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Posted by on May 4, 2013 in Atheism, History, Politics, Religion and Society | 13 comments

Nazism, Christianity and Atheism

You´ve all heard the standard lies about the third reich being an “Atheist regime” and Darwinian evolution being a foundation for the Nazi race ideology. The funny (“funny” in a tragic way) thing about this is, that these claims are not only wrong, but that the exact opposite happens to be true. You might have heard that Darwin´s (and Haeckel´s) books were not only not appreciated by the Nazis, but even made it on the index of forbidden books – yes, the Nazis burned copies of the Origin of Species.

But what should be even more surprising (to the Christians that, knowingly or unknowingly, propagate these lies), is that the Nazi race ideology was 100% creationist. They did believe that Humans were created by the christian God (although some prominent Nazis, like Heinrich Himmler, had non-Christian conceptions of God and were heavily influenced by germanic paganism). The difference to modern creationists was only, that they did not believe in an original couple Adam & Eve, but rather in the separate creation of different races – with the Aryan race being the only one that was created in the image of God. And that is the whole basis for the Nazi race ideology – “mixing” with the “lesser races” weakens the bloodline and goes against God´s will.

Here is an excellent blogpost that explains this in much more detail:

http://coelsblog.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/nazi-racial-ideology-was-religious-creationist-and-opposed-to-darwinism/

The conclusion to this excellent article follows:

Thus nothing in Nazi ideology derives from Darwinism. The few aspects in common were pre-Darwinian; the ideas that originated with Darwin were anathema to and rejected by the Nazis. The widespread blaming of Darwinism as an inspiration for Nazi crimes has no support in historical evidence and instead derives purely from a desire on the part of the religious to smear Darwinism.

The labelling of the Nazis as “atheistic” is similarly motivated and is also the exact opposite of what the evidence says. The Nazi ideology was theistic and religious and an offshoot of Christianity, merging Christianity with Nazi racial theory. It is true that the Nazified Christianity was opposed to more mainstream Christian views, and thus that the Nazis wanted radical reform of the Christian religion, but in no sense was it “atheistic”.

When presented with evidence such as documented above, showing the religious nature of Nazi ideology and their strong opposition to atheism, many Christians resort to arguing that these public statements were merely a facade to appeal to the public, and were deliberately hiding an underlying “atheism”. However, at no point do they present actual evidence for this claim, and Hitler was too much of a megalomaniac and placed too high an importance on his ideas to have hidden them away. Further, resorting to a claim that the Nazis hid their “atheism” is self defeating — it is an admission that the populace they were appealing to (the people who actually carried out the Holocaust) were overwhelmingly Christian, as indeed recorded as more than 95% Christian in a 1939 census.

Fifty thousand Germans were involved in the Holocaust, and another fifty thousand were close enough to it to have known what was happening, and these people were overwhelmingly Christian. You can’t tell a secret to 100,000 people, and thus their willingness to kill Jews was based on the public Nazi ideology, the religious, creationist and Christian ideology presented in Mein Kampf.

It is the unpalatability of that truth that leads Christians today to the Holocaust revisionism of trying to pass the blame, instead trying to blame what they least like, namely atheism and Darwinism — ideas which, with true irony, the Nazis disliked just as much as they do.

I´m currently reading Richard Weikart´s “From Darwin to Hitler”, it´s even worse than I imagined… When I´m done with that, I´ll write a longer post about it.

  • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

    This is awesome. Great response to one of the oldest canards out there.

  • f_galton

    I find it interesting that Hitler was a fan of high speed rail.

    • Andy_Schueler

      He was also a vegetarian and liked dogs. Anything else you have to contribute that has nothing to do with the OP whatsoever?

  • exrelayman

    Long time since I copied this, so I cannot cite the site, but in the material credit back to the original source appears:

    Prayer in Schools

    …Does prayer really help? Would it make a difference if offered in school? Perhaps we should try it? Perhaps we should learn from others who have tried it?

    …Here is a prayer that was recited before every class at one time:

    “Almighty God, dear heavenly Father. In Thy name
    now, in pious spirit, begin our instruction.
    Enlighten us, teach us all truth, strengthen us in
    all that is good, lead us not into temptation,
    deliver us from all evil in order that, as good
    human beings, we may faithfully perform our duties
    and thereby, in time and eternity, be made truly
    happy. Amen.”

    …Did the prayer help? Would a similar school prayer help in America?

    …These were the words of divine supplication that secondary school students were required to recite in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Did it help them? Did it teach tolerance and love? Did it promote virtue or morals? Did the culture that enforced prayer in school rise or fall?

    …Think about what happened despite that prayer and think about how hollow such examples of faith are…

    Source: July, August 1995 issue of Liberty: A Magazine of Religious Freedom, published by the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. Cited by Stephen Roberts.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      That’s a great point there ex! Good stuff.

  • Daniel Voisin

    What of Nietzsche? I don’t see him being mentioned here at all.

    And I’m wondering, why are we conflating Darwin’s theories with Atheism–as if the two should be going together.

    You know, we so often jump on Christians for denying how this Christian or that Christian did something horrible, saying it’s a true scotsman fallacy, yet here we are doing just the same.

    The influence of atheistic thought on Europe was well documented, but here we go re-defining history, re-writing it, so we turn out looking like the winners. Good lord, can we just not accept any ideology is open to abuse, can be used to rationalize the worst in people, and stop cheerleading for our favored brands?

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      I actually think you are spot on here. I often say that neither religion nor atheism kill or subjugate people.

      People do.

      As you say, any worldview is open to abuse and manipulation from those who wish to laud power over others.

      • John Grove

        [[I often say that neither religion nor atheism kill or subjugate people. People do.]]

        I agree, but religion gives people a reason to to kill and subjugate people. The rejection of deities does not.

    • Andy_Schueler

      What of Nietzsche? I don’t see him being mentioned here at all.

      Why should he have been mentioned? The focus of the OP and the linked blogpost was the development of the Nazi race ideology and how Darwinism had literally nothing to do with it.

      And I’m wondering, why are we conflating Darwin’s theories with

      Atheism–as if the two should be going together.

      They shouldn´t. But that was also not the point – the point is, that neither Darwinism nor Atheism played a role in the development of Nazi ideology.

      You know, we so often jump on Christians for denying how this Christian or that Christian did something horrible, saying it’s a true scotsman fallacy, yet here we are doing just the same.

      Where and how exactly did we do that?

      The influence of atheistic thought on Europe was well documented, but here we go re-defining history, re-writing it, so we turn out looking like the winners.

      This is a very strong accusation and you provided no evidence to support it. Where and how exactly did we “re-define” or “re-write” anything?

      Good lord, can we just not accept any ideology is open to abuse

      Of course we can. What does this have to do with the OP or the linked blogpost?

    • Andy_Schueler

      If you got the impression that the OP or the linked blogpost tried to claim that Atheists or atheistic regimes can never commit atrocities – this is most emphatically not what we were trying to say (and I really do wonder how you might have gotten this impression).

      What we tried to express was, which ideas influenced the emergence of the Nazi race ideology. And Darwinism not only did play no role in this context, it was (if it was mentioned at all) explicitly rejected. The Nazi race ideology was 100% creationist, that is not “rewriting history”, this is history, and correcting the lies spread by pseudo-historians like Richard Weikart was one of the main motivations for writing the OP and the linked blogpost.

      Regarding Nietzsche – this really has little to do with the OP, since the focus was not on Atheism, but Darwinism (and again, I do wonder where you got the idea that we are equating these two ideas). I don´t know exactly what you tried to express by mentioning Nietzsche – if you wanted to express that Nietzsche was an influence on european fascism (particularly Nietzsche´s “Will to Power” and, to a lesser extent, “Antichrist”), this indeed is true. Although it should be pointed out that the main popularizer of Nietzsche´s ideas in Nazi germany was Nietzsche´s sister, who selectively edited his works (Nietzsche disagreed strongly with german nationalism and anti-semitism). This however does not mean that the third reich was an atheist regime as is often claimed (and again, this goes beyond the scope of the OP and the linked blogpost).
      Not a single prominent Nazi identified as an Atheist, all of them were Catholics, Lutherans or Neo-pagans. And virtually all germans at that time were Christians, Catholics and Lutherans mostly. Catholics and Lutherans were not persecuted in any way, shape or form (since their churches cooperated with the Nazis). The only Christians that were persecuted were convinced pacifists (most prominently the Jehovah´s witnesses – who were sent to concentration camps for their refusal to serve in the Wehrmacht). Atheists however were persecuted and indeed one of the first groups that were persecuted – the few atheist and freethought organizations that existed in the thirties were closed and made illegal by the Nazis as soon as they had the power to do so, and Atheists were not allowed to serve in the SS. The third reich was not an “Atheist regime” in any way, shape or form – and this, again, is not “rewriting history”, this is history.

  • Bee

    @jonathan

    A good scholarly criticism of the connection between darwinism and nazism can be found here.

    http://home.uchicago.edu/~rjr6/articles/Was%20Hitler%20a%20Darwinian.pdf

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Thanks Bee!

      • Bee

        Also, a good rebuttal to the more general “atheism was the main cause of the 20th century crimes against humanity” can be found on this blog. Check it out (the atheism/communism nexus section).

        http://www.makingmyway.org/