Saturday, February 24, 2018

Martin Luther


Image of Martin Luther, ca. 1523

I've just finished reading Lyndal Roper's "Martin Luther:  Renegade and Prophet."  I knew little about Luther before I read the book, other than Western Civ. in high school and the Netflix documentary starring Hugh Bonneville. 

A couple of things that I learned:  any woman giving birth "was under the sway of the devil, and that if she were to die before being churched, she could not be buried in the church yard."  I think the Roman Catholic Church outdid itself on that one! 

The secular powers had little say in the institution of marriage:  "As a sacrament, it had fallen under the purview of the Church, which decided which marriages were permitted and what counted as incestuous and required dispensations; it all was made more complex because godparenthood created an additional spiritual network of kinship and so a host of potentially incestuous unions."  So this was where the Church was when Luther wrote "On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church," where he began evolving his ideas about marriage, eventually denying that it was a sacrament. 

Roper also devotes the final chapter of her book to Luther's anti-Semitism.  To read his words about what he believed Christians should do to the Jews is horrifying.  Anti-Semitism was essential to Luther's theology:  "it was not incidental to his theology, a lamentable prejudice taken from contemporary attitudes.  Rather, it was integral to his thought; his insistence that the true Christians-  that is, the evangelicals-  had become the chosen people and had displaced the Jews would become fundamental to Protestant identity."

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

McCarthy's Bar







'McCarthy's Bar' is an odd book.  The title makes one think that the author owns a bar named for himself.  Not true.  McCarthy has a penchant for visiting bars of that name.  The beginning of the book is rife with frat boy-like drunkenness, to the point where I almost gave up on it.
But then it starts to get interesting.  McCarthy was born in England, though he thinks of himself as Irish, and he starts picking apart exactly what that means, as he explores Ireland's west coast.  (I cannot call it the 'Wild Atlantic Way'-  that just sounds silly.)  He also explains the difference between English and British.  If a white man commits a crime, he's British.  If a black, Asian or Irishman commits a crime, he's English.

It is well worth the read, but I can give you the highlights.  McCarthy stumbles upon a Famine memorial in Skibereen, with victims buried beneath it.  He considers why it was so rarely spoken of by his relatives, and comes to the conclusion that it was shame.  He guesses how many victims were in the pit-  maybe a few hundred?- and is astonished to read that it held 9,000.

McCarthy travels with William Makepeace Thackeray's 'Irish Sketchbook,' if only to not look like everyone else, clutching their copies of Lonely Planet.  He is impressed by the settled-ness of immigrants in Ireland who swear they feel very Irish.  In the midst of a religious pilgrimage on one of the Aran Islands, one of his companions says:  "It's an easy place to be at home in, in Ireland.  I notice, watching the different nationalities on the mountain, the fluidity of interaction the Irish people have with the visitors, and with each other.  It's a skill that's less developed in other nationalities, and it's so instinctive, it doesn't even look like a skill."