Sunday, January 15, 2017

Calvin and Luther justified Christians Killing Muslims and Pagans? (Part One)

The title of this post "Calvin and Luther justified Christians Killing Muslims and Pagans?" takes its name from an "Atheism/Agnosticism/Sec Humanism" discussion board comment. At some point on this particular forum a secularist inferred that Calvin and Luther advocated killing Muslims and pagans. The secularist was challenged to provide evidence. To challenge someone for evidence and documentation is justifiable. On the other hand, to do so while boldly claiming "all the atheists around here falsely claiming [Luther] advocated killing Muslims" and "neither one ever advocated killing Muslims, you screwed up," demonstrates that the inquisitor is not fully aware of Reformation history. 

Let's take a brief survey of Luther's attitude towards the Muslims. Luther was in favor of suppressing the Turks invading Europe. See On War Against the Turk, 1529 (LW 46:155-205), so in a basic sense, Luther was in favor of Christian Europe (through the authorities) "killing Muslims." The editors of LW 46 state:
Luther makes it clear that a war against the Turks cannot and must not be a crusade or religiously motivated and led by the church. Emphatically he states that it is not the business of church and clergy to promote and wage warfare. Luther’s concern throughout the book is to teach men how to fight with a clear conscience. In so doing he develops two major points. There are, he says, only two men who may properly fight the Turk. The first of these is the Christian, who by prayer, repentance, and reform of life takes the rod of anger out of God’s hand and compels the Turk to stand on his own strength. The second man who may wage war is the emperor. The Turk has wrongfully attacked the emperor’s subjects, and by virtue of the office to which God has appointed him, the emperor is duty-bound to protect and defend the subjects with whose care God has entrusted him (LW 46:159).
In an eschatological sense, Luther believed that the Muslim's were the tool of the Devil and would suffer an eternal death, so, in that sense Luther was in favor of "killing Muslims" because they were the agents of Satan. See his Preface and Afterword to Brother Richard (1542) in LW 60:251ff. If the inquisitor is looking for some sort of quote from Luther in which he says "A Christian should kill a Muslim walking down the street," I don't recall ever seeing anything like that. What Luther did say was that soldiers were within their right to defend the empire against Islam. Here are a few citations from On War Against the Turks:
"...there are some stupid preachers among us Germans (as I am sorry to hear) who are making the people believe that we ought not and must not fight against the Turks." (LW 46:161)
"I must write so that innocent consciences may no longer be deceived by these slanderers and made suspicious of me or my doctrine, and so they may not be deceived into believing that we must not fight against the Turks."(LW 46:162)
"The second man who ought to fight against the Turk is Emperor Charles, or whoever may be emperor; for the Turk is attacking his subjects and his empire, and it is his duty, as a regular ruler appointed by God, to defend his own." (LW 46:184)
"In the first place, if there is to be war against the Turk, it should be fought at the emperor’s command, under his banner, and in his name. Then everyone can be sure in his conscience that he is obeying the ordinance of God, since we know that the emperor is our true overlord and head and that whoever obeys him in such a case obeys God also, whereas he who disobeys him also disobeys God. If he dies in this obedience, he dies in a good state, and if he has previously repented and believes in Christ, he will be saved." (LW 46:185)
"I do not advise men to wage war against the Turk or the pope because of false belief or evil life, but because of the murder and destruction which he does." (LW 46:198)
"Nevertheless, the emperor should do whatever he can for his subjects against the Turk, so that even though he cannot entirely prevent the abomination, he may nonetheless try to protect and rescue his subjects by checking the Turk and holding him off. The emperor should be moved to do this not only by duty, his office, and God’s command, nor only by the un-Christian and vile government the Turk brings, as has been said above, but also by the misery and wretchedness that befalls his subjects. Doubtlessly they know better than I how cruelly the Turk treats those whom he takes captive. He treats them like cattle, dragging, towing, driving those that can move, and killing on the spot those that cannot move, whether they are young or old."(LW 46:200)
For a helpful overview of Luther's writings against Islam, see, Mark U. Edwards, Luther's Last Battles (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1983), p.97-114. I suspect Luther would not have any problems with a Muslim who converted to Christianity.

Luther's comments on paganism (particularly witchcraft) will have to wait for another day (in fact, this will certainly be a future blog post). The most popular quote is from Luther's 1526 Exodus sermon in which he translates Exodus 22:18 something like "you shall not permit a witch to live" (WA 16:551). In the same sermon Luther calls killing witches "just" because of the evil and havoc they cause. There are a number of less than charitable comments from Luther about witchcraft. These will be explored in the future.   

It's important to try to avoid anachronism in historical studies. I'm fond of the Reformers, particularly Luther and Calvin, but they were people of their particular time period. The task for those of us in the Reformation tradition is to chew the meat and spit out the bones. Simply because I embrace the Reformation principles of sola fide and sola scriptura and I applaud their efforts against Rome does not mean I have to agree with or condone everything they said or did.

Addendum: Luther Was Pro-Islam?
Contrary to the discussion above, presents yet another batch of spin in their 2013 entry, Exposing Martin Luther’s Love Affair With Islam. is some sort of Anti-Islam pro-Roman Catholic website. Their Reformation information is typically horrid. In this entry they assert, "This will again come as a shock to those whom hold Martin Luther in high esteem, but Luther held Islam and her armies in admiration." They assert Luther only "appears... opposed to Islam on theological grounds" and Luther "is more tolerant towards Islam than he is towards the Jews." Quoting Luther, Shoebat states:

Let the Turk believe and live as he will, just as one lets the papacy and other false Christians live. (On War Against the Turk).

This quote is from On War Against the Turks and can be found at LW 46:185-186. Note what Luther says in context, that the reasons to go to war against Islam is to be based on secular grounds, not spiritual: 
Therefore the urging and inciting with which the emperor and the princes have been stirred up to fight against the Turk ought to cease. He has been urged, as head of Christendom and as protector of the church and defender of the faith, to wipe out the Turk’s religion, and the urging and exhorting have been based on the wickedness and vice of the Turks. Not so! The emperor is not the head of Christendom or defender of the gospel or the faith. The church and the faith must have a defender other than emperor and kings. They are usually the worst enemies of Christendom and of the faith, as Psalm 2 [:2] says and as the church constantly laments. That kind of urging and exhorting only makes things worse and angers God deeply because it interferes with his honor and his work, and would ascribe it to men, which is idolatry and blasphemy.
And if the emperor were supposed to destroy the unbelievers and non-Christians, he would have to begin with the pope, bishops, and clergy, and perhaps not spare us or himself; for there is enough horrible idolatry in his own empire to make it unnecessary for him to fight the Turks for this reason. There are entirely too many Turks, Jews, heathen, and non-Christians among us with open false doctrine and with offensive, shameful lives. Let the Turk believe and live as he will, just as one lets the papacy and other false Christians live. The emperor’s sword has nothing to do with the faith; it belongs to physical, worldly things, if God is not to become angry with us. If we pervert his order and throw it into confusion, he too becomes perverse and throws us into confusion and all kinds of misfortune, as it is written, “With the crooked thou dost show thyself perverse” [Ps. 18:26]. We can perceive and grasp this through the fortune we have had up to now against the Turk. Think of all the heartbreak and misery that have been caused by the cruciata,  by the indulgences, and by crusade taxes. With these Christians have been stirred up to take the sword and fight the Turk when they ought to have been fighting the devil and unbelief with the word and with prayer. (LW 46:185-186) goes on to say:

But that is not all. He even goes so far as to claim that a Muslim ruler (a Turkish ruler) is better than a Christian ruler: A smart Turk makes a better ruler than a dumb Christian.

The probable reason why Shoebat may have not provided a reference is because the statement is apocryphal. goes on to say:

It is no accident since Luther hated Jews and the Pope more than he did the Islamic religion and therefore, despite knowing what was wrong with the Islamic religion theologically and also in terms of what it would do given full swing over Europe, he urged his followers to side with the Muslim Turks in defeating Europe. After calling the Jews and the Pope some foul names such as “Antichrist” and “Devil incarnate”, he then urged his followers to look at the Turks in the best manner and even went so far as to say that some of his German contemporaries (read traitors), “actually want the Turk to come and rule, because they think that our German people are wild and uncivilized – indeed that they are half-devil and half-man” (Found in The Ottoman Empire and early modern Europe, by Daniel Goffman, Cambridge University Press, 2002, p110).

Here is what Goffman actually stated: 

It appears Shoebat's comments are a weird reworking of Goffman in which they took the author's comments and turned them into Luther being thoroughly  pro-Islam. It appears to me that both Goffman and Shoebat have missed the real Luther. Goffman says Luther said the Turk is "the servant of  the devil," and this is somehow supposed to be less condemning than "antichrist" or "devils incarnate"! It is true that Luther did not "consider Mohammend to be the Antichrist" (LW 60:264), but in LW 60 (which came out many years after Goffman's book), Luther refers to "the beast the vile Mohammed to deceive and torment the world" and"the devil's son, Mohammed" (LW 60:263). Luther's view was not halfhearted

Did Luther (as Shoebat says)  "urge his followers" to look to the Turks "in the best manner"? If Shoebat took this from Goffman, he doesn't say this. Here is the text from Luther:
Grace and peace in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.
Serene, highborn prince, gracious lord, for the past five years certain persons have been begging me to write about war against the Turks, and to arouse and encourage our people. Now that the Turk is actually approaching, even my friends are urging me to do this, especially since there are some stupid preachers among us Germans (as I am sorry to hear) who are making the people believe that we ought not and must not fight against the Turks. Some are even so foolish as to say that it is not proper for Christians to bear the temporal sword or to be rulers. Furthermore, some actually want the Turk to come and rule because they think our German people are wild and uncivilized—indeed, that they are half-devil and half-man. The blame for this wicked error among the people is laid on Luther and must be called “the fruit of my gospel,” just as I am blamed for the rebellion, and for every bad thing that happens anywhere in the world. My accusers know better, but—God and his word to the contrary—they pretend not to know better, and they seek occasion to speak evil of the Holy Ghost and of the truth that is openly confessed, so that they may earn the reward of hell and never repent or receive the forgiveness of their sins. (LW 46:161)
In context Luther is mentioning the people negatively provoking him to write, and included in the group is the category described by Shoebat and Goffman. There is no urging to look favorably towards Islam.

Shoebat goes on to blame Lutheran and Protestants in general for the advancement of Islam, and then takes a few closing shots at Luther:

That is why it was so easy for Luther’s followers and the followers of John Calvin to collaborate with the Islamic forces attacking Europe. Luther laid the groundwork for this in his half-hearted statements regarding Islam along with his actions. 

...the followers of Luther and Calvin were willing allies and traitors to the forces of Islam due to the groundwork laid by the Reformers.

... Luther and his evil fruit have been responsible for the Islamic threat that is now threatening the West more than ever before. 

Another evil fruit of Luther’s duplicity with Islam is that many of the Lutheran churches today are anti-Israel and pro-Islamic terrorist.

Suffice to say, Luther has not only been worthy of Lucifer, but also Judas Iscariot and the Antichrist and has shown so by his sympathetic gestures to Islam, despite knowing their theological errors. Any Christian in Lutheran circles today who does not wish to participate in either Luther’s hatred of Jews or his pandering to the antichrist religion of Islam should have the courage to name him as a “firstborn of Satan”, as the Blessed St. John the Apostle named Cerinthus, and hopefully, leave Lutheranism for a genuine Christianity.

For, Luther's allegedly less than condemning attitude toward the Turks led future generations of Protestants to have a sympathy towards Islam! This charge is untrue at its foundation. Luther supported war against the Turks and throughout his writings considered them to be the servants of Satan.  He ended his 1542 treatise saying, "So, then, may God give us his grace and punish both the pope and Mohammed along with their devils" (LW 60:266).

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