I spoke recently to the UU congregation of the Palisades, pictured above. It was wonderful. I talked about peasants, Darwin, and Nazism. More about the talk, below.
Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazi SS, organizer of the Holocaust, quoted below.
On Sunday, October 3, I spoke about "Stereotypes and
Immigrants" at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Palisades.
It was wonderful, one of the best experiences I've had in relation to my book "Bieganski."
Afterward, congregants gave me the kind of feedback a speaker
usually only dreams of. "You had us on the edge of our seats … we were
gasping … your talk was explosive … you should give this talk as part of a
A very beautiful African American
woman, with touches of gray at the temples of her abundant dreadlocks, told me
that my talk had helped her with a lifelong question she'd had about hate and
prejudice. My eyes did well up. One of those moments that makes it all
After the talk, one congregant told me that
another congregant was not satisfied. She said that he said that I said that
the concept of human inequality had begun with Darwin.
I didn't say that.
I told her to tell him that he could
e-mail me. I haven't heard, so I will address what I was told was his point
Between, roughly, 1880 and 1929, a massive influx
of peasant immigrants overwhelmed American consciousness. Note the word
"consciousness" – I'm not talking about what happened in the streets
or in the mines or in the tenements – I'm talking about what happened in human
Americans had electricity, indoor plumbing,
democracy, literacy. These new peasant immigrants from East Asia and Eastern and
Southern Europe included recent serfs who had little to no experience of money,
writing, shoes, self-government, bathing.
were overwhelming. Here's a vivid description from H. G. Wells. A visitor to
"is taken through vast barracks
littered with people of every European race, every type of low-class European
costume, and every degree of dirtiness, to a central hall in which the gist of
the examining goes on …
day after day, incessantly, the
immigrants go, wild-eyed Gipsies, Armenians, Greeks, Italians, Ruthenians,
Cossacks, German peasants, Scandinavians, a few Irish still, impoverished
English, occasional Dutch; they halt for a moment at little desks to exhibit
papers, at other little desks to show their money and prove they are not
paupers, to have their eyes scanned by this doctor and their general bearing by
that. Their thumb-marks are taken, their names and heights and weights and so
forth are recorded for the card index; and so, slowly, they pass along towards
America, and at last reach a little wicket, the gate of the New World.
Through this metal wicket drips the immigration stream – all
day long, every two or three seconds, an immigrant with a valise or a bundle,
passes the little desk and goes on past the well-managed money-changing place,
past the carefully organised separating ways that go to this railway or that,
past the guiding, protecting officials – into a new world.
They stand in a long string, waiting to go through that wicket, with
bundles, with little tin boxes, with cheap portmanteaus with odd packages, in
pairs, in families, alone, women with children, men with strings of dependents,
young couples. All day that string of human beads waits there, jerks forward,
waits again; all day and every day, constantly replenished, constantly dropping
the end beads through the wicket, till the units mount to hundreds and the
hundreds to thousands ..."
The differences between
peasant immigrants and Americans were overwhelming. Here, from a House
Executive Document, is a horrified description of Slovak peasants
"Their homes are often nothing but scanty huts, of one
room, wherein the whole family lives and sleeps promiscuously. The furniture
and outfit is very primitive, mostly homemade, and has to last for generations
The body clothes of the men are made of coarse
linen, their summer clothing of the same material, only coarser, and in winter their
clothing consists of suits made from a coarse and thick woolen felting, in the
natural color of the wool; an everlasting cap of the sheepskin and a pair of
sandals about complete an outfit which has been in vogue with them for
generations and which may be an heirloom, since the style hardly ever changes.
An important part of their outfit is the roomy and long mantle without sleeves,
made up from half a dozen sheepskins which are tanned, the wool being left on
... when the men are away from home these mantles form their complete bed. What
these patriarchal cloaks may lack in style is generally made up for by some
gaudy embroidery or even painting on the leather side of it…In all, it will be
seen that the tastes of these people are anything but refined, are low, in
This peasant is wearing the sheepskin described with such distaste, above.
Americans didn't know how to understand these peasants who
were invading their "new and clean country," as Labor Secretary James
J Davis, in an anti-immigrant article, put it.
stepped in. Science would explain the peasant immigrants to America. In an
address before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Albert
Edward Jenks announced, "The greatest problem before America today is the
immigration problem ... This great problem is at base anthropological ... as
out of these different physical characteristics of the different breeds of
people come the psychic characteristics of the different breeds of people"
Science, at that time, was informed by Darwin, who had
published "Origin of Species" in 1859.
the foundational narrative of a culture. The great folklore scholar Bronislaw
Malinowski described myth as a people's charter for belief. A people's myth can
be compared to the US Constitution. It prescribes what people can do and can't
do, what they should and should not do.
the dominant myth in the West was the Judeo-Christian myth. In this myth, one omnipotent,
unique, creator God, in an act of love, created the universe, one time.
I tell my students over and over, "A fish doesn't know it
is in water." A Westerner who has never lived under any other myths
probably doesn't realize the uniqueness of the Judeo-Christian myth. Many of my
students just assume that every religion is about a unique, omnipotent God who
creates one universe one time in an act of love, and that everybody believes
that "all men are created equal."
not so, of course. Just one example, of many possible examples: Hinduism's Rig
Veda describes the creation of the world as the sacrifice of the primal man,
Parusha. Parusha's mouth becomes the Brahmans, high caste people. His arms
become the princes, or kshatriya, those ranked second in caste hierarchy. The
rest of Parusha's body is similarly allotted to various castes. This myth
justifies the caste system. In Hindu myth, people are very much NOT created
equal. This myth is thousands of years old. With it as justification, as
charter, low caste and untouchable Hindus are condemned to hellish lives. They
are not equal. They are inferior. Their inferiority is sealed by myth.
Compare this Vedic myth to Talmudic commentary on Genesis, as
retold by Nathan Ausubel:
"Why did God create only
one Adam and not many at a time? He did this to demonstrate that one man in
himself is an entire universe. Also He wished to teach mankind that he who
kills one human being is as guilty as if he had destroyed the entire world.
Similarly, he who saves the life of one single human being is as worthy as if
he had saved all of humanity.
God created only one man
so that people should not try to feel superior to one another and boast of
their lineage in this wise: 'I am descended from a more distinguished Adam than
He also did this so that the heathen should not be
able to say that since many men had been created at the same time, it was
conclusive proof that there was more than one God. Lastly, He did this in order
to establish His own power and glory. When a maker of coins does his work he
uses only one mould and all the coins emerge alike. But the Kings of Kings,
blessed be His name, has created all mankind in the mould of Adam, and even so
no man is identical to another. For this reason each person must respect
himself and say with dignity, 'God created the world on my account. Therefore
let me not lose eternal life because of some vain passion!'"
This myth encountered challenges, for example after Columbus
discovered America. Were the Indians human? Yes, insisted heroes like Father Bartolome de las Casas. De las Casas said that in the Indians persecuted by conquistadors
he saw "Jesus Christ, our God, scourged and afflicted and beaten and
crucified, not once, but thousands of times." That is a remarkable
statement. No Greek follower of Zeus saw Zeus in the barbarians or helots he
conquered. It would be anathema for a Muslim to see Allah in an infidel he
decapitated. This myth is, simply, different from other myths.
With Sublimus Dei, the Vatican agreed: Indians are human beings. Just like us.
Nazism was a challenge. Catholicism insistently, stubbornly,
stuck to the idea that we are all equal children of God, as in this 1943 quote
from Vatican Radio: "Every man bears the stamp of God." Some Catholics
did buy into Scientific Racism. But, compared to other institutions, the
Catholic Church was more significant as a resistor of Scientific Racism than as
an adopter. As one SS critic put it, "The Pope has repudiated the National
Socialist New European Order. His speech is one long attack on everything we
stand for. God, he says, regards all peoples and races as worthy of the same
consideration. Here he is clearly speaking in behalf of the Jews and makes
himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals." Similar statements
can be found here.
No one argues that all Jews and Christians, all the time, have
perfectly adhered to the implications of this myth. Atrocity happens: slavery,
conquest, war. The point is, rather, that this was the guiding myth, the
narrative that a culture's heroes, famous and obscure, strove to live their lives
by, the North Star they struggled to follow, the ideal they hoped to live up
to, the still small voice that kept them awake at night, the legacy they worked
to pass on.
As Richard Dawkins put it, "Although
atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it
possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist"
Jettisoning the Judeo-Christian myth, and putting Darwinism in its place,
was followed by self-identified Darwinists who deduced that, since there is no
loving, creator God who made people of other races your brother, since there
was no eternal consequence for harming another, since there was no real
equality, well, you could put human beings in zoos and put human beings in
ovens. And so you did. And you very much did cite your understanding of Darwinism as your guiding myth. And you very much did cite the
Judeo-Christian myth as an outdated superstition, that weakened you and that
you needed to erase ASAP.
The Judeo-Christian myth of
human equality relied on faith. It relied on believing what you could plainly
see was not true. People aren't equal. Some are better looking. Some are
smarter. Some are healthier. Some are more useful. Science relies on evidence,
not faith. Evidence. The evidence is right there in front of your eyes. And so
Karl Pearson, who gave us statistics, and Carl Brigham, who gave us the SAT,
and Margaret Sanger, who gave us Planned Parenthood, all went to work on
proving that peasant immigrants were as inferior as they seemed, and worthy of restriction,
or outright elimination.
Everyone was on board. All
American presidents during this era. The Ivy League schools. Right wingers.
Left wingers. (Pearson changed his name from Carl to Karl to honor Marx.) The
mainstream press, the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, the Museum of
Natural History. The Bronx Zoo. Everyone could plainly see that these peasant
immigrants were specimens of an inferior race.
Grant was a great American. Good friend of Teddy Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover.
Concerned scientist. Contributed to preservation of the redwood and the bison.
Cofounded the Bronx Zoo. His "Passing of the Great Race" contains
echoes of Darwin, and foreshadows Hitler, who would write to Grant to tell him
that "Passing" was his "bible."
laws of nature require the obliteration of the unfit, and human life is
valuable only when it is of use to the community or race. It is highly unjust
that a minute minority should be called upon to supply brains for the
unthinking mass … The church assumes a serious responsibility toward the future
of the race whenever it steps in and preserves a defective strain ... A great
injury is done to the community by the perpetuation of worthless types. These
strains are apt to be meek and lowly, and as such make a strong appeal to the
sympathies of the successful. Before eugenics were understood much could be
said from a Christian … view-point in favor of indiscriminate charity … [now we
know charity does] more injury to the race than black death or smallpox … A
rigid system of selection through the elimination of those who are weak or
unfit – in other words, social failures – would solve the whole question in one
hundred years, as well as enable us to get rid of the undesirables who crowd
our jails, hospitals, and insane asylums."
there you have it. I don't make this stuff up. Christianity is the enemy
because Christianity insists on seeing a worthy humanity where there is no
scientific evidence of any worthy humanity. It insists on faith, on seeing what
is unseen, on seeing invisible value in apparently worthless human specimens.
Grant did put a human being in the Bronx Zoo, by the way: Ota Benga. The New York Times approved. "he belongs to a race that 'scientists do not
rate high in the human scale…The idea that men are all much alike … is now far
out of date.'"
Let's jump, without any attempt at a
segue, without any attempt at creating comfortable distance, from
immigrant-overrun, scientific America to the funeral of Reinhard Heydrich, Nazi
"protector" – that really was what the Nazis called him – of what is
now the Czech Republic. Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik, a Czech and a Slovak,
assassinated Heydrich; the Nazis, in retaliation, wiped out the village of Lidice.
SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, coordinator of the
Holocaust, eulogized Heydrich:
"We will have to
deal with Christianity in a tougher way than hitherto. We must settle accounts
with this Christianity, this greatest of plagues that could have happened to us
in our history, which has weakened us in every conflict. If our generation does
not do it then it would I think drag on for a long time. We must overcome it
within ourselves … We shall once again have to find a new scale of values for
our people: the scale of the macrocosm and the microcosm, the starry sky above
us and the world in us, the world that we see in the microscope.
Man is nothing special at all…He has no idea how a fly is
constructed—however unpleasant, it is a miracle—or how a blossom is
constructed. He must once again look with deep reverence into this world. Then
he will acquire the right sense of proportion about what is above us, about how
we are woven into this cycle.
Then, on a different
plane, something else must happen: we must once again be rooted in our
ancestors and grandchildren, in this eternal chain and eternal sequence … By
rooting our people in a deep ideological awareness of ancestors and
grandchildren we must once more persuade them that they must have sons … everything
that we do must be justifiable vis-à-vis the clan, our ancestors. If we do not
secure this moral foundation which is the deepest and best because the most
natural, we will not be able to overcome Christianity on this plane and create
the Germanic Reich which will be a blessing for the earth. That is our mission
as a nation on this earth. For thousands of years it has been the mission of
this blond race to rule the earth and again and again to bring it happiness and
In another speech, delivered a year
later, Himmler spoke to his fellow SS officers. These were the men who
committed the most notorious crimes of the twentieth century.
"One basic principle must be the absolute rule for the
S.S. men. We must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to members of our own
blood and nobody else. What happens to a Russian and a Czech does not interest
me in the least. What the nations can offer in the way of good blood of our
type we will take, if necessary by kidnapping their children and raising them
here with us.
Whether nations live in prosperity or
starve to death interests me only in so far as we need them as slaves for our
culture: otherwise it is of no interest to me. Whether ten thousand Russian
females fall down from exhaustion while digging an anti-tank ditch interests me
only in so far as the anti-tank ditch for Germany is finished. We shall never
be tough and heartless where it is not necessary, that is clear.
We, Germans, who are the only people in the world who have a
decent attitude towards animals, will also assume a decent attitude towards
these human animals. But it is a crime against our blood to worry about them
and give them ideals, thus causing our sons and grandsons to have a more
difficult time with them. When somebody comes up to me and says: 'I cannot dig
the anti-tank ditch with women and children, it is inhuman, for it would kill
them,' then I have to say: 'You are the murderer of your own blood, because if
the anti-tank ditch is not dug German soldiers will die, and they are the sons
of German mothers. They are our own blood....' Our concern, our duty, is our
people and our blood. We can be indifferent to everything else. I wish the S.S.
to adopt this attitude towards the problem of all foreign, non-Germanic
peoples, especially Russians....
Most of you will know
what it means when 100 bodies lie together, when there are 500, or when there
are 1000. And to have seen this through, and to have remained decent, has made
us hard and is a page of glory.
We have the moral right,
we had the duty to our people to do it, to kill … we exterminated the bacillus,
we don't want to become sick and die from the same bacillus.
I will never see it happen, that even one bit of putrefaction comes in
contact with us, or takes root in us. On the contrary, where it might try to
take root, we will burn it out together. But altogether we can say: We have
carried out this most difficult task for the love of our people. And we have
taken on no defect within us, in our soul, or in our character."
I ended my UU talk abruptly with that quote. What can one say
people had a forced encounter with peasant immigrants in the US c. 1880-1929.
Newly Darwinized Scientists volunteered to explain everything
That explanation was typified by Madison
Grant's "Passing of the Great Race." Jettison the Judeo-Christian
myth; believe the evidence of your eyes: these peasants – and lots of Eastern
Europeans among them – are inferior. Nordics are superior.
Ten years after this immigration was ended by the US Quota Acts that
sealed the immigrants as racially inferior, Hitler invaded Poland, and Nazis
like Himmler justified Nazi crimes with a call to jettison Christianity, to put
faith in blood and genes, as manifested in sons.
kinds of misstatements of this message are possible: am I saying that all
Christians are good and that if you believe in evolution you have to become a
Nazi? No. We're all aware of horrors self-identified Christians have committed.
I believe in evolution. So does prominent Christian Francis S. Collins. I'm
saying, rather, that that is, indeed, what happened, and the historical record
certainly supports it, though for many this whole tale has gone down the memory
In 2009, students at my school hosted a panel
discussion cum 200th birthday party for Charles Darwin. I truly
admired their initiative and social engagement. I begged to be allowed to
speak. I wanted to say just this: any caricature of those who have reservations
about previous applications of Darwinism as simple-minded, backward "rednecks"
does a grievous disservice to the truth. I was told I would not be allowed to
speak. And, at this celebration, anyone who has any reservations about previous
applications of Darwinism was caricatured as a buffoon – the evening began with
a joke mocking non-believers. Darwinism, according to this panel, has had only
a positive impact on humanity; it was all sunshine and lollypops.
Again, self-identified Christians have done some pretty awful
things. I include myself in that census. Christians and Jews have engaged in
that timeworn Judeo-Christian ritual – confession. We have torn our garments,
fasted and prayed, we've made amends, we've tried to figure out where we screwed
up, we planned how to get it right next time.
no such acknowledgement, reassessment, reparation or reconciliation among
atheists or Darwinists or leftists or neo-Pagans, who left us the biggest piles
of corpses in history. Often, they did not commit atrocities in rebellion
against the central tenets of their faith; as in the Himmler quote, above, they
often committed atrocities in obedience to the central tenets of their faith.
And then they have, as in the case of the Darwin panel, declined to speak any
narrative that contradicts their myth. Their myth says that religion is the
source of all the trouble; Madison Grant compared Christianity, and Richard
Dawkins compared faith, to smallpox. Their myth insists that the human mind is
the solution. Alas, the human mind has lead us down some pretty crooked roads.