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Darwin, the Nazis, Euthanasia, and Christianity

Oct 1, 2010

Four major topics lumped together in one article could be a recipe for disaster. But there is a method to my apparent madness, so allow me to proceed. Many have noted the connections between Darwinism and Nazism. Perhaps the most important recent work on the topic is Richard Weikart’s, From Darwin to Hitler (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).

And euthanasia of course featured prominently in the Nazi death machine. And later in this article I will look at how German Christians reacted to the rise of the Nazis. But to begin, I wish to focus on the first three topics, utilising one very important article which was penned back in 1987.

I refer to “Euthanasia: Lessons from Nazism,” by Harold O.J. Brown (Human Life Review, 13 March 1987, pp. 88-99). It was a stirring wake-up call for Christians not to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors in Germany in the 1930s and 40s.

In it Brown lamented the fact that Christians of his day are so quiet on the issues of abortion and euthanasia, just as Christians tended to remain silent under the Nazis. And he traces the ideological history leading up to the rise of the Nazis, noting the close connection with Darwinism.

Darwin, the German euthanasia movement, and Hitler

Brown notes that two major intellectual developments in the 19th century helped to pave the way for Hitler and the Nazis. One was the rise of the Higher Criticism movement which championed liberal biblical scholarship, resulting in a full-scale attack on the authority and reliability of Scripture, and a corresponding rejection of the supernatural.

The other was the Darwinian philosophy of the “survival of the fittest”. As Brown notes, in Germany “it was but a short step from extolling the survival of the fittest as nature’s mechanism for the advancement of the race to endorsing the elimination of the least fit as man’s contribution to nature’s program.”

He refers to Ernst Klee’s 1985 volume, Euthanasia in the National Socialist State which carefully documents the profound effect Darwin’s Origin of the Species had on the pro-euthanasia movement, and its place in the Nazi horrors. Darwin may not have intended it, but his thought nicely prepared the way for Hitler’s ideology.

Darwin’s system undermined the biblical doctrine of man being made in God’s image, so that man was seen as “the highest ranking primate yet to have climbed the evolutionary ladder”. And Darwin’s successors “were quick to seize on the concepts that if the survival of the fittest is natural and good, it is wise to promote it by eliminating the unfit”.

The logical results of Darwinism were quick in coming. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche happily utilised Darwinian thought, declaring that Christianity was a self-serving religion of the weak and sickly. He actively promoted euthanasia: “Let there be preachers of quick death!”

Says Brown, “The connection between Darwin, Nietzsche, and the call for the liquidation of the weak is not a mere literary supposition: it can be fully documented from a number of sources.” He mentions the 1893 volume by German writer Alexander Tille, From Darwin to Nietzsche.

In that book euthanasia was strongly argued for, and his thinking tied in nicely with Hitler’s euthanasia programs. And in 1895 the German legal scholar Alfred Jost wrote The Right to Die. In 1904 the German Society for Racial Hygiene was formed.

Of special importance was the publication in 1920 of Hoche and Binding’s The Authorization of the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life. Binding promoted the concept of “lives not worth living”. It all led nicely to Hitler’s Mein Kampf (1925-1926).

In it Hitler said, “A stronger race will drive out the weak, because the thirst for life in its final form will always smash all the ludicrous fetters of a so-called humanitarianism, in order to replace humanitarianism with nature, which destroys weakness in order to make room for strength.”

In early 1933 the Nazis were preparing the public for euthanasia with an intensive propaganda campaign. Soon there was an active program of euthanasia being carried out, which resulted in the death of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. It was by then a small step from euthanasia to genocide.

Christian complicity

All this is bad enough. But tragically there was not a lot of resistance to the Nazis and their programs of death from the German Christians. There were notable exceptions of course, but it seems that both Catholics and Protestants tended not to want to rock the boat.

Says Brown, “The sad fact is that Christians in Germany allowed themselves to be swept along with the euthanasia movement – which proved to be a forerunner of the ‘eugenic’ genocide of the Jews. Those who were in a position to speak out almost never did.”

Of course it was not just the church which was silent. As Brown points out, “there were very few secular intellectuals other than Jews who took a stand against the Nazis.” We do expect better of church leaders, but “those who should have been guardians of the traditional values of the church and of civilization failed to take a real stand against the dogmatic neo-paganism of the Nazis.”

Why did most Christians – even conservative ones – succumb? A big factor was the “prestige of modern science”: “The early twentieth-century veneration for science, particularly strong in Germany, extended even to the pseudo-science of racial hygiene, and led otherwise serious Christians to acquiesce in almost anything done in its name.”

That to a large degree explains why even the German euthanasia programs tended to be accepted by Christians: “Faced with the double argument that such euthanasia was both ‘scientific’ and ‘legal,’ i.e. within the competence of the secular government, many Christians and Christian organizations simply submitted.”

Brown asks: “How could so many dedicated Christians, committed to giving loving care to physically and mentally handicapped people as their calling from God, acquiesce in the liquidation of the very people who had been trustfully placed in that hitherto loving care?”

He continues, “The fact that so many of these selfless workers went along with the Zeitgeist, the ‘spirit of the age,’ not only without protesting, but apparently without even understanding the implications of their collaboration, should stand as a sinister warning to Americans from the same Christian traditions as we observe a like moral impotence in our own midst.”

Exactly right. These words were prophetically spoken almost three decades ago, and are even more urgent today. The situation is so eerily similar. Indeed, I have had numerous people who call themselves Christian informing me how proud they are to be associated with a political party like the Greens.

Never mind that this is the most pro-death party in Australia. They fully support abortion on demand and legalised euthanasia. Their early ideological leader Peter Singer is even keenly in favour of infanticide. Yet some believers naively think that the Greens are just about trees and the like.

How many of these believers fully understand the pro-death agenda of the Greens? And if they do know all about it, why in the world are they still supporting that party, with some even running as candidates for it? Some even claim that this is the most Christian of parties! I find this moral and theological schizophrenia hard to fathom.

Indeed, from my vantage point it seems that there may not be much of a moral difference between Christians who supported the Nazi regime – or even just quietly stood by doing nothing – and those Christians today who embrace and champion our most pro-death political party, or who do nothing about the rising culture of death in our nation.

Obviously we have not at all learned the lessons of history. May God have mercy on us all.

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22 Responses to Darwin, the Nazis, Euthanasia, and Christianity

  • No doubt if this article surfaces in the MSM you will be vilified up hill and down dale Bill.

    Can I just say that the lines you draw are clear and we must all heed the warning, and speak out where and when we can (indeed, seeking to make the opportunities I daresay), lest each of us become ‘the servant who hid his talent in the ground.’

    Rob Robertson

  • Those who fail to learn from history are indeed doomed to repeat it. Our younger people do not remember Hitler, and even the 1970s are ancient history to them. And they do not take any interest in history.

    The Church has a huge responsibility to get the message out there to the people at large, as well as to those within the church!

    Brian Wheatley

  • Great article thank you Bill. I would love to have many copies of a version of this, to hand out at churches, maybe even letterbox drop. Educating the people so they can be more rational is so important, rather than them only being fed by the radical left and biased media.

    Bob Brown is so much like Hitler. He grew up in Tasmania where Christians and others fought against legalising homosexuality for so long, holding back the laws the longest in Australia. Plus the anti homosexual movement was much stronger in Tasmania amongst the secular society. So Bob Brown despises Christianity and wants to remove it from our Country. Just as Hitler grew up despising Jews in Germany, Bob Brown has similar contempt, or maybe as much, that we have seen the full extent of yet?

    Australians need to feel much more empowered to stand up. Informing them of the wrongs of these issues is the best we can do. Getting the message out there to the Christian society and general community, so they can at least learn by history, hopefully. Thanks Bill great article.
    Loretta Coffey

  • Hi Bill,

    It is a different topic but I just wanted to bring this article to your attention. Hopefully some positive news.

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/sep/30/major-stem-cell-development-announced/

    Carl Strehlow

  • Bill, thanks for the timely reminder about not standing idly by. The silence of church leaders on these matters is deafening – I thought that when reading your article on Dhimmitude in America. These are all problems our church leaders should be addressing and one would expect them to spear-head a rebuttal of the assault on Christianity. The Catholic Pope is the only one who has recently “told it like it is” on his visit to Britain and it was like a breath of fresh air. The trouble is the Vatican is mired down with corruption charges. Also the hard line against homosexuality does not fit the zeitgeist and current mantra of equality, inclusivity and diversity which probably puts non-catholic church leaders in a quandary. I am grateful for the effective job you are doing in filling in gaps of knowledge, flagging up the debates, identifying the dangers of the assault on western culture. The irony is that secular left wing militants seem to make a quantum leap from christian conservatism to fascism, something a conservative christian must abhor.
    Rachel Smith

  • Thanks Bill. I agree we must never tire of saying plainly – the Greens are atavistic.

    They hate the modern constitutions and declarations of universal human rights so they itchingly want who is human redefined – to coincide with ‘autonomy’: convenient that those we want to do away with just happen to fall outside the embrace of the human family.

    Calvin Coolidge on the Declaration of Independence:

    About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

    Martin Snigg

  • Indeed the Silence of the Lambs is deafening. If we the church don’t get the younger people equipped and on the front foot, we will be roasted. What ever happened to Scripture being preached and out spoken? “If we are scared for our life in speaking out now then don’t worry it will only get worst”. If we hang onto this life then we wont see the next, gain the world …. LOSE YOUR SOUL. This young generation are being taught to hold the hand of euthanasia, abortion and homosexuality in the vain hope they will turn before they burn. Meanwhile society is taken by satan! We need to stop churches that teach how to sing and dance while forgetting the VOICE OF TRUTH! Thank you Bill!
    Mark McFarlane

  • So why, why aren’t the churches talking about this, Euthanasia?
    As much as my church is growing not in numbers but in the spirit, teaching us the hard lessons, through the scriptures, but not a whisper of anything regarding Euthanasia or Abortion. During the coffee/tea after the service i have brought the subject up a couple of times and have been met by blank stares.
    I think we a fighting a education issue or my deeper fear is apathy, which is far more sinister.
    Daniel Kempton, Perth

  • Thanks Daniel

    Yes sadly you are quite right. The church is woefully ignorant and woefully apathetic about these issues. Many churches are just a “bless me club” where feeling good about ourselves is about all that seems to matter. There is little concern for those being led way to the slaughter. We desperately need to repent of such things.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Darwin might have crystallised a certain way of thinking but he was not original. Surely the slave trade that pre -dated Darwin was legitimised because black people were thought to be sub- human who could be treated as so much goods and services. Darwin may have written the Origin of the Species but he was not the originator of Darwinism. There is nothing new under the sun.
    William Wilberforce fought for fifty years to impress upon the public that black people are indeed men and woman and brothers and sisters. This required a life of dedication and indeed there are many organisations today that are dedicated to the task of saving the unborn child.

    However, abortion and euthanasia are closely linked to the peddling of anarchic sex, being, spearheaded by the Gay Liberation Front. The ranks of the German high command, starting with Ernst Rohm contained more than its fair share of homosexuals.

    Dr Scott Lively says in his book, Redeeming the Rainbow:
    “In the same manner, the cause of sexual license is advanced by a successful abortion industry. The choice to kill their unborn children morally compromises both men and women (making them unwilling to criticize choices to engage in other forms of immoral behaviour), and ensures that the outcome of an unwanted child will not be a lasting deterrent to those who have chosen sexual“ freedom” over family. This explains why homosexuals, who by definition cannot conceive children together, are among the most militant advocates of abortion on demand. We can see, then, that at least in a conceptual sense, what seem like separate and independent battlefronts of the culture war are really a single one. The “gay” ethic is a Hydra whose many heads are “gay” rights, serial marriages, abortion, pornography and other sex-related social iniquities. Our task, as people who seek to restore the primacy of the family, is to slay this ideological serpent of sexual libertinism, even as we continue to battle each of its lethal heads. Why have we identified sexual license as the ‘gay’ ethic, when its most destructive aspects seem to be associated with heterosexual behaviour? It is because the culpability of ‘gays’ relative to the spreading effects of sexual license in society is akin to that which we assign to drug pushers, even though it is the addicts themselves who destroy their own communities through criminal behaviour.”

    Pastors and vicars cannot be expected to take on these campaigns, with all the daily demands made on their time; but they must start to support Wilberforce inspired agencies who go into our schools to combat the gay hundred headed hydra.

    May I recommend Phillip Lees and P.E.A.C.E.: http://peacehamilton.org/index.php

    David Skinner, UK

  • Bill

    You might be interested in this new book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer who stood up to the Nazis, recognised their evil when most in the church laid down and accepted defeat or went along with them.

    http://www.amazon.com/Bonhoeffer-Pastor-Martyr-Prophet-Spy/dp/1595551387/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1286099785&sr=1-1-spell

    Damien Spillane

  • Another fine book is Preaching Genetics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement, by Christine Rosen, Oxford University Press, New York, 2004 (see detailed review). This shows that the liberal churches just loved eugenics, while the Bible-believing ones opposed it even at the risk of appearing “anti-science”.

    The German church was almost entirely liberal. This is testified by a surprising source, the famous evolutionist Ernst Mayr (1904–2005), who grew up in early 20th-century Germany. He testified that biblical Christianity was virtually non-existent, which is not surprising in the birthplace of liberal theology as BM’s article notes:

    ‘Curiously, I cannot pinpoint the age at which I became an evolutionist. I received all of my education in Germany, where evolution was not really controversial. In the gymnasium (equivalent to a U.S. high school), my biology teacher took evolution for granted. So, I am quite certain, did my parents—who, to interest their three teenage sons, subscribed to a popular natural history journal that accepted evolution as a fact. Indeed, in Germany at that time there was no Protestant fundamentalism. And after I had entered university, no one raised any questions about evolution, either in my medical curriculum or in my preparations for the Ph.D. Those who were unable to adopt creation as a plausible solution for biological diversity concluded that evolution was the only rational explanation for the living world.’ [80 years of Watching the Evolutionary Scenery, Science 305:46–47, 2004, emphasis added.]

    Jonathan Sarfati, USA

  • 🙁 Sad days. Much prayer and outspokeness is needed on our behalf as Christians. On a positive note, I am regularly receiving a newsletter from a dear Catholic friend of mine, that outlines the fight against euthanasia by the Catholic church in SA. I am encouraged by their enthusiasm to fight tooth and nail.
    Jenny McCourt

  • The atheists I have dealt with all claim that referring to the Nazi experience is irrelevant. I made some comments about euthanasia and referred to the decline from euthanasia to eugenics in Nazi Germany and they dismissed them as a lost argument because I brought up the Nazis. They are so lost/ignorant or worse still eager to accept the consequences of their own desires.
    Aaron Downs

  • Bill,
    I offer up this article as you had mentioned the Nazi propaganda in your post.
    It may not be of use but it does offer up some background on how the propaganda works, and who now is using it to devastating effect. Not only on non-believers but on belivers as well.
    As we come towards the end times it will be more imperative to know the scriptures as this will most likely be the only truth left to rely on.
    As was mentioned in the article:
    The FIRST sign Jesus gave was, “Take heed that no man deceive you.” (Matthew 24:4)
    Wise warning for our times.

    Here is the article.
    http://www.standeyo.com/NEWS/10_Prophecy/100727.Lippman-Bernays.leg.html
    Jeffrey Carl

  • Aaron,
    I have encountered this too, at times. Alas, when they say, “Irrelevant” read instead, “inconvenient”. Atheists and leftists don’t like to be reminded of inconvenient facts and similarities.
    A friend of mine once wrote to a Labor politician regarding abortion and his support of it, and reminded him of how Hitler had instituted a programme of both that and euthanasia. The response? Outrage that he would even dare to compare him with Hitler. No attempt to explain the difference (if any) between Hitler’s programme and his own; just defamatory comments and feigned outrage.
    Murray R Adamthwaite

  • Great responses to Bill’s informative blog. Write to the newspapers (metropolitan and local), ring up talk-back radio, post on facebook to get the message out to a wider audience. The death juggernaut rolls on and most people are asleep. You can help to wake them up.
    Terri M. Kelleher

  • Reductio ad Hitlerum, otherwise known as Godwin’s Law.

    Sigh! If we really want to argue against the euthanasia proposal, let’s focus on the issues and the principles involved. Once you bring up Nazi analogies and/or “social Darwinism” people just dismiss you as a conspiracy theorist and a wingnut.

    Bruce Marshall, Bendigo

  • Thanks Bruce

    But the only people I see being dismissive here is you. It is a historical fact that the Nazi euthanasia program was the predecessor to the Holocaust. This has been documented by many eminent historians. It is imperative that we learn the lessons of history, or we will be doomed to repeat the mistakes of history, as Santayana reminded us.

    There is nothing at all helpful about living with historical amnesia – whether deliberate or otherwise.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • The roots of the party of death are now well and truly being exposed. Congratulations Bill on an excellent article.
    Warwick Marsh

  • Dear Bill. Things may be looking up as I am pleased to say that our parish priest has written very eloquently about life issues in the weekly parish bulletin. I have lived in this parish for over twenty five years and that is the first time such things have been mentioned. I have e-mailed him to thank him and tell him I support him because apparently some parishioners have criticised him for speaking out on controversial issues. His words will be noted by the youth of our parish who badly need leadership in this evil world they live in. Priests are supposed to be ‘other Christs’ and He was never afraid to tell people the Truth even though it upset some of them. I thought they had betrayed Christ when a priest was so frightened of upsetting his parishioners who may have had abortions that he remained deathly silent on such evil or spoke in riddles. The rationale [I was told] was that they would drive them away but he had a sacred duty to point out to them the error of their ways and encourage them to make amends by working for the pro-life cause as many brave women who have had abortions do. If every parish priest in Australia had shown some courage and leadership on the abortion issue no government would have dared legalise it but we had to look outside our parishes for leadership – to lay men and women and the odd brave Baptist minister or old retired priest. The Catholic clergy in Australia for the most part let us down badly.
    Patricia Halligan

  • Archbishop Denis Hart issued a Statement on Euthanasia to the people of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne on 5th October in which he calls upon Parliament to put its energy and creative tallents into positive supports rather than taking the negative path towards euthanasia or assisted suicide. He also called upon our parliaments to increase support for aged care and palliative care programs.
    He also asked that when considereing a candidate to vote for, ask them what their position is on euthanasia and assisted suicide.
    From past experience, we know that if this issues goes before the Law Reform Commission, we Victorians are in deep trouble.
    Madge Fahy

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