Christ has returned! ... to the big screen. After months of dull debate on all of the major cable news networks, Mel Gibson's megahyped hoodwinking is finally upon us. And despite rave reviews from the few religious elites who've seen it, seems that the (secular devil) critics are set to pan it for its 'excessive' violence and narrow focus on his crucifixion. At any rate, I want to deal with the controversy which made this movie one of the most talked about ever: the claim that the movie puts responsibility for the crucifixion squarely on the shoulders' of the Jews.
First of all, yes, the Jews were to blame. But that's just an accident of geography. People were bound to tire of this megalomaniac's magic tricks and lame ass sermons. And workin' it in Israel like he did, it naturally happened that the only people around to put an end to his madness were Jewish (Judas Iscariot, Ahasuerus, Caiphas). Anyone would have done it.
Nevertheless, somebody has to be blamed for something.
Martin Luther (1483-1546), anti-Semite and mass murderer, is long overdue for a critical examination. In fact, this man's crimes are so ghastly and reprehensible that I would classify him as one of the three worst Germans in history (no small charge), after Otto von Bismarck and Adolf Hitler.
What, exactly, where his crimes? First, let's recount his role in the bloody suppression of the glorious Peasants' War of 1524-1525. This time (the Reformation) saw the waning of the power of the Catholic Church in Germany. Martin Luther had denounced the Catholic Church and curried the favor of many princes eager to wrest free from its power. It was these princes, not the population, that Luther relied on for his support. At the same time, popular religious leaders were appealing to a peasantry tired of exploitation at the hands of their lords.
"Most formidable of all, in the little town of Allstedt, Thomas Müntzer, an unruly genius, combined his own ingenious liturgical reforms with a program of holy war. Himself a former 'Martinian' (or follower of Martin Luther), he not only shared Karlstadt's enthusiasm for the mystics but added an explosive element (perhaps influenced by Hussite teaching) that gave point to Luther's worst fears. Müntzer threatened revolution and claimed that God would rid the world of its shame. Luther's warnings and events themselves forced the rulers to take action, and in the summer of 1524 Müntzer fled and Karlstadt was exiled. Müntzer wrote in a pamphlet that Luther was nothing more than a shameless monk, 'whoring and drinking,' and called him Dr. Liar."
Clearly, Luther, though prepared to go so far as to break with the Church, was no social revolutionary. When the peasants finally rose, it was clear that there aims were counter to those of the lords. For example, the 10th of 12 articles put forth by peasants in Memmingen reads as follows:
"We are aggrieved by the appropriation ... of meadows and fields which at one time belonged to a community as whole. These we will again take into our own hands."
This reflected one of the basic demands of the peasants: the restoration of communal property. We should point out that contrary to popular belief, individual ownership of property is only a recent development and its introduction was initially much resisted by the peasantry, and in some cases survived (and was reintroduced, in the case of Russia) nearly until the end of the 19th century.
Luther, dependent on the support of the nobles, was thus hostile to the peasants' demands.
"In the spring of 1525 the Thuringian peasants rose, with Thomas Müntzer among their leaders, and at first seemed likely to carry all before them. Faced with imminent political chaos, Luther wrote a brutal, virulent broadsheet, Wider die räuberischen und mörderischen Rotten der andern Bauern ('Against the Murdering and Thieving Hordes of Peasants'). The writing was less violent than Müntzer's hysterical manifestos, but it was bad enough. It appeared, however, as an appendix to his moderate tract about the '12 articles.'"
Not mentioned is that Luther exhorted the nobles to "cut down the peasants like dogs." An estimated 100,000 peasants were slaughtered before one of Germany's most heroic revolts was snuffed out. For those deaths, Luther must be held at least partially responsible. His urging to slaughter the revolutionary peasants gave nerve to the lords, and without his approval they may not have been so quick to act.
William Shirer, author of the massive Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, sums it up nicely
"But tragically for them, Luther's siding with the princes in the peasant rising, which he had largely inspired, and his passion for political autocracy ensured a mindless and provincial political absolutism which reduced the vast majority of the German people to poverty, to a horrible torpor and a demeaning subservience. Even worse perhaps, it helped to perpetuate and indeed to sharpen the hopeless divisions not only between classes but also between the various dynastic and political groupings of the German people. It doomed for centuries the possibility of the unification of Germany."
Luther is a hero to millions, but great men like Müntzer are almost forgotten outside of Germany (where he was one of the most honored historical figures in the DDR, apparently).
Furthermore, Luther was an ardent anti-Semite, writing tracts like "The Jews and Their Lies," which argued that Jews should be killed and their temples burned. Later, Hitler and the Nazis would invoke Luther's image during their unparalleled extermination of the Jewish people.
Last but not least, Luther and reformers of his ilk facilitated the rise of capitalism with their individualistic brand of religion:
"In contrast to the feudal system of the Middle Ages under which everybody had a fixed place in an ordered and transparent social system, capitalistic economy put the individual entirely on his own feet. What he did, how he did it, whether he succeeded or whether he failed, was entirely his own affair. That this principle furthered the process of individualization is obvious and is always mentioned as an important item on the credit side of modern culture. But in furthered "freedom from," this principle helped to sever all ties between on individual and the other and thereby isolated and separated the individual from his fellow men. This development had been prepared by the teachings of the Reformation. In the Catholic Church the relationship of the individual to God had been based on the membership in the church. The Church was the link between him and God, thus on the one hand restricting his individuality, but on the other hand letting him face God as an integral part of a group. Protestantism made the individual face God alone. Faith in Luther's sense was an entirely subjective experience and with Calvin the conviction of salvation also had this same subjective quality. The individual facing God's might alone could not help feeling crushed and seeking salvation in complete submission. Psychologically this spiritual individualism is not too different from the economic individualism. In both instances the individual is completely alone and in his isolation faces the superior power, be it God, of competitors, or of impersonal economic forces. The individualistic relationship to God was the psychological preparation for the individualistic character of man's secular activities."
Capitalist "individualism" ("In bourgeois society capital is independent and has individuality, while the living person is dependent and has no individuality." -- Marx) is still a stone's throw better than feudal collectivism, so maybe we shouldn't be too upset about this one.
The verdict: CRUCIFY LUTHER, not Christ!