Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Luther Said God is Stupid?

TurretinFan sent me a link to a comment box in which Luther was quoted as saying, "God is stupid." The discussion went like this:

Pilgrimsarbour said: The characterization of Reformed believers as saying that Jesus is a deceiver is disingenuous at best.

Ben M Said: But curiously, many of these same "Reformed believers" honor Luther, who said (among other things):"Gott ist dumm" "God is stupid." Martin Luther and the Jews: a refutation to his book, "The Jews and their lies", Edgar Mills, Europäischer, 1968, p. 22. Page images: Spin this anyway you please, it still ain't NEVER gonna be a right thing to say!

I've had a bit of interaction with Ben M., Google Books historical extraordinaire. One thing you won't find in Ben's "research" above is anything even resembling a context. In fact, what you'll find is the typical Catholic propaganda "research" methods. You'll find an obscure Luther quote being taken from a secondary source, without a context ever being checked. Then Luther is chastised for saying something awful.

The secondary source that popularized this Luther quote is the vilifying, Martin Luther, Hitler's spiritual Ancestor By Peter F. Wiener. Wiener states,

"God, on the other hand, seemed to [Luther] “a master armed with a stick”. “God did mischievously blind me”; “God often acts like a madman”; “God paralyses the old and blinds the young and thus remains master”; I look upon God no better than a scoundrel”; “God is stupid” (“Table Talk”, No. 963, W1, 48)"

Of course, Ben didn't tell you outright that the quote comes from this book (his "page images" do). In fact, Ben is using a book, quoting a book, quoting Luther. And, if it really is a Tabletalk statement, it's actually someone else writing down what Luther said. Luther.... never wrote it. Ever play the phone game Ben? Nor did Ben probably do any research into how flawed Wiener's work was. In fact, the book was so poorly done, Gordon Rupp wrote an entire response to it.

Unfortunately with Wiener, footnotes and documentation weren't his specialty. You'll note that each sentence above is disconnected from the other, and then the whole set is stated to be Tabletalk number 963. Some people of course using Wiener's book miss this, and simply cite the whole thing as one quote. I could not locate Tabletalk number 963 yet, but even if I do, it might not even matter. I've checked Wiener's citations before, and simply because he gives a reference, doesn't guarantee the entire paragraph is from the source cited. As Rupp has pointed out,

"My publisher and advisers," [Wiener] says, "were anxious that the book should be published in such a form and at a price that the greatest possible circulation could be guaranteed"(p. 7). In fact, this disinterested haste is made the excuse for withholding references to his innumerable quotations. A hundred or so have their references marked, but the principle on which they are given or withheld passes the wit of man to discriminate, since the harmless description of Luther's work in 1516 has full reference, while no citation at all is offered for the monstrous and absurd statement that "he did not refrain from saying and teaching 'I am Christ'" (p. 28). But then, he assures us, anybody who cares to write to him may have the references in full. And anybody with any sense knows that not one reader in a thousand will go to any such pains, but that the great majority will be vastly impressed by the references which are splashed about the pages, and by the apparent fairness of such disclaimers. Mr. Wiener manages the pattern well. He is, in fact, disarming in his modesty. "I am neither a scholar, nor a politician, neither a theologian, nor a professional author. I am an ordinary schoolmaster" (p. 5). [Gordon Rupp, Hitler's Cause or Curse, In Reply to Peter F. Wiener, p. 10].

What really demonstrates propaganda at work is Ben's conclusion: "Spin this anyway you please, it still ain't NEVER gonna be a right thing to say!" Tell you what Ben, you've stated you consider yourself an amateur historian. Why not do a little history? First locate Tableltalk 963 for us, show us the text, and then go a bit further and let us know what value a Tabletalk reference actually has, who recorded this particular one, and if that person was generally reliable. It has nothing to do with "spin", it has everything to do with honesty. You want me to take Catholic work on Luther seriously? Do some serious work, minus your propaganda. You want me to believe to be deep in history is to be Roman Catholic? Well, you better live up to it by going deep into history.


Turretinfan said...

I found Jean Cocteau's comments enlightening: "Le « Gott ist dumm » de Luther serait le blasphème des blasphèmes s’il n’était la louange des louanges. Par son célèbre « Dieu est bête », Luther exprime que les hommes ne peuvent lui attribuer leur misérable intelligence. Dieu laisse au diable le rôle d’intellectuel." (1955)

The "Gott ist dumm" of Luther would be the blasphemy of blasphemies if it were not the praise of praises. By his famous "God is stupid", Luther expresses that men cannot grasp Him with their miserable intelligence. God leaves to the devil the role of the intellectual.

I would love to have the original German or Latin to verify that Coctaeu got it right.

Alex said...

Turretinfan, that might have been what he meant, but honestly, it probably wasn't the best way to express it when you have folks going over ever word trying to find something wrong with what is being said. Or here’s a thought, why don’t we stop bastardizing every single word of Luther from the whole body of his work like we accuse the Protestants of doing to the ECFs?

James Swan said...

By his famous "God is stupid", Luther expresses that men cannot grasp Him with their miserable intelligence.

I don't know how "famous" this quote actually is. As compared to other Luther quotes, it's quite obscure.

On the other hand, Cocteau's interpretation would be right in step with Luther's theology.

James Swan said...

it probably wasn't the best way to express it when you have folks going over ever word trying to find something wrong with what is being said.

I'm not exactly sure what you mean, but it sounds suspiciously like "blame the victim." Let's not forget, people do the same thing to the Bible. They pull things out of context that sound awful. We should not be surprised that people would do this with Luther or anyone.

I simply can't fathom people like Ben M and the propaganda that he puts forth.

Alex said...

Not at all James, I share your sentiments.