Was Adolf Hitler a Christian?

During a recent exchange on Twitter, a number of atheists repeatedly claimed that Adolf Hitler was a Catholic Christian. Beyond the Godwinian implications of that claim, it’s clearly not true.

However, I certainly understand why atheists want it to be true.

The claim that Hitler was a Catholic Christian is lent superficial credibility by the fact that Hitler did claim in his political speeches and writings to be a Christian. One atheist on Twitter referred me to this site, containing many such quotes. I haven’t vetted these quotes from Hitler’s political writings and speeches, but I will stipulate (for the sake of discussion) that Hitler did write and say them.

Clearly, a lot of atheists are more than willing to continue falling for Hitler’s political bilge. It takes monumental gullibility (or maybe just mind-warping antireligious prejudice) to take Hitler’s politicized claims at face value. A little critical thinking is in order.

Responsible, credible historians such as John Toland, Derek Hastings, and Alan Bullock do not give Hitler’s public religious pronouncements any credence. And with good reason, as we shall see.

Hitler was raised by a nominally Catholic father and a devoutly Catholic mother. As a boy, young Adolf attended one year of Catholic education. As an adult, Hitler recalled his early rejection of the Christian faith in one of his “table talk” conversations—private conversations that were taken down verbatim by a stenographer and recorded for history. On October 24, 1941, Hitler said:

The present system of teaching in schools permits the following absurdity: at 10 a.m. the pupils attend a lesson in the catechism, at which the creation of the world is presented to them in accordance with the teachings of the Bible; and at 11 a.m. they attend a lesson in natural science, at which they are taught the theory of evolution. Yet the two doctrines are in complete contradiction. As a child, I suffered from this contradiction, and ran my head against a wall. Often I complained to one or another of my teachers against what I had been taught an hour before — and I remember I drove them to despair.

The Christian religion tries to get out of it by explaining that one must attach a symbolic value to the images of Holy Writ. Any man who made the same claim four hundred years ago would have ended his career at the stake, with an accompaniment of Hosannas.  [Adolf Hitler, Hitler’s Secret Conversations, 1941-1944 (New York: Octagon Books, 1972), 69.]

Hitler’s acquaintances from his boyhood and early adulthood said that he frequently expressed open contempt for Christianity, and some tell the story of how, as a boy, after receiving the Eucharistic host at Mass, he desecrated it by spitting it out and shoving it in his pocket.

Here are the findings of historian Alan Bullock from Hitler: A Study in Tyranny:

Hitler had been brought up as a Catholic and was impressed by the organization and power of the Church. For the Protestant clergy he felt only contempt: ‘They are insignificant little people, submissive as dogs, and they sweat with embarrassment when you talk to them. They have neither any religion they can take seriously nor a great position to defend like Rome.’ It was ‘the great position’ of the Church that he respected; towards its teaching he showed the sharpest hostility. In Hitler’s eyes, Christianity was a religion fit only for slaves; he detested its ethics in particular. Its teaching, he declared, was a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle and the survival of the fittest. ‘Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure.’ From political considerations he restrained his anti-clericalism, seeing clearly the dangers of strengthening the Church by persecution. Once the war was over, he promised himself, he would root out and destroy the influence of the Christian Churches, but until then he would be circumspect. [Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny: (New York: HarperPerennial, 1991), 219.]

Privately, Hitler rejected and detested Christianity. Publicly, in his speeches and in Mein Kampf, he spoke glowingly and approvingly of Christianity. As a canny politician and master manipulator, he knew what he needed to say in order to achieve and maintain his power—especially in Germany, with its large population of both Catholics and Lutheran Protestants. That’s why Hitler’s public pronouncements and his privately expressed views are so completely at odds.

Historian Derek Hastings, author of Catholicism and the Roots of Naziism, says that it is conceivable that Hitler might have been a believing Catholic as late as his 1924 trial for the failed “Beer Hall Putsch” coup attempt (he wrote Mein Kampf while in prison for that crime). But Hastings goes on to say that “there is little doubt that Hitler was a staunch opponent of Christianity throughout the duration of the Third Reich.” [Derek Hastings, Catholicism and the Roots of Naziism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 181.]

I could go on but the point is already well made: Those who claim that Adolf Hitler was a devout Catholic Christian can only do so out of ignorance—or out of sheer hypocrisy, antireligious bigotry, and intellectual dishonesty.

__________________________

Addendum:

One atheist on Twitter disputes my claim that the Soviet Union committed murder in the name of atheism. Here is some support for that claim:

“Practical atheism, enforced by government action, appeared in Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Inspired by the thought of Marx, the Soviet government, assisted by voluntary organizations such as the League of Militant Atheists, disestablished the Russian Orthodox Church, killed clergy and committed believers, disbanded religious organizations, and destroyed churches and religious buildings.” —Peter N. Stearns, Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World: 1750 to the Present (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 278.

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Darwin’s Holocaust? (Part 3 of 3)

Go to Part 1.

Continued from Part 2.

Christopher Hitchens wrote a book called God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. As the title suggests, Hitchens blamed much of the evil in the world on religion. (For more insight into Hitchens’ views and where his thinking went wrong, see Lament for an Atheist—Part I and Lament for an Atheist—Part II. See also the video at Christopher Hitchens Makes a Startling Admission.)

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins makes a similar case in The God Delusion. And it’s true that many atrocities, savageries, and cruelties have been committed in the name of religion: The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the persecution of Galileo, the execution of Giordano Bruno, the Albigensian Crusade, Martin Luther’s rabidly anti-Semitic treatise On the Jews and Their Lies, the Salem Witch Trials, the 1066 Granada Massacre and other pogroms, the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, the Lebanese Civil War, the Israel-Palestinian problem, Jonestown, India versus Pakistan, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Jihad, 9/11, and on and on.

But does religion really poison everything? Well, it depends on how you define “religion.”

If, by “religions,” we mean the tribalistic societies that organize themselves around certain beliefs, rules, rituals, and traditions, and that often defend their beliefs through figurative or literal “holy wars,” then yes, I agree, that sort of religion has a distinctly poisonous history. (And by tribalism, I mean any social structure — including a religion or denomination — that prizes cultural conformity within the group and practices hostility toward those outside the group.)

But if, by “religion,” we mean a commitment to live according to the teachings of, say, the Sermon on the Mount — teachings that cut across the grain of our tribal instincts by commanding us to love our enemies, forgive those who sin against us, and pray for those who persecute us — then Christopher Hitchens was simply wrong. That kind of rational, selfless religion has never poisoned anything. In fact, in The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins writes: “Jesus, if he existed … was surely one of the great ethical innovators of history. The Sermon on the Mount is way ahead of its time. His ‘turn the other cheek’ anticipated Gandhi and Martin Luther King by two thousand years.”24

The Sermon on the Mount is the sort of religion that even Richard Dawkins can endorse. The compassionate, forgiving, anti-tribalist Christianity of the Sermon on the Mount really does exist, and is often found right alongside the corrupt, institutional religiosity that Jesus of Nazareth confronted and condemned throughout the gospel accounts.

Jesus seemed to know in advance that some of his so-called “followers” would corrupt and betray his message. He predicted that a day would come when many supposed “Christians” would say to him, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” And he said his reply to them would be blunt: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”25

Hypatia, a woman  of Alexandria in Roman Egypt, was one of the leading scholars of the classical age. She was famed as a mathematician, astronomer, and public speaker, and she taught at the Great Library of Alexandria. Unfortunately for Hypatia, she also threatened the political power of Cyril, the corrupt Christian archbishop of Alexandria. In AD 415, Cyril sent his aide, known as Peter the Reader, to recruit a mob of monks to assassinate Hypatia. The monks ambushed her in her chariot, stripped her naked, dragged her through the streets to the Caesareum church, where they killed her, defiling their own house of worship with her murder. They tore her to pieces, then burned the body parts outside of the city. The stated rationale for Hypatia’s grisly murder was that “she beguiled many people through Satanic wiles” — but the true motive was Cyril’s lust for power.26 No doubt, Jesus would say to Cyril, Peter the Reader, and the murderous monks, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

The Crusaders swept through Europe and into the Holy Land, slaughtered Jews and Muslims, pillaged and burned entire villages, raped women and put infants to the sword. They exhibited the heads of their slain enemies on stakes. Wild tales of miracles circulated among the Crusaders, bolstering their morale as they committed horrific atrocities under the banner of the cross. It’s no wonder that radical Muslims to this day identify all Christians as “Crusaders.”

Tomás de Torquemada was the first Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition in the fifteenth century. Known as “the hammer of heretics,” Torquemada “enthusiastically supported the use of torture during interrogations,”27 and reportedly sent at least 2,000 supposed “heretics” to be burned at the stake. Yet if you compare Torquemada’s “enthusiastic” actions with the teachings of Jesus, you have to wonder: Who is the true heretic — Torquemada’s victims, or Torquemada himself?

Corrupt, tribalist, institutional religion is rife with human evil. To all those who torture, kill, rape, molest, seduce, and steal under the cloak of religion, the one who preached the Sermon on the Mount undoubtedly says, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

But the religion of the Sermon on the Mount, the religion endorsed by Richard Dawkins, is another thing altogether. That religion has produced some of the finest achievements of our civilization.

Take, for example, our healthcare system. Compassionate religion has blessed the world with the creation of hospitals. In the Middle Ages, religious orders of monks and nuns ran the first hospitals in Europe. In medieval France, a hospital was called a hôtel-Dieu, a hotel of God.

Or, consider how religion has promoted education. Priests and monks preserved civilization and learning through the Dark Ages. The church also invented institutions of higher learning. In medieval times, writes historian Lowrie J. Daly, “there were no great state-supported educational systems, nor even solitary schools. Practically speaking, the Church was the only institution in Europe that showed consistent interest in the preservation and cultivation of knowledge.”28

The first university in the world was at Bologna, Italy, founded around AD 1088 or earlier; next was Oxford, founded around 1096; the University of Salamanca, Spain, founded circa 1130; the University of Paris, circa 1150; and Cambridge, circa 1209. We don’t know the exact date any of these great universities were founded because they all had modest, unheralded beginnings as cathedral schools, taught by clerics.

Religion practically invented science as we know it. Medieval church clerics studied empirical phenomena and catalogued their findings. The study of science came naturally to the religious mind, because the early clerics believed that a rational God had created a orderly world that could be comprehended by human reason. Here are a few of those early clergy-scientists:

• Thierry of Chartres (died c. 1150) wrote and taught at a cathedral school at Chartes, France. In his Hexaemeron, he proposed a cosmology with similarities to the Big Bang and features of cosmic evolution.

• Robert Grosseteste (c. 1175-1253) was the Bishop of Lincoln and an Oxford scholar credited as the first mathematician and physicist of the Medieval era. Science historian Alistair Crombie called him “the real founder of the tradition of scientific thought in medieval Oxford.”29

• Albertus Magnus (c. 1200-1280) was a German Dominican friar who advocated the teaching of reason and science in the church. He catalogued thousands of insights and observations in logic, medicine, chemistry, and astronomy.

• Roger Bacon (c. 1214-1294) was a Franciscan friar known as Doctor Mirabilis (“wonderful teacher”) because he advocated the study of nature through the empirical method.

• Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) advocated “natural theology” and “natural law,” rooted in reason as well as biblical revelation.

• French priest Jean Buridan (c. 1300-c. 1358) was one of the world’s earliest true physicists, recording observations that led to a modern understanding of inertia and momentum. In De Caelo et Mundo, he proposed an early version of the Copernican model of the cosmos — 200 years before Copernicus.

As the Middle Ages gave way to the Renaissance, great scientific minds continued to seek out the laws by which a rational God had designed an orderly universe. Johannes Kepler envisioned God as the Great Mathematician, and he went on to systematize the laws of planetary motion that bear his name. Michael Faraday saw God as the Great Physicist, who laid down laws for Faraday to discover in the fields of electricity and electromagnetism. Isaac Newton saw God as the Cosmic Engineer, and his faith in a rational God drove him to discover the laws of gravitation, motion, and mechanics.

As Paul Davies observes, “The very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way.”30 Faith in a rational God and a well-ordered creation brought modern science into existence.

And then there’s the field of social justice — and particularly the abolition of slavery. While it’s true that many slaveholders rationalized their cruel trade from the Bible, it’s also true that religion founded on the Sermon on the Mount helped bring slavery to an end. The slave trade in England was abolished largely due to the efforts of a prominent evangelical, William Wilberforce. The American abolition movement was led by the Quakers and such evangelicals as Charles Finney.

So Hitchens’ blanket statement that “religion poisons everything” couldn’t be more wrong. The Crusades and the Inquisition and the pogroms weren’t caused by the Sermon on the Mount or anything else said by Jesus of Nazareth — just as Charles Darwin was not the instigator of the Holocaust or the Holodomor.

Theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson explains the seeming paradox that, down through the centuries, religion has inspired human beings to commit acts of both incredible evil and amazing good. He writes:

We have seen terrible wars and terrible persecutions conducted in the name of religion. We have also seen large numbers of people inspired by religion to lives of heroic virtue, bringing education and medical care to the poor, helping to abolish slavery and spread peace among nations. Religion amplifies the good and evil tendencies of individual souls.31

When evil people want to do evil things — when they want to commit acts of murder, genocide, sadism, oppression, theft, or terror — they will grab any rationale to make their evil seem “good.” If it weren’t some twisted pretense of religion or a pseudo-scientific rationale, it would have been some other excuse. But the evil would have happened in any case.

There is no evil in the words of Jesus. There is no evil in the theory of evolution. The evil is in people — in human nature itself.

That’s what poisons everything.

Notes:

This is an excerpt from God and Soul: The Truth and the Proof by Jim Denney, copyright 2012, available as an ebook at Amazon.com. For permission to quote from this excerpt, contact the author in care of this blogsite.

24. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 283.

25. Matthew 7:22-23, Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

26. Sandy Donovan, Hypatia: Mathematician, Inventor, and Philosopher (Minneapolis: Compass Point, 2008), 75.

27. Michael C. Thomsett, The Inquisition: A History (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010), 158.

28. Lowrie John Daly, The Medieval University, 1200-1400 (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1961), 4.

29. Alistair Cameron Crombie, The History of Science from Augustine to Galileo (Mineola, NY: Dover, 1995), 27.

30. Paul Davies, “Taking Science on Faith,” New York Times, November 24, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/24/opinion/24davies.html?_r=3.

31. Frankenberry, 379.

Darwin’s Holocaust? (Part 2 of 3)

Continued from Part 1.

As early as 1939, philosopher Judah Rumney wrote about Darwin’s influence on both Hitler and Mussolini. In an article called “Biology and War,” which Rumney wrote shortly before Germany’s September 1939 invasion of Poland (and the start of World War II), he noted that the German and Italian dictators were both influenced by the philosophy of social Darwinism:

Both Mussolini and Hitler avow their adherence to this philosophy of war. Hitler in Mein Kampf argues that the world must be ruled according to the natural law of the survival of the fittest: “In constant war mankind has become great — in eternal peace it must perish.”12

Rumney added that Hitler saw war, first, as a “biological necessity,” part of a Darwinian “struggle for existence,” and second, as a means of natural selection, in which the weak and inferior would perish and the strong and superior would be selected for survival. Rumney went on to say that Darwin’s biological theories “are mistakenly applied to social phenomena [by Hitler and other social Darwinists], and animal evolution is equated with social evolution. This dubious procedure is sustained furthermore … by false assumptions and misrepresentations of Darwin’s ideas.”13

One such misrepresentation of Darwin’s ideas is the Hitlerian interpretation of natural selection as a struggle for existence by eliminating all neighbors, competitors, and “inferiors” — the essence of the Nazi “final solution.” Even before the Holocaust began, Rumney saw where Hitler’s misapplication of Darwinian evolution was headed. He wrote:

In biology [natural selection] refers to a struggle for life between organisms consequent on a change in the environment, or a too rapid increase in their numbers which impels each organism to strive forward at the expense of its neighbors. To Darwin this struggle was primarily a process of adaptation which may or may not involve elimination. The term struggle he used in a metaphorical sense, but to the biologists of war [i.e., Hitler and other militant social Darwinists], the struggle for life is a struggle against life; it means elimination, fighting, bloodshed. They ignore the fact that animals do not generally eat or attack those of their own species.14

One evolutionary scientist, Sir Arthur Keith (1866-1955), was horrified to see Hitler pervert Darwin’s theory into a weapon of mass destruction. Shortly after the end of World War II, Keith wrote, “The German Führer, as I have consistently maintained, is an evolutionist; he has consciously sought to make the practice of Germany conform to the theory of evolution.” Hitler failed, Keith concluded, not because the theory of evolution is false, but because Hitler misunderstood evolutionary theory and misapplied it in the realm of power and politics.15

Hannah Arendt agreed that a perversion of Darwinism was at the heart of Hitler’s crimes against humanity. She wrote, “Underlying the Nazis’ belief in race laws as the expression of the law of nature in man is Darwin’s idea of man as the product of a natural development which does not necessarily stop with the present species of human beings.”16

The most convincing evidence of the influence of social Darwinism in Nazi Germany comes from the Wannsee Conference, a meeting of senior Nazi officials in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee in January 1942. The meeting was called to inform top Nazi officials of how the “final solution to the Jewish question” would be carried out. Minutes of the meeting were taken by Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust. That document, which became known as “Eichmann’s Protocol,” includes this statement (note the phrase I’ve italicized):

In pursuance of the final solution, special administrative and executive measures will apply to the conscription of Jews for labor in the eastern territories. Large labor gangs of those fit to work will be formed, with the sexes separated, which will be directed to those areas for road construction and undoubtedly a large part of them will fall out through natural elimination. Those who remain alive — and they will certainly be those with the greatest powers of endurance — will be treated accordingly. If released they would, being a natural selection of the fittest, form a new cell from which the Jewish race could again develop.17

Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) recalled his dismay when he read that statement and discovered that the essential mechanism of Darwinian evolution had been twisted into a rationale for Nazi genocide. Gould wrote:

I can rattle off lists of such misuses [of evolutionary theory], collectively called “social Darwinism.” … But until the fiftieth anniversary of the Wannsee Conference piqued my curiosity and led me to read Eichmann’s Protocol for the first time, I had not known about the absolute ultimate in all conceivable misappropriation — and the discovery hit me as a sudden, visceral haymaker, especially since I had steeled myself to supposed unshockability before reading the document. Natürliche Auslese is the standard German translation of Darwin’s “natural selection.” To think that the key phrase of my professional world lies so perversely violated in the very heart of the chief operative paragraph of the most evil document ever written!18

It’s clear that Hitler and the Nazis viewed war, conquest, and genocide as a biological necessity, as a means of evolutionary struggle and natural selection. Hitler absorbed biological Darwinism at the very least from his early education, and also through such secondary sources as German Darwinian biologist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919). As Stephen Jay Gould wrote:

Haeckel’s greatest influence was, ultimately, in another tragic direction — National Socialism. His evolutionary racism; his call to the German people for racial purity and unflinching devotion to a “just” state; his belief that harsh, inexorable laws of evolution ruled human civilization and nature alike, conferring upon favored races the right to dominate others; the irrational mysticism that had always stood in strange communion with his grave words about objective science — all contributed to the rise of Nazism. The Monist League that [Haeckel] founded and led … made a comfortable transition to active support for Hitler.19

Hitler also absorbed the social Darwinist militarism of Prussian General Friedrich von Bernhardi (1849-1930). In Germany and the Next War (1911), Bernhardi advocates ruthless German aggression and expansionism, while rationalizing slaughter and conquest in the name of “natural law” and “the law of struggle.” As anthropologist Ashley Montagu notes, Bernhardi invokes “such Darwinian notions as ‘the struggle for existence,’ ‘natural selection,’ and ‘survival of the fittest.'”20 Bernhardi adapted Darwinian natural selection to the realm of conflict between nations, claiming that “struggle is a creator” (that is, a creative force) because “it eliminates” nations and cultures that are weak and inferior. Bernhardi wrote:

Struggle is, therefore, a universal law of Nature, and the instinct of self-preservation which leads to struggle is acknowledged to be a natural condition of existence.

Strong, healthy, and flourishing nations increase in numbers. … They require a continual expansion of their frontiers, they require new territory for the accommodation of their surplus population. … The right of conquest is universally acknowledged. … The instinct of self-preservation leads inevitably to war, and the conquest of foreign soil. It is not the possessor, but the victor, who then has the right.21

These words, drenched in social Darwinism, helped to propel the German Wehrmacht into Poland, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

I can understand Professor Richards’ eagerness to delink Darwin from Hitler and the Holocaust, but the good professor has arrived at the wrong answer. We have to follow the evidence where it leads. Hitler was without question a social and biological Darwinian who rationalized Naziism on grounds of natural selection and biological necessity.

We also have to acknowledge that Darwin himself was a racist. The full title of his 1859 book was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or, the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. In his 1882 follow-up, The Descent of Man, Darwin predicted, “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.”22 Candidly, I consider some of Darwin’s opinions of certain races to be unprintable.

At the same time, I want to make clear that while Darwin predicted the extermination of “the savage races,” he didn’t advocate their extermination. Darwin was a racist who divided humanity into “higher” and “lower” races, and he believed that natural selection would eliminate the “lower” races.

Darwin was not himself a social Darwinist and didn’t advocate applying his biological theories to social, political, and economic settings. He opposed slavery, and was appalled that some people misapplied his theories, using them as a rationale for social injustice. In The Descent of Man, he wrote that it is our “instinct of sympathy” that truly elevates us as human beings, and if we lose our ability to sympathize with the weak, the helpless, and the suffering, the result will be a “deterioration in the noblest part of our nature.”23

But Darwin’s views were used by others as a rationale for war and mass murder. Does this mean that Darwin bears moral responsibility for the crimes of Hitler? Does Hitler’s genocidal misapplication of a biological theory undermine the validity of that theory? Absolutely not.

As a scientific theory, evolution has been highly successful and well-verified — just as the reality of the Cosmic Designer is well-verified by the anthropic principle. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection rises or falls on its own scientific merits, regardless of how it was later twisted and misused by the social Darwinists, by Hitler and the Nazis, by Karl Marx and the Communists, or by the Columbine killers.

And the same principle applies to religion.

To be concluded in Part 3. 

Notes:

This is an excerpt from God and Soul: The Truth and the Proof by Jim Denney, copyright 2012, available as an ebook at Amazon.com. For permission to quote from this excerpt, contact the author in care of this blogsite.

12. Judah Rumney, “Biology and War,” Journal of Social Philosophy, Volume 4, Number 4, 1939, 329.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid., emphasis added.

15. Arthur Keith, Evolution and Ethics (New York: G.. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1947), 230.

16. Arendt, 161.

17. Helmut Krausnick and Martin Broszat, Anatomy of the SS State (London: Paladin, 1970), 101; emphasis added.

18. Stephen Jay Gould, Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History (New York: Harmony, 1996), 315.

19. Stephen Jay Gould, Ontogeny and Phylogeny (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977), 78.

20. Ashley Montagu, Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race (New York: Columbia University Press, 1945), 157.

21. Friedrich Von Bernhardi, translated by Allen H. Powles, Germany And The Next War (Deutschland und der Nächste Krieg, Berlin: J. G. Cotta, 1912), http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/11352/pg11352.html.

22. Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, 2nd edition (London: John Murray, 1882), 156.

23. Darwin, 134.

Darwin’s Holocaust? (Part 1 of 3)

On Tuesday, April 20, 1999, two students went on a killing rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado. They killed twelve fellow students and one teacher, and injured more than twenty others. Then they turned their guns on themselves.

Why did they do it?

In part, the two teenagers killed because they saw themselves as agents of a Darwinian ethos. One of the killers fantasized in his journal about crashing a plane into a New York City building (almost three years before 9/11), and described how he and his co-conspirator planned to “kick natural selection up a few notches” at Columbine. On the day of the mass killings, this young killer wore a black T-shirt with the words Natural Selection lettered in red across the chest.4

If students see themselves as evolved animals in a concrete jungle, they will behave like predators. This is fact, not conjecture. It happened at Columbine. And it has happened on a vastly larger scale. It’s an indisputable fact that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection has been used as a rationale for slaughtering tens of millions of people.

(Please note: I didn’t say Darwinism caused mass slaughter. I said it was used as a rationale for mass slaughter. Big difference.)

Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published in 1859. By the 1870s, Darwin’s concept of evolution by natural selection had become so widely popularized that it had spawned a notion called “social Darwinism.” Social Darwinism is the belief that natural selection entitles the strongest in our society to exploit (and even exterminate) the weak. Darwinian capitalists justified the exploitation of workers as “survival of the fittest.” Darwinian progressives and “scientific racists” such as Charles Davenport, Havelock Ellis, Margaret Sanger, and George Bernard Shaw used the same doctrine to justify eugenics programs.

And then there were the totalitarian Darwinists — the Marxists and Nazis.

Among Darwin’s most prominent admirers were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the co-fathers of communist economic theory. In fact, Karl Marx wanted to dedicate Das Kapital to Darwin, but Darwin declined the honor. German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) observed that people often forget “the great and positive interest Marx took in Darwin’s theories; Engels could not think of a greater compliment to Marx’s scholarly achievements than to call him the ‘Darwin of history.'” Arendt added that Marx and Engels saw the survival of the fittest as an analogy to “Marx’s law of the survival of the most progressive class.” And Engels, in his funeral speech after the death of Marx, said, “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic life, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history.”5

Marxism is a profoundly Darwinian political system, and the Marxist government of the old Soviet Union is neck-and-neck with Maoist China  for the title of most murderous regime in human history. Lenin’s forced collectivism and political purges killed more than 4 million people by 1922. The Holodomor, Stalin’s deliberate “plague of hunger” in the Ukraine in the early 1930s killed from 8 to 12 million Ukrainians. By the time of Stalin’s death in 1953, the USSR had deliberately murdered at least 40 million of its own people.

And Marxist-Maoist China killed an estimated 20 to 40 million Chinese during the “Great Leap Forward” under Mao Zedong. Now add to this the 2 million or more Cambodians who died under the Marxist warlord Pol Pot and the million-plus Ethiopians who were deliberately starved to death under Ethiopia’s Marxist regime. Why are Marxist regimes so bent on killing their own people? Answer: Marxism is pure distilled social Darwinism. When the weak are exterminated and the strong survive, that’s Darwinian natural selection at work in human society.

And what about the Nazis? It’s no accident that the title of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”), echoes the Darwinian struggle for survival. By the time Mein Kampf was published in 1925, the broad doctrines of social Darwinism — struggle, the dominance of the will, total amorality, and survival of the fittest — had largely shaped the Zeitgeist of Europe and America.

The social Darwinist phrase “survival of the fittest” does not appear in any of Darwin’s own writings; it was coined by a sociologist, Herbert Spencer. But the idea that only the strong should survive became a maxim of the decades from the 1870s through the end of World War II. Social Darwinism formed the basis of Hitler’s thinking about struggle, power, the use of force, and racial purity. In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote about Entwicklung (meaning “evolution” or “development”), and referred to racially impure human beings as “monsters that are a mixture of man and ape.”6

Robert J. Richards, professor of science and medical history at the University of Chicago, has written a scholarly paper that rejects the claim that Hitler was influenced by Darwin. In the paper, titled “Was Hitler a Darwinian?,” Professor Richards expresses concern that certain “scholars and many religiously conservative thinkers” want to charge Darwin with “moral responsibility for the crimes of Hitler” in order to undermine the theory of evolution.7

As Professor Richards rightly points out, we can trace Hitler’s racist and genocidal views to many influences, including the anti-Semitic views of composer Richard Wagner, and the racial theories of Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau (1816-1882) and Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855-1927). Yet the evidence also shows that Hitler was well acquainted with Darwinism, both as a biological theory and in its corrupted and popularized form, social Darwinism. In Mein Kampf in 1925, Hitler wrote:

If Nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such a case all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.8

The Darwinian influence on that statement is irrefutable. And in his Nuremberg speech in September 1933, Hitler said:

The differences between the individual races … can be quite enormous and in fact are so. The gulf between the lowest creature which can still be styled man and our highest races is greater than that between the lowest type of man and the highest ape.9

Professor Richards writes that, in the 1940s, Hitler made statements rejecting “the origin of human beings from ape-like ancestors.”10 Maybe Hitler did change his views on Darwinian biology from the 1920s to the 1940s. But we do know that Hitler spoke of being influenced by Darwinian biology during his early education — and the Darwinian influence, he said, alienated him from the Christian religion. In a private conversation on October 24, 1941, taken down verbatim by a stenographer, Hitler said:

The present system of teaching in schools permits the following absurdity: at 10 a.m. the pupils attend a lesson in the catechism, at which the creation of the world is presented to them in accordance with the teachings of the Bible; and at 11 a.m. they attend a lesson in natural science, at which they are taught the theory of evolution. Yet the two doctrines are in complete contradiction. As a child, I suffered from this contradiction, and ran my head against a wall. Often I complained to one or another of my teachers against what I had been taught an hour before — and I remember I drove them to despair.

The Christian religion tries to get out of it by explaining that one must attach a symbolic value to the images of Holy Writ. Any man who made the same claim four hundred years ago would have ended his career at the stake, with an accompaniment of Hosannas.11

I’m not accusing Professor Richards of deliberate revisionism, but it’s clear that his claim that Hitler rejected Darwinism is simply untrue.

Continued in Part 2

Notes:

This is an excerpt from God and Soul: The Truth and the Proof by Jim Denney, copyright 2012, available as an ebook at Amazon.com. For permission to quote from this excerpt, contact the author in care of this blogsite.

4. CNN, ” Columbine Killer Envisioned Crashing Plane in NYC,” CNN.com, December 6, 2001, http://archives.cnn.com/2001/US/12/05/columbine.diary/; Peter Langman, Ph.D., “Columbine, Bullying, and the Mind of Eric Harris,” PsychologyToday.com, May 20, 2009, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/keeping-kids-safe/200905/columbine-bullying-and-the-mind-eric-harris.

5. Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism: Part Three of The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt, 1976), 161.

6. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, translated by James Murphy, http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200601.txt.

7. Robert J. Richards, “Was Hitler a Darwinian?,” undated document, http://home.uchicago.edu/~rjr6/articles/Was%20Hitler%20a%20Darwinian.pdf.

8. Hitler, ibid.

9. Alvin Z. Rubinstein and Garold Wesley Thumm, The Challenge of Politics: Ideas and Issues (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970), 57.

10. Richards, ibid.

11. Adolf Hitler, Hitler’s Secret Conversations, 1941-1944 (New York: Octagon Books, 1972), 69.