In an illuminating irony, not one but two theatrical documentaries open today that trace the genealogy of the Holocaust back to earlier literary texts. One is Expelled, in which Ben Stein touches upon the use Hitler made of Darwinism. The other documentary is Constantine’s Sword, based on the bestselling book of the same name, by James Carroll.
Carroll tells the history of the Christian churches from the perspective of their countenancing of anti-Semitism. As Carroll argues, it all goes back to “the Jews hatred we so easily detect in the New Testament, and that would flower in anti-Jewish violence.”
Now which of these films do think has been savaged in the liberal press, and which has gotten raves? Clearly, to blame Christianity for Auschwitz is an industry standard in the mainstream media, while considering the role that Darwinism played is simply forbidden.
In previous posts this week, I’ve demonstrated Hitler’s debt to Darwin. The extermination of a supposedly inferior people for purposes of advancing racial hygiene is an idea with roots in Darwin’s Descent of Man. I said yesterday that the only major element in Nazism with no blatant reference point in Darwin’s literary corpus is the hatred of Jews in particular.
Today on the Jewish hipster website Jewcy, however, I uncover the deeper Darwinian logic of Hitler’s Jew-hating obsession. Not, I emphasize, that Darwin himself ever said a word against the Jews.
But his worldview is all about explaining life and its mysteries in reductively natural terms. In Mein Kampf, in the chapter where his use of Darwinist rhetoric is most pronounced, Hitler decries the Jews for their “effrontery” in representing a philosophical doctrine diametrically opposed to naturalism: “Millions thoughtlessly parrot this Jewish nonsense and end up by really imagining that they themselves represent a kind of conqueror of Nature.”
In Darwinism, Nature sweeps all inexorably before her. In Judaism, we are called on to defy Nature, bending our personal natures to God’s will.
In Jewish number symbolism, this transcendence of nature is represented by the numbers seven and eight. In Scripture’s narrative, the world was created in seven days. To go beyond natural limits is then represented by seven plus one, or eight.
The Maharal of Prague (1525-1609) gives many examples of how this works. One is appropriate to mention today. This coming Saturday night, Jews inaugurate the festival of Passover, recalling the Exodus from Egypt.
Passover is followed seven weeks later by the festival of Shavuot, a remembrance of the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses. In Jewish tradition, the progression through those seven weeks, or 49 days, is a time for self-conquering, of conquering our nature. When we emerge on the 50th day, it is time for Shavuot and receiving God’s wisdom in the Torah.
I mention this not for the purpose of haranguing you with a sermon but rather to point out something many of Expelled‘s bitterest critics have failed to grasp. They complain that Darwinism bears no responsibility for atrocities committed by people motivated by a twisted reading of Darwin’s books.
They don’t extend the same benefit of the doubt to Christianity. But the truth is that a worldview represented in literary texts naturally bears fruit in the actions of those who believe in it. A worldview is a picture of how the world works. It may be a false picture, of course.
How you understand reality naturally influences how you interact with the world and the people in it. The commandments of a religion are not arbitrary rules. They follow organically from the way that religion envisions the world.
If that’s true of Judaism, or Islam or Buddhism, it’s also true of a myth like Darwinism. A mythical idea system isn’t, by being a myth, necessarily false. A myth, like a religion, tries to explain reality.
If a religion can be held responsible for the actions by its faithful, actions guided by imperatives generated by that religion, we should be able to hold the myth of Darwinism responsible as well. That, in the end, is all Expelled has tried to do.