Ask any atheist if Hitler was a Christian and most will answer in the affirmative. Citing Hitler's own words in Mein Kampf is proof enough they claim. Ask any Christian if Hitler was a Christian and most will answer in the negative. Hitler's actions show him to be an unbeliever. Whether we analyze a person’s words or analyze a person’s actions, we are treading in uncertain and muddy waters. The problem when we look at someone's words, either spoken or written, is that over the course of a person’s life their opinions and beliefs change, sometimes quite profoundly. Therefore, depending on the quotes a person chooses, it's not hard to make a single person sound like two different people. When we analyze a person’s actions, we run into a common problem generic to all humans, who among us are always consistent about what we believe and how we act. Gross hypocrisy is not necessarily the issue, although in Hitler's case it would certainly seem so. Atheists will often believe that Hitler's actions fit quite well with past Christian atrocities and thus might not see Hitler as hypocritical, simply believing that his Christian beliefs and his actions fit together quite nicely. They often cite Martin Luther's own words in On the Jews and Their Lies to support their contention that Christian anti-Semitism is the norm, where in Germany due primarily to Luther's views, the holocaust played itself out. One proponent of this view is Hyam Maccoby who states the holocaust is the result of "the evil of Christendom," and even though Maccoby believes that Hitler "lost his Christian faith"; he "retained the hatred of the Jews as people of the Devil." It's easy to find at whose feet Maccoby places the blame, going back quite a few centuries past Martin Luther, all the way to the Apostle Paul, claiming that Paul was the "originator of Christian anti-Semitism."
The Roots of Fascism
While atheists use quotes from Hitler to make their case that he was a Christian, they ignore "Hitler's own account in Mein Kampf of a latter transformative moment in his perception of Jews" (Rosenbaum, Explaining Hitler), which flies in the face of the whole Maccoby thesis. Maccoby claims "Hitler was only kidding himself and us if we think Hitler's anti-Semitism was something he developed, rather than grew up with." Two problems immediately arise with Maccoby's ideas, first why should we take Hitler's religious words seriously and discount his claims about anti-Semitism, and second, the scholarly consensus would seem to agree with Professor Richard Breitman, former chairman of the history department at Washington's American University, and the author of the highly nuanced study of the Hitler/Himmler relationship, The Architect of Genocide, who states German anti-Semitism was the result of Germany's
defeat in the First World War, the subsequent starvation, humiliation, and inflation, followed, after an all-too-brief interval, by a crushing depression. These national traumas that devastated the German populace banked a kind of desperation and rage that Hitler was able to channel against Jews once he gained control of the apparatus of state power.
The belief that Christianity provided the soil in which Fascism took root and received its nourishment, stems from a faulty view, both of Christianity and Fascism. It's hard to imagine how two such antithetical ‘worldviews’ can be said to be philosophical cousins.
Some questions, that when answered, will dispel the myth that many people would have you believe about Fascism and Christianity. Did Martin Luther really have such a powerful influence on the German people almost 400 years after his death? (Some scholars do believe that Luther did have this influence, not because of his anti-Semitism, but because of his views of Christian acquiescence to the state). Was Germany, in any sense, a Christian Nation? As a ‘worldview’, is Fascism closer to Christianity, atheism, or something else entirely?
A few years ago, long before I heard atheists claim that Hitler was a Christian, I was absorbed contemplating how the birth place of Protestantism, Germany, could also be the birth place of radical Biblical scholarship. After all, in a sense, Protestantism was a return to ‘Bible Basics’, a course correction on the theological landscape. So radical did German scholarship become that Evangelist Billy Sunday (1863-1935) once quipped, "If you turned hell upside down, you would find ‘Made in Germany’ on the bottom." By the time Hitler came to power, much of the church in Germany had lost its Christian foundation.
The word Protestant comes from the word ‘Protest’.
The Protestant predisposition to challenge religious authority, and the commitment to the principal ecclesia reformata, ecclesia semper reformanda (‘the reformed church must always be the church which is reforming itself’), encouraged a spirit of critical inquiry concerning Christian dogma. This attitude resonated with the ideals of the Enlightenment, leading to an alignment of many Protestant writers with the movement, and a willingness to absorb its methods and outlooks.
Unlike in America, where Theological Seminaries are institutions unto themselves, in Germany, they are directly tied to the Universities.
During the eighteenth century, political protest was stifled in Germany; the only means by which radicalism could express itself was intellectual. The German universities thus became centers of revolt against the ancien regime. As a result, German university theologians (who were virtually entirely Protestant) aligned themselves with the Enlightenment...and radicalism was thus able to express itself best theologically, at the level of religious ideas. (The Making of Modern German Christology 1750-1990, Alister E. McGrath).
The Enlightenment had a much more profound affect in Germany than it did in America.
The French Encyclopedia, edited by Diderot and published in 1751 and 1752, was the culmination of Enlightenment thought. Boldly anti-Christian, contemptuous of the Middle Ages, dedicated to speedy intellectual and social change, developing their own dogmas of the perfectibility of man and society, the philosophes of the Enlightenment expected the swift transformation of civilization on purely rational principals …and meant to assist powerfully in that transmutation. At the heart of the ‘Enlightenment’ mentality was an enormous confidence in the reason of the individual human being. Man’s private intellectual faculties, if awakened, could suffice to dissolve all mysteries and solve all problems…so the Encyclopedists believed. Religion must be discarded as mere superstition, old political forms must be swept away as irrational and oppressive, the natural goodness of man must be enabled to prevail…through an appeal to Reason. If properly cultivated, every man’s private rationality could emancipate him from the delusion of sin, from the ways of superstition and fraud, from confusion and fear.
Meanwhile, for the time being, the philosophes appeared to have won their war against Christianity. That admirably impartial historian Henri Martin described the people of France in 1762 as "a generation which had no belief in Christianity.
"The philosophes have with one hand sought to shake the throne, and with the other to upset the altars. Their purpose was to change public opinion on civil and religious institutions, and that revolution, so to speak, has been affected." (Sequier, 1770)
"There is God and the King to be pulled down....men and women are devoutly employed in the demolition. They think me quite profane for having any belief left...The philosophes are insupportable, superficial, overbearing, and fanatic; they preach incessantly, and their avowed doctrine is atheism; you would not believe how openly." (Horace Walpole, 1765)
"Atheism was universal in high society," reported Lamothe-Langon; "to believe in God was an invitation to ridicule."
Diderot told (1769) of a day he had passed with two monks "One of them read the first draft of a very fresh and very vigorous treatise on atheism, full of new and bold ideas; I learned with edification that this was the current doctrine in their cloisters."
"In Paris the new movement reached every class. The workers were increasingly anticlerical; the cafes had long since dismissed God."
(All the above quotes from The Story of Civilization, Volume IX, The Age of Voltaire, Will and Ariel Durant).
The dream of the philosophes ended in the French Revolution, and is the true foundation of Nazi Germany. This is why Fascism has more in common with atheism than with Christianity.
To America, the mentality of the Enlightenment scarcely penetrated. A few Americans of cosmopolitan experience, notably Benjamin Franklin, were affected by these doctrines…but even in them, the boundless optimism of the typical philosophe was chastened by direct experience of reality in practical America. A moderate Deism was the furthest advance of the Enlightenment theories in the Thirteen Colonies. The eighteenth-century men of ideas whose direct influence upon Americans was strongest stood in partial or total opposition to the philosophes generally and the Encyclopedists particularly (The Roots of American Order, Russell Kirk).
It’s the Enlightenment that most influenced Germany, rather than Christianity as atheists claim. Fascism is essentially a response to the alienation that has been a part of the spiritual landscape of the West since the Enlightenment. People felt alienated from nature, from society, and…because their identity had become such an enigma…from themselves. The rationalism of the Enlightenment, which seemed responsible for this malaise, was answered in the 19th century by Romanticism.
Romanticism was characterized by nostalgia for the past and admiration for the primitive. An important paradigm for Romanticism is ‘the noble savage,’ who, unspoiled by the trappings of a more sophisticated society, lives in unity with nature. Primitive cultures are thus morally superior to advanced and alienated civilizations. Romantics searched their own heritage, collecting folktales, writing historical novels, and cultivating a new nationalism based upon ethnic identity (Modern Fascism, Veith).
The final piece of the roots of Fascism, along with the Enlightenment and Romanticism, is Romantic Materialism, which came about in the latter half of the 19th century.
The research of Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud challenged the sometimes facile optimism of the romantics. The early romantics believed that nature taught lessons of harmony and peace, that if people would only follow the moral example of nature that all would be well. Nature as revealed by Charles Darwin, however, is very different. Nature does not teach harmony and peace, but strife and violence. The law of nature is survival of the fittest. Progress comes from ruthless competition, the strong destroying the weak.
Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection had implications far beyond biology. What is true for nature must be true for the individual and society. If nature progresses by competition, struggle, and the victory of the strong over the weak, all progress must come in the same way
Hitler’s racial image of the world was not the product of his own delusion, but the result of the findings of respectable science. When Hitler read Fritsch or Liebenfels, he merely absorbed ideas that were widely entertained in both academic and popular circles. (Nothing makes me more certain of the victory of our ideas than our success in the universities—Adolf Hitler, 1930) The message embodied in these doctrines was unmistakable; any living organism is engaged in a ceaseless struggle for existence and is doomed to extinction if it does not fight. Nations, like individuals, are also engaged in a ceaseless conflict in which only the fittest can hope to survive" (Nazi Germany, Klaus Fischer).
As nature was being reinterpreted, Freud was forcing a reinterpretation of the self.
Just as Darwin saw violent conflict as the essence of nature, Freud saw violent conflict as the essence of the self. Freud’s exploration of the inner life was related to the self-exploration encouraged by Romanticism. Psychoanalysis taught that human behavior is dominated by subconscious, irrational forces. Rationality is revealed to be nothing more than a thin veneer that papers over a riot of primitive passions. The guilt-inducing laws of the superego suppress the natural instinct, which a healthy personality must release. Freud’s emphasis on sexuality may have been shocking, but it appealed strongly to the libertine strain in Romanticism. A Freudian view of sex seemed to justify a new morality based on the fulfillment of suppressed desires. (Ed. Note. Freud was an atheist) These desires, according to Freud, are accompanied by violent and perverse impulses…yearning for power, destruction, and death.
The key figure in the emergence of a romantic materialism that would embrace both Darwinian science and philosophical irrationalism was Friedrich Nietzche. His critique of compassion and glorification of violence, his belief in the evolution of a Superman who would be beyond good an evil, and his intellectual assault on the Judeo-Christian tradition were foundation stones in the development of theory. (Modern Fascism, Veith)
Fascism and Racism
Many atheist web sites lay the blame of Nazi Germany on the shoulders of Christianity and the German theologian Martin Luther (1483-1546). While it’s true that Luther wrote an especially virulent tract against the Jews, the thought that this tract written almost 400 years before had such an extreme affect on the German psyche as to usher in the rise of Fascism, is simply preposterous. Paul Gottried in writing a review on a book entitled Heidegger and the Nazis, makes the following comment;
...despite Luther’s anti-Jewish outbursts, the Reformation gave new emphasis to Christianity’s Hebraic roots for the first time since the primitive Church.
That being said, however, it is true that Christian treatment of the Jew has been far from ideal, going through periods of persecution, segregation, and the limiting of economic opportunities. A cursory reading of the Old Testament shows that Jews have faced persecution and hardship throughout their existence. This can also be said of virtually every group as they go through a cycle of domination, control, and destruction.
Without claiming that Christians were guilt free, what were the main influences on Fascism? We have traced the line from the Enlightenment, through Romanticism, to Romantic Materialism. The German Church had been stripped of its foundation from these trends which resulted in radical Biblical Scholarship. As well, Fascism can be traced through the secular colleges and the German intellectuals. Jewish Scholar Max Weinreich in the book Hitler’s Professors The Part Of Scholarship in Germany’s Crimes against the Jewish People notes the complicity of German intellectuals with the Nazi regime and how the scholarship of the time provided the intellectual justification and the conceptual framework for the Holocaust. Weinreich points out that the academics who supported Hitler, directly or indirectly, were sophisticated thinkers and distinguished experts in their fields. Their problem was not sham scholarship, but the ‘value-free’ assumptions with which they pursued their research. Their "weakness is due not to inferior training but to the mendacity inherent in any scholarship that overlooks or openly repudiates all moral and spiritual values."
It’s this repudiation of moral and spiritual values that has led to the millions of murdered masses in the 20th Century. While atheist constantly rail about the threat the Christian Right poses, its atheism and its disciples that have lead the way in this bloodiest of centuries.
Incredibly, three dictators, Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin, all three sons of devout, doting mothers at whose knees they learned to recite their prayers, all three educated at Church schools, and all three emerged as atheists and persecutors of religion (Delivered from Evil , the Saga of WWII, Robert Leckie).
Add to these Pol Pot, Mao, and several others, and it's clear where the greater danger comes from, atheism. The god of atheism is reason, and the elevation of the Scientist to the position of secular societies Priests and Theologians.
Hitler shared with Stalin the same materialist outlook, based on 19th century rationalist’ certainty that the progress of science would destroy all myths and had already proved Christian doctrine to be an absurdity (Alan Bullock, Hitler and Stalin)
Hitler was really reflecting the tendency of the age. Science had become the one truly unchallenged authority. As the laws of evolution and selection put forth by Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer were popularized in numerous pseudo-scientific publications, the average person soon came to know that the ‘struggle for existence’ was the fundamental principal of life, the ‘survival of the fittest’ the basic law governing the societal conduct of individuals and nations" (Hitler, Joachim Fest)
"Beginning about 1881, a new type of anti-Semitism evolved in Germany. This type was based on racial grounds, rather than religious ones and was called scientific or racial anti-Semitism (Why Hitler? The Greatness of the Nazi Reich, Samuel Mitcham Jr.)
It’s true that like most groups in Germany, a large part of the Church capitulated under the Nazi revolution. Much of the German Church was just a shell waiting to collapse. After years of radical Biblical criticism, which is still with us today (see the Jesus Seminar), it was the Liberal Church which fell under Nazi sway most readily and completely. While the conservative Church in America must be careful in identifying too closely with conservative politics, after all our kingdom is not of this world, it is instructive to note that it was the conservative, or confessing church that stood against the Nazi Regime.
Having always been an ardent partisan of freedom, I turned to the Universities, as soon as the revolution broke out in Germany, to find the Universities took refugee in silence. I then turned to the editors of powerful newspapers, who, but lately in flowing articles, had claimed to be the faithful champions of liberty. These men, as well as the Universities, were reduced to silence in a few weeks. I then addressed myself to the authors individually, to those who passed themselves off as the intellectual guides of Germany, and among whom many had frequently discussed the question of freedom and its place in modern life. They are in their turn very dumb. Only the Church opposed the fight which Hitler was waging against liberty. Till then I had no interest in the Church, but now I feel great admiration and am truly attracted to the Church which had the persistent courage to fight for spiritual truth and moral freedom. I feel obliged to confess that I now admire what I used to consider of little value (Albert Einstein).
Within the system of the concentration camp something very strange took place. The first to give in, the first to collaborate—to save their lives—were the intellectuals, the liberals, the humanists, the professors of sociology, and the like. Because suddenly their whole concept of the universe broke down. They had nothing to lean on (Elie Wiesel).