manicstreetpreacher shows that a statement by the exiled pantheist scientist praising the Church in Nazi Germany falls down on closer examination.
Religious-types seem to think that massaging the words of prominent non-believers into concessions to faith approximates an argument for the truth or usefulness of religion. I have long grown tired of this bogus and dishonest tactic. If a theist told me Richard Dawkins’ or Charles Darwin’s take on the colour of an orange, I would scrutinise the primary source carefully.
Apologists are often desperate to claim that the Jewish-born, agnostic scientist, Albert Einstein was a theist. Continuing in this tradition, you will hear and read the following statement attributed to the atomic scientist trotted out by those eager to defend the reprehensible (in)actions of the Catholic Church in the face of Nazism:
Being a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but, no, the universities immediately were silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks…
Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.
The statement first appeared in an article entitled “German Martyrs” which was published in Time magazine on 23 December 1940. You will find it posted on many religious websites and repeated by clergymen. Christian historian, Michael Burleigh, quotes it point-blank in his study of religion and politics in the 20th century, Sacred Causes, before rambling into a highly selective and ultimately, disingenuous defence of the Church during the Second World War.
Nevertheless, a superb piece by the analyst, William Waterhouse, first published in Skeptic (Volume 12, Number 3, Fall 2005), has exposed the statement as an exaggeration at best and a fabrication at worst by those eager to abuse Einstein’s prestigious reputation rather than convey his real opinions.
For starters, the statement appeared without any source or attribution when it was first published in Time. It is not known whether the reporter personally heard Einstein say it. The statement does not appear in the definitive collection of Einstein’s sayings, The Expanded Quotable Einstein. Any reference to the treatment of Europe’s Jews is also conspicuously absent.
In addition, the language is too flamboyant compared to Einstein’s usual style, with its reference to “great editors” and “flaming editorials”. The statement is also unlikely to have come from a scientist, stating as it does that Einstein “despised” something immediately after saying that he “never had any special interest” in it.
For comparison, here is a statement that Einstein definitely made in response to Nazism in 1933:
I hope that healthy conditions will soon supervene in Germany and that in future her great men like Kant and Goethe will not merely be commemorated from time to time but that the principle which they taught will also prevail in public life and in the general consciousness.
As Waterhouse points out, Einstein (like most German Jews) hoped for support not from Christianity as such, but from the German Enlightenment tradition.
Waterhouse’s enquiries with the Einstein Archives in Jerusalem lead to the discovery of a letter written by Einstein in 1947 stating that in the early years of Hitler’s regime he had casually mentioned to a journalist that hardly any German intellectuals except a few churchmen were supporting individual rights and intellectual freedom. He added that this statement had subsequently been drastically exaggerated beyond anything that he could recognise as his own.
As Christopher Hitchens writes in God Is Not Great, “Those who seek to misrepresent the man who gave us an alternative theory of the cosmos (as well as those who remained silent or worse while his fellow Jews were being deported and destroyed) betray the prickings of their bad consciences.”
Tags: albert einstein, atheism, bible, catholic, christ, christianity, christopher hitchens, church, German Martyrs, germany, god, gospel, hitler, holocaust, jews, Michael Burleigh, Pope Pius XII, Religion, Sacred Causes, skeptic, statement, Time magazine, vatican, william waterhouse