Tim Wise is a staunch anti-racist activist and he has written several powerful evisceration that exposes how racists abuse statistics to rationalize their false and toxic belief in the innate criminality of ethnic minorities. Two especially exquisite treatments are: “Nazis Can’t Do Math: Reflections on Racism, Crime and the Illiteracy of Right-Wing Statistical Analysis” (that can be found here) and “Race, Crime and Statistical Malpractice: How the Right Manipulates White Fear With Bogus Data” (that can be found here). These, and the scientific references therein, were used as source material for an article on Debunking Denialism called “White Genocide, Eurabia and Other White Supremacist Nonsense” (that can be found here) that debunked the two ludicrous claims that immigration is actually a covert genocide on white people and that there is a supposed “epidemic” of black on white murders.
Yet, dark clouds loom on the horizon. Like so many otherwise brilliant intellectuals, Wise recently espoused an assertion that was so irrevocably erroneous that it is truly mind-boggling. Debunking Denialism has covered similar situations before, such as biologist Jerry Coyne and his support for anti-psychiatry or Neil deGrasse Tyson when he invited Mayim Bialik (who is anti-vaccine and promote homebirth and homeopathy). It is frustrating how otherwise smart people can get things so wrong in some areas.
That’s right, he actually blames “scientism” (which he defines as “the intellectual fetishizing of science”) for the Holocaust. The context surrounds the recent murders of French cartoonists and there is some merit to the idea that some critics of religion take things too far by overly generalizing about Muslims. However, this does not justify his malignant outburst about the cause of the Holocaust.
Christianity and racism
The claim that “scientism” has been the root of racism earlier than religions is demonstrably false and betrays a profound ignorance of history. For instance, the New Testament is filled with antisemitism and Christianity has been a large influence on antisemitism in the Middle Ages and the early 20th century. During the central events of the trial and death of Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders of the area call for the crucifixion of Jesus and the release of the murderer Barabbas (Matthew 27:11-26). From a historical-critical perspective, this segment is probably inaccurate: why would Jewish religious leaders come out during Passover celebrations to humor Roman authorities and release a known murderer? That does not seem plausible at all. However, this led to the historically prevalent Christian belief in the Jewish Decide, the notion that “the Jews kill Jesus” and this alleged spawned thousands of years of antisemitism. Other sections of the New Testament, such as the Gospel of John, also contain virulent antisemitism. In John 8:37-39 and John 44-47, Jews are said to be the spawn of the Devil.
Christianity and the Holocaust
Thus, centuries of seething Christian antisemitism contributes to the cultural background where the Holocaust happened. Christian revolutionaries during the Protestant Revolution also promoted vile antisemitism. Martin Luther himself wrote an entire, hate-filled book on it, called “On the Jews and Their Lies”, where he outlined seven ways to attack Jews: (1) burn down their places of worship and schools, (2) to create ghettos for them, (3) remove their religious writings, (4) ban religious leaders from holding service, (5) legal discrimination, (6) take their money, (7) force them to work in labor camps. This has an eery resemblance to the antisemitic policies of Nazi Germany and Luther’s book was a powerful inspiration for them. Another Christianity-based antisemitic myth about Jews that was widespread at the time was that of the blood libel. This is the disgusting falsehood that Jews kidnap and kill Christian children to use them for religious rites. This deranged belief started in the 12th century and some Christian texts promoted it in the early 20th century.
To be true, Christian antisemitism was not the only contributing factor to the Holocaust. It was also based on a pseudoscientific belief system about racial blood purity, but that is not “scientism” as defined by Wise. There is no, and has never been any, solid scientific evidence that supports the delusions of racial blood purity. At any rate, Christianity was a profound influence on the cultural background in which the Holocaust occurred. Yes, the Holocaust could never have happened at the scale it did if scientists and engineers had not invented advanced technology. But to say that scientists is therefore responsible for the Holocaust is like saying that we should blame the people who invented the wheel thousands of years for car accidents or blame Alfred Nobel for the war in Iraq. Although car accidents would not have been possible without the wheel, the causes of car accidents lie elsewhere.
Christian iconography and racism
Even Christian religious iconography speaks to delusions of race. For instance, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in such a way that both Jahve and Adam are white. Most depictions of Jesus also show him as white. Ironically, this has been pointed out by Tim Wise himself, in a talk he gave at the Abilene Christian University back in 2010. This does not even begin to scratch the surface of Christianity-based racism against blacks, such as the Curse of Canaan, where Noah curses Canaan and says that he will be the slave to his brothers and Shem in particular. This has historically been used to justify the subjugation of blacks by white Christians. There have of course been many other factors that influenced racism and there were many anti-racist Christians who likewise used their religious scriptures to argue against racism.
In the end, it is very perplexing to see how defenders of religion, such as moderate Christians and others, have such a profound blind spot when it comes to realizing the historical contributions made by Christian doctrines to racism and antisemitism in particular. Germany did also not experience the Renaissance and the Enlightenment in the same way as most of Europe due to religious warfare. In fact, no country that experiences the full force of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment ever fell to totalitarian communism or fascism, except Italy (where Catholic Church had a powerful influence).
Downplaying Christian antisemitism by blaming the Holocaust on “scientism” borders on historical revisionism of the worst kind.