Sunday, April 12, 2015

Another "The Darker Side of Martin Luther"

To the left: The cover of an English version of a 1939 short pamphlet by Bishop Martin Sasse, a Nazi propagandist

If one were to do a study on the Internet approach to Martin Luther, one genre could perhaps be dubbed, "The Dark side of Martin Luther" web pages. I recently came across yet another: The Darker Side of Martin Luther  hosted by Illinois Wesleyan University. The author states, "Martin Luther is remembered as one of the most famous religious figures in history, considered to be the founder of Protestantism. However, there was a lesser known side of him, one that was dark and full of hatred." This "lesser side" is "unknown to popular knowledge" that Luther wrote against the Jews. Contrarily to this notion, I don't think there's a conspiracy to keep these writings "unknown to popular knowledge" (especially in our age of information, even in 2008 when this paper was written). Popularly, Luther’s career begins in 1517 with the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses. For around twenty years, Luther said little about the Jews, and what he did say was generally positive (when judged by the standards of "popular" culture of his time). Luther’s overt anti-Jewish writings primarily span his last eight years (1538-1546). That his anti-Jewish writings don't "popularly" define him is due to the fact that they are dwarfed by his bold stance against the tyranny of his day earlier in his career. When someone popularly mentions Luther, chances are, they're not going focus on his lesser known writings at the end of his career.


The Dark Side of the Darker Side
While copyrighted and published in a journal from this school, the article appears to have been put together by an undergraduate in 2008 (the journal appears to consist of writings from undergraduates). I mention the undergraduate aspect because a quick search shows the article has been cited in a few books. That it was written by someone without an attained college degree does not necessarily mean the article is error-filled. In my thinking though, if I'm going to write a book and cite an authority, I'm probably going to try to cite someone with a few more credentials.  The author herself actually inadvertently admits at three different points to not being well-versed in Luther studies:
In trying to uncover the “truth” about Luther’s views, the main problem I encountered was the depth of his writings. Luther’s works fill volumes upon volumes of books. To read all of them would be nearly impossible, especially in my case where I had a limited amount of time to research. Therefore I read only the two books that most directly impacted this paper. There may be other important writings of his on this matter that I have not been able to uncover due to time constraints. Also, my readings of Luther’s work are dependent on the translated version. How much should I trust that the translator was accurate?
I can appreciate this blatant honesty, and I wish others (particularly bloggers and Facebook apologists that seemingly become experts on Luther with Google) would similarly see the complexity involved in Reformation studies. I would assume the author came in contact with not only the volume and pedigree of Luther's writings, but also the vast amount of secondary literature. To navigate through the materials on the Reformation takes more than doing a little research to write one paper during a semester.
I was raised as a Lutheran, and yet I never learned of Luther’s anti-Semitism. Now that I think about it, it makes sense that the Lutheran Church would want to keep Luther’s anti-Semitism a secret. There are also very few secondary sources that connect Luther and Hitler, and so I was not able to use a lot of these sources to aid my investigation into the truth of my claim.
I've never been a Lutheran, so I can't use experience to judge her experience. I do know though that some of the Lutheran bodies have made statements on Luther and the Jews. How well these are disseminated, I don't know.  The writer though appears to have an ax to grind with her Lutheran affiliation when she also says things like,
Lutherans are not proud of Luther’s anti-Semitic views. One way they have attempted to salvage his reputation is by alleging that he only became anti-Semitic when he grew older, perhaps due to psychological reasons. Through this and other excuses they have tried to hide the truth, in order to keep this embarrassing aspect of their religion secret.
Some examples of Lutherans using "psychological reasons" would have been useful at this point. In Luther studies, it is simply one approach to understanding Luther's later writings [see for instance, Mark U. Edwards, Luther's Last Battles (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983); see also his article here], not an attempt to "hide truth." Lutheran scholarship, particularly post-World War II Lutheran scholarship, has not tried to keep Luther's attitude toward the Jews "a secret." In fact, the English edition of Luther's Works translated and published Luther's On the Jews and Their Lies decades ago. I can appreciate the zeal this woman has against Antisemitism, but throwing the entire world of Lutheranism haphazardly under the bus demonstrates an emotional reaction rather than an informed reaction.
In the end, I believe I have uncovered a substantial amount of evidence that proves that Martin Luther was anti-Semitic. However, I believe that I have not uncovered enough truth to thoroughly support my claim that Luther significantly influenced Hitler and the Nazis. Perhaps, in the future, with more time to investigate and research sources, my claim will be proven.
This is typical of "dark side" reviews, that there is secret "evidence" being suppressed needing to be uncovered. The author appears to think she's ventured into uncharted historical waters. The "substantial amount of evidence" the author provides in her paper is the typical stuff mentioned in most treatments of this issue. On the other hand, the author has not found "enough truth" to link Luther to Hitler, because,
In this realm, “truth” is harder to find. First of all, the actual pamphlets that were written in Germany during the Third Reich are stored in archives that are not easily accessible. These pamphlets are the primary documents that would offer concrete evidence of Luther’s influence.
I'm not exactly sure what is meant by "not easily accessible." The author certainly did not have access to this site in 2008, but I find it hard to believe there is a concerted German effort to suppress Nazi propaganda linking Luther to Hitler, even in 2008. I would speculate the author was probably under a deadline to submit this paper (along with other assignments) and didn't have the time to do further research beyond the few authors she utilized ("Secondary sources such as books written by Peter Wiener, Eliot Wheaton, and Daniel Goldhagen, will also be considered in order to compare my findings to those of other scholars").


Antisemitism vs. Anti-Judaism
The author also seems to not understand the significant debate on this issue over terms like "anti-Semetic." She concludes Luther was anti-Semitic while at the same time using the other term "anti-Judaic."
Is it “true” that Luther was anti-Semitic? I have to answer with a resounding yes. However, I think the term “anti-Judaic” better describes Luther, considering the fact that “anti-Semitic” is a modern word, first used in the mid-19th century. Antisemitism also concerns the issue of race, whereas Luther’s objection to the Jews had nothing to do with their race, but their religious beliefs.
In Luther studies, this is saying two different things. There have been a number of researchers who conclude Luther's later anti-Jewish tracts were written from a position different than current Antisemitism. Luther was born into a society that was anti-Judaic, but it was not the current anti-Judaic type of society that bases it racism on biological factors. Luther had no objections to integrating converted Jews into Christian society. He had nothing against Jews as “Jews.” He had something against their religion because he believed it denied and blasphemed Christ. On the other hand, the author was correct to mention the nuances and etymology of the modern term Antisemitism. If one frames the issues with these two categories, Luther was not Antisemitic.

The contemporary use of the word "Antisemitism" though does not typically have its distinction from anti-Judaism considered. The word now has a more broad meaning including anti-Judaism. The debate centers around whether the evolved use of the term is a significant step towards describing previous history or if it's setting up an anachronistic standard for evaluating previous history [see my entry here in regard to Eric Gritsch, Martin Luther's Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012)]. As I've looked at this issue from time to time, I'm beginning to think more along the lines of Gritsch's revised view, rather than what I wrote here some years ago.


Luther and the Nazis
The section of this paper that most intrigued me was the linking of Luther to the Nazis. The author states, "The influence of Luther’s writings on the Nazis was quite profound." Yet in conclusion she states, "However, I believe that I have not uncovered enough truth to thoroughly support my claim that Luther significantly influenced Hitler and the Nazis." If I were grading this paper, the red pen would be out, in force. The paper certainly should have never made it to a journal with these two statements existing in the same paper. That blunder aside, the information she included in regard to the Nazis was interesting- some of it is quite compelling that those with Nazi sympathy cited Luther's writings.

First, the not-so-compelling information:  Hitler does mention Luther once in Mein Kampf, however the comment is in passing and does not refer to Luther's writings, particularly his anti-Jewish writings. She also cites Hitler via an introductory quote page from Peter F. Wiener, Martin Luther: Hitler’s Spiritual Ancestor, but again Luther's writings against the Jews are not in view. In fact, if this quote from Hitler is supported by it's original context, it demonstrates Hitler appears to not have a clue in regard to Luther: "I do insist on the certainty that sooner or later—once we hold power—Christianity will be overcome and the German church, without a Pope and without the Bible, and Luther, if he could be with us, would give us his blessing." Luther would approve of a German church without a Bible? I don't think so.

The author appears to think that a Nazi mentioning Luther means that a Nazi was influenced by Luther's writings. A much simpler explanation is that Luther was a popular German hero, so of course the Nazis, claiming to be pure Germans will utilize his name in propaganda efforts. The author states,
Hans Hinkel, a journalist and ministerial official during the Nazi regime, was also influenced by Luther. He paid tribute to him during his acceptance speech of Goebbels’s Chamber of Culture and Propaganda Ministry, saying that “through his acts and his spiritual attitude he began the fight which we still wage today; with Luther the revolution of German blood and feeling against alien elements of the Volk was begun.” Again, this quote demonstrates that Luther’s works were used to justify Nazi actions. In this case, Hinkel alluded to the fact that Luther began the revolution that the Nazis continued.
Suspiciously missing is anything of substance from "Luther's works." The author has confused simply mentioning a historical figure with actually citing and expounding upon the works of a historical writer.
Not only did Luther influence important Nazi officials, but it has been suggested that he also helped inspire certain major events during the Third Reich. One of these events was Kristallnacht. On this night, November 10th, 1938, Nazis killed Jews, shattered glass windows, and destroyed hundreds of synagogues. Bishop Martin Sasse, a leading Lutheran churchman, immediately saw the connection between this event and Luther’s writing. Shortly after the event, he published a compendium of Luther’s antiSemitic works. In the foreword, he applauded the event, especially since it occurred on Luther’s birthday. He also wrote that the German people should pay attention to the writings of Luther, who was the “greatest anti-Semite of this time, the warner of his people against the Jews.” Another event in which Luther’s presence was felt was the Nuremberg rallies. During the rallies, a copy of On the Jews and Their Lies was publicly exhibited in a glass case, and the city of Nuremberg presented a first edition to Julius Streicher.
Missing is any evidence that Luther's writings or his birthday was that which inspired Kristallnacht. In actuality, Kristallnacht began late on November 9th, continuing onto the 10th. If one researches this tragedy, there were events prior to November 10 that led to Kristallnacht, but, to my knowledge, commemorating Luther's birthday was not one of them.

Now the compelling information: Of course it is true that there were those that did cite Luther's writings, particularly On the Jews and Their Lies. For instance, the author cites Nazi and Lutheran minister Martin Sasse. Sasse went as far as writing a book entitled, Martin Luther and the Jews (yes, that's a pdf link to his pamphlet). The German version of the book was titled slightly different, Martin Luther on the Jews: Away With Them! She also cites a pamphlet by E.H. Schulz and Dr. R. Frercks in 1934 in which Luther's anti-Jewish writings were used to support Aryan Law (also available online).

Perhaps the strongest section of her paper is pointing out that Luther was used for propaganda purposes:
Articles written during the Third Reich also used Luther to support their beliefs.Kurt Hilmar Eitzen’s article written in the party monthly for propagandists, entitled “Ten Responses to Jewish Lackeys,” is one example. This article presented counterarguments to the most common objections the Nazis encountered. These counterarguments were supposed to be used in everyday conversations among common citizens. Luther is quoted to counter argument number 5: “Argument 5: ‘Mr. Levi is not a Jew, since he has been baptized!’ — Counterargument: ‘I have no desire to convert the Jews,’ Martin Luther wrote, ‘since that is impossible.’ A Jew remains a Jew.” This is yet another instance of the Nazis’ misuse of Luther’s works. Luther very often contradicted himself on the possibility of converting Jews. However, he wrote that “whenever a Jew is sincerely converted, he should be handed one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred florins.” From this statement, one can conclude that Luther believed Jews could be converted. His last sentence in his treatise On the Jews and Their Lies, deals with the possibility of conversion: “May Christ, our dear lord, convert them mercifully.” Again, Luther might have seen the possibility of Jews converting to Christianity. However, this article uses Luther’s work to support the Nazis’ belief that Jews could not convert because Judaism is a race. The idea of race and the purity of blood was one fundamental belief of the Nazi party. However, not once does Luther mention the idea that Jews were a separate race. The article takes Luther’s quote completely out of context, distorting it to support their claims.
This is a helpful example of Nazi propaganda. The Nazis were not interested in Luther as a theologian. The Nazis would just as easily have killed a Jew claiming he converted to Christianity. The Jewish Virtual Library website includes a page called Martin Luther: The Jews And Their Lies. Many negative quotes are extracted from On The Jews And Their Lies, yet they include the following statement:
A number of points must, however, be made. The most important concerns the language used. Luther used violent and vulgar language throughout his career. We do not expect religious figures to use this sort of language in the modern world, but it was not uncommon in the early 16th century. Second, although Luther's comments seem to be proto-Nazi, they are better seen as part of tradition of Medieval Christian anti-Semitism. While there is little doubt that Christian anti-Semitism laid the social and cultural basis for modern anti-Semitism, modern anti-Semitism does differ in being based on pseudo-scientific notions of race. The Nazis imprisoned and killed Jews who had converted to Christianity: Luther would have welcomed them.

Conclusion
I've taken the time to review The Darker Side of Martin Luther to demonstrate that simply because something is copyrighted and published in journal doesn't necessarily mean it's solid and quotable information. I know nothing about the author of The Darker Side of Martin Luther. She may have gone on to do more research. She may have gone on to achieve a Master's or a PhD in Reformation studies, or history in general. If she comes across this review, she may actually see the weaknesses of her earlier work. Overall, the task of dissecting Luther's attitude on the Jews and it's relation to Nazi Germany is probably not possible to do in a short paper. There are many full-length treatments on the subject. I would recommend these titles to her:

Eric Gritsch, Martin Luther's Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012).

Christopher J. Probst, Demonizing the Jews, Luther and the Protestant Church in Nazi Germany (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012).

Uwe Siemon-Netto, The Fabricated Luther: Refuting Nazi Connections and Other Modern Myths [Concordia Publishing; 2nd edition (October 1, 2007)]. Also available in Kindle.

Someone may ask me an obvious question at this point: why should my review be taken as solid and quotable? It's just a blog entry. The simple answer is, it should not. People should do their own research, and check facts as they come across them, whether I write them or someone from Illinois Wesleyan University. While the Internet has opened up a world of information, there's far more distortion now than if the information was sitting in a library on shelves. While one may think the Internet has made research easier, at times it does not. The Darker Side of Martin Luther is for me, an example of something creating noise rather than truth.

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