Wednesday, August 19, 2015

It's Okay To Hate Jews. Martin Luther Says So.

     First thing I learned when I went through the German History cycle as an undergrad at
The Man Of The Millenium
Too Bad He's Being Used
(photo from
UCLA way back another eon ago was that Luther had some very kooky ideas.
That hasn't stopped the "anti-payday lenders" cabal in this state, working hard to get the industry crushed via an initiative that would effectively wipe out payday lending by capping interest rates at 36%, from citing Luther as their theological wellspring for getting South Dakota's church communities behind their effort to shut down the industry.  

     This is weird and intellectually dishonest.  Seems to me that if Luther's relentless rants about how society should be run are the basis for a civil moral code, then those who use him as their theological front man should heed the rest of his rigid rules of conduct and beliefs.  Picking and choosing the ones that coincide with their attempts at running society according to their own moral precepts is just plain disingenuous.  I've been going through a dog-eared old volume (# 46 to be exact, titled "The Christian In Society")  of Luther's Works, published in 1967 by Fortress Press, that I read as a young man along with other volumes in that extensive and exhaustive collection.  
     First off, motivational giant that he was, Martin Luther nevertheless counseled his followers that their Christian duty forbade them from entering the secular fray.  From page 31 of the above-referenced tome, Luther wrote in his essay "Admonition to Peace":  "For no matter how right you are, it is not right for a Christian to appeal to law, or to fight, but rather to suffer wrong and endure evil; and there is no other way."  Fighting payday lending may well be one of the worthier endeavors in our community these days, but I'm pretty sure Martin Luther himself would have been aghast at the effort being spurred on by the religiously self-righteous.  
     More troubling is the way that anti-payday lenders have seized on Luther's contempt for "usury" as a goad for South Dakota's religious leaders to join their crusade.   This bizarre "call
Luther On A Bad Day
To Be Read, Not Followed
(photo from
to action" on their facebook page, based as it is on Luther's writings about usury, completely contradicts Luther's "Admonition to Peace." It also raises the scary prospect that some of Luther's other ideas could be the basis for other "calls to action" within our state's ecclesiastical network.  For example, Luther's well-known contempt for homosexual behavior could just as easily be used as the basis for a church-wide call to action.  And then there's Luther's relentless hatred of Jews, "a brood of vipers," as he calls them in his book "The Jews And Their Lies."  Are we to join in with his anti-Semitic vitriol because he, Martin Luther, thinks it's okay?  

     Are we to disdain Jews, homosexuals, payday lenders and a panoply of others (read what he has to say about Turks) because Martin Luther says so? This business of bringing Luther and his works into the payday lending debate is a transparent ploy to take the argument out of the secular realm where it belongs and into the polemical spheres of influence within our churches.  I hope churchgoers can see through this attempt at using their faith as a force to create a society based on the visions of a few self-righteous busybodies who expect us to live the way they want us to. 
     More power to a debate on the merits and demerits of payday lending, but fie on the effort to bring the Christian community's considerable resources into the shouting match. Those piety-pushers swayed by his writings should remember that Luther understood the Christian's challenge to endure, not fight.  "There is no other way," said he.  


  1. Shirley Harrington-MooreAugust 19, 2015 at 9:19 PM

    Excellent point, John. Look at what christianity has done to people down through the ages including racial hatred in the South. We definitely don't need any of that 'piety' in South Dakota.

  2. Sincere thanks for your perspective, John, and for an opportunity to share mine.

    The purpose of this comment isn't to support or oppose payday lending, but I'd like to point out that Martin Luther spent nearly his entire adult life "fighting" in the public arena and arguably made a more significant impact on international politics than any other single individual since Christ Himself.

    Regarding his anti-Semitism, Luther apparently turned hostile toward the Jews during the last ten years of his life, when he was tormented by a variety of severe physical illnesses that may have affected his mental health. For the record, here's an example of what he taught during his prime:

    “If I had been a Jew and had seen such dolts and blockheads govern and teach the Christian faith, I would sooner have become a hog than a Christian. They have dealt with the Jews as if they were dogs rather than human beings; they have done little else than deride them and seize their property. When they baptize them they show them nothing of Christian doctrine or life, but only subject them to popishness and mockery…

    “If the apostles, who also were Jews, had dealt with us Gentiles as we Gentiles deal with the Jews, there would never have been a Christian among the Gentiles … When we are inclined to boast of our position [as Christians] we should remember that we are but Gentiles, while the Jews are of the lineage of Christ. We are aliens and in-laws; they are blood relatives, cousins, and brothers of our Lord. Therefore, if one is to boast of flesh and blood the Jews are actually nearer to Christ than we are…

    “If we really want to help them, we must be guided in our dealings with them not by papal law but by the law of Christian love. We must receive them cordially, and permit them to trade and work with us, that they may have occasion and opportunity to associate with us, hear our Christian teaching, and witness our Christian life. If some of them should prove stiff-necked, what of it? After all, we ourselves are not all good Christians either.”

    —taken from "That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew" (Martin Luther, 1523)