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Point/CounterPoint: Is the creation care movement rooted in Nazi history as some Christian leaders claim?

Point/CounterPoint is occasional articles where we highlight the rhetorical attacks on creation care theology, ethos and policies, and then offer counter arguments. Our goal with Point/Counterpoint is not to avoid valid criticism (if warranted), nor to keep an unnecessary debate ongoing. Instead, we want to create space to develop thoughtful responses to the anti-environmental rhetoric that seems to be increasing in some Christian circles.

Dean Ohlman’s correspondence with Mark Musser on

Janet Parshall's interview with him titled “Hitler and Environmentalism”:

On June 4, 2012, Janet Parshall from  Moody Radio’s “In the Market” interviewed pastor Mark Musser who linked Hitler to modern environmentalism. The thrust of the interview was to tie modern environmentalism to Hitler . Dean Ohlman, filmmaker, writer, speaker and former board member of Restoring Eden, wrote to Janet Parshall and Mark Musser and they responded back. This is an interesting read but is offered as a chance to refine how we in the creation care movement can respond to faulty logic and rhetoric. (Note: These are a series of emails that were combined and edited for brevity.)

Dean Ohlman’s response:

Painting environmentalists as Nazi copycats is preposterous.  This fall, the Evangelical Theological Society is dedicating its annual meeting to creation care. Francis Schaeffer's noted book Pollution and the Death of Man: the Christian View of Ecology has been in the evangelical mainstream for forty years; with George MacDonald, C. S. Lewis, Carl F. H. Henry, Dorothy Sayers, Dr. Paul Brand, Vernon Grounds, Chuck Colson,  Billy Graham, N. T. Wright, Alister McGrath, and dozens more key Christian leaders and ministries (RBC Ministries, Christianity Today, the NAE, the huge majority of Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries) all encouraging us to be environmentally responsible as caretakers of God's good earth.

I have been in the evangelical creation care movement for over 20 years, and I can assure you that neither the evangelicals I know in the movement nor the secular environmentalists I have met would have links to Nazi environmentalism. John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club and no doubt the forerunner of modern creation care died even before World War I.  Aldo Leopold, a non-Christian naturalist, was already providing the foundation for modern environmental concern as simply sound science for America before WWII.

Trying to tarnish environmental concerns of today with Nazi ideology of yesteryear is a fascinating rhetorical maneuver. Nonetheless, it has virtually nothing to do with the concerns of environmentalists today.  Janet Parshall’s program led with a teaser "the highway to modern environmentalism passed through Nazi Germany" so it is difficult to see the primary goal as anything less than a failed attempt to sensationalize and discredit the legitimate environmental concerns of scientists, politicians, religious leaders, business leaders, educators, doctors and nature lovers as somehow linked to Nazi atrocities is a prime example of argument ad-Nazism, refuting a valid idea by associating it with Hitler.

History has revealed the many truly outrages acts that the Nazi’s ideology perpetuated, which should all be strongly condemned. But just because the Nazi’s held a value does not mean that value is thereby refuted, or that if they rejected a principle, then that principle is by default now validated. I see this as simple rhetorical oversimplification of the worst sort.  Since Hitler also believed in motherhood, self-discipline, and even strudel, you could use the same sort of teaser for all of these ("The highway to modern pie-baking passed through Nazi Germany," for instance) and they would be the same sort of non sequitur. The Nazi’s also promoted exercise and a healthy diet and no one denies those values as unsound. They also promoted slavery of workers and the abolition of the free press, yet most of us would disagree with them on those values. The Nazi’s saw value in wool clothes, in lace up boots, fuel efficient cars and so do I.

The concern for me is the sad fact that the evangelical church does not, for the most part, give a tinker's dam about conserving God's creation and his other creatures. That many of them have become fellow travelers with the Mammon worshipers is a travesty.  I encourage anyone to look around on my website to see if you can detect any religious liberalism or unbiblical conclusions in what I have written or what RBC has been teaching.  Readers might just want to take a look at one of my final posts: http://wonderofcreation.org/2012/03/28/saving-souls-or-caring-for-creation/

I've grown old and tired (just retired and turned 70 in the same month!) simply trying to get the evangelical church to the point of even accepting what Schaeffer encouraged us to do over 40 years ago.

I grew up in the GARBC, attended and taught at Bob Jones U, was dean of students at the Grand Rapids School of the Bible and Music, and spent the last fifteen years of my life at RBC Ministries which publishes the Our Daily Bread devotionals; so you could call me conservative in just about every way.

For me, the only purpose that this radio interview seemed to serve was to link modern "radical environmentalism" (neither term defined) to one of the 20th century's most evil men and regimes. It makes no difference at all that Ernst Haeckel coined the term "ecology," which is an apt definition of the interface between people and nature.  Francis Schaeffer's book Pollution and the Death of Man had the subtitle "The Christian View of Ecology."  

In addition, to link Nazism and "modern radical environmentalism," one would have to ignore that theologians such as Francis Schaeffer, Alister McGrath, Richard Bauckham, and Jurgen Moltmann who dealt at length with Lynn White's accusation that the Genesis account of mankind's role in dominion over the lesser creatures is the cause for most environmental crises today.

Granted, some secular naturalism has gone in many different directions away from the Christian/biblical view of nature, but to try to tie Nazi naturalism to modern environmentalism is absolutely and intentionally inflammatory and simply illogical.  To tie the modern science of ecology to Nazi racism or anti-Semitism is an impossible stretch.  Implying that animal rights today are an off-shoot of Nazism is also a stretch too far.  William Wilberforce, who was one of the founders of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, theologian John Wesley, Quaker missionary John Woolman, and C. S. Lewis all spoke out against animal cruelty (that they have a "right" to not be abused).  In fact, C.S. Lewis was opposed to vivisection and wrote about it in strong terms.

The radio interview failed to show the absolute link of caring conservationists like John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold, Steward Udall, Rachel Carson, Wendell Berry, and even John Stott to modern environmentalism.  Were all of these radicals?  Were they influenced by Hitler? Were they Nazi sympathizers?

I realize that my words here are hard and direct.  The reason is that I felt the interview was a personal affront to me and dozens of my fellow followers of the Word on the issue of creation care.  Pastor Mark Musser and Christian talk show host Janet Parshall used a classic type of faulty logic and may have influenced thousands believers in the process. I fear they may have created only more polarization in the church—a church badly in need of unity on our creation dominion responsibilities.

I have absolutely no problem with the research and conclusions on environmentalism in Nazi Germany.  I find it interesting history.  But I also find it virtually irrelevant to modern environmental concerns. The main motivation behind the existing "environmental movement" is to address the sorry state of the earth's environment, the crises of which have been further exacerbated by the ignorance of the church and the church's continuing deification of capitalism.

I have crossed swords for twenty years with free-market libertarians and their fake environmental concern, which is little more than a ploy to push laissez-faire ideology. There are many paid propagandists for that cause, which is in no way inherently Christian.  Wise and prudent Christians should have grave concerns with fellow Christians making sacred an economic system that could be fruitful in either hell or heaven's economy.  It is merely a tool, and like most tools can be used for good or ill.

Much of my ministry, to which I feel called by the Holy Spirit, over that past twenty years has been to educate conservative evangelicals on the importance of, yes, sustainable development--the opposite of which is unsustainable development. This sort of illogical, and almost hysterical rhetoric, must be confronted.

Mark Musser to Dean:

Hi Dean,

Obviously, you really have no idea as to the depths of the issues involved when it comes to the proto Nazi early German green movement and how it undergirded the romanticism, naturalism and existentialism of National Socialism.  The connection is deep enough to force secular leftist historians to write books on the Green Nazi connection, including Frank Uekoetter’s “The Green and the Brown.”  Uekoetter admits in his book that the Green Nazi connection is a “product of an intellectual journey that had far more resemblance to a roller-coaster ride than I, or anyone, could have imagined when I came to the topic in 2001.”   Uekoetter’s book is, in fact, a damage control effort to minimize the Green Nazi connection as much as possible, but he found his efforts to be a difficult one.  Even with all the historical examples he manages to scrape up from what is left of the Nazi archives, Uekoetter acknowledges, “seeing a cause dear to one’s heart aligned with such a regime is painful, and many readers will have read this book with a sentiment of ‘never again.’”  The very fact Uekoetter acknowledges, “Never again” is an admission of guilt.  
Even “How Green were the Nazis,” written by an anthology of secular environmental historians says on its book cover that “the green policies of the Nazis were more than a mere episode or aberration in environmental history.”  I myself have written my own book on the subject called “Nazi Oaks” The Green Sacrifice of the Judeo-Christian Worldview in the Holocaust” which I am looking to have re-published because my first book is so outdated now as I have learned so much about the subject since it was published.  In other words, your assertion that my Green Nazi discussion is “off the wall” etc., only demonstrates your lack of historical understanding of the subject.  I simply do not have the time to write further, but if you wish to talk about it more, please give me a call.  Also, keep in mind that the interview was extremely short, and I was only able to barely scratch the surface.

It is also of interest to me that Aldo Leopold’s final conversion to deep ecology occurred about the same time he came home in 1935 from Nazi Germany visiting the Reich because of all the new green policies they were implementing there, especially with regard to forestry.  While he was critical of some of their efforts, he was actually very complimentary of the Nazis because at least they were trying to do something about the problems, rather than just talk about them like the Americans did.  Leopold even complained of the “Abrahamic” concept of the land that the Americans had imbibed too much from, and started pushing the “Never Cry Wolf” cult once he got back home which Nazi Germany was deeply interested in.  The Fuhrer loved wolves, and called the SS “his pack of wolves.”  Hitler was also awarded the Eichelbarger Human Award in 1934 from a Seattle based animal rights foundation for passing the Nazi animal welfare law of 1933.

I have also read all of Schaeffer’s works, which I greatly enjoyed, but found his Pollution and the Death of Man the worst of his all his books.  I do like some of the things that McGrath and John Stott have to say, but I am not their followers, so I really cannot comment on them. I, of course, understand that Christians should not treat animals with contempt, and I have no doubt that many Christians of the past have said many wonderful things about the natural world.  The Old Testament talks about animal welfare laws, which I agree with, but all that is beside the point.  Nobody cares and still blames the Jews and Christians for animal cruelty precisely because of their secular approach.  Of course I think they are wrong about this, but that really does not matter.  They have already made up their minds.
I never said anything about the Nazis re-wilding the earth.  It was the caller who said that, not me.  Germany had very little wilderness left, which is why Leopold emphasized wilderness preservation after he got back from Germany.  The Nazis and the SS were far more interested in the cult of sustainable development, which was what “Lebensraum” was all about.  The dialectic between Nazi racism and German environmentalism helped the lay down the groundwork for what is today trumpeted as Green building, sustainable development.  In those days, the Nazis called it “Spatial Planning” which was at the heart of what Himmler and the SS was going to do with eastern lands in Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine.  Environmental planners were salivating at the wide open opportunities that they had to re-make the entire landscape by first cleansing it of its human inhabitants.  Hitler was even going to cover the Ukraine with windmills.
I love the outdoors too.  I have hiked and climbed all over the Olympics, and North Cascades.  I also live on a small farm which I work hard to take care of.  I also like to take nature pictures.  I am not against nature, I love it.  What I am against is environmental fascism which I believe is the most serious threat to the future not only of America, but Europe as well.  There is a fascism among environmentalists that needs to be rooted out, and I will continue to talk about the Green Nazi connection until it is rooted out
I would strongly disagree that modern environmentalism is not connected to the Nazis.  Germany always has been and continues to be at the very vortex of the modern environmental movement, including the global warming/climate change hoax.  Not only did Nazi spatial planning theories became the basis for the EU’s environmental plans after the war, but even the global warming apocalypse was first originally popularized by Austrian Nazi Guenther Schwab in 1958-1970.  Kurt Waldheim was an Austrian Nazi who helped turned the UN into a pro-environmental pro-European outfit in the 1970’s, and according to the eyewitness account of Dr. Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation in England, some of the most enthusiastic environmentalists who started up the German Green Party in the late 70’s and early 80’s – were former Nazis.

During the 1800’s while Americans were ignoring the idiosyncratic Thoreau who charged the Puritans with destroying the ecology of New England, the academic halls of Germany were being flooded with romantics, existentialists, and natural scientists, all of whom were overturning the Judeo-Christian worldview and replacing it with an evolutionary one – first of all with Hegel’s evolutionary view of history, and then secondly taking Darwin’s biological theory and turning this into German Social Darwinism under the influence of Haeckel, whose “Riddle of the Universe” was an international best seller. Haeckel vehemently charged Christianity time and time again with being unnatural.  He was also the first person to consider the Jews from a biological point of view as some kind of problem that needed to be addressed politically in some way, and even coined the term ecology in 1866.  As such, eugenics and environmentalism were together at the very beginning of the movement – which is precisely why the environmental movement’s obsession with population control is very ominous – all based on Malthusian math which has been shown to be a myth since the guy came up with the theory 200 years ago.  Environmentalism is not racist today like it was in Germany from the early 1800’s to 1945, but it is anti-human in general.  Racism has been replaced with misanthropy.  Can this be considered better?  I do not believe so.

The only thing worse than a pagan capitalism (Genesis 4) would be a pagan environmentalism (Hosea).  At least with pagan capitalism you still have some semblance of freedom, even though you know it is all headed to the trash can.  But with a pagan environmentalism controlling our society, the game will be up.  I do not worship capitalism.  In fact the word is a myth of the modern leftist imagination, as it has been infused with all kinds of leftist propaganda over the years.  Opponents of American liberty had to figure out a way to demonize American exceptionalism (which was largely based on Protestant values), and so they called it capitalism in order to discredit it with selfishness and money grubbing and the like.  
Most of the growth of totalitarianism in our modern world has come from the environmental movement since the collapse of communism.  At its root, I do believe that environmentalism IS fascism – all of which was largely based on Haeckel’s Monism together with the existentialism of Schopenhauer (who is the father of environmental ethics) and Nietzsche (ethics purely based on biology and instinct)  Heidegger then brought these ideas up to date during and after the Nazi era.  Heidegger’s philosophy today is really at the heart of post-modern thought, and his environmental views are a much bigger part of the picture than most people realize.

I do appreciate your willingness to talk, and I am sorry that we do not see eye to eye with regard to the environmental movement.  I think it is very nasty movement that values nature over people and will at some point begin treating people like animals (it already is in Africa).  I was cured of the movement when I spent a lot of time rubbing elbows with hippies at the Evergreen State College, many of whom now work for the EPA.  I used to be a follower of environmentalism until I saw it for what it really was at the Evergreen State College.  That was an eye-opening experience which has left an indelible mark on my understanding of the movement.   They used to laugh at people like Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot for being too tied to Judeo-Christian values and capitalism (Conservationism and Environmentalism are two very different things).  Thoreau and Muir were good people, but Roosevelt?  Pinchot?  Thank goodness Aldo Leopold finally moved away from them.  However, no one ever mentioned his visit to Nazi Germany in 1935.  I think it is about time that someone did.

Comments from Peter Ilyn

Pastor Musser fails to address Dean Ohlman’s primary point. “I have absolutely no problem with the research and conclusions on environmentalism in Nazi Germany.  I find it interesting history.  But I also find it virtually irrelevant to modern environmental concerns. The main motivation behind the existing "environmental movement" is to address the sorry state of the earth's environment.”  Instead, he counters with overgeneralized and unconnected counterclaims.

This is typical of anti-environmental attacks—not debating the specific claims—but resorting to rhetorical and illogical maneuvers such as gross generalizations, poisoning the whole barrel, faulty associations, inflammatory name-calling, false labeling, and so forth. Typically these are signs that they are unable to refute the core claims presented. Sadly, this—instead of a healthy and civil argument—has become the norm.

In other words, your assertion that my Green Nazi discussion is “off the wall” etc., only demonstrates your lack of historical understanding of the subject. [What Dean called “off-the-wall” was the attempt to link Nazism with the modern environmental ethic.]

What I am against is environmental fascism which I believe is the most serious threat to the future not only of America, but Europe as well. [Again, more broad accusations with no specific examples of specific policies from the environmental movement(s) that espouse fascist ideas of genocide, militarism and totalitarianism, all the while ignoring the common sense need to protect the very God-ordained natural systems that support human life.]

Germany always has been and continues to be at the very vortex of the modern environmental movement, including the global warming/climate change hoax. [Inflammatory and contrary to my experience.]

Environmentalism is not racist today like it was in Germany from the early 1800’s to 1945, but it is anti-human in general. [I strongly disagree—most environmentalists I know understand that humans can only thrive in a healthy ecosystem. Humans, while made in the image of God, were created in mammalian bodies and are fully a part of the natural system.]

But with a pagan environmentalism controlling our society, the game will be up. [Corporations seem the greater threat.  I see little evidence of environmentalists controlling anything.]

Most of the growth of totalitarianism in our modern world has come from the environmental movement since the collapse of communism. [Such as???  Where is there environmental totalitarianism caused by the environmental movement? Regulating pollution? Stopping corporations from dumping waste into the commons? This is common sense, not totalitarianism.]

I think it is very nasty movement that values nature over people and will at some point begin treating people like animals (it already is in Africa). [This illogic is based as if people are not part of nature and have the natural need for clean air, clean water, healthy food.]

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