulse, back to Luther, and that the modernists made the great mistake of taking on the antireligion of the existentialists and lost that thread. (It’s one of the wonders of Bono’s considerable intellect that he can construct a unified field theory of all his interests—even when they have nothing to do with each other.)
Now I know that my Catholic readers will jump on this and say, “See? Even Bono realizes that the seeds of modern man’s supposed autonomy are to be found in the Reformation with its individualistic doctrine of Sola Scriptura.” And it may very well be the case that when you mix together Sola Scriptura, anti-authoritarianism, and Descartes, you may not exactly like what you get as a result. Still, I can’t help but wonder how we are to avoid some degree of individualism, whether our home is Geneva, Saddleback, or Rome. We are all evaluating some body of data, whether it is Scripture or the early church fathers (or both), and coming to some conclusion or another about what they have to tell us.

So maybe evangelicals should stop dismissing Presbyterians for our refusal to let the Bible speak for itself; and maybe Presbyterians should soften our self-congratulatory tone when slapping ourselves on the back because of how well we avoid the individualism of the Bible-only, Anabaptist evangelicals out there; and maybe Catholics should stop looking down their noses at all of us and admit that they employ the same private judgment to determine that the Magisterium replaces private judgment as we do when we determine that the Bible speaks clearly enough on its core teachings that even children can understand its basic message.