I tried to watch PBS' "Martin Luther: PBS Empire Series" four or five times before I could get all the way through it. It is hateful anti-Catholic propaganda and it made me sick to my stomach.
I'm pro-choice. I'm actively gay friendly. I think I will encounter Jews and atheists in Heaven. I'm a feminist. I don't attend mass regularly. In short, I am hardly an orthodox Catholic. Even so, this documentary made me ill.
"Luther" walks the viewer through Catholic churches. As classic Catholic images appear onscreen – candles, chalices, stained glass – horror movie music plays on the soundtrack. The viewer is shown images of a naked pope sharing bodily fluid (semen? mucus? I'm not sure) with horned Devils. Liam Neeson's authoritative voice – this is the Liam Neeson who saved Jews in "Schindler's List," who rescued his daughter from slavery in "Taken," who faced off with wolves in "The Grey" – Liam Neeson's authoritative voice informs the viewer that, without qualification, the Catholic Church is corrupt, exploitative, false, and evil.
The Catholic Church is described as completely divorced from the wider population of Europe. In fact Europe itself WAS the Catholic Church. Peasants were the Catholic Church. Nobility was the Catholic Church. Merchants were the Catholic Church. Protestants were the Catholic Church. Luther was a Catholic priest, John Calvin was prepared for the priesthood, and Henry VIII was a defender of the faith.
Contrary to PBS, the Catholic Church was not an alien, evil, Italian institution that had nothing to do with Europe. Protestantism began as a movement within the Catholic Church. If "the Church" condemned or supported this or that behavior, that's because pretty much everybody in Europe condemned or supported this or that behavior.
The Catholic Church is described as being all powerful. Yet Luther, who defied the Church, died of natural causes, an old man in bed. Apparently the Church was not as all powerful and oppressive as PBS insists.
PBS tells us that the Catholic Church controlled innocent Europeans through the sacraments. PBS tells us that it was a really wonderful thing when Luther "liberated" Europeans from the sacraments. Uh huh. Tell a teenage girl that she can never marry – that she needs to be "liberated" from her wedding day. Absurd. Scholars like van Gennep and Victor Turner have described how rites inscribe belief and enrich lives. People want their sacraments.
PBS gets its message across, not just with Liam Neeson's narration, but with scholarly talking heads. These talking heads were the least charismatic talking heads I've ever seen. Miri Rubin was hardest to take, harder even than big-forehead-man with scary looking teeth, or receding-hair-mole-man who insisted that no one before Luther was an individual.
Rubin is excruciatingly self-dramatizing. She whispered. She raised her voice like a roller coaster. She made eyes at the interviewer. She wriggled her eyebrows. She thus, in cheap opera heroine fashion, communicated that the Catholic Church was just a big joke. Apparently Rubin focuses on anti-Semitism. An important focus. But is that all there is to say about Catholicism? It's fake and anti-Semitic.
I've traveled the world. People ask me my favorite destination. The ONE place I would return to is not the Taj Mahal, is not Jerusalem, is not the African rain forest or the desert. The ONE place I would go back to is Chartres Cathedral. Chartres Cathedral is a product of medieval Catholicism. Nothing that is mere corruption could have produced the most sublime place I have ever been.
During the Enlightenment, some wanted to obliterate Chartres Cathedral. Stone masons, forfending this abomination, argued "It would take us years to clear the rubble from the streets." Thus saving Chartres Cathedral from anti-Catholic campaigners who were blind to the sublime.
Who will save Chartres Cathedral from the bomb throwers at PBS?
Nazis quoted Luther's writing on Jews to justify their slaughters. Peasants were inspired by the Reformation to rise up against their noble exploiters. Luther knew that if the peasants had their way, his protectors would be shaken. Luther urged the nobles to "whip, choke, hang, burn, behead and torture [peasants], that they may learn to fear the powers that be…A peasant is a hog, for when a hog is slaughtered it is dead, and in the same way the peasant does not think about the next life…stab them secretly and openly, as they can, as one would kill a mad dog." Erasmus estimates that a hundred thousand peasants were killed, with Luther's encouragement.
The documentary does mention these aspects of Luther's career, but briefly and as if they were … footnotes. Not essential. But they are essential. Luther was fond of hate speech, and spoke in the most violent and hateful way against Catholics. The wars between Protestants and Catholics that lasted for two hundred years, and the enmity that exists today, were sparked at least partly by Luther's intemperance.
Imagine this. You tune into PBS and see images of the interior of a mosque. You hear horror music, and Liam Neeson's powerful voice informs you, without any question or hesitance in his voice, that Islam is corrupt, exploitative, evil, and must be destroyed in order to save the Middle East. Would you not realize that you had entered an alternative universe?
Tell me then, why is it okay for PBS, a taxpayer funded broadcasting station, to peddle anti Catholic hatred like this?