I recently read a biography of Martin Luther, Protestant Reformer and founder of Lutheranism, by theologian Martin Marty. Luther was an intellectual and a spiritual seeker. He was a lot better at asking questions than answering them. He got involved with political, cultural and social issues he wasn’t really equipped to deal with.
There were more things going on in the world in the 1500’s than the disputes of a few German princes with the Pope. As it is now, it was a time of Islamic aggression. The Turks had been invading Europe for centuries- they had conquered Constantinople and finished off the Byzantine Empire less than a hundred years earlier. The threat was active and the Pope wanted Europeans to set aside their theological arguments, which involved others than Luther, and unite militarily to defeat the Islamic menace.
Luther said no. War was wrong, he said, and while individual princes might raise armies to fight defensively for their territory, another Crusade would be immoral and he would not support any offensive or preemptive action against the Turks.
It is widely agreed in the West that preemptive warfare is wrong. This has been relaxed in recent years with the Iraq war, over vociferous opposition from liberals. But why is preemption wrong? If someone is planning on attacking you, why shouldn’t you attack them first, eliminate the threat, and keep the damage on their territory rather than yours? Setting aside any debate over WMDs, the Turks had been attacking Christian territory for centuries, and it was obvious they planned to continue.
Christianity at that time was not pacifistic and had not been for a millenia. As Christianity became the religion of the rulers, and the new Islamic empire threatened, some adjustments needed to be made. Being a soldier and fighting was not wrong as long as it was done for a legitimate purpose. The epic poem “Beowulf” is an example of this. On one level Beowulf is a Germanic warrior of the pagan old school, chopping up monsters and dozens of foes with his sword when he’s not killing them with his bare hands. But he is a man of generous spirit and self-control who fights to protect others, not only for his own glory. When Unferth insults him, he is entitled by the rules of the time to kill him; but he turns aside the “dis” with a story of his own accomplishment.
The code of chivalry addressed this formally. A society with an outside threat needed professional warriors. Such men might abuse and take advantage of others. The code told them that quite the opposite, they should protect the weak and be kind to them, using their strength to protect them from evil people. The “white knight” so derided of “game” enthusiasts, the strong but well-mannered gentleman, is not pathetic and foolish but the greatest ideal of Christian and Western civilization.
But Luther was a petty man. He couldn’t bear to help Catholic and Orthodox Christians, as compromise would make him look weak. What did it matter if they were killed or enslaved by Moslem Turks, if it made his political and theological position relatively stronger?
There is a widespread belief among “alt-right” people that 1) Jews are the enemy 2) Moslems hate Jews so 3) Moslems are really our friends and we should support them and not fight them. This is false logic. The enemy of your enemy might be your friend, but he is more likely your enemy also! People who are enemies of one are usually enemies of most.
Pacifists aren’t usually actual turn the other cheek people. They are against other people defending themselves. They do this selectively and tactically to use the far enemy to weaken their near enemy. And Martin Luther was the man who started all this.