It was touch and go for a while there, mainly because the controversy was still unfolding as I was writing. Indeed, it still is, though it has wound down considerably in the last week or so. Also, writing this and another historiography on the Holocaust (for a different class) is why I haven't been posting at all for the past month and a half, so I hope you'll understand that why it's only now that I'm able to finally come up for air. Phew! Thank goodness the semester is OVER!!!
Anyway, I decided I would post there for people to see and comment on (for the dozen or so people who actually read this blog).
[Cross-posted at The Second Enlightenment]
On April 18, 2008, a new documentary was released in theatres throughout the
The apparent antagonism between religion and science is nothing new: from the Catholic Church’s silencing of Galileo to the Scopes “monkey” trial, religious fundamentalists have been fighting what they perceive to be a threat to the moral and cultural absolutes revealed by God through the Bible. In the course of this “culture war,” the association of science, and specifically evolutionary theory, with the crimes of the Nazis has been a common trope among religious fundamentalists for years. But in so doing, this attempt at revisionist history ignores any other factors and contingencies that also contributed to the Holocaust; antisemitism, nationalism, totalitarianism, and especially religious-based prejudice are all given a pass. This latest attempt at co-opting the Holocaust for political ends led me to wonder how pervasive this revisionism has been in both mainstream and scholarly circles in the last decade. In this paper, I will examine the controversy caused by Expelled in relation to other recent attempts by revisionists to assign blame for the Holocaust solely to science; in addition, I will juxtapose this with the most recent historiography regarding the issue of Christianity’s relationship to Nazism.
Expelled represents yet another front in the culture war that has been ongoing in the U.S. for the past several years, and in particular it is part of a new tactic being used in the battle over the teaching of evolution in schools versus “alternative theories” such as ID, which has been described as “creationism dressed up in a cheap tuxedo.” This new tactic, by presenting proponents of ID as being persecuted by “Big Science,” appeals to traditional American notions of fairness and justice. By presenting the opposition as not only dogmatically intransigent to anything that might contradict evolution but also as sinister agents of a totalitarian-style effort to suppress free thought and religious beliefs, the producers hope to shift public opinion in their favor. This is part of a larger effort by the film’s chief ideological backer the Discovery Institute (DI), a Seattle-based think-tank that advocates the teaching of ID. Since its humiliating defeat in 2005 at the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, in which attempts to inject ID textbooks and curriculum into public schools resulted in a damning judgment from the bench calling ID “breathtaking inanity,” the DI has shifted its focus to the passage of individual “academic freedom” bills by state assemblies meant to shield school teachers who teach ID/creationism from prosecution. This has extended to giving private exhibitions of Expelled for state legislators in order to impress upon them the need to protect educators from “persecution” by godless Darwinists such as Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, National Center for Science Education (NCSE) director Eugenie Scott, and Univ. of Minnesota-Morris biologist PZ Myers, all of whom are interviewed in the film. It also extended to selective screenings for Christian church and advocacy groups, screenings that were heavily vetted to bar potential critics.
But if the production of documentaries about the creationism vs. evolution controversy is new, the linkage of science to the Nazi genocide by groups like the Discovery Institute and Answers in Genesis (which runs the “
This book appears to be the only volume put forth by a DI fellow who is a professional historian. Just from the title, it is obvious that Weikart is employing the same kind of teleology, indeed almost the same title that William McGovern’s From Luther to Hitler: The History of Fascist-Nazi Political Philosophy did in 1941, as historian Andrew Zimmerman alluded to in his review of the book for The American Historical Review. Even from the very first chapter, it is clear that Weikart is setting up his argument as a contest between amoral Darwinism and the traditional morality grounded in Judeo-Christian ethics, the implication being that only Nazis subscribed to Darwinism while Christians stood in stark opposition. Most reviews of Weikart’s book, including Zimmerman’s, actually had an eerie resemblance to how some scholars viewed Daniel J. Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners in 1996: great research, but bad conclusions. But Zimmerman went a step further by accusing Weikart, rightly, of attempting a “political sleight of hand” which, despite the book’s “fine research” that contributed greatly to the knowledge of Darwinian influences on Nazi policy, seeks to “distort the history of Darwinism and anti-Darwinism in
In contrast to the Discovery Institute’s veneer of scholarly credibility and their tacit acknowledgement of some aspects of evolutionary theory such as common descent, the fundamentalist organization Answers in Genesis follows a literal interpretation of the Bible. Their “
If the Nazi party had fully embraced and consistently acted on the belief that all humans were descendants of Adam and Eve and equal before the creator God, as taught in both the Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures, the holocaust would never have occurred.
Although it lacks the sophistication and scholarship of Weikart’s book, the ideological argument is nearly identical: science is amoral and encourages genocide whereas Christianity is the only defense against such mass murder.
Outrageous as these efforts at blaming science as the primary cause of the Holocaust may seem, they failed to generate much controversy outside academic and professional circles. Indeed, only the Discovery Institute seems to have had much of an academic impact, with most of the publications from Answers in Genesis being simply ignored and their “
We have seen the arguments from ID/creationism advocates drawing a direct line from
Recent works have challenged the long-held notion that Christianity and Nazism were inherently incompatible, that Nazism was bent on destroying Christianity altogether, and that Christians heroically strove to save Jews whenever and wherever they could. John Cornwell’s book, provocatively titled Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, and Richard Steigmann-Gall’s The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity 1919-1945 shall serve as the basis for this examination.
Hitler’s Pope is John Cornwell’s attempt at a reckoning of wartime papal history, sparked by his own interests as a Catholic to examine critically the reasons behind Pope Pius XII’s (Eugenio Pacelli) controversial relationship with the Nazis in Germany, particularly his negotiation of the Reich Concordat in 1933 which eliminated Catholicism as a political entity in Germany (the last obstacle to Hitler’s achievement of dictatorial powers), and his notorious “silence” on the persecution and mass murder of the Jews in Europe. The conclusions he draws from his study are, to say the least, damning. But far from simply resorting to the common tropes that Pacelli was as antisemitic as the Nazis were (he wasn’t, though that did play a role) or that he was more interested in halting the spread of Communism (also a factor), Cornwell locates Pius’ motivations primarily in his interest in centralizing Catholic authority in not only the office, but also in the person of the Holy Father.
He provides an excellent examination of the context in which this attitude developed beginning with its origins in the 19th century and the doctrine of “papal infallibility” declared by the First Vatican Council in 1870; continuing with the “anti-modernism” campaign of Pope Pius X; and ending with Pacelli’s own efforts first as a Vatican lawyer responsible for codifying the 1917 Code of Canon Law expanding papal authority within the Church; then as papal nuncio to Munich and Berlin in the 1920s and as Cardinal Secretary of State in the 1930s to expand papal power and influence in Europe and around the world; and finally culminating in his own autocratic tenure as Pope from 1939 to 1958. The pursuit of absolute papal power by Pacelli bears an eerie resemblance at times to current arguments regarding the supreme morality of Christianity, especially as expressed in Pacelli’s famous Christmas Broadcast of 1942 in which “he declared that what the world lacked was the peaceful ordering of society offered by allegiance to the
Cornwell essentially argues that, rather than simple avarice, Pacelli was motivated by his conception of the Pope as the spiritual conduit through which God’s will was communicated to the world. As such, the Pope was in the world but not of the world, and therefore must give priority to the overall spiritual welfare of mankind over Earthly matters such as social justice, individual freedom, or political oppression. Thus it was, as Cornwell shows, that the Vatican under Pacelli provided ideological, moral, and political support to the Nazi-backed Ustashe regime in Croatia in 1941, even as the Ustashe went about slaughtering Jews and Orthodox Serbs in a massive campaign bent on eliminating “enemies” of Catholicism through forced conversion and, more often, deportation and annihilation; it was so violent that it caused even some Nazi observers to express disgust and dismay. Because Pacelli viewed Catholicism as the only means to truly achieve world peace, the wanton displacement and destruction of peoples of other faiths was seen as a small price to pay in the pursuit of a Catholic world at peace. The
In The Holy Reich, Richard Steigmann-Gall takes a new approach to the question of Christianity’s role in the development of Nazi ideology. Prior historians who have addressed this question have approached it from the point of view of Christian conceptions of Nazism; Steigmann-Gall approaches it from the opposite perspective, examining the opinions of Nazis, both Christians and “paganists” (such as Alfred Rosenberg and Heinrich Himmler), towards Christianity. As result, he finds that the received wisdom which holds that the Nazis were completely adversarial to Christianity is far more complicated in reality, and that in fact Nazis drew inspiration from “positive” Christian teachings which envisioned a sort of “reformation” of Christianity that would eliminate sectarian confessions/denominations and unite all humanity under the divinely ordained “order of creation” (schöpfungsglaube). Under this newly conceived theology, Christian Nazis were able to reconcile their faith with Nazi policies, as Steigmann-Gall illustrates by examining the specific attitudes towards eugenics, women, and youth movements. Finally, he shows that “paganist” elements within the Nazi party were never as anti-Christian as has been believed. Rather, non-Christians such as Rosenberg and Himmler were more ambivalent towards Christianity than overtly hostile, and in the expression of party policy, actually encouraged Christian faith among Germans, though a clear preference was shown for Protestantism rather than Catholicism, an indication of the widespread anti-clericalism among Nazis which Steigmann-Gall argues is often mistaken for being simply anti-Christian. The anti-clericalism of the Nazis was expressed in many ways. Their belief that the Christian religion had been contaminated by or was beholden to Judaism led to proposals that the Old Testament be removed from the Bible, as well as calls to a return to the “true” teachings of Christ, who was held up by the Nazis, both Christian and pagan alike, as the ultimate antisemite and supreme model of Aryan moral and racial purity.
Steigmann-Gall’s book was also the subject of a symposium conducted in the pages of The Journal of Contemporary History in early 2007. Several scholars from across the discipline were asked to comment on the book and its arguments. Of particular interest to the historiography of this issue was Stanley Stowers’ examination of what he sees as the fallacious conceptions of “religion” and “political religion” employed by most scholars when studying the Third Reich. In his view, scholars are hamstrung by an Enlightenment intellectual heritage which asserts that religion and politics are necessarily incompatible in modern, secular societies. Further, most historians identify religions through a “expressive-symbolist” conception of religion that focuses on ritual behavior as nothing more than an expression of “the sacred,” as opposed to the “rational-cognitivist” conception that takes spiritual belief at face value and distinguishes religious practices “from other categories of practices by referring to a class or agents and beings, e.g. gods, ancestors and other ordinarily non-observable entities.” The distinction is critical for the concept of “political religion,” because the rational-cognitivist approach is based on belief in the supernatural, whereas the expressive-symbolist approach, by employing a vague notion of “the sacred” in ritual behavior, essentially allows for any social behavior to be defined as “religious” regardless of whether or not spiritual belief in the supernatural is involved. Stowers does not comment on Steigmann-Galls book until the conclusion, and even then only to mention that Holy Reich utilizes the proper conceptual model, namely rational-cognitivist.
In contrast to Steigmann-Gall’s “proper” methodology, the articles following Stowers’ are an example of the persistence of the expressive-symbolist approach. With the exception of Doris Bergen, both Manfred Gailus and Ernst Piper argue from the standpoint that Steigmann-Gall was wrong based on this expressive-symbolist conception that states that Nazi ritual expressions and slogans that echoed Christianity were merely a façade meant to lend the credibility of Christian beliefs to Nazi policies. Steigmann-Gall, in reply, points out that essentially what Gailus and Piper are reduced to is arguments over what constitutes “true” Christianity, an impossible endeavor if there ever was one, and which can only lead to partisan bickering (e.g. “Catholics and Protestants are quite different, so which would be the “true” Christianity?”). It leaves unaddressed the reality that many self-described Christians saw Nazism as compatible with their faith, and further that many non-Christian Nazis favored many specific aspects of Christianity. Clearly, this is unacceptable, and Steigmann-Gall has made a major contribution to this issue.
The debate over whether or not science and religion are compatible will continue to rage, as it has, for a long time to come. Similarly, the historiographical debate over the origins of Nazi genocidal policy will also no doubt continue. In both cases, this is as it should be. There is nothing wrong with questioning beliefs, dogma, doctrine, theory, or faith; in fact it is necessary in order to move forward. The problem is that these issues are particularly volatile, and due to their complexities and emotional nature are therefore easily distorted, leading to the abuse of these issues in pursuit of partisan or sectarian political ends. The dangers inherent in the arguments put forth by advocates of religious belief like the Discovery Institute and Answers in Genesis, which blame science for the horrors of the Holocaust, lie in the lessons that remain seemingly unlearned from the history of the Holocaust itself. The idea of an absolute ideal to which all must necessarily adhere is the very essence of totalitarianism, and in this, there is no qualitative difference between the authoritarianism of the Nazis, the Catholic Church under Pope Pius XII, and the ambitions of present-day religious fundamentalists to make the United States, both in name and fact, “one nation under God.” Ben Stein’s naïve assertion that “love of God” leads you to a “glorious place” is belied by the fact that such a blind faith in absolutes is precisely what allowed the Holocaust to occur, and it is thus imperative upon all people, both religious and non-religious, to take the words of Oliver Cromwell to heart: “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken!” If this warning from history is not heeded, then indeed we may see the day when history will repeat itself, and it will only be a question of who will build the next gas chambers, and who will be consigned to them.
 Ben Stein, interview with Paul Crouch, TBN broadcast 21 April, 2008. Video available at http://tbn.org/video_portal (accessed 6 May 2008).
 It must be noted that I am not insisting that science did not play a role in the Holocaust, but rather I would argue that it was a necessary, but certainly not sufficient, factor in the genocide. This is in opposition to the argument posed by creationists who assert that not only was it sufficient alone to have caused the genocide, but that Christianity was in all ways and at all times opposed to Nazism.
 Adrian L. Melott, “Intelligent Design Is Creationism in a Cheap Tuxedo,” Physics Today, June 2002, 48.
 Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v.
 Stephanie Simon, “Evolution Critics Shift Tactics With Schools,” The Wall Street Journal, 2 May 2008, A10.
 All three, as well as others interviewed for the film, have complained that they were interviewed under false pretenses, having been told that the film was supposed to be about the “intersection of science and religion” rather than about persecution of ID proponents. For a full reckoning of this and other alleged dishonest practices and claims related to the film, see the NCSE-sponsored website http://www.expelledexposed.com.
 John Metcalf, “Disinvited to a Screening, a Critic Ends Up in a Faith-Based Crossfire,” The
 “Center for Society and Culture – Books,” Discovery Institute, http://www.discovery.org/csc/books (accessed 6 May, 2008).
 Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
 Andrew Zimmerman, review of From Darwin to Hitler by Richard Weikart, The American Historical Review, Vol. 110, No. 2 (April 2005), 566-567.
 Weikart, 1.
 There were many scholars who weighed in on Goldhagen’s work, and not all of them praised his scholarship if not his conclusions. For example see: Norman G. Finkelstein and Ruth Bettina Birn, A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth. (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1998).
 Zimmerman, Response to Richard Weikart, in “Communications,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 110 No. 4 (October 2005), 1322-1323.
 Jason Lisle, “Does Distant Starlight Prove the Universe is Old?” Answers in Genesis, http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab/does-starlight-prove (accessed 6 May, 2008).
 Jerry Bergman, “Darwinism and the Nazi race Holocaust,” Technical Journal: The In-depth Journal of Creation, Vol. 13 No. 2 (Nov.1999) 101-111. At: http://www.answersingenesis.org/tj/v13/i2/nazi.asp (accessed 6 May 2008).
 Ibid, 101.
 Arthur Caplan, “Intelligent design film far worse than stupid,” Opinion, MSNBC, posted 23 April 2008, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24239755 (accessed 6 May 2008).
 John Derbyshire, “A Blood Libel on Our Civilization,” National Review Online, posted 28 April 2008, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24239755 (accessed 6 May 2008).
 “Anti-Evolution Film Misappropriates the Holocaust,” Anti-Defamation League press release, 29 April 2008, http://www.adl.org/PresRele/HolNa_52/5277_52.htm (accessed 6 May 2008).
 See for example: Richard Roeper, “Ben Stein Deserves to be ‘Expelled,’” Chicago Sun-Times, 1 May 2008, http://www.suntimes.com/news/roeper/925734,CST-NWS-roep01.article (accessed 6 May 2008).
 Tom Neven, “Ben Stein: Expelled,” Focus on the Family, http://www.family.org/entertainment/A000004568.cfm (accessed 6 May 2008).
 Cornwell, 10-14.
 Ibid, 35-40.
 Ibid, 41-45.
 Ibid, 59-104, 130-178.
 Ibid, 292.
 Ibid, 248-260.
 Ibid, 296-297.
 Steigmann-Gall, 3-6.
 Ibid, 34-5, 51, 155.
 Ibid, 190-217.
 Ibid, 21.
 Ibid, 49-50.
 Ibid, 12.
 Ibid, 24.
 Doris L. Bergen “Nazism and Christianity: Partners and Rivals?” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 42 No. 1 (February 2007) 25-33.
 Manfred Gailus, “A Strange Obsession with Nazi Christianity,” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 42 No. 1 (February 2007) 35-46.
 Ernst Piper, “Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich,” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 42 No. 1 (February 2007) 47-57.
 Richard Steigmann-Gall, “Christianity and the Nazi Movement: A Response,” Journal of Contemporary History. Vol. 42 No, 2 (April 2007) 185-211.