PETER FROST reminds us of Martin Luther’s rabid anti-semitism and misogyny
CHRISTIANS, with the obvious exception of those in the Vatican, are hard at it celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and of Martin Luther nailing his 95-point declaration to the door of the church in Wittenberg.
TV and the rest of the media are bombarding us with just how good this has been for all of us and the Protestant church in particular.
Without Luther, it seems, we would have no Church of England, nor dozens of various other Protestant churches.
What has been totally lacking are a couple of other aspects of Luther’s teaching and thinking. His misogyny — there was only one place for women, said Luther, and that was married and in the home.
The other was his hatred of Jews. There is no doubt that Luther and some of his writings were extensively used by the nazis to justify their anti-semitism, nationalism and nazi philosophy.
Luther loved his numbered lists of demands. Take a look at this from his book On the Jews and their Lies.
“What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews:
“First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools… This is to be done in honour of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians…
“Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed.
“Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.
“Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb…
“Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside…
“Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them …
“Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an axe, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread by the sweat of their brow…
“But if we are afraid that they might harm us or our wives, children, servants, cattle, etc… then let us emulate the common sense of other nations such as France, Spain, Bohemia, etc… then eject them forever from the country…”
The nazi propaganda weekly magazine Der Sturmer didn’t mince its words. Under a heroic portrait of Luther it declared him “a fighter against the Jewish spirit in the Christian Church, Dr Luther is one of the greatest anti-semites in German history.”
In German elections in 1933, only months after Hitler came to power, Luther appeared on posters for the pro-nazi so called German Christians. Those posters used both the Christian cross and the swastika. The swastika was called the hooked cross or Hakenkreuz in German.
“We merge Christ’s cross with the hooked cross” declared these German Christians. They said Christians should have nothing to do with anything opposed to the German people and their race and that meant supporting Hitler and his nazis.
Not all Christians swallowed this obscene racist nonsense. In 1937 the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “Luther’s words are everywhere, but twisted from truth into self-deception.”
Bonhoeffer was executed as an anti-nazi conspirator one month before World War II ended in 1945.
The nazis marked the 450th anniversary of Luther’s birthday in November 1933 with a nationwide “German Luther Day,” in which the main speakers praised Luther’s “ethno-nationalist mission” and called for “the completion of the German Reformation in the Third Reich.”
It is no coincidence that the infamous Kristallnacht — Night of Broken Glass — when nazis burned more than one thousand synagogues and smashed the windows of more than a thousand Jewish-owned shops, happened on Luther’s birthday, November 10 1939.
In 1938, Hitler’s propagandists had predicted and encouraged these attacks. “Synagogues are burning in Germany,” wrote Martin Sasse, the pro-nazi Lutheran bishop of Thuringia state. “The German people must hear the words of this man, the greatest anti-semite of his time, the man who warned his people against the Jews.” That man, of course, was Martin Luther.
Now lets take a look at Luther’s views on women. He was very clear, a wife was expected to be a companion to her husband, but she was always his subordinate. Obedience was demanded to husbands. Women were to be silent and to perform household tasks.
The purpose of women’s education was the development of an accepted concept of marriage and training in household and domestic skills.
Women were taught how to look after children, homes and also livestock.
One major change of the Reformation was that women, and indeed men, were now allowed to study the Bible in their own language.
But women were not allowed to preach or to write about religion. Luther quoted St Paul who ordered women not to teach or preach.
Neither would Luther’s new rules allow them to become nuns. By abolishing female convents, Luther effectively closed off any option of a full-time religious role for Protestant women.
Protestant clergy could now be married, and amazingly this was justified partly as it significantly reduced illegitimate births sired by the unmarried, but clearly not actually celibate, Catholic clergy.
So should we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of Luther? On balance I don’t think I’ll be doing much cheering myself although I will certainly raise a glass to another clergyman who shares his name, his basic religious beliefs, but not any of his obnoxious prejudices — Martin Luther King.