In the recent hubbub concerning the use of the Nazi analogy, there are two seemingly unrelated statements that have struck me. The first was from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, while giving a talk at the oldest Jewish synagogue in the United States. The AP reported on November 22, 2004:
In the synagogue that is home to America’s oldest Jewish congregation, he noted that in Europe, religion-neutral leaders almost never publicly use the word “God.”
But, the justice asked, “Did it turn out that, by reason of the separation of church and state, the Jews were safer in Europe than they were in the United States of America? I don’t think so.”
The second statement came from John Whitehead, president of the religious right legal group The Rutherford Institute in a recent commentary on the Dover intelligent design lawsuit:
More ominous was the use of Darwin by Adolf Hitler. As early as 1923 in his book Mein Kampf, Hitler expressed his adherence to evolution in justifying genocide. “The German Fuhrer,” anthropologist Arthur Keith has said, “consciously sought to make the practice of Germany conform to the theory of evolution.” Evolutionary ideas can also be seen in Hitler’s wish to develop a master race and in his human breeding experiments, which eventually led to the Holocaust.
It’s a common refrain heard from the anti-evolution crowd, that evolution leads to communism, nazism and any other bad things they can think up. But it’s every bit as inaccurate as Scalia’s statement and for essentially the same reason: If there is one thing that history clearly shows, it is that attacks upon Jews are firmly rooted in Christian theology whenever it is wedded to political power. Nazi Germany was no exception.
First, let’s take a tour through the history of Christian anti-semitism. One can trace the seeds of anti-Jewish fervor among the Christian church fathers at least as far back as Origen in the early 3rd century, who declared that Jerusalem had been destroyed because the Jews had committed “the most abominable of crimes” in forming a “conspiracy against the Savior of the human race”. John Chrysostom in the late 4th century said:
The synagogue is worse than a brothel…it is the den of scoundrels and the repair of wild beasts…the temple of demons devoted to idolatrous cults…the refuge of brigands and dabauchees, and the cavern of devils. It is a criminal assembly of Jews…a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ… a house worse than a drinking shop…a den of thieves, a house of ill fame, a dwelling of iniquity, the refuge of devils, a gulf and a abyss of perdition.”…”I would say the same things about their souls… As for me, I hate the synagogue…I hate the Jews for the same reason.
When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire, legal attacks on the Jewish people were common. The Justinian Code, established in the mid 6th century, forbid Jews from building synagogues, reading their sacred texts in Hebrew and celebrating passover. They were even forbidden from giving evidence in any judicial case involving a Christian. In a series of councils in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Lateran Councils, the Catholic Church imposed more and more restrictions upon Jews, including forbidding Christians from giving some types of medical treatment to Jews and requiring Jews (and Muslims) to wear special clothing to distinguish them from Christians. The Reformation brought no reprieve, indeed it brought even more brutal anti-semitism in the form of Martin Luther. Luther’s hatred of Jews can was so intense that it can only be described as psychotic in nature. Luther wrote an entire document called On the Jews and their Lies, which includes sentiments like these:
What then shall we Christians do with this damned, rejected race of Jews? Since they live among us and we know about their lying and blasphemy and cursing, we can not tolerate them if we do not wish to share in their lies, curses, and blasphemy. In this way we cannot quench the inextinguishable fire of divine rage nor convert the Jews. We must prayerfully and reverentially practice a merciful severity. Perhaps we may save a few from the fire and flames [of hell]. We must not seek vengeance. They are surely being punished a thousand times more than we might wish them. Let me give you my honest advice.
First, their synagogues should be set on fire, and whatever does not burn up should be covered or spread over with dirt so that no one may ever be able to see a cinder or stone of it. And this ought to be done for the honor of God and of Christianity in order that God may see that we are Christians, and that we have not wittingly tolerated or approved of such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of His Son and His Christians.
Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed. For they perpetrate the same things there that they do in their synagogues. For this reason they ought to be put under one roof or in a stable, like gypsies, in order that they may realize that they are not masters in our land, as they boast, but miserable captives, as they complain of incessantly before God with bitter wailing.
Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayer-books and Talmuds in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught.
Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more…
Fifthly, passport and traveling privileges should be absolutely forbidden to the Jews. For they have no business in the rural districts since they are not nobles, nor officials, nor merchants, nor the like. Let them stay at home…If you princes and nobles do not close the road legally to such exploiters, then some troop ought to ride against them, for they will learn from this pamphlet what the Jews are and how to handle them and that they ought not to be protected. You ought not, you cannot protect them, unless in the eyes of God you want to share all their abomination…
To sum up, dear princes and nobles who have Jews in your domains, if this advice of mine does not suit you, then find a better one so that you and we may all be free of this insufferable devilish burden – the Jews…
Pretty harsh stuff, and Luther wrote volumes of it. His fellow reformer, John Calvin, was nowhere near Luther in this regard, but he was plenty bad enough. He wrote of Jews, “Their rotten and unbending stiffneckedness deserves that they be oppressed unendingly and without measure or end and that they die in their misery without the pity of anyone.” And the Catholic counter-reformation clamped down even further on Jews, requiring them to either convert or be forced into ghettos, and even forced to build the walls which would become, for all practical purposes, their prison.
Against this background, which is only a small sample of the voluminous history of anti-semitism in Christian theology, we can now take a look at the example of Nazi Germany. Scalia implies that the Holocaust took place in Europe rather than in America because Europe had a complete separation of church and state, while America did not. It is scarcely possible to imagine how that argument could be any more false than it is. Both the premise and the conclusion are completely at odds with reality. The first problem with it is that there was no separation of church and state in Germany under Hitler. Indeed, the Third Reich represented a perfect uniting of church and state in almost every way. Under Hitler, the German Protestant Church became the official state church of Germany, with Hitler himself signing the decree establishing the church as an arm of the state in July 1933. Thom Hartmann summarizes that decree:
Article 1 of the “Decree concerning the Constitution of the German Protestant Church, of 14 July 1933,” signed by Adolf Hitler himself, merged the German Protestant Church into the Reich, and gave the Reich the legal authority to ordain priests.
Article Three provides absolute assurance to the new state church that the Reich will fund it, even if that requires going to Hitler’s cabinet. It opens: “Should the competent agencies of a State Church refuse to include assessments of the German Protestant Church in their budget, the appropriate State Government will cause the expenditures to be included in the budget upon request of the Reich Cabinet.”
That new state-sponsored German church’s constitution opens: “At a time in which our German people are experiencing a great historical new era through the grace of God,” the new German state church “federates into a solemn league all denominations that stem from the Reformation and stand equally legitimately side by side, and thereby bears witness to: ‘One Body and One Spirit, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God and Father of All of Us, who is Above All, and Through All, and In All.’”
Section Four, Article Five of he new constitution further established a head for the new German state-church with the title of Reich Bishop. Hitler quickly filled the job with a Lutheran pastor, Ludwig Müller, who held the position until he committed suicide at the end of the war.
So clearly, the notion that Germany had anything like a separation of church and state is patently absurd. But there’s another side to that, which is that in America at the time of the ratification of the Constitution, there was a great outcry from what can be termed the religious right of that day because the ban on religious tests for office could actually allow a Jew to hold public office, something unthinkable to them at the time. Madison, in a letter to Jefferson, then in Paris in 1788, notes that in New England there was much opposition to the provision banning religious tests for office because it “opened a door to Jews, Turks and infidels.” In North Carolina, one delegate, a Presbyterian minister, declared that the new Constitution would allow America to be ruled by “Jews and pagans of every kind”. In Kramnick and Moore’s The Godless Constitution, they quote from a widely circulated article at the time that declared that without religious tests for office limited only to specific types of Christians, the following groups would be allowed to take office:
“1st. Quakers, who will make the blacks saucy, and at the same time deprive us of the means of defence – 2dly. Mahometans, who ridicule the Trinity – 3dly. Deists, abominable wretches – 4thly. Negroes, the seed of Cain – 5thly. Beggars, who when set on horseback will ride to the devil – 6thly. Jews etc. etc.”
In the US, it is precisely our history of separation of church and state, imposed against the will of the mostly Calvinist opposition at the time of the Constitution, that allows Jews the freedom of conscience and the right to hold public office. And this stands in stark contrast to the official state church in Nazi Germany. Scalia is not only wrong, he’s about as wrong as it is possible to be while making such a short statement.
Now, as to Whitehead’s argument that it was evolution that led to the holocaust, this is also pure historical revisionism. The first thing that needs to be said is that Hitler used pretty much any tool at his disposal to convince people to follow him. When speaking to different groups, he would change the arguments he used to maximize their appeal. But in a predominately Christian nation, so hugely influenced by Martin Luther, his primary argument was based squarely upon Christian theology. That is why he could write, in Mein Kampf, “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” Hitler’s speeches were often peppered with statements justifying his actions on Christian grounds (for dozens of examples, see here). He even declared in 1933 that “We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.” In a 1922 speech, he said:
My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before in the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice…. And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people…. When I go out in the morning and see these men standing in their queues and look into their pinched faces, then I believe I would be no Christian, but a very devil if I felt no pity for them, if I did not, as did our Lord two thousand years ago, turn against those by whom to-day this poor people is plundered and exploited.
And in 1933, he said:
Except the Lord built the house they labour in vain…. The truth of that text was proved if one looks at the house of which the foundations were laid in 1918 and which since then has been in building…. The world will not help, the people must help itself. Its own strength is the source of life. That strength the Almighty has given us to use; that in it and through it we may wage the battle of our life…. The others in the past years have not had the blessing of the Almighty– of Him Who in the last resort, whatever man may do, holds in His hands the final decision. Lord God, let us never hesitate or play the coward, let us never forget the duty which we have taken upon us…. We are all proud that through God’s powerful aid we have become once more true Germans.
Now, does this mean that Christianity is to blame for Hitler and the Holocaust? Of course not. Hitler’s religious invocations were a perversion of Christianity. But the same is true of the few instances where one can cite an evolutionary justification for his twisted views on eugenics. Eugenics and “social Darwinism” are perversions of evolution based upon logical fallacy and misapplication. The fact that some of Hitler’s followers appealed to evolution to justify killing the weak has no more bearing on the validity of evolution than his constant invocation of Christianity as a justification invalidates Christianity.