Robert Meyer
Was Christianity responsible for the Holocaust?
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By Robert Meyer
May 23, 2016

Recently a poster I encountered asserted the common claim that Christianity was largely responsible for the Holocaust, while pointing out the harm caused by Christianity. I tend to place criticism of this nature in the category of "Christianity is responsible for most of the wars, atrocity and bloodshed in the world." The big problem is complains can be generated succinctly as bumper-sticker slogans, but the refutations of obvious historical canards cannot be articulated so concisely. For that reason it's important to spend a bit of editorial capital giving a thumbnail examination of the issue.

We might ask somewhat sarcastically whether Jesus Christ or the Apostle Paul somehow gave the impression that Christians had a duty to initiate pogroms against the Jewish people. "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." comes to mind as an initial point of departure. We might refer to Paul's testimony that he would give his own life to save his kindred Jewish brethren. Of course, the persons making rhetorical accusations are unlikely to be familiar with these passages, and are even more likely to have ignored them in stating their case.

Sometimes I have to wonder if these skeptics think that some Christians read in their devotionals, that David slew Goliath, and from that passage, get the impression that their duty is to assassinate any contemporary remaining descendants of the Philistines.

Most likely they are making reference to the fact the great reformer, Martin Luther, once wrote a tract very hostile toward the Jewish people. Hitler used the reverence and legacy of Luther to justify his own atrocities, while maintaining credibility with Germany's large Lutheran population. Hitler was baptized a Roman Catholic, and though heavily influenced by neo-paganism and the anti-Christian philosophies of nihilist Fredric Nietzsche, he understood well how to use religious language to motivate a nominally Christian populous in his orations.

My frequent response to such charges as those presented in the opening paragraph is to offer a hypothetic situation. I tell them to suppose that I engaged in a series of ritual axe murders, and before each killing I announced "I do this in the name of _____ _____'s atheist philosophies." I then ask them if using their own name to commit the crime indicts them and their belief system, even if the activity does not actually represent what they believe. Hopefully it makes a point.

Of course, a common claim among "village skeptics" is that Hitler was a Christian. For the skeptic, when the argument is about America's Founding Fathers, the historical rumor that George Washington didn't take communion after church services he attended is adequate evidence to suggest he was not a Christian. Yet when it comes to Hitler, the fact that he mentions God in his speeches and was baptized a Roman Catholic is more than enough evidence to claim he was indeed a Christian. Quite an expedient double standard.

If you have read earlier pieces I have done on Christianity and atrocities, then you realize I don't just dismiss these claims of Christian atrocity out of hand, but I do require a reasonable amount of intellectual honestly from skeptics. That would include criticism across the board of all movements that resulted in mass killing. Because nominal Christianity is so widespread in the western world, it is convenient to blame Christianity for conflicts obviously caused by socio-political issues, when religion had little association with the motivation for such events, other than that the participants were identified by some form of Christian tradition. Of course, the term "Christian" has a host of varying definitions these days. One unabridged dictionary listed among their numerous definitions of "Christian" defined such as "any civilized person." By that standard even an atheist could be a Christian.

Many critics never mention the Barmen/Confessing church movement that resisted Hitler's attempts to Nazify the churches in Germany, professing that the principles of Christianity and Nazism are in irreconcilable opposition. The Barmen movement also decried anti-Semitism. Many church leaders were sent to concentration camps or paid with their own lives for their convictions. It seems odd to depict true Christians as anti-Semitic, particularly when we consider that today Christian evangelicals have been among the staunchest supporters of Israel and the Jewish people. During the holocaust many Christians aided the Jewish population.

In America we today have a dichotomy demographically similar to Germany. There are large portions of nominal Christians, many of whom are church goers, some of whom identify as "Born Again," but relatively few that profess to believe all of the most fundamental tenants of Christian doctrine. Those conclusions are based on Barna surveys. People in the former category are far more likely to be swept up in non-biblical movements and causes, because they don't easily see a connection between their faith and how it shapes all aspects of life outside of devotional services.

So if we are going to evaluate this question fairly, we must ask whether Christianity should be evaluated on the basis of bad behaviors of some people professing Christianity, or whether it should be evaluated on what it actually teaches to followers.

We might also evaluate what the Christian and unbelieving narratives respectively, should be expected to produce if taken to their logic conclusions. Christianity says God created man in his own image, whereas unbelieving perspectives claim humanity is the byproduct of a cosmic accident. That has implications for how each should value human life. Of course, atheists don't generally go around wielding axes. This tells me that, though they deny that humanity is God's creation, they unconsciously accept the implications of that claim in the way they lead there lives.

© Robert Meyer

 

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Robert Meyer

Robert Meyer is a hardy soul who hails from the Cheesehead country of the upper midwest... (more)

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