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496 years ago, bittersweet day in church history, great for a potluck.
November 1, 2013 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Out of love and concern for the truth, and with the object of eliciting it, the following heads will be the subject of a public discussion at Wittenberg under the presidency of the reverend father, Martin Luther, Augustinian, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and duly appointed Lecturer on these subjects in that place. He requests that whoever cannot be present personally to debate the matter orally will do so in absence in writing.
Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences Commonly Known as The 95 Theses by Dr. Martin Luther on October 31, 1517. or 496 years ago today. [Original Latin]

Three and a half years later, June 15, 1520, Pope Leo X issued a Bull entitled Exsurge Domine (Latin for Arise O Lord) [Original Latin] [English Translation] condemning 41 of the 95 theses and threatening Luther with excommunication should he not recant them within 60 days. Luther publicly burned a copy of the Bull and the rest, as they say, is history.

(Previously)
posted by Blasdelb (56 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Tischreden!

One of the best professors I ever had was Dan Brown at Tufts. His course on Martin Luther, GERMAN 68/-WW MARTIN LUTHER: The Man and His Era, was amazing. Brown is a wonderful, multifaceted man, including being a Pentacostalist who was known to speak in tongues. (Never in our meetings, though, to universal disappointment.) Our seminars were long, intense, featured one of Tufts's few religion majors, and merciless to those who hadn't done the reading.

But Prof. Brown made sure we knew about Luther not just as a scholar but also as a guy who liked to sit around an BS with his peers -- thus the Tischreden, which were some of the things Luther said to his pals at table. Like these:
DCCXXXVIII.

Sleep is a most useful and most salutary operation of nature. Scarcely any minor annoyance angers me more than the being suddenly awakened out of a pleasant slumber. I understand that in Italy they torture poor people by depriving them of sleep. `Tis a torture that cannot long be endured.

DCLXV.

Philip Melancthon showing Luther a letter from Augsburg, wherein he was informed, that a very learned divine, a papist, in that city, was converted, and had received the Gospel. Luther said: I like those best that do not fall off suddenly, but ponder the case with considerable discretion, compare together the writings and arguments of both parties, and lay them on the gold balance, and in God's fear search after the upright truth; out of such, fit people are made, able to stand in controversy. Such a man was St Paul, who at first was a strict Pharisee and man of works, who stiffly and earnestly held over and defended the law; but afterwards preached Christ in the best and purest manner against the whole nation of the Jews.

DCXLV.

On the 8th of August, 1529, Luther, with his wife, lay sick of a fever. Overwhelmed with dysentery, sciatica, and a dozen other maladies, he said: God has touched me sorely, and I have been impatient: but God knows better than we whereto it serves. Our Lord God is like a printer, who sets the letters backwards, so that here we must so read them; when we are printed off, yonder, in the life to come, we shall read all clear and straightforward. Meantime we must have patience.

Tribulation is a right school and exercise of flesh and blood. The Psalms, almost in every verse, speak of nothing but tribulations, perplexities, sorrows, and troubles; they are a book of tribulations.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:22 AM on November 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Luther was a horrific anti-Semite who encouraged his followers to burn down synagogues and murder Jews who refused to convert. He called us whores, demons, filth, and worse. We of course do not believe in hell as most Christians understand it, but if such a place existed, then Luther would certainly be there roasting. How nice that he preached against some questionable practices of the Catholic Church. But I won't see him celebrated. He was a monster.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:32 AM on November 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


My favorite thing on Twitter this week has been this item from @PourMeCoffee "On this day in 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 GIFS Against Indulgences on BuzzFeed Wittenberg."
posted by hwestiii at 9:41 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is that old calendar or new?
posted by spaltavian at 9:47 AM on November 1, 2013


Modern-Day Martin Luther Nails 95 Comment Cards To IHOP Door

Choice line: IHOP manager Dennis Ryskowski said that he has tried to read some of Lyman's comments during his breaks, but has so far only made it to card 26, "On the Blankets of Pigs."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:48 AM on November 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


1adam12 - Can you provide some evidence of your claim he encouraged followers to burn synagogues and murder Jews? I've never heard that claim before.
posted by scunning at 9:53 AM on November 1, 2013


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_and_antisemitism
posted by anazgnos at 9:56 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


He advocates it in On the Jews and Their Lies,

"First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. "
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:56 AM on November 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Part XI of On The Jews and Their Lies has the most virulent stuff:
Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. This will bring home to them the fact that they are not masters in our country, as they boast, but that they are living in exile and in captivity, as they incessantly wail and lament about us before God.
posted by griphus at 10:00 AM on November 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Good news about Indulgences, everyone! The modern-day Catholic Church now offers time off from Purgatory for following the Vicar of Jesus Christ/Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church/Primate of Italy/Sovereign of the Vatican City State/etc., etc. on Twitter!
posted by Doktor Zed at 10:28 AM on November 1, 2013


So after they turned Martin Luther down for trick-or-treating he nailed demands to their door? That's hardcore.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:29 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


And nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition!
posted by islander at 10:30 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lutheran insulter.
posted by charles kaapjes at 10:32 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ah, the classic match between the 95 Theses and the The Indulgences of Pope Leo X, the greatest division rivalry of 1517!

/shameless yet surprisingly on topic self promotion
posted by Jezztek at 10:35 AM on November 1, 2013


Well, shit. Turns out a diet of worms was the least that Luther deserved.
posted by The Confessor at 10:50 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Equally charming his stance towards the peasant rebellion, when they were revolting against their oppression by the aristocracy and clerics in the feudal german states of the time:

" "Let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly ... nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. It is just as one must kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him he will strike you."."

And that's just what they did, by slaughtering up to 100,000 of the 300,000 poorly armed peasants and farmers.
posted by ts;dr at 10:57 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


The crapper that gave birth to the Reformation was uncovered about ten years ago.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:04 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there an entertaining without being too snarky site that deciphers these? I look at them and I am moderately well-informed about the times and still many times I am at a bit of a loss to know what he is saying.

As long as hatred of self abides (i.e. true inward repentance) the penalty of sin abides, viz., until we enter the kingdom of heaven.

Is he advocating self-hatred or saying we can't escape it?

The pope himself cannot remit guilt, but only declare and confirm that it has been remitted by God; or, at most, he can remit it in cases reserved to his discretion. Except for these cases, the guilt remains untouched.

So, the pope can remit guilt? Isn't everything a person does performed "at their discretion?" Is he flaunting papal authority or affirming it?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:15 AM on November 1, 2013


Talk about passive-aggressive notes
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:18 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Luther was indeed an antisemite, and by today's standard, some of his opinions and writings are morally reprehensible. Certainly the Lutheran church has an obligation to face this heritage. While this may cast a shadow on his achievements, I think you can find similar issues with almost any historical figure - from ancient philosophers favoring pederasty to slave-owning fathers of the U.S. constitution there are "monsters" by today's standards everywhere. I often wonder which of our currently held moral beliefs will be judged completely reprehensible by future generations.
posted by tecg at 11:24 AM on November 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


Martin Luther: "This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. ""

Jesus Christ (as quoted in Luke 10:30-37, New International Version (NIV)):

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
posted by IAmBroom at 11:30 AM on November 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I had known that Luther turned quite anti-semitic later in life and that his writings were utilized by the Nazi Party; I hadn't realized until reading the Wikipedia entry that Kristallnacht coincided with Luther's birthday. Its likely a coincidence (as several events sparked the riots), but it does emphasize the connection.
posted by 1367 at 11:30 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree with the main point of what you are saying, tecg, but you've made it a little too facile. Slave-owning was already generally condemned and considered to be morally indefensible by the time the founding fathers came around. It did not disappear because it was an entrenched means of making money, which was not all about greed. Money provided the strength for the fledgling United States to survive.
Luther's antisemitism and what he advocated had grave consequences.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:31 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, the pope can remit guilt? Isn't everything a person does performed "at their discretion?" Is he flaunting papal authority or affirming it?

He's saying: Church governance is that the pope has some authority on specific matters to remit guilt, and he doesn't agree with that, but even so, on other things the pope doesn't have any authority to do so. Implicitly through context he's saying that the pope selling indulgences is outside of the pope's discretion, and therefore those indulgences don't really repressent remission of guilt.

So of the 95, there aren't really many different things being said. "Indulgences are BS" is one of them.
posted by atbash at 11:32 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


tecg: "I often wonder which of our currently held moral beliefs will be judged completely reprehensible by future generations."

Martin Luther King Jr. was known to philander.

I understand Gandhi sometimes had B.O.

Nelson Mandela once picked his nose at a UN convention.

Still, advocating a Krystallnacht kinda stands out...
posted by IAmBroom at 11:35 AM on November 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Luther was indeed an antisemite, and by today's standard, some of his opinions and writings are morally reprehensible. Certainly the Lutheran church has an obligation to face this heritage. While this may cast a shadow on his achievements, I think you can find similar issues with almost any historical figure - from ancient philosophers favoring pederasty to slave-owning fathers of the U.S. constitution there are "monsters" by today's standards everywhere.

The problem with this view is that it inherently empathizes with the oppressors when claiming their views as the standards of the day. I am sure that Jewish people in Luther's time did not share his belief about genocide, nor did many of his followers. I'm likewise sure that black slaves did not share the Founding Fathers' beliefs in the appropriateness of slavery, and neither did free black and white abolitionists. These things would not have become unforgivable in modern consciousness without people of the time who disagreed. In a few generations, will it be appropriate for people to dismiss criticism of the Holocaust, saying, "That's just how everyone thought back then?"
posted by northernish at 11:45 AM on November 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


I don't get any impression that Luther was just expressing the ambient level of antisemitism of the times. There's every appearance the he had a choice, and he chose to advocate and incite violence in the starkest terms possible.
posted by anazgnos at 11:55 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Luther was indeed an antisemite, and by today's standard, some of his opinions and writings are morally reprehensible.

They were morally reprehensible by those days' standards too, it's just that the Jews really didn't get to voice their objections -- as we can today -- without either getting kicked out of town, pogrommed, or trounced down on in some other manner. Mainly because incredibly powerful, influential men like Luther made it clear that tolerance of the Jews was a moral and spiritual failing. There's the casual, ambient anti-Semitism of the everyday person back then, and then there's guys like Luther who rallied such people together and incited the violence and repression.
posted by griphus at 12:00 PM on November 1, 2013 [19 favorites]


Luther had many bad ideas, from his view on Jews, to his view on women, to his view on peasant uprisings. He also had many good ideas. In conclusion, Luther was a man of contrast.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:01 PM on November 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


I was really upset that my Lutheran education and upbringing did not include anything about his antisemitism or his position on the peasant riots. I had already left the church by the time I found out about that stuff but it seemed sad and weird that the church didn't bother to speak to Luther as a human guy who made some destructive and reprehensible decisions, especially since we were ostensibly taught about the historical foundation of the Lutheran church.
posted by beefetish at 12:28 PM on November 1, 2013


Apocryphon: "Luther had many bad ideas, from his view on Jews, to his view on women, to his view on peasant uprisings. He also had many good ideas. In conclusion, Luther was a man of contrast."

By standards that loose, no one in history has ever been a bad person.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:35 PM on November 1, 2013


Doktor Zed: “Good news about Indulgences, everyone! The modern-day Catholic Church now offers time off from Purgatory for following the Vicar of Jesus Christ/Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church/Primate of Italy/Sovereign of the Vatican City State/etc., etc. on Twitter!”

Actually, they don't.
posted by koeselitz at 12:43 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Everybody knows Luther was good in the beginning, but he just went too far.
posted by Copronymus at 12:46 PM on November 1, 2013


By standards that loose, no one in history has ever been a bad person.

If you add a qualifier—nobody has ever been a wholly bad person, or nobody can be reduced to only being a bad person—I have no problem with this.
posted by Shmuel510 at 12:55 PM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


We might want to note that Apocryphon was referencing the Simpsons.
posted by koeselitz at 1:03 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Luther left such voluminous writings that, as Luther scholars like to joke, any good paper laying out Luther's positions on any given issue, using Luther's own words, can be entirely rebutted from within Luther's own writings.

When you read Luther, he is by turns funny, vicious, brilliant, earthy, inaccessible, down-to-earth, nasty, coprophiliac, insightful, accepting of human frailty, appreciative of beer, and completely misanthropic. I dislike diagnosing historical personages, but Luther definitely seems ... not entirely mentally healthy. He appears, both from his own works and from his close associates' writings about him, to have been prone to both manias and black depressions, and his own depictions of his religious life seem to express the sort of fixations on personal sin that are sometimes characteristic of mental illness.

Luther's early views on the Jews seemed to be that the main reason they hadn't converted was that the Catholic Church was preaching a corrupted Gospel, from a corrupted canon. When he edited the Biblical canon -- reducing the Protestant Old Testament to the books that were in circulation among Hebrew-speaking Jews at the time (while the Catholic Old Testament includes the "extra" books that had been in use among Greek-speaking Jewish communities around 70 AD) -- he thought that plus Reformation would show Jews the Gospel clearly and they would convert. They didn't. He seems to have taken it as a personal insult, and it's about that time that his attitude towards the Jews undergoes an ugly, ugly shift.

(I'm not really a Luther person, so don't take my thoughts as particularly insightful, but I went to Protestant seminary and my modern church history prof was a Luther scholar so I picked up a fair bit incidentally, even though we didn't spend very long on Luther in class. When I was in seminary it was all Luther-as-interpreted-through-Aquinas-who-is-currently-trendy and I found that scream-inducingly dull and also, having just finished four years of Catholic Aquinas, I kept feeling like they were leaving out some crucial bits!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:04 PM on November 1, 2013 [16 favorites]


I often wonder which of our currently held moral beliefs will be judged completely reprehensible by future generations.

Hopefully that taxes are theft and letting people die because they can't afford shitty health insurance is freedom.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:29 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Luther had 95 theses, but the Pope ain't one.
posted by 4ster at 1:47 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Out of curiosity, I went to see what the Lutherans have to say about Luther's less savory aspects. They addressed the issue in 1994.
posted by Biblio at 1:49 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's only the ELCA, but all Lutheran sub-denominations and synods have grappled with it. I'm sure any self-respecting ideological organization worth its salt- not in the least a religious one- would do the same to grieve and apologize for the sins of its forefathers.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:23 PM on November 1, 2013


In conclusion, Luther was a man of contrast.

Oh dear. As you may know, I have a somewhat conflicted relationship with the Lutheran Sect in which I was raised. A lot of Luther's views are pretty hateful, even for his time. I read an article years ago that argued that the shift from the earlier, more humane Luther and the later, course Luther could be explained by a degenerative and painful disease, and perhaps he was a reformer who lived somewhat longer than was best for him (and a lot of other people, although I suspect vicious abuse of the Jews and the people in the Peasant's Revolt would have gone on without Luther's assistance). This explanation, whether true or not, does not constitute an excuse.

However, I am still inspired by his (possibly apocryphal) "Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen." at the Diet of Worms. They still stand as landmark words of principled resistance against a truly frightening temporal power. So, while I won't excuse his later writings, I can't bring myself to abandoned my admiration for that earlier man.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:34 PM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is it wrong to think of Luther as the megaphone used by emerging commercial/middle-class interests? I mean, his response to the peasant revolt is so status quo, it's like watching conservative pundits talking about Occupy. His antisemitism--real, deep, and nasty as it was--also centered (well, half-centered) on usury, which was not burdening the poor so much as businessmen and aristocrats borrowing too much money. Even the objection to the sale of indulgences seems suggestive, since people in Luther's class would pay much more for indulgences than, say, a poor person who committed the same sin would. It all seems so protective of class. But maybe that's a very shallow reading of what he was up to.
posted by mittens at 4:47 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


>By standards that loose, no one in history has ever been a bad person.

If you add a qualifier—nobody has ever been a wholly bad person, or nobody can be reduced to only being a bad person—I have no problem with this.


This. (I say "this" to statements that, if they had not already been said, I would have said myself. Or wish I would have said.)

Yes, Martin Luther had some troubling and terrible notions. So did a lot of people of his time. I'm not saying was any worse or better than the average. Just that they are not why we remember him.

This comes up in Lovecraft threads too, and my answer there is the same here. Truth be told, we will all be found wanting by the yardsticks people will use to measure us in upcoming centuries. This is because, while we think morality is obvious, it isn't. We've only gotten to our current state of moral development over many centuries of struggle; if the right way to do and think were obvious, then there wouldn't be nearly as much bloodshed in the world as there has been -- much of it encouraged by people who claimed moral superiority. In the future, people will have different systems, maybe better, and will eventually not think kindly of the bad old times that, gratefully, they didn't have to suffer through.

Rightness isn't obvious and objective, but discovered through an iterative process that requires a great deal of effort to figure out. Indeed, those who unquestioningly accept moral systems that were handed tend to be the greater abusers of those systems, because they don't understand how fragile and precious they are. What you paid nothing to get, you don't think much about, or of.
posted by JHarris at 5:29 PM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Luther's anti-Semitism was problematic by his standards, it is true; both his wife and other fellow reformers considered it objectionable and distasteful. But his achievement, not to mention his theology, do not depend upon his bigotry. And most people who uphold his achievements do not uphold his bigotry.

Is it wrong to think of Luther as the megaphone used by emerging commercial/middle-class interests? I mean, his response to the peasant revolt is so status quo, it's like watching conservative pundits talking about Occupy. His antisemitism--real, deep, and nasty as it was--also centered (well, half-centered) on usury, which was not burdening the poor so much as businessmen and aristocrats borrowing too much money. Even the objection to the sale of indulgences seems suggestive, since people in Luther's class would pay much more for indulgences than, say, a poor person who committed the same sin would. It all seems so protective of class. But maybe that's a very shallow reading of what he was up to.

That's a very interesting interpretation, but I'm not sure how much it gels. From what I understand, he was initially sympathetic to the grievances of the peasants, but grew horrified by radical violence. His objection to usury was part of his antisemitism which was fueled by his own megalomania- frustrated that the Jewish people did not flock to his "purified" doctrine, he lashed out at them. Maybe there's a class analysis to the indulgences. Luther himself came from working class stock, though his miner father later on became more well-to-do. Perhaps he later became a voice for the burghers, but if he was a tool of any interest, it would probably be of the Germanic princes who did not want to be beholden to the Holy Roman Emperor or the Pope.

On other economic matters, I do find it interesting that "Protestant work ethic" that is so often venerated or denounced is really "Calvinist work ethic", specifically Calvinism of the Anglo-American Puritan mode. But Luther did formulate a Doctrine of Vocation which says that believers can serve God through everyday, secular activities and occupations. That seems to advocate that he believed work was good and could glorify God. But it's a far cry from the Prosperity Gospel.
posted by Apocryphon at 6:38 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rightness isn't obvious and objective, but discovered through an iterative process that requires a great deal of effort to figure out. I

I'm going to go ahead and say that burning people's houses and synagogues is objectively wrong.
posted by empath at 3:56 AM on November 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


I googled for "universal priesthood of all Christians." and found a ton of references to Luther saying that or writing that, but I could not find an original source. I would be very interested in reading a few paragraphs of context for that idea; if it stands up in context it is a foundational and revolutionary idea.

One of my high school English teachers taught me a great variation on the gospel idea of don't ever judge anybody. She said something like it is perfectly O.K. to judge people if you are judging them at their best and not at their worst. So, for example, we can feel free to judge the Beatles on Come Together or Elanor Rigby, but think twice about judging them on Yellow Submarine.
posted by bukvich at 7:49 AM on November 2, 2013


Well that kind of works when their worst is a mediocre song, and not, you know, advocating pogroms.
posted by empath at 7:53 AM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


But no one (except actual Nazis) is praising him for doing that?
posted by Apocryphon at 10:42 AM on November 2, 2013


I'm going to go ahead and say that burning people's houses and synagogues is objectively wrong.

You say that with the benefit of hundreds of thousands of years of human social development. It is obvious to us... now.
posted by JHarris at 12:38 PM on November 2, 2013


(Of course Luther should have known that too. But it's amazing, when religion comes up, what kinds of obviously right things you can get people to ignore.)
posted by JHarris at 12:40 PM on November 2, 2013


One of the common tropes on the right, especially the religious right, is the notion that somehow Islam is uniquely savage and barbaric and all you can do is fight all followers of Islam with fire. As evidence of the uniquely vicious nature of Islam, they cite, usually garbled, various extremist fatwas by some Imam or other. When I come across one of those chain emails or cited in some column or comment on RedState or wherever, that's what I think about - Luther's vicious anti-Semitism, and how he's not merely some obscure Imam somewhere, but the very founder of their cult/religion/schism, and some of those writings are much more vicious than those fatwas.

And now, with the passage of time, people are examining Luther's writings for the good and the bad. When you see anti-Semitism so extreme, many will find it hard to take anything he had to say seriously, the taint is so powerful. As the poster above said:

[...]How nice that he preached against some questionable practices of the Catholic Church. But I won't see him celebrated. He was a monster.

Nonetheless, others think his evil should not prevent us from seeing the good, such as there may be. Only, with evil so great as Luther-caliber anti-Semitism, where do you stop? Who else? Maybe someone from the WWII period? Or maybe we should take a look at those examples from right-wing propagandists, what about those Imams and their fatwas - do they merit the same "fair and balanced" treatment accorded Luther?

Luther contra the 16th century Roman Catholic Church. Do I have to choose? A pox on both your houses.
posted by VikingSword at 2:01 PM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


JHarris:
You say that with the benefit of hundreds of thousands of years of human social development. It is obvious to us... now.
And it's been wrong to many, many good people throughout history, and before written language was developed. Honestly, that's a fairly sickening thought - that it's only through the perspective of our refined, highly sensitive culture and historical perspective that we're able to understand that BURNING DOWN SOMEONE'S HOME is not a nice way to behave.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:24 PM on November 2, 2013


The problem is actually a good deal more complicated than that. Humans were nomadic for a long time, so they didn't have the concept of home, they probably had little concept of personal property a while too, meaning someone's wouldn't make sense to them. And as for burning, well, you need NOUN: FIRE for that.

But that's really dodging the question. The root of morality is, should I treat that person at least as well as I treat myself. Should I care what he thinks, or do I look out for Number One?

And lest you think we're oh-so-advanced now, may I introduce to you the concept of "Except for." A lot of things people say they believe actually carry hidden Except Fors.

Like, it is bad to kill someone? Yes, except for if he's trying to kill me, then it's self-defense. That makes sense. Or, except for if he's trying to trespass on your property -- then you should "stand your ground." Or, except for if we're at war with his nation. Or, except for if we're at war with a generic concept, like "terror," that he claims to espouse. Or, except for if we think he looks like he espouses terror, or might in the future, like a bunch of poor Iraqis.

An awful lot of the rules of what we consider obvious morality carry riders.
posted by JHarris at 10:56 PM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


And the thing is, was Luther's greatest mark on history in general his anti-Semitism, or was it the other things he worked on? Throughout all of American history there is no righteous leaders, not even one; all have been regressive towards Native Americans, or those of African descent, or the working class. So should we call Washington a monster? The Iroquois called him Town Burner. Even Lincoln was an Indian fighter. American presidents, of course, are only a subset of notable figures in history who have done wrong along with good. But this is just an example. Perhaps the same can be said of all politicians of all polities, that they have always failed such groups, to the point of violence.

As far as Luther himself, certainly he carried a lot of bile, and not only to the Jews; to suspected witches, to the oppressed peasantry. (though ironically, not so much towards Muslims; his actions led to a weakening of the Catholic powers, after all, which the Ottomans found to be a great boon) But is that what the 95 Theses was all about? Is that the sum of his career and life?
posted by Apocryphon at 12:45 AM on November 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


But I won't see him celebrated. He was a monster.

Moses advocated genocide on the Canaanites, should we condemn him?
posted by RussHy at 4:47 AM on November 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't see why not.
posted by empath at 8:40 AM on November 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


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