Sunday, April 07, 2013

Luther and the Spawn of Satan: Mormon Argumentation

Recently I came across an argument on a Mormon-related discussion board. It went something like this:

1. Mormons: God has offspring
2. Counter-argument: if Mormons believe God has offspring, they should consistently hold also that Satan procreates and has spirit-children.

Now the nature of this argument doesn't appear to have anything remotely related to Luther and the Reformation. Note though the following arguments from what appears to be by someone who is pro-LDS:

The founder of the Reformation believed that [Satan had offspring], so maybe you shouldn't be attacking him so much:

"How often have not the demons called `Nix,' drawn women and girls into the water, and there had commerce with them, With fearful consequences."
"I myself saw and touched at Dessay, a child...which had no human parents, but had proceeded from the Devil. He was twelve years old, and, in outward form, exactly resembled ordinary children."

...some of Father* Luther's beliefs were bizarre.
...he was also a true believer in changelings. Luther was very much a product of his own times with respect to superstitious beliefs and practices. He sincerely believed that Satan was responsible for the malformed children known as changelings, and that such satanic child exchanges occurred frequently. {footnote 9} In Luther's theological view, a changeling was a child of the devil without a human soul, "only a piece of flesh." This view made it easy to justify almost any abuse of an unfortunate child thought to be a changeling, including the ultimate mistreatment: infanticide. Luther himself had no reservations about putting such children to death. {footnote 10}
Martin Luther, Werke, kritische Gesamtausgabe: Tischreden (Weimar: Böhlau, 1912-1921), v. 4, pp. 357-358. Martin Luther, Werke, kritische Gesamtausgabe: Tischreden (Weimar: Böhlau, 1912-1921), v. 5, p. 9.

*(Father of the Reformation, that is. Plus, he was a Catholic priest)

The response to this was basically,"Luther never considered himself a Prophet or Apostle." To which was replied:

The LDS are among the most aware of that. But the issue isn't what Luther considered himself to be. The issue is what YOU REFORMATIONISTS think of Luther. He's the father and founder of your Reformation--a Reformation that you think was essential to the survival of Christianity. A Reformation that you think had God's stamp of approval.

When members of your cult go wild with claims that only a brainwashed idiot would believe that satan could have literal offspring (and try to make it look like maybe the LDS believe such a thing when they don't)--and then it's shown that your founder did actually believe such a thing--I guess the only response you have been conditioned to give is the old "But Luther never claimed to be a prophet" fallacy.

What makes that response a fallacy is the fact that it's irrelevant, like a red herring is. The issue is why you'd call your own founder a brainwashed idiot.
There's a lot to deal with here. The most important aspect of the argument is the conclusion about "Father Luther." This was the main argument all along, an equivocation between Luther and Joseph Smith.  It's being argued that Luther and subsequent Protestantism can be accurately paralleled by Joseph  Smith and the Later Day Saints.  In other words, one can't consistently criticize the Mormons as a Protestant.  As we'll, see, this is not an accurate parallel.

Certainly Luther was a key figure during the 16th Century Reformation. As to "father and founder" of the Reformation, it wasn't as if the church was meandering along nicely, and then Luther and the Reformation fell out of the sky. No, the issues that sparked the controversy between Luther and the Roman church were already an area of controversy with many voices preceding his, which is why there's a category of "pre-Reformers." In other words, it's debatable that Luther was "the father and founder of your Reformation." Certainly Luther was an integral part of the Reformation, but if what is meant by "father and founder" is that Luther began a Reformation movement that did not exist before, this is historically inaccurate. Now apply this to Joseph Smith. It's generally conceded that the Mormon church does not have theological predecessors previous to Mr. Smith. That is, the material presented in the Book of Mormon did in essence, fall out of the sky. Previous to Smith, the record of Mormon and Moroni wasn't part of church tradition. It had to be supernaturally revealed to Mr. Smith. The Reformation was not supernaturally revealed to Luther.

The second aspect of the concluding remarks is the presuppositional argument in regard to who owns the word "cult." The Later Day Saints certainly deviate from orthodox Christian beliefs, particularly in regard to the nature of God, Jesus Christ, salvation, and a host of other doctrinal issues. If one defines "cult" as a significant deviation from orthodoxy, then certainly the LDS qualifies as a cult. On the other hand, are those within the Protestant tradition also in a cult? First, let's pretend the original Reformers were a splinter group from the Roman church.  I've never come across a Romanist arguing that the Reformers were cult leaders. They were originally heretics according to Rome, now, centuries later, Protestants are "separated brethren." Joseph Smith was told by divine revelation, "that none of the churches on the earth had the fullness of truth." Luther, on the other hand, wasn't told this by divine revelation, nor did he seek to start a new church because, he like Smith thought "So great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was [ … ] to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong." The Reform movement took place within an existing structure, Luther being one voice among many others at the time involved in the same struggle. Smith appears on the scene claiming to be a modern-day prophet not attempting to reform an existing church structure, but rather to build something quite new and novel.

The third aspect of the concluding argument was subsequent Protestants not respecting Luther because they don't follow every single thing he held. This is perhaps the easiest part of the response, because subsequent Protestants don't generally consider Luther to be an infallible prophet that delivered new revelation. Luther himself admitted his shortcomings and failures, and even pointed out that some of his writings had errors. To follow Luther then, would be to consider his writings in the way he wanted them to: "I would have been quite content to see my books, one and all, remain in obscurity and go by the board." Did Joseph Smith think the same about his writings or prophetical messages?

The fourth aspect of this argument is that which originally interested me: that only "a brainwashed idiot" would believe that Satan has offspring, when in fact, Luther believed it. This topic and the Luther quotes being used will be addressed in another blog entry.

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