Re: Is this true about luther?

Tom Pearson (pearson@panam1.panam.edu)
Thu, 25 Feb 1999 09:48:30 -0600

At 06:47 AM 02/25/1999 -0800, E G M wrote:

>Is this true about luther?

>The Protestant Reformation, which split Christianity into different
>branches
>in the 16th
>Century, did little to reduce anti-Semitism. For much of his life the
>Protestant
>Reformation leader Martin Luther expressed moderate views toward Jews.
>Believing the
>Jews would become converts to the faith, Luther urged humane treatment.
>However when
>the Jews failed to convert, he turned against them.

Speaking as a Lutheran, I must admit that this is a fair assessment of
Luther's attitude toward the Jews of his time. However, it is worth noting
that there is still controversy over whether Luther's attitude is properly
designated "anti-Semitic." Insofar as the term "anti-Semitic" denotes an
attitude of hostility toward the Jews on the basis of their ethnic or
racial identity, Luther apparently doesn't qualify as "anti-Semitic." He
demonstrates no interest in the racial identity or characteristics of Jews.
They are unbelievers. He uses very similar language with regard to the
"Turks and Huns" as that which he directs toward the Jews (and he extends,
on more than one occasion, the same language to express his animosity
toward the "Papists"). For Luther, none of these peoples have any inherent
moral worth in themselves, as members of a certain race or culture, but
only as objects of conversion. If they do not accept Christ, then they are
to be rejected as all heathen are to be rejected.

Of course, given the events of the twentieth century, we may be inclined to
treat this effort to get Luther off the "anti-Semitic" hook as nothing more
than semantic dishonesty. Certainly, Luther did have harsh and violent
things to say about the Jews. Nonethless, to call this "anti-Semitic" may
be deploying a modern term anachronistically to cover rather different
attitudes on the part of figures from our own religious past.

Tom Pearson
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Thomas D. Pearson
Department of History & Philosophy
The University of Texas-Pan American
Edinburg, Texas
e-mail: pearson@panam1.panam.edu