I mention this incredibly negative historical information about Martin Luther, the primary thinker and leader of the 16th century’s Protestant Reformation, because I believe it’s very important for Christians and non-Christians to be aware of some of the reasons why critics question the morality both of the ideas/practices from church history’s “great theologians” and the Scriptures. The Bible is said by conservatives to be completely trustworthy and virtuous in what it teaches, yet when Christians put specific sections of it into rigorously consistent application, they create massive problems because many of the texts themselves set a very destructive precedent.
Luther wrote astoundingly hateful things about the Jews. Through his power of ecclesiastical authority, despicable behaviors and vengeful ideas were boldly promoted against God’s original “chosen people” who were distinctly outside of Christian community. Within the long tradition of heartily confident “messengers of God” and since he was undergirded by many easily appropriated biblical mandates God gave in the Old Testament, Luther was able to convince generations of Germans (up through at least the mid-20th century) that the Jews, as an entire race and without individual exception, deserved to be regularly humiliated, robbed of their money and property, removed from the country and even killed. The biblical God commanded the Israelites to commit genocide upon the their polytheistic, “heathen” neighbors, and therefore laid the foundation that would allow Christians (the new “chosen people”, replacing the Jews) around the world to look at non-Christians with severe disdain, kill other Christian groups because only one of them could be correctly interpreting the Scriptures, stand on God’s side against the demonic powers of non-biblical society, invade the Middle East to conquer Jerusalem during the Crusades (even if this meant annihilating an enormous number of “infidels”, a term long used by Christians to describe Muslims and other nonbelievers), enslave/abuse/exterminate millions of Native Americans and African Americans, imprison/torture/execute any suspected doubters or unbelievers during the Spanish Inquisition, and many more deplorable historical results that came from the extreme intolerance and harshness of many parts in the Bible.
On the Jews and Their Lies, written by Martin Luther in 1543, is the most anti-Semitic writing that I have ever heard about, on the same level with Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. After reading it, I am not surprised that many historians credit him as one of the forefathers of modern anti-Semitism. Hatred and bitterness toward the Jews certainly existed in Germany and elsewhere long before Luther wrote this, but he is considered to be the main force within Protestant European history toward developing these excessively malevolent and dehumanizing views of the Jewish people.
It is very sad and yet strange that the kinds of abuses the Jews experienced throughout Western history by believers in the Judeo-Christian God were much the same as the types that Jews (because of commands from this God) used against the multiple nations they stole land from and mass murdered in the Old Testament. The first genocides against and conquests over the Jews’ neighbors were justified, according to God, due to the grand wickedness of the surrounding people groups near them. Later, when particular Christian leaders, such as Martin Luther, appealed to the Bible to support actions that appear quite evil to most everyone now, they needed merely turn to one of many passages in their Bible to reference the blueprint for that order of deed in that sort of situation. The obvious correlation between multiple atrocities committed in the name of the biblical God throughout world history after Christ’s earthly life and what numerous readings in the Scriptures actually teach is denied by contemporary orthodox Christians who say that individuals, whether revered and experienced Christian disciples or not, have the choice to carry out horrendous injustice or to trust in God and demonstrate loving action to other people. The logical difficulty with this assertion is that history provides countless examples of people who followed gruesome, often arbitrary, biblical commands with precise religious adherence and therefore embraced the habits of deep cruelty, indifference and severe destruction of human life (and sometimes non-human aspects of nature as well). As I explained in another post, although many positive results in the progress of human culture have occurred through Christianity’s influence, the despicable aspects of this belief system and religion are just as strong. To its monumental shame, the Bible directly or indirectly endorses or reinforces inhumane conventions such as misogyny, seasonal and colonial warfare, genocide and slavery.
One possible reason as to why traditional Christian leaders today, as official representatives standing by “God’s one holy book”, do not take considerable responsibility for the toxic effects of these portions of the Bible is that they are viewing it from within the unique position of a modern, democratic, post-Enlightenment and individualistic society that expects each person to critically examine how to apply instructions from religion, philosophy and spirituality in appropriately different ways for each circumstance. However, because separation of church and state is a fairly recent concept historically, whenever Christians of past eras came into political, economic or military power, they often chose the apparently best model to follow in governance: the Old Testament patterns of theocratic authoritarianism and violent defense of national religious purity. Unfortunately, the Bible didn’t provide clear enough tools with which to sort out the morally antiquated or irrelevant teachings within itself when Christians encountered complex problems and didn’t have the “voice of God” present to tell them exactly how to proceed (assuming that God, if directly engaged in conversation, would have objected to these forms of political power in post-biblical times). Many Christian scholars of the past who are recognized by traditional believers to have had brilliant intelligence and mostly saintly character (especially in regard to the spiritual and theological quality of their writings), used the Bible to advocate and/or justify abhorrent conduct: Tertullian (misogyny), John Chrysostom (misogyny), Augustine (misogyny), Thomas Aquinas (misogyny), Martin Luther (murder of non-believers), John Knox (misogyny), Ulrich Zwingli (murder of non-believers), John Calvin (murder of non-believers), Jonathan Edwards (slavery), George Whitefield (slavery) and numerous others. Were they ill-informed? Were they radically immature in their spirituality? It seems quite far-fetched to think these men were incapable of figuring out in their hearts or minds the very basic ethical components of “loving one’s neighbor”. Instead, the evidence reveals substantial (but not total) culpability first with the Scriptures themselves because of the virulent content found in many of its texts.
After reading the excerpt below from the Wikipedia page for On the Jews and Their Lies, it should not be difficult to see how the Nazis found common ground with and even much guidance from Luther’s plan to brutally remove the Jews from Germany or eliminate them altogether:
In the treatise, Luther writes that the Jews are a “base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.” They are full of the “devil’s feces … which they wallow in like swine,” and the synagogue is an “incorrigible whore and an evil slut …” He argues that their synagogues and schools be set on fire, their prayer books destroyed, rabbis forbidden to preach, homes razed, and property and money confiscated. They should be shown no mercy or kindness, afforded no legal protection, and these “poisonous envenomed worms” should be drafted into forced labor or expelled for all time. He also seems to advocate their murder, writing “[w]e are at fault in not slaying them.”
Here is Wikipedia’s full description of it.
These are some highlights and excerpts.
This is the full text.