Morality, the Bible, and the Nazis

I was re-watching the PBS show “The Question of God” the other day and during the debate segment on the moral law one of the commentators brought up the example of the Nazis. He asked how a person who did not have an absolute divinely-inspired concept of morals could explain to Hitler or the Nazis that what they were doing was wrong. So I thought I’d chip in with my two cents on my blog.

Now, I was not surprised by the question, since this seems to be a common strategy of Christians. The Nazis are often painted as godless and immoral, who were only able to do what they did because they did not ascribe to God’s laws. However, believers might want to be a little careful around this topic. Afterall, one of the central themes of the Old Testament is the idea of a chosen people. The Israelites were the chosen people of God, empowered by God to invade neighboring nations and kill/enslave their people. The fact is, the Nazis could very easily have justified their actions using the Bible. Just like the Israelites were the superior race back in the iron age, the Germans are the superior race in the industrial age and must fulfill their biblically-inspired destiny. The fact that their extreme anti-Semitism can also be traced back to a long history of Christian persecution of the Jews (as well as the writings of Martin Luther in their own country) also doesn’t bode well for Christianity’s “civilizing influence” on the Nazis.

In short, the idea that the Bible could have deterred the Nazis from the Holocaust is ludicrous. If anything, it would have empowered them further since they would have seen a divinely-inspired precedent in the “good book”. Another commentator in the show brought up the example of Wilberforce and the abolishment of the slave trade in Britain, yet we know during the American Civil War that both sides used God to justify their positions. Although Wilberforce credited God for his anti-slavery actions it’s clear that he could have taken the opposite stance just as easily (all we can say for sure is that he was against slavery and happened to be religious). The fact is, morality has never moved forward because of religion and we need to stop looking at it to guide our lives in the modern world. Living with empathy and compassion for your fellow human beings should always be the guiding principle of moral actions, not a 2000-year old book of magic.