Sunday, August 30, 2009

And Then There Are the Protestants

Not wishing to look like I was singling out Catholicism as the only questionable faith with yesterday’s entry, I should stress that I doubt all supernatural and paranormal claims, not just, say, Mormonism (and we should be suspicious of people who only pick on a few favorite paranormal targets, as though with a sliding scale of skepticism).

So let me augment yesterday’s skepticism about Catholicism with a reminder that Martin Luther was a bit of a brutal fanatic who at times either encouraged or acquiesced in massive attacks on the Jews.

But I’ll say this for Martin Luther: He knew how to come up with a snappy title. Before those pogroms, he had opposed the violence of full-blown peasant revolts in a volume with the wonderful title Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants. Maybe that should be my new blog slogan.


Xine said...

Who told you Luther was a “brutal fanatic”? In what “massive attacks on the Jews” and “pogroms” did he “acquiesce”?

Presumably someone here is thinking of Luther’s 1543 pamphlet *On the Jews and their Lies*, written late in Luther’s life after decades of sympathy towards Jews–one can argue its virulent, near-hysterical invective potentially influenced other Germans in anti-Jewish violence. Or am I missing something?

Todd Seavey said...

I certainly defer to the medieval historian, but my impression was that — at a time when Luther knew full well others, if not himself, were engaging in real physical attacks on the Jews and more orderly exiles of them from some cities or at least bans from political activity, he wrote that treatise, _On the Jews and Their Lies_, which referred to Jews as a “whoring and murderous people” who are “bloodthirsty bloodhounds and murderers of all Christendom” from whom Gentiles should reclaim their “land and people,” leading him to recommend that (1) Jews’ synagogues and schools should be burned to the ground, (2) their houses destroyed, (3) their holy writings taken away, (4) their rabbis threatened with death for preaching, (5) their right of safe travel revoked, (6) their money taken away, and (7) all of them subjected to harsh labor.

And don’t get me wrong, I realize things were tough all over back then, and maybe Luther was better than some — or perhaps his writings aren’t regarded by experts as having had as much practical impact as you’d think — but, well, it doesn’t sound great, right? Again, though, I’m no expert.

Xine said...


No, it doesn’t sound great, of course. And historians universally condemn the pamphlet and try to make sense of it in Luther’s career. But it’s an interesting question of constructing historical narrative–do we brand ML as a “brutal fanatic” for a single, anomalous pamphlet he wrote late in life, in response to another work and in contradiction to his earlier toleration, especially when there’s (I could be wrong here) no evidence that he endorsed, commended, or acquiesced in actual incidents of violence beyond his polemic?

It’s as if, twenty years from now, in response to a blog post that says “Seavey’s completely wrong and we are statist minions,” you write a blog post that angrily says “all liberals should just be dragged out of their houses in chains and have the shit kicked out of them.” Are future historians of the Late Seavey Period, writing their doctoral dissertations on Toddism, justified in branding you a “brutal fanatic” who looked on approvingly when the hipster girl down the block was beaten up?

Todd Seavey said...

I’m getting a _lot_ more sympathetic to beating hipster girls lately, now that you mention it. But you are right to counsel looking at the big picture.

Besides, we know from _Inglorious Basterds_ that the Jews would have their revenge eventually.

Xine said...

We haven’t yet discussed the terrific (if anachronistic) use of Bowie’s *Cat People* song in *Inglourious Basterds*.

Todd Seavey said...

I think I’ll be doing it in karaoke this weekend. I haven’t done karaoke in a long time.