Hitler the Christian?
“Ideas have consequences,” it is said. Because of the natural linkage between ideas and actions, people hesitate to have his/her worldview identified with that of Adolf Hitler. After all, who in their right mind would want to have a horrific piece of history like the Jewish Holocaust associated with his/her worldview? So, the debate rages on. Some claim that Hitler’s orders were motivated by his Christian devotion, while others claim that it was a natural outworking of his atheism. So, what was he? Was he Christian? Atheist? Neo-pagan? Or something else?
For many skeptics, it’s easy enough to paint Hitler as a Christian. He was born in Austria, a Roman Catholic country, where he was baptized as an infant. He remained a member of the Catholic Church until his death at the end of World War II. But there is more than just his church membership. His perceived duty to eradicate the world of the Jews was motivated by his faith, the claim goes. For example, in his autobiography, Mein Kampf, he writes, “Therefore, I believe to day that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator: By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work.”1 In his speech delivered in Genoa on April 12, 1922, we read, “[M]y feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Saviour as a fighter [against the Jews]…”2 What are we to make of this? Did he enable the Holocaust out of sincere Christian devotion?
Records left by Hitler’s close associates reveal a very different picture. Hitler was, first and foremost, a politician. Anyone with even the most superficial knowledge of politics understands that politicians are often duplicitous. For example, Albert Speer, Hitler’s chief architect, reports that “[Hitler] conceived of the church as an instrument that could be useful to him.”3 He also records Hitler complaining about the “meekness and flabbiness” of Christianity, saying that, instead, the religion of the Japanese or Islam would suit the ethos of the Reich much better.4 Indeed, Hitler’s plan was to do away with the church altogether once he finished dealing with other problems, to “have it reeling on the ropes.”5
Another revealing picture of Hitler comes from Joseph Goebbels, the radically anti-Catholic Reich Minister of Propaganda who was also a close associate of Hitler. In his diaries, he reports:
His sole, exclusive role is that of a politician. The best way to deal with the churches is to claim to be a ‘positive Christian’. So far as these questions are concerned, therefore, the technique must be to hold back for the present and coolly strangle any attempts at impudence or interference in the affairs of the state. And this we shall endeavour to ensure to the best of our ability…6
Elsewhere, Goebbels reports that Hitler hated Christianity because “it has crippled all that is noble in humanity”7 and that Hitler was “a fierce opponent of all that humbug” but forbade him to leave the church “for tactical reasons.”8
What, then, was the purpose of Hitler’s duplicitous dealings with the church? Two words: popular support. In Germany, most people identified themselves as Christian. Evans writes: “In 1939 95 per cent of Germans described themselves either as Catholics or as Protestants; 3.5 per cent were ‘Deists’ (gottglübig), and 1.5 percent atheists: most people in these latter categories were convinced Nazis who had left their Church at the behest of the Party…”9 Had Hitler made his distaste for Christianity known publicly, he would have found no place to stand in German politics to begin with, just as an American presidential candidate cannot call himself/herself a hater of Christianity and hope to win the election. Hitler used the church for political purposes and intended to eradicate her once she outlived her usefulness. This is a very strong indication that he had little to no regard for Christianity.
Thus, I think it’s safe to say that, Adolf Hitler, whatever else he may have been, was certainly not a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word.
John Chamberlain et al., eds., Mein Kampf: Complete and Unabridged (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1941), Kindle, Location 2107. ↩
Norman H. Baynes, ed., Speeches of Adolf Hitler: Early Speeches 1922-1924, and other Selections (New York: Howard Fertig, 2006), 19-20. ↩
Richard Winston and Clara Winston, trans., Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1970), 95. ↩
Ibid. 96. As Speer reports, the religion of the Japanese saw the sacrifice for the Fatherland the highest good, and Islam is a faith that is spread by the sword. ↩
Ibid. 123. ↩
Fred Taylor, trans., The Goebbels Diaries: 1939-1941 (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1982), 76. Emphasis mine. ↩
Ibid. 304. ↩
Ibid. 340. ↩
Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich at War (New York: The Penguin Press, 2009), Kindle, Location 10264. ↩