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How Martin Luther Laid The Foundations For The Holocaust
For those who'd rather believe religion isn't harmful, check out the the Godless Zone for the comprehensive posting about the evils of Luther's teachings about the Jews:

Is it a coincidence that Germany, the home of Martin Luther and his doctrines, was also the home of Adolph Hitler and his doctrines? I think not. Many, many historians think not as well. British conservative historian Paul Johnson says that Luther’s notorious anti-Jewish tract On the Jews and their Lies the “first work of modern anti-Semitism, and a giant step forward on the road to the Holocaust.” William Shirer, in his The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich writes: “It is difficult to understand the behavior of most German Protestants in the first Nazi years unless one is aware of two things: their history and the influence of Martin Luther. The great founder of Protestantism was both a passionate anti-Semite and a ferocious believe in absolute obedience to political authority. He wanted Germany rid of the Jews. Luther’s advice was literally followed four centuries later by Hitler, Goering and Himmler.”

And the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada confessed that Lutherans “carry a special burden in this matter because of the anti-Semitic statements made by Martin Luther and because of the suffering inflicted on Jews during the Holocaust in countries and places where the Lutheran Church is strongly represented.” The Austrian Evangelical Church wrote “our churches shares the guilt of the Holocaust” because they are “burdened by the late writings of Luther and their demand for expulsion and persecution of the Jews.” And the Lutheran Church of Bavaria said that followers of Luther ought to take seriously Luther’s anti-Semitism and “acknowledge their theological function, and to reflect on their consequences” and said that the Lutheran Church “knows itself to co-responsible for anti-Jewish thoughts and actions that made possible or at least tolerated the crime of the ‘Third Reich’ against children, women, and men of Jewish origin.”

There's great detail at the link above. Worth reading -- especially for any Lutherans out there.

Posted by aalkon at July 19, 2006 11:51 AM

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One small quibble and that is the use of the term "anti-Semite." If I understand genetics, both Israelis and Arabs are semitic peoples. So the term is too broad to use in the context you would place it.

Posted by: moe99 at July 19, 2006 1:00 PM

I can hear that damn calliope again... It almost sounds extrapolation fallacy.

Posted by: Fritz at July 19, 2006 1:44 PM

"Semitic" may technically include Arab people as well, but anti-Semitic is a term that is understood to mean anti-Jewish.

Excuse me while I'll go price fabric to recover the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 19, 2006 2:29 PM

> There's great detail at the link above. Worth
> reading -- especially for any Lutherans out
> there.

I doubt they'd be interested, Amy. Religious beliefs are hardly compatible with reason. It's always interesting to observe how people blot out certain "uncomfortable" aspects of their religious idols. Luther's anti-semitism, his belief in witchcraft (he demanded the death penalty for witches on the grounds of that infamous sentence from the second book of Moses from the Bible), his opportunism during and after the Peasant's War of 1525, all of these things are well documented. Yet, I still have to see a successful stageplay or movie on Luther that doesn't conveniently skip or downplay on these hard facts. (Don't they teach screenwriters anything in school?)

It's interesting to note, though, that this horrible document by Luther had been addressed not to the common folk, but to the noblemen of Germany, who weren't convinced and did not act upon it. Sometimes, there is hope for reason, I guess.

Probably can't visit your blog for about a week, as I'm off to France with the girlfriend. First time in about fifteen years. (For me, but not for her.) Play nice. ;-)

Posted by: Rainer at July 19, 2006 4:42 PM

This post is certainly useful as a reference point for Lutherans determining how some of what went before influences their current beliefs, Amy, but that's not in any way necessarily what Lutherans of various denominations believe these days.

Posted by: Curtis at July 19, 2006 5:04 PM

It's the damnedest thing, but many of the smartest, most rational people who every lived were religious. Philosophy would be nowhere without belief. It's an important --if not always charming-- part of human nature. Kinda like sexuality. Many more people in your 21st century American life have and will be wounded by erotic misjudgments than by religious fanatics, but you don't seem to stress over that so much.

Year after year you wail like this. Wonderful seasons of your life pass in fear of an imaginary South Carolinian with a Bible who's going to come and arrest your gay friends and put you in stocks down at the Promenade (and maybe in a chastity belt for good measure). As if your and your loved ones weren't at much greater risk from urban violence, a health crisis, a house fire or other accident, or LA's world-famous air pollution. It's almost inexplicable.

But we all like to spin our wheels sometimes.

Posted by: Crid at July 19, 2006 7:49 PM

One could easily use the same logic to blame atheism for the rise and amorality of the Soviet Union. Stalin killed far more people than Hitler did as well. Be careful what seeds you sow.

* Note I am not at all religious, if anything an agnostic/Deist

Posted by: Mo at July 20, 2006 1:07 AM

So maybe now people will leave Nietzche alone.

PS: I spelled "Nietzche" from memory. EAT ME!

Posted by: Lena at July 20, 2006 4:47 AM

Atheism is simply the non-belief in god. Other than that, there aren't atheist marching orders like there are for religious people. That said, I would venture that I, for example, have stronger ethics than many or most religious people. I especially loved the cab driver who, upon my discovery that he was trying to cheat me, said, "Miss, I am a Christian." Yeah, well that doesn't hold a whole lot of weight with me.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 20, 2006 6:03 AM

While atheism can refer to simple non-belief, it can also mean active denial of God's existence.

And the fact that religion can be harmful is not terribly surprising. Most things in society can be harmful. Without science, Hiroshima would not have happened. Should we condemn science for that? Should we condemn science since Darwin's theory was used to justify eugenics?

Posted by: Mr. Grouchypants at July 20, 2006 1:08 PM

Yeeeeeaaaaahhhhhh...this theory was shot down the first time it was aired, in "Hitler's Willing Executioners." I suppose it's comforting somehow to believe that people are culturally hardwired to behave in certain ways--it nicely mirrors beliefs about being biologically hardwired to behave in certain ways --but historical study just isn't that cut and dried.

Was Martin Luther a horrible man in some ways? You betcha! I still vividly remember how creeped out I was when I discovered how anti-semetic he was (in fact, I 'm still creeped out about this). However, the idea that without him the Holocaust wouldn't have happened is--how to put this politely?--just a teensy bit simplistic.

Example: Denmark is 99% Lutheran. Lutheranism is the official state religion. Lutheranism is anti-semetic as a founding ideological stance. 97% of all Jews in Denmark...survived the war.

Saved by Lutherans.

Oh, dear, a bit inconvenient, that.

Not to mention that so many of the top Nazi brass were Catholic (at least nominally) and that Hitler himself was born and raised in Catholic Austria, with his formative years spent in Vienna when a fanatically anti-semetic...Catholic was in power.

Oh, dear, a bit inconvenient, that--altho' I suppose a careful study of Christianity will reveal of golden age of peace, love and philo-semetism before the Blight That Was Luther destroyed everything.

And playing a simplistic blame-game has neatly avoided addressing the impact of Lutheranism = Holocaust on the *actual* Germans who *actually* did the killing:

SCENE: Nuremburg Trials, 1945

ACCUSED NAZI PERSON: Yes, I helped kill many, many Jews, but I had no choice: Martin Luther made me do it!

PROSECUTOR: Oh, well then, you're free to go!


The writer of that piece wasn't a Marxist, by any chance? They tend to do very determinist history--everything's "inevitable," with little to no room for human agency and free will.

Posted by: Aelfryth at July 20, 2006 1:58 PM

Mr. Grouchypants: If you had read the post in question you would see it did not argue that Luther was the cause of the Holocaust just a contributing factor and that is not in dispute.

Posted by: NOGODZONE at July 20, 2006 4:33 PM

And if you had read my post, you would have seen that I was addressing the claim that religion is harmful. Whether or not Luther contributed to the Holocaust is irrelevant to my point.

Posted by: Mr. Grouchypants at July 20, 2006 4:57 PM

Amy wrote, "That said, I would venture that I, for example, have stronger ethics than many or most religious people."

What are these things you call "ethics", Amy? Are they scientifically verifiable? Do you have any evidence that "ethics" exist? A couple of thousand years of human suffering are pretty good evidence that they don't. Are ethics different from values? Why or why not? Please explain.

Posted by: Fritz at July 21, 2006 11:41 AM

I like the premise: Luther caused the Holocaust.

Presumably the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and subsequent attempts by the Vatican to exterminate Protestant heresies were all part of an attempt to prevent the Nazi Holocaust?

Go the Holy League!

We'll make an Opus Dei numerary of you yet! :-)

Posted by: Antoine Clarke at July 22, 2006 3:19 PM

Clearly, Luther didn't have a monopoly on ugliness. -Opus Amy

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 22, 2006 4:49 PM

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