Thursday, December 8, 2011

Once more: Luther and anti-Semitism

Just to have this here, and in case it gets deleted or abused, I will paste what I wrote on Naked Pastor about Luther's so-called anti-Semitism.  A man who goes anonymously by "Godless Monster" in a discussion about sin and the Ten Commandments, in his infinite fair-mindedness, felt it pertinent to quote all the most vicious sections of Luther on "The Jews and their Lies" to me at great length. (--Great argument to support your line of thinking, Godless Monster!)  NP, himself had to weigh in, not with a moderating comment restraining Godless Monster, but to say that he had read the thing in "seminary" of all places.  Anyhow, in spirit of thinking that explaining might help, I posted all the below, which received no other comment than "Luther is a turd."  Which is fine.  Luther is a "turd."  He said worse about himself.

Dear NP and dear GM: I will set things aside and make a long answer to this, especially since this comes up often. I could make it short, but please take it as my love and respect for you, that I will try and answer it as thoroughly as I can.

Firstly, we note that we have gone off topic, which was to show that we should look at our own sins, of which our own heart as well as the written down law accuse us, invariably, and that the Christian message is that forgiveness can be had for those. Free for the taking. But now we have wandered again to look at the sins of others.

Secondly, we note that the last commandments are not about making women chattels, but they naturally lead into the Sermon on the Mount, that simply the matter of the heart, such as coveting and scheming are already sins, not just the outward doing. Many a person consoles himself with his justification based on not having murdered anyone,  etc. How many times is it said, that people don’t need to go to church because they have not committed any heinous crimes, and that, yet, in the same sentence as saying the people in church are all hypocrites. (Something gives again.)

Thirdly, we note that the moral law which we know about, and which is summarized in the  Ten Commandments and which we learn as children and adults from the catechism, has nothing to do with Luther’s so-called anti-Semitism.

Fourthly, as a German by birth and a Lutheran by confession (not that they go together; most Germans are secular, or Roman Catholic and what goes as Lutheran is really a Forced United church with Reformed. Real German Lutherans I have only met among those who emigrated to America a very long time ago) I do feel called to make some kind of defense of what is being alleged here. I do not take it personally, but since I have looked into it, I will try to set things into context, which is only fair.

Fifthly, the document quoted a great length above, is nowhere found in any teachings or confessions or catechisms of the “Lutheran” church. Luther wrote hundreds of books and thousands of sermons and who knows how many pamphlets. He was such a giant in his own time, that he commented or was asked to comment on just about anything. Everything he said at table  was written down, the visitors thought it so important it should not be lost. Obviously, not all of it is kosher or confessional. The pamphlet  "On the Jews and Their Lies"  was written very late under a certain set of stresses and not promulgated much or far, nor included in any important collections. It is a nasty piece of work that would not edify anyone. So sadly, now those who want to denigrate biblical teaching love to drag this out and plaster it all over in detail, as we see displayed here.

Sixthly, regarding the quoting of this: if this is such nasty business, someone tell me why those who oppose historical Christianity and confessional teaching need to spread this far and wide? What is the purpose? To have a smear campaign? To victimize Jews all over again?–Why roll in the mud? If it is so objectionable, why quote it at length, why read it in seminary? Have you nothing better to read and post?

Seventhly, Luther gets dragged in for every single thing people like to imagine. Under the communists he was the leading communist, under the Nazis he was the leading Nazi. Under Naked Pastor, he becomes the first Naked Pastor… We only had him invoked quite recently.

The the substance of the issue:

1. A man who deals with these issues with passion to detail and with incredible depth is an American Reformed Christian, James Swan, on his blog, He is neither Lutheran nor German. His work has become the debunking of all the ways Luther is abused in current discussions and apologetics of various kinds. He has collated much material on this particular matter here:

2. For those who want to read some writings of Luther which people of various denominations find valuable, James had in interesting link to a collection available free online, here:

The above is material from people who know what they are talking about. I will use up one more comment box to deal with it from my own reading and understanding.

  1. This has been my own reading:

    1. Brecht’s Luther Biography in three volumes is according to James Swan the currently definitive one:
    It is quite a project and I am about 50% through.

    2. “The Jews of Germany, A Historical Portrait” by Ruth Gay. This was a book I picked up used in an Edmonton Cafe/bookshop. It traced this history of the Jews and various streams of anti-Semitism through the centuries and millennia. It was extremely interesting to see the whole set of issues in their full historical development.

    3. This one is a Canadian book, on which I have only got a slow start “The Nazis and the New Religions”

    4. “The Fabricated Luther”, which I have blogged through:
    There are other books, which connect more or less and these are the blog posts I have made myself on the subject:

    To summarize the main points from my own mind:

    1. The Jews had for some time been relegated to living in ghettos, one notable one being the Frankfurt ghetto. They lived in unfair conditions for some time. They were not “emancipated” and were not allowed to live as others were suffering under restrictions of where to live and what kinds of occupations to engage in. This state of affairs also arose because of their own needs of keeping a Jewish butcher, synagogues, springs and pools for ritual bathing, schools, hospitals, having a rabbi, etc. The Holy Roman Emperor even forced them to wear the first sign of exclusion, the yellow circle.

    2. Because Jews could not live in the empire like other individuals they seemed to engage in much money lending. Money lenders are never popular and the situation during Reformation times were recently exacerbated by the concessions a Jewish advocate for Jews gained from the Emperor. What Josel of Rosenheim was able to gain was that Jewish lenders were able to extract higher interest rates from their clients than before, with the end result that they could pay more taxes to the Emperor. This worked for everyone involved except for the average, poor Christian peasant, artisan, etc. who was in any kind of debt. As one would imaging this did not endear the Jewish population who became viewed as heartless blood suckers, not unlike the current outrage of the world against Wall street and the clout of financial institutions. More could be said about Jewish influence at the courts of princes, etc. because of their financial savvy. This would make them both needed for advice but also easily despised. So, there is a whole lot of politics involved.

    3. During the Reformation many Jews were baptized and became Christians, specifically “Evangelical” Christians (as the Lutherans would call themselves). These baptisms were sometimes viewed with suspicion, as they were thought to be often insincere and done for worldly not spiritual reasons. Luther, therefore, while he befriended and supported Jewish converts himself, also warned other pastors that they carefully examine any potential converts for honest intent.

    4. During the Reformation, many intense and thorough debates were held regarding Biblical content, translations, texts, and meaning. Some of these debates were had with Roman Catholics, and some of them were had with Jewish Rabbis. As the learning of the original languages had recently blossomed (as we know Luther translated the entire Bible into German), we know that Luther also had his battles with the Rabbis who did not want to acknowledge scripture passages that were to him clearly Christ-centered and Messianic, such as “the virgin will conceive”, etc. This was a very hot topic for him and his annoyance at intractable Rabbis was significant. So when he speaks against “the Jews”, it is at times simply against rabbinic scholarship, or lack thereof, as he viewed it, as well as malintent leading simple Christian people into confusion and error.  Ever Luther was out to protect the "simple".

    5. In terms of Jewish conversions to Christianity, we have another huge issue arising: converts are often very zealous for their new religion and not very charitable toward the one they have departed. In the Jewish context they are then viewed as “apostates”. (Thus here on NP our “deconverted” atheists are often the most “anti-Christian” in their speech of all.) So it happened that there was a man, named Anthony Margaritha, a convert from Judaism, who wrote a very scathing book about Jews and their customs. From this book, The Whole Jewish Faith, Together with a Thorough and Truthful Account of All the Regulations, Ceremonies, and Prayers Both for Family and Public Worship, as Observed by the Jews throughout the Year, with excellent and Well-founded arguments against their Faith Luther got many of his opinions of what goes on in Jewish communities. The worst kinds of accusations, including ritual slaughter of Christian children, were included.

    6. During Reformation times, expulsions of Jews had become the way to deal with the perennial “Jewish question”. Previously Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain had cruelly expelled all their Jewish citizens in the most heartless way. The Jews were forced to sell all their goods and were not even able to transfer to proceeds into gold to take with them, as gold represented the riches of the country. Most of the families perished at sea and other ways. But still expulsion was seen as the merciful way of dealing with the issues, as opposed to straight annihilation. Extremely sad chapter in history.

    To summarize this section, no one here is covered in glory, sad to say. The hysteria over the Jews and their practices was considerable, the rumors abominable, their sincerity questioned, and Luther, though he otherwise often advocated for and pleaded with the Jews to put their trust in their own “cousin”, as he would say, and believe in Jesus Christ, was at one point carried away to write this awful piece. This runs contrary to many other things he said and wrote and to his usual more laissez-faire approach (the Word ran its course while he drank beer). Occasionally, he said things to help the princes with their polictics and this would include the advice on when to use force.

    However, there is no one to really try and explain this properly, and I am probably not up to the task. And the Holocaust was such a horror, that any attempts at explaining anything look like misguided in the first place. Still, some Roman Catholics delight to make Luther look like the devil incarnate; I can see why Jewish individuals would not be inclined to be charitable; and atheists often work at making Christians look like the barbarians they occasionally were and are. And yet, as we began, again, as per usual, nobody wants to look at the faults that they bear themselves.

    In terms of the Nazis: their use of Luther was manipulative and propagandizing. Their aims had to do with eugenics arising out of a completely different ideology. Eugenics is really an anti-Christian movement. Supposedly, because of Christianity we have coddled the weak and interfered with natural selection, ruining our genetic pool, so we have to get rid of the undesirables, beginning with forced sterilizations. The churches can be faulted for not saying more sooner and more effectively, but they were themselves not anti-Semitic in heart or speech, at least not in a significant way. Some pro-Nazi people were put in place to run things and some people obviously fell in step with them. Dissidents themselves were quickly, easily and systematically dispensed with with along with the infirm and the Jewish population.

    When Hitchens, et al. try to pin the Nazi ideology on Christianity they are poorly informed and very irresponsible with history. Nazi ideology arose from completely (COMPLETELY) different quarters. This bears reading up on more.

    I’ll quit here. Luther’s business with the Jews does not impact what we confess about Jesus Christ. There is no benefit or point to keep rehashing his stupid pamphlet.

    To the contrary: Jesus is a Jew. We believe in a Jew. We have a Jewish God. This is how God communicates.

    I am not sure that I should post all this as I am not sure that anybody really wants to know it and I am probably just inviting a bunch of derision, getting accused of defending something indefensible. I am not defending the pamphlet at all. I personally could not, in the past, understand how someone like him could write such a thing. It seemed out of character with everything else. I needed to set it into some kind of context and this is how I did it for myself. I just don’t want anyone to miss the genuine gospel so clearly articulated during the Reformation because of this oft-mounted assault on credibility and reputation.


Steve Martin said...

Nice going, Brigitte.

It's tough over there. So many of those folks have invennted their own god.

I'll go over and put 2 cents in.

Jonathan said...

Wow. I am saving this, it's good stuff.

I get this from atheists and Jews a lot.

It's funny how that's one of the only things in their vocabulary about Luther. Couldn't tell you anything else about him, but they sure know Luther hated Jews.

Brigitte said...

Thanks, Jonathan. Anti-Semitism has a very long and varied history.

It wasn't too long before the World Wars that the Prussian state had finally given the Jews equal rights in the state after talking about it for decades. It did not last long.

There are so many other people who spoke out against the Jews, at all times, including Marx, it's not funny.

But still the fact that Luther could write this seemed really out of character. The context does not make it any better, but does help understand the situation and vehemence in some sense.

Brigitte said...

I fixed some spelling.