The Tentative Apologist
10/5/11 at 09:07 AM 0 Comments

Quote others the way you would have them quote you

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Martin Luther is a darling of the internet infidel community not least because he provided many quotable tidbits which can be invoked at will to marginalize Christians as being "irrational" or "anti-reason".

Take the case of Jag. In reference to the claim that faith is opposed to reason he noted "Martin Luther would have strenuously agreed." When I pointed out that Luther's rhetorical sweeps against "reason" should be read in historical context as attacks on late medieval scholasticism, Jag responded like this:

"Interesting. So when Luther wrote: "Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but — more frequently than not — struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God." and "Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and ... know nothing but the word of God." and "There is on earth among all dangers no more dangerous thing than a richly endowed and adroit reason... " and "Reason should be destroyed in all Christians." and "Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his Reason." and "Reason is the Devil's greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil's appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom ... Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism... She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets." and so forth, what you're saying is, in its proper context, all those should be understood as merely an academic 'critique' of scholarly methods. I'm not saying you're wrong, but surely even you can see how Luther's words and tone rather lend themselves to a distinctly different impression."

Jag, look what you've done. You've selected six passages from Luther's corpus — or you've allowed somebody else to select them for you — and you've quoted them, without the immediate literary context, without the immediate social context, and without the broader historical context as if that is a legitimate way to marginalize the individual in question (in this case Luther, but it could be anybody) and the entire doxastic community with which he is commonly associated.

I shudder to think of somebody going through my corpus and selecting — shall I say cherry-picking? — six well chosen excerpts. What could somebody come up with by following such a procedure? I'm not entirely sure, but I guarantee it wouldn't be pretty. Would I appreciate somebody going through the effort of compiling such a list? What do you think?

I am no friend of Martin Luther. In this very blog I have stated my own moral outrage at what appears to me to be his evil anti-semitism. But let's be fair. Luther wrote tens of thousands of pages of text while leading a cultural revolution. He did so in the sixteenth century where scholarly standards of decorum were, to put it mildly, more brutish than they are today. And he was famous for being a hot-head who could be counted on to write things he would later regret.

Finally, keep in mind this fact. Luther's "Table Talk" alone is fifty five volumes in translation. Many of the passages in those volumes were transcribed by students after Luther the hot head had imbibed one too many pints of stiff German lager. Do you think that in all those pages there may be statements recorded which Luther may have later regretted? Well ask yourself the same question. If you regularly imbibed one too many stiff German lagers and you were known for shooting your mouth off and you had a team of faithful note-takers ready to record every one of your profound, inane and offensive musings for posterity, do you think they might come up with at least five blush-worthy tidbits ready to be quote-mined by later generations?

Do you seriously think it is charitable to quote-mine the writing of a person given these extentuating circumstances? I admit, Luther was a flawed individual. His rhetorical flights of fancy directed against the perils of late medieval scholasticism sometimes missed their mark. But please, Brother Jag, quote others the way you would have them quote you.

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