Nazi Analogies and Historical Revisionism

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 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.

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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.

Indeed, just as Hitler's constant equating the Jews to a bacillis or a plague and our justified destruction of said bacteria (and therefore Jews), does not invalidate microbiology.

Germany still doesn't have separation of church and state in the American sense, although it is probably a lot more American than pre-WWII. Indeed, I believe that there are very few countries that have "separation" in the American sense.

For example, the German government collects what is referred to as the Kirchensteuer (literally "church tax") on behalf of three churches from church members. The Kirchensteuer is based on the Einkommensteuer (income tax), and is added to the Einkommensteuer. People who don't belong to any of the churches don't have to pay the Kirchensteuer. The churches for which the Kirchensteuer is collected are churches that are officially recognized by the German government, including the Roman Catholic church, the Evangelical Lutheranische Kirche in Deutschland (ELKD--literally Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany). In the last couple of years, a Jewish denomination was added. The government pays the amounts raised through the Kirchensteuer to the respective churches.

In addition, the German government allows religious instruction in public schools for children of parents who request it. The religious instruction is handled by instructors who are selected and paid for by the various officially-recognized churches. It should be noted that the standard school courses are secular--there is no controversy in Germany regarding teaching of creationism in biology courses, for example.


The situation in Canadian schools is similar to that in German schools. Religious instruction is allowed in public schools, and many such schools are organized around religious models. Especially Catholic schools (particularly in Quebec), but to a lesser extent Protestant schools too. Of course the usual suite of secular courses is offered in every case.

Children mustn't be subjected to religious instruction to which they or their parents don't agree, and so there is a system of exemptions and non-discriminatory options in place for them.

There appear to be 4 main instructional models, depending on the province.

1) A purely secular model similar to that in place in US public schools. (Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, British Columbia)

2) A constitutional right to non-denominational education. (Newfoundland)

3) Constitutional recognition of denominational education (Ontario, Nove Scotia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba)

4) A governmentmal moral and official commitment to denominational education (Quebec)

Naturally provincial policy is in constant tension with nation policy as far as such rights are concerned, and so in practice the system is even more complicated than it looks.

Nevertheless, there is considerably more entanglement between chuch and school than would be permissible under the US system. There is also little controversy regarding the teaching of creationism in schools. A few scattered cases, but nothing like what we see in the US.

Why do these wackoes thing Darwin had something to do with Hitler's rise? It's not clear that Hitler ever read Darwin, nor even knew the name. In Mein Kampf Hitler never refers to Darwin, nor to biological evolution.

It is historical fact that Stalin was rabidly anti-Darwin. Of course, that doesn't stop these same wackoes from claiming, falsely, that Darwin's theories led to Stalinism.

It's pure taint-by-association argument. It's false, and those who make these arguments should be challenged on them at every turn.

By Ed Darrell (not verified) on 23 Jan 2005 #permalink

I've long held that propagandists use whatever is convenient to advance their agenda. In Hitler's case, it is apparent that he claimed both a divine calling in his genocidal program, as well as pragmatics to influence the intelligentsia.

In this regard, one should expect that a propagandist of whatever stripe will inappropriately utilize whatever concepts have widespread currency in the target culture. The issue is not whether a propagandist makes reference to a concept, since such a person will do or say whatever will render others more likely to give them assistance or assent. That a concept is widespread is enough to make it likely for a propagandist to usurp it to his own ends. The issue, then, is whether adherence to some conceptual framework compels a particular course of action.

It is clear that accepting the concepts of evolutionary biology does not compel genocidal behavior. Nor does it compel fascism, communism, or robber-baron style Social Darwinism. (If it did compel behavior of some sort, only one of the options would be engaged, not some opting for A, others for B, and still others for options C through Z.)

Antievolution advocates know they have no chance of showing compelled human behavior stemming from evolutionary biology. Instead, they concentrate upon hints and allegations that evolutionary biology was mentioned by history's villains, or was discussed by them, or even that they must have been taught the concepts and therefore influenced in some malign fashion.

While Sir Arthur Keith's views on Hitler and Darwinism are a staple of antievolutionist screeds, it is my opinion that Keith was simply mistaken in his analysis of Hitler. Even a cursory reading of Hitler's own output shows far more familiarity and reliance upon scriptural sources than any esoteric realm of scientific endeavor. The passages in Mein Kampf that are offered as evidence of Hitler's adherence to Darwinian principles are invariably weak allusions which would require nothing more than listening to overheard conversations in a cafe for buzzphrases to spice up a speech or passage, not nuanced arguments showing any depth of acquaintance with biological practice. Hitler and his band of fellow propagandists did what dissembling dictators and sycophants have always done, which was to try to bind the people to them through rhetoric. And, as dissemblers past, present, and future will show, that is done by referring to concepts that are known to the people and spinning a tale that suits their ends.

Very well said, Wesley. That's why I tried to make clear that I was not arguing that Christianity is to blame for Hitler. He used whatever means necessary to convince the group he was speaking to at the time to follow his insane plans. His plans were a perversion of Christianity just as they were a perversion of evolutionary biology (as are all forms of social darwinism). The irony, of course, is that the more the IDers complain about being compared to Nazis, the more they compare others to Nazis. The stench of hypocrisy is overwhelming.

I'll dispense with rhetoric and focus on a few salient facts:

1. Darwin believed certain races of man superior to others.

2. Hitler was a very, very bad guy.

3. When asked what his most important teaching was, Jesus replied that we should love God, and love the people around us.

Anything Hitler said should never be used as an arguement for anything - see #2. When we teach Darwinism in schools, we should have the moral courage to include #1. I just threw #3 in to remind everyone what Jesus really said. Alot of kooks calling themselves Christians have ran their mouths over the past two thousand years, but they deserve no more quoting than secular kooks ranting during the same timeframe.

By Ernest Duncan (not verified) on 25 Jan 2005 #permalink

1. Darwin believed certain races of man superior to others.
Eh, kind of. By modern standards, Darwin would likely be considered a racist (so would Lincoln, of course, perhaps even more so). By Victorian standards, he was remarkably liberal. He was a fierce opponent of slavery and wrote at length in his diaries about his disgust at the mistreatment of blacks. While it is true that Darwin did from time to time refer to "civilized races" and "savage races", this was a cultural distinction on his part, not a biological one. As far as the biological distinctions are concerned, he rejected them. Chapter 7 of Descent of Man is devoted to the subject of whether the races are biologically distinct species or sub-species and Darwin answers the arguments of those who claimed that they were and concludes that we are all one species. This was in contrast, by the way, to most of his creationist opponents who, like the great Harvard creationist Louis Aggasiz, considered blacks to be a separate species.
When we teach Darwinism in schools, we should have the moral courage to include #1.
That's just silliness. First, we don't teach "Darwinism" in schools, as there is no such thing. We teach evolutionary theory in schools. Calling it "Darwinism" is absurd for several reasons. First, we don't do it with any other theory. We don't call relativity "Einsteinism" or celestial mechanics "Newtonism". When teaching gravitational theory, should it also be mentioned that Newton was into alchemy and was considered a heretic by the church? Of course not. Those things are not the least bit relevant to whether gravitational theory is true.
Evolutionary theory is not some cult of personality whereby some flaw in the views of the man who came up with the original idea taints the idea. It is a scientific theory that has long since advanced far beyond anything that Darwin himself thought on the subject. Indeed, modern evolutionary theory can be distinguished as much by those thoughts of Darwin that it rejects as those it accepts. Much of what Darwin wrote was flat out wrong, and 95% of what we know now about evolutionary biology was entirely unknown to him. He didn't even know what genes were, for crying out loud. What he got right was the notion of common ancestry and the basic mechanism of natural selection. Virtually everything else in evolutionary biology was entirely unknown to him. To call evolution "Darwinism" is simply absurd, as is the notion that if we find some flaw in Darwin's thinking that is not a part of evolution, it somehow counts against evolution as an explanation.