01 April 2008

How could anyone be a Lutheran?

Okay, I admit it. I don't know how any sane, honest, moral person could believe in the Bible, Quran, or Book of Mormon.

But I am even more surprised that anyone could be a Lutheran.

Here's what Martin Luther wrote in On the Jews and their lies:

It serves them [the Jews] right that, rejecting the truth of God, they have to believe instead such abominable, stupid, inane lies, and that instead of the beautiful face of the divine word, they have to look into the devil's black, dark, lying behind, and worship his stench.


Now let me commend these Jews sincerely to whoever feels the desire to shelter and feed them, to honor them, to be fleeced, robbed, plundered, defamed, vilified, and cursed by them, and to suffer every evil at their hands -- these venomous serpents and devil's children, who are the most vehement enemies of Christ our Lord and of us all. And if that is not enough, let him stuff them into his mouth, or crawl into their behind and worship this holy object. ... Then he will be a perfect Christian, filled with works of mercy for which Christ will reward him on the day of judgment, together with the Jews in the eternal fire of hell!


There is no other explanation for this than the one cited earlier from Moses, namely, that God has struck them with "madness and blindness and confusion of mind." So we are even at fault in not avenging all this innocent blood of our Lord and of the Christians which they shed for three hundred years after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the blood of the children they have shed since then (which still shines forth from their eyes and their skin). We are at fault in not slaying them.

Is there a Lutheran out there who can explain it to me?


Skeptical Simsam said...

I often ask this question myself.

Jason Macker said...

Most Lutherans denounce Luther's antisemitic writings. "Luther was human and made mistakes."

Steve Wells said...

Well, yes, Jason, I suppose that most modern Lutherans reject Luther's antisemitic rantings, if they know about them at all, that is (which most probably do not). I'm sure that most Lutherans also reject Hitler's antisemitism, which was very similar to Luther's. In fact, Hitler was just carrying out the suggestions of Luther. Yet very few would be willing to associate themselves with anything having to do with Hitler. Why is that?

"Luther was human and made mistakes," you say. You could say the same of Hitler.

LoieJ said...

Somehow your question implies that Lutherans worship Luther or his writings, but that isn't the case. Not at all. Luther himself rejected the name Lutheran to be applied to the Christians that broke away from the Catholic church after he posted his objections to certain practices, but the name stuck.

Lutherans don't worship the Bible, but rather worship the God of the Bible.

Steve Wells said...

PS: Somehow your question implies that Lutherans worship Luther or his writings.

No, it doesn't imply the "worship of Luther or his writings." But the name "Lutheran" does imply approval of Luther's teachings, doesn't it? If not, then Lutherans should select another name.

PS: Lutherans don't worship the Bible, but rather worship the God of the Bible.

The God of the Bible is even worse than Luther. (How do you think Luther became so damned nasty?)

Scott Breitbach said...

As a former Lutheran, let me just say that we are a bunch of Jew haters. No, just kidding, but if I may quote M.Luther out of context:

"they have to believe instead such abominable, stupid, inane lies"

Now I tend to agree with him on this point although I would apply it to all religions (and put it less harshly).

Scotty B

Aquaria said...

I went to Lutheran school, and my distinct memory of who we were taught to hate wasn't the Jews (not even mentioned), but the Catholics. But that might have been a peculiarity of time/place (East Texas/1970s).

h. said...

When I was a Christian, my denomination had always been Lutheran (except in the very end when I was slowly realising the error of my ways), and I'd never heard of this until now. Imagine that!

Dan said...

When the protestant reformation occured, their were two main groups - one group who was breaking off from the Catholic Church for reasons outlined by Calvin and one by Luther. Neither group necessarily agreed with everything their respective leaders said. But these two people provided the most compelling reasons for a break with the Catholic Church. And because Protestants were not one united group, but were rather 2 groups, people needed names to distinguish them. The Calvin followers were generally identified by their country (i.e. Dutch reformed). However, those who broke off along lines Luther outlined were termed Lutherans.

Since this point, the so-called Lutherans have done everything they can to bring aboout unification in the Christian Church but have so far, like all other Christians, failed. And as divisions become more numerous among Christians, the need to distinguish the beliefs of one group of Christians from another does not diminish. And so the Lutherans are still called Lutheran. And to change that name now would just mislead people, because everyone knows that Lutherans are Christians with a certian set of beliefs as opposed to the beliefs of Christians who are not called Lutheran. So, Lutherans keep their name.

If you dislike the name because of objectionable aspects of Martin Luther's character, then so be it. But I don't think that after 500 years that Lutherans are going to change their name. It's much easier to just tell people that they are anti-anti-semitism and don't always agree with Martin Luther than to change their name, now, after so long.

AltWorlder said...

Many great people do terrible things. George Washington is called Town-burner by the Iroquois for his campaigns of destruction against them. Many of the Founding Fathers were slaveowners.

How could anyone be American?

Dan said...

Right on, AltWorlder.

Steve Wells said...

Well, ArtWorlder, a person can be an American just by being born in the United States. (That's the way I did it.) You don't have to agree with any of the Founding Fathers about anything at all.

But a person becomes a Lutheran by choice. Presumably because she or he admires and agrees with the beliefs of its founder -- Martin Luther -- including all the nasty beliefs that he expressed in On the Jews and Their Lies.

Dan said...

Steve Wells, do you think Dietrich Bonhoeffer agreed with Luther's essay On Jews and Their Lies? In fact, do you think that any Lutheran in the United States of America agrees with that essay? Indeed, instead of assuming you know what it means to be a "Lutheran," maybe you should do research, first.

Steve Wells said...

I imagine that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was as deeply ashamed of Luther's essay on Jews as he was about Deuteronomy 13:6-10, or most of the Bible for that matter. But somehow he managed to pretend it wasn't there. That is the secret to believing nasty things.

I doubt if 5% of the Lutherans in the United States know that Luther's essay on the Jews exists. Those that do try to hide it under a basket, rather than put on a lamp stand so that all the world can see. Why is that, Dan?

AltWorlder said...

Are you serious? Do you have no concept of human nature?

Many great or famous or important people throughout world history held ideas that would be reprehensible to people living later on in history. People can believe in the good parts of what they espoused while rejecting the rest. The very fact that there were Lutheran resistance members who fought against the Nazi regime and were executed for it shows that maybe, just maybe, what Luther said wasn't just on anti-Semitic and reprehensible subjects? That maybe there's more to his theology than hating on Jews?

Why should someone have to "pretend it wasn't there"? One acknowledges that someone had bad views, and condemn them, and move on to the good views. It's not even on Lutheranism. You could say this about any sort of "mainstream" belief system or identity. Hence the reference to America.

Finally, this is all moot because every Lutheran denomination, or at least the American ones, all have admitted Luther's failings and have rejected them. Being Lutheran is hardly being crypto-Nazi.

Dan said...

I totally missed Steve Wells' response to my earlier comment. I agree with AltWorlder, but instead of just restating his points, I'll merely make a direct reply to Steve's comment.

"I imagine that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was as deeply ashamed of Luther's essay on Jews as he was about Deuteronomy 13:6-10, or most of the Bible for that matter. But somehow he managed to pretend it wasn't there. That is the secret to believing nasty things."

You're accusation that Bonhoeffer pretended that that passage wasn't there is unsupported. Perhaps Bonhoeffer didn't believe in that passage... did you ever think of that? After all, it's debateable whether or not Bonhoeffer even believed in the resurrection of Christ (and therefore debateable whether he was or was not a true Christian). As such, he might not have been the best example for me to bring up.

But there's a point, here. Bonhoeffer did not believe in the whole Bible (this is fact). But he still considered himself a Christian (rightly or wrongly). You'd have to read his writings to find out why (I haven't, so I couldn't tell you).

Here's my point: If someone could call themselves a Christian while not believing in the whole Bible, couldn't someone state that they subscribe to Lutheran views of the Bible, without agreeing to everything Luther said?

To make my point more sharply: I could agree with Luther's interpretation of the Bible, but disagree with him on whether or not dogs are better than cats or whether ice cream is better or worse than cake.

To proclaim oneself "Lutheran" in this sense, has nothing to do with Luther's views on things unrelated to theology. As such, Luther's anti-semitism would have nothing to do with the label "Lutheran" when used in this way.

It's like someone calling themselves Aristotelian. That means they agree with many principle Aristotle outlined. That doesn't mean they agree with everything he said or wrote.

Similarly, not all Marxists agree fully with Marx (most don't).

However, (and please pay close attention here), what I think you're really taking issue with is the idea that, unlike Luther's opinion on the cat versus dog question, his thoughts on Jews are so obscene that these thoughts clearly make the name "Lutheran" into a very undesirable descriptor of oneself or one's beliefs.

I'll address this in my next comment since I wrote too much to fit on one post. Thanks for your patience in reading all of this.

Dan said...

What you have to understand, is that the group of Christians who agreed with Luther theologically (back before he was anti-semite ---- this is something that's also HUGE: Luther fought the Catholic Church's anti-semitism for sometime, but then became an anti-semite later in life...) --- those who agreed with Luther theologically before he took a turn for the worse on the Jewish issue -- those people didn't want the name "Lutheran."

Again: They did not want the name, even before he became an anti-Jewish bigot.

Further (and this is also crucial), Luther himself advocated that the name not be used, because he wasn't making a religion about himself. He wasn't even trying to make a denomination, let alone a religion. He was just trying to reform understanding of the Bible.

But what happened was that Catholic opponents (Catholic being a term that means "universal") sought to denegrate the views of these new Christians by labeling them "Lutheran" -- implying that their views weren't universal and that they were just following a very very imperfect man, rather than true Christianity.

This became such a popular line of slander, that these new Christians resigned themselves to being called this name. In the face of this unpleasant reality, Luther himself basically said, (I can't find the exact quotes, but this was the point he was making) "We are not Lutheran since I am nobody and would hate to have a religion crafted around me. However, if in the mind's of our opponents, to be "Lutheran" means to have the reading of the Bible that we do (premise 1), and if this reading is correct (premise 2), then to be Lutheran means to have this correct reading of the Bible (conclusion). And if to be Lutheran means to have this correct reading of the Bible, then we should gladly call ourselves Lutheran and encourage others to be so convicted and called."

Basically, he was saying that if the word Lutheran, which could no longer be resisted (and had been permanently attached to them against their will) -- if that word could be reconstituted not to mean "a follower of Luther" but rather to mean "someone with this reading of the Bible" -- then, assuming this reading is correct, everyone should be Lutheran -- but only in this sense.

That was how the name got started.

As you can see, it only ever had anything to do with Luther insofar as it was slander by his opponents. And Luther didn't want the name to be used, but when it appeared that there was no other choice, to define Lutheran to mean something beyond Luther himself was an option. And it was an option Luther and those in approximate agreement with him (who had as much agreement as a Marxist does with Marx or as an Aritotelian does with Aristotle), decided to pursue.

That's what happened. Therefore, logically speaking, insofar as the name "Lutheran" has NOTHING to do with following Luther and NOTHING to do with his opinion on cats and dogs and NOTHING to do with his later anti-semitic views and EVERYTHING to do with a certain view of the Bible that he initially advocated for --- insofar as this is true, it is perfectly alright for someone to call themselves Lutheran.

If you understand my point, I'd love to hear your response. But if you think that you might not understand me, I'd prefer you to ask questions rather than just putting forth your argumentation. You can only argue for or against what you understand. I hope this helps you understand. If not -- again, please ask questions!!!

Dan said...

I forgot to respond to the last part of your comment, Steve:

"I doubt if 5% of the Lutherans in the United States know that Luther's essay on the Jews exists. Those that do try to hide it under a basket, rather than put on a lamp stand so that all the world can see. Why is that, Dan?"

I myself am a generic Protestant, uncommitted to any denomination. There is a Lutheran church I have been attending (ELCA), but I am not a member, nor am I in enough agreement with Lutheran theology to become a member (in my opinion). Therefore, I am not a Lutheran.

As far as I can tell, in the middle of all the important teaching that Lutheran pastors have to do from the Bible (teaching that has immediate effect on the congregation), it would be foolish to focus on random essays from Luther. It's just not that important.

Further, Lutheran pastors don't care about their "Lutheranism" as much as they do about Jesus Christ. Again, given the history I just related to you, the name Lutheran merely implies a certain view of Biblical truth. Therefore, the pastors are focused on bringing a light to Jesus and a light to that view of the Bible (aka Lutheranism). Luther himself is immaterial except insofar as he states tenets central to "Lutheranism." His essay on the Jews does no such thing, so is irrelevant. And to emphasize irrelevant matters would take focus away from what belongs on the lamp stand -- Jesus. The last thing a Lutheran would wish to do is that. Further, the Lutheran pastors I know are more than open about Luther's shortcomings, and would be more than happy to talk about the horrific nature of the essay you pointed out, if someone so desired. As I've been saying, said essay has nothing to do with "Lutheranism" (the "ism," being key), so it's not like they have something to cover up.

However, a person who doesn't know the history like I do or doesn't even know about the essay, might get awkward if someone equated this essay with Lutheranism. So, I can't guarantee that every Lutheran will respond to you the same way I do. Getting awkward due to not being well educated about something is an feeling many people feel. That sort of thing happens all the time.

But an easy solution to all of this ( that would put the focus on what deserves to be on the lamp stand) -- would be to abandon the Lutheran name.

However, since "Lutheransim" doesn't have anything to do with that essay, it's not an issue. To change a name would make it seem like there is an issue when there isn't (especially when the name was adopted for the principled reasons I mentioned above). Further, when many other denominations have since formed that "Lutherans" need to differentiate themselves from, they do need a separate name. So, they stick with the one they got.

As such, if someone agrees with them, they invite them to be Lutheran. If said person doesn't agree with them, they encourage that person to look for other groups. If someone agrees with them but hates the name despite the noble reasons why it was adopted, Lutherans would rather encourage them to still look to Jesus and find another church, then do something they feel uncomfortable with. Why? Because to them, it's not an issue and is unimportant, so why raise a big fuss over it?

So, in sum, if Lutheran theological views are important, they need to maintain their separate identity, and they will happily address this issue with anyone concerned. After all, it's not even an issue, given that the word "Lutheran" has nothing to do with Luther's later anti-Semitic views. To change the name would be to pretend an issue exists when it doesn't.

I hope that answers all your questions!!!

Dan said...

Caps on an earlier post were for emphasis, not shouting, btw. I don't know if there was an option to use bold or italics, but that was what I was going for. Hopefully it didn't come across wrong.