The Consistent Ethics of Auschwitz: Creating Purpose for Your Life

The Consistent Ethics of Auschwitz: Creating Purpose for Your Life

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The human ability to kill is phenomenal. We have done it with our own innocents, from sacrificing newborns to Moloch to sacrificing them to convenience with abortion. 

 In Peter Haas’ book, “Morality after Auschwitz,” he noted:

“Far from being contemptuous of ethics, the perpetrators acted in strict conformity with an ethic which held that, however difficult and unpleasant the task might have been, mass extermination of the Jews and Gypsies was entirely justified. . . . the Holocaust as a sustained effort was possible only because a new ethic was in place that did not define the arrest and deportation of Jews as wrong and in fact defined it as ethically tolerable and ever good.”

Haas’s point is that the Nazis were not moral relativists or nihilists, but rather objectivists who had a different value system than those of us who see all persons as intrinsically valuable.

A film from back in the earlier 2000s featured a Jewish man visiting a German extermination camp. If naturalism is true are there any objective moral values? The scientists and nurses in the extermination camps saw their subjects are mere biological machines, made of stardust, but of course not possessing souls, since such a thing is absurd on the atheistic perspective. Consequently, they delved into breeding a master race of humans (eugenics) and performed terrible experiments on living people. Real “Dr. Moreau” stuff.

The man visited one institution where they performed experiments on living people who were also handicapped. The medical staff there would determine if the people were worth studying further or just killing. If they decided that the specimen wasn’t viable, they’d wheel them downstairs and kill them. Then they were laid out on dissecting tables where they could be dissected by the doctors.

As the Jewish man in the film stood with the female guide taking him through this place and looking at this dissecting tables, he commented that it was strange to think that the people lying on the tables would have been saner than the people cutting them apart. The guide responded, “No. No, I don’t think they were insane.” And he said, “Why not?” And she said, “Well, they had purposes.”

The man looked at her and said, “They had purposes?” Finally he said, “What would you say to these doctors and nurses if you could speak to them?” Her response was, “I don’t know. Who am I to say?”

Without a God, there is no such thing as objective evil or good—that is, good or evil apart from what any of us believe about it. Since there is no ultimate meaning, the only meaning left is that which one constructs for one’s life. If you’re lucky, those around you construct meaning that makes you happy with them, but sometimes you’ll get a Jeffrey Dahmer, constructing meaning that makes his life worth living at the cost of yours. Sometimes you’ll get Hitler. Mao. Pol Pot. Stalin. Jeffrey Epstein. People who “have their purposes.”

All of those people constructed meaning for their lives. We may hate the meaning they constructed, but on atheism, were they objectively wrong in what they did? In “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions,” Dr. Alex Rosenburg summarizes what atheism leaves us with:

The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions
  • Is there a God? No.
  • What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.
  • What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.
  • What is the meaning of life? Ditto.
  • Why am I here? Just dumb luck.
  • Does prayer work? Of course not.
  • Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding?
  • Is there free will? Not a chance!
  • What happens when we die? Everything pretty much goes on as before, except us.
  • What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them.
  • Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral.
  • Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden permissible or sometimes obligatory? Anything goes.
  • Does history have any meaning or purpose? It’s full of sound and fury but signifies nothing.
  • Does the human past have any lessons for our future? Fewer and fewer, if it ever had any to begin with.

Atheism is the conclusion that nothing has any meaning—not being, not thought; not you. Under that system, inevitably non-aggression principles and the golden rule are replaced by someone powerful who doesn’t care for them; who decides to assert the purposes for his life well above yours.

For this reason, as Christians it’s more important than ever to ask people to consider their commitment to such an awful reality. Change hearts, change minds, and change the world.

“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

—Ephesians 6:12

Combat evil with good. 

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