NEW YORK (AP) - Not doing anything on Dec. 31? A religious scholar has a suggestion. Get a group of friends together and rank the most significant religious events of the last 1,000 years. For instance: Which was bigger - the Protestant Reformation or the Great Schism?
``It's a nice parlor game, a way to make good use of New Year's Eve,'' jokes historian Martin E. Marty, now retired from the University of Chicago, when asked about a recently released Top 10 list.
That list was based on a survey of the nation's religion reporters, who picked as No. 1 the Reformation launched by Martin Luther in 1517 and the resulting Catholic Counter-Reformation. The Great Schism of 1054 between Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Christendom ranked third.
Both splits, of course, persist. Pope John Paul II hoped Catholics and Orthodox would be celebrating the end of the millennium by reuniting. However, Orthodox conservatism and internal problems made that ecumenical breakthrough impossible. And bridging Catholic-Protestant differences seems an equally problematic prospect for the 21st century.
Wheaton College historian Mark Noll contends that Christendom's East-West split doesn't belong on the list at all because it really occurred in the first millennium; the mutual ecclesiastical anathemas of 1054 merely ratified the fact.
Here's the ranking of the reporters' other eight choices:
2) Gutenberg's invention of printing with movable type, producing widely disseminated religious literature and the Bible in everyday languages.
4) The Nazi Holocaust and the founding of Israel.
5) The Crusades to reclaim the Holy Land from Muslims, begun by the papacy in 1095.
6) Islam's expansion in the 12th to 15th centuries, culminating in the fall of Constantinople (1453).
7) The reforms at Catholicism's Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).
8) America's innovations in religious liberty, leading to the Bill of Rights.
9) Nineteenth century thinkers (Darwin, Freud, Marx, Nietzsche) pose challenges to religion.
10) Pentecostalism becomes ``the fastest growing segment of Christianity'' in the 20th century.
Is there any value in such lists, which are sprouting like weeds this month? ``They force you to think,' remarks Noll.
Karla Goldman, a historian at Cincinnati's Hebrew Union College, agrees. ``With a millennium, it's so giant as to be ridiculous. But it pushes you to see the broader patterns,' things like the importance of the printing press.
Marty also likes lists. ``We tend to be so history-less, so unaware of the things that produce us and the tradition we live off,' he observes. Still, he cautions that the American reporters did not survey ``the millennium' but ``our millennium.' The perspective is Western.
``It's a very ethnocentric list,' Goldman agrees. ``There's no Buddhism. There's no Hinduism.'
In strictly religious terms, she would rank the European Enlightenment as a more important Jewish event than the Holocaust. She says it ``really redefined religion toward what we identify as modern experience ... (and) led to the opening of secular societies to Jewish participation.'
Apparently there was no Protestant bias at work in exalting the Reformation. ``I certainly would agree with No. 1,' says a Catholic historian, Jay Dolan of the University of Notre Dame. But he sees a big omission. He thinks Columbus' voyage of 1492, introducing Christianity to the Americas, ranks ``right right up there with the printing press.'
Noll proposes another missing item. ``Somewhere on the list there has to be Christianity becoming a global religion. That's as important as the expansion of Islam. These are the two great world religions.' For the start of the trend, Protestant Noll proposes the 1542 arrival of Catholic missionary Francis Xavier in India.
Marty generally agrees with the journalists' choices but would rearrange them. For instance, rather than simply Pentecostalism he would have listed the shift to experiential religion that began long before.
From St. Paul up until the 18th century evangelical awakenings, he says, ``Christianity just argued. Augustine argued. Calvin argued. The new invention was making a direct intuitive appeal to the hearts of ordinary people. That's the beginning of modernity in religion and freedom of choice.'
Marty would also extend the undermining of religion from the 19th century thinkers back to the French Revolution and the Enlightenment. Meanwhile, Noll would expand the idea to include the 20th century survival of religion after tremendous persecution under Communists, Fascists and Nazis.
Though Catholic, Dolan doubts that the Second Vatican Council belongs in the Top 10.
``Certainly in my lifetine and in this century it was a major, major event. But was it more important than the Council of Trent (defining Catholic doctrine in response to Protestantism), which had impact for 400 years? That makes me lean to Trent.' Vatican II's importance can only be judged in the next millennium, he believes.
Karla Goldman also looks ahead. The rise of women in the clergy and religious leadership came so late in this millennium that it doesn't yet make the Top 10, she thinks. But ``I'd put it on the Top 10 list of the next millennium.'
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