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Over at Evolution News & Views, I reflect on the question of whether it’s “beyond the pale” to read, quote from, and reflect on the worldview implications of James von Brunn’s addled thoughts on evolution and eugenics. Excerpt (keep reading after the jump):
Our culture is very comfortable reminding us often of atrocities committed in the name of religion — whether it’s the Crusades, the Inquisition, or 9/11. Ironically, the day of the Holocaust Museum shooting, an interesting new Jewish web magazine, Tablet, published a fascinating scholarly essay by Paula Fredriksen about how under the Nazis, some German theologians tried to fit Jesus into a Nazi mold. They drew on anti-Jewish writings widely available in Christian tradition.
Is it “beyond the pale” to point this out? No, of course not. So what’s the difference?
I would say it’s not only appropriate to document the dark side of religion. It’s necessary. The Anti-Defamation League commented on the Holocaust Museum shooting, pointing to this “reminder that words of hate matter, that we can never afford to ignore hate because words of hate can easily become acts of hate, no matter the place, no matter the age of the hatemonger.”
Exactly. It’s also the case that ideas have consequences and knowing those consequences can rightly prompt us to look with renewed skepticism at a given idea, whether religious or scientific. 9/11 was a good reason to go back and take a second look at Islam. Not to reject it, but to consider it critically. The Crusades are a good reason to do the same with Christianity. Not to reject it, but to think twice. That’s all.
Why would the incredibly popular and influential work called Mein Kampf not be a reason to think twice about Darwinism? Not to reject it, but to get yourself properly informed and make up your own mind rather than simply go along with the prestige culture and media view.
The legacy of Mein Kampf included the murder of 6 million Jews. As Richard Weikart meticulously documents in From Darwin to Hitler, Hitler’s book was part of a stream of intellectual influence that began with Darwin and continued through to Hitler. It’s with us today and it played a part in the demented thinking of James von Brunn, “a peripheral but well-respected figure among American white supremacists,” as the ADL notes.
If you want a good chill, Google the phrase “natural selection” as it appears on the popular neo-Nazi website Stormfront.org. Here, I’ve done it for you.