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Quote of the Day: Was Hitler a Christian?

adolph hitler christian

Historian Tim O’Neill has published a comprehensive, enlightening article on whether Adolph Hitler was an atheist, Christian, or pagan. Evangelical apologists and atheists alike love to tar the other with claims that Hitler was an atheist or a Christian. As O’Neill makes clear, Hitler was neither. What follows is the conclusion of O’Neill’s article. I hope you will take the time to read the entire article.

Hitler was not an atheist. Exactly how he conceived of the God he believed in is unclear thanks to his often incoherent and contradictory statements on the subject, but he did believe in a God and rejected atheism. Hitler was not a pagan or an occultist. He held some strange ideas, but they tended to be more pseudo scientific than mystical and he was something of sceptic about such things and prided himself on his rationalism. Hitler was not a Christian. He clearly had a conception of Jesus that he admired, but it was based on dubious and often crackpot ideas of Jesus as a man and it was not based on any of the key doctrines of Christianity. Despite Richard Carrier’s tangled attempts, there is no coherent and reasonable way to define Hitler as a Christian in any sense.

The Nazi attitude to Christianity was complex and evolved over time. In the Party’s early years it could not afford to alienate the majority Christian population and so worked hard to make Nazism as compatible with Christianity as possible and to present Hitler as, if not a believer, then not an enemy of Christianity. Once in power this general approach was maintained, though some elements in the Nazi leadership became far more overtly anti-Christian. Himmler, Goebbels and, especially, Bormann were clearly anti-Christian but were restrained for the sake of morale during the War. Most historians agree that Hitler too was largely anti-church, though Steigmann-Gall believes this was a later development. A great deal of evidence indicates that the Nazi elite intended to suppress Christianity as a major threat to Nazi ideology and objectives in the long term

No-one wants Hitler on their team and many want him to belong to “the other side”. As it happens, Hitler’s beliefs on religion as on many things are not neatly categorised. But on the question of “atheist, pagan or Christian?” the only accurate answer is “none of the above.”

— Tim O’Neill, History for Atheists, Hitler: Atheist, Pagan, or Christian? July 14, 2021

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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15 Comments

  1. Avatar
    dale m.

    This is a very reasonable hypothesis about Hitler’s beliefs. However, O’Neill does not address the fact that Hitler was raised by the Catholic Church. Nor does O’Neill mention that Hitler puts that in his book Mein Kampf, Hitler mentions that by far the happiest years of his life were spent as an alter boy in the Church. I don’t think his antisemitism came only from his father. The Church might have had a pretty profound impact on Hitler’s early years. If one blames Hitler for having weird Pagan ideas, I would look directly at the Mother Church as well. The gates to the Brandenburg Cathedral held a swastika (mystic symbol) over its entrance.

    There is also the rift between Hitler and Joseph Goebbels (who was the Party Ideologue). A rift created when the Vatican attacked Goebbels and excommunicated him because he had married a Protestant. The Church still held considerable sway within the Nazi Party. Hitler was so enamored by the Church that, he promised in Mein Kampf to create an evangelical church of Europe that would bring Protestantism back under the Catholic fold.

    Lastly. Hitler’s ideas were weird. So. Some people might then feel righteous about questioning his Christianity. But isn’t that a little like the kettle calling the pot black. Is American evangelicalism not weird ?!? Are not JW beliefs weird ?!? Are not Catholic beliefs weird as well ?!? We’re just playing another round of WILL THE REAL CHRISTIAN PLEASE STAND UP !! Isn’t it those differences, that every persuasion of evangelicalism calls out as not being true Christian ?!?

    I think we should take Hitler at face value. His views are no less barbaric than others !! He simply acted on the thoughts of others.

    At the end of the movie WHITE TIGER, Hitler calmly talks to Lucifer at a coffee table in “that other place”. He hides nothing to the only Being who can thoroughly appreciate him. Also near the end of the movie LOOK WHO’S BACK, Hitler revisits the new Germany of the 21 C. He is thought to be a hobo. By the end of the movie, he is planning to take the new Germany over. It goes from sheer comedy to lethal intent when one person realizes that this isn’t a homeless man at all but, the real thing twisted with “evil”.

    To be fair, I have not read O’Neill’s entire article. That’ll be for another time. Now on my Must Do Pad.

    • Avatar
      Rachel

      Magda Goebbels might have been a Protestant, I didn’t know that. As I understand it, Josef Goebbels was excommunicated because she was a divorcee. For what it’s worth.

    • Avatar
      GeoffT

      I find Tim O’Neill a little dogmatic and acerbic for my taste. I’ve engaged him in comments previously on his Jesus mythicism position and he’s certain in his views (Jesus existed) in a way that can’t be justified by the evidence (I’m not saying that he’s wrong, just overly sure of himself). Richard Carrier is a much superior academic and historian (though he suffers some of the same character traits) yet he considers matters much less certain, and usually ascribes a probability level to matters he analyses. The two bicker constantly.

      I’m presently reading a superb history of Hitler, comparing him to Stalin (Hitler: Stalin Parallel Lives by Alan Bullock) and it’s clear his religious beliefs are there but extremely vague.

  2. Avatar
    BJW

    Here’s a thing about people who write for everyone left of Trumpism. Some of them have pointed out that Hitler was Christian. Then they go on to state that fact means that Christians following Trump are Nazis. I might be sympathetic to this idea, although we do know it was the white fundamentalist/evangelicals (of any Christian church) who put Trump into office: they are his dedicated base, not Christian centrists or liberals. Still, it’s better to point out the ambiguities as this author and you mention. Better to know that Hitler was happy to use Christians where he could, while pointing out he wasn’t really one. Which also dovetails with the fact that Trump is known to have made fun of Mike Pence for his religiosity.

    • Avatar
      dale m.

      Evangelicals make fun of each other’s sects. So it doesn’t dovetail at all. Trump’s family was very religious. But so were most of that generation …. brrrrrr ….

  3. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    As both an ex-Catholic and an ex-Christian (the Catholics would say those two terms are interchangeable, but the Christians wouldn’t, and I’m speaking of two different experiences), I am willing to say that anyone who wants to call themselves a Christian is one. You want that label, go for it. With upwards of 40K different sects identifying themselves with that label, and many labeling others as Not True Christians, it is not my circus and not my monkeys.

    The thing is, for me, labels are not particularly meaningful. For example, I’ve seen many times that since the Nazis were formally the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, and Bernie Sanders is a Democratic Socialist, therefore Bernie is a Nazi! Oh, and those people aren’t joking around, they mean it. Whatever you might think of Sanders or Nazis, there isn’t any correlation at all. Never mind the damned labels, pay attention to what people and groups are actually all about. Politicians and political groups in particular are masters of taking on misleading labels when it suits them, and both can evolve far from their original intent without changing their names. Remember, the two major US political parties are both now very, very far from their roots. (No one in the US should be able to get through a high school civics class without understanding that, but that doesn’t seem to happen.)

    While I’m ranting, another thing that annoys the heck out of me is when religionists declare that some despicable political leader was X religion, therefore all people who have similar religious beliefs (or lack of them) are despicable. (I’m using the word ‘religionists’ broadly here, I’ve heard atheists make this claim as well.) The entire argument is profoundly disingenuous. People who have a great deal of power and exercise it in ways that are deliberately detrimental to the wellbeing of the powerless, tend to believe in Power. Everything else is window dressing, including any claimed religious beliefs.

  4. Avatar
    clubschadenfreude

    “He clearly had a conception of Jesus that he admired, but it was based on dubious and often crackpot ideas of Jesus as a man and it was not based on any of the key doctrines of Christianity. ”

    if this is the case, then any one can be called not a Christian since Christians all have dubious and crackpot ideas about Jesus, and they all call each other dubious and crackpots.

    After reading Mein Kampf, he seems as Christian as any of the others who claim that title.

  5. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Most members of the LGBT community will, only under duress, admit that Roy Cohn was gay and J. Edgar Hoover probably was. I don’t blame them: As a trans woman, I wouldn’t want any connection with Joe McCarthy’s Rottweiler (and Donald
    Trump’s mentor) or the guy who had an unhealthy obsession with JFK, MLK and Malcolm X.

    Reading the article confirmed something I’ve long thought: Hitler, like any charismatic populist, was all about myths and symbols, if distorted versions of them. (Think of his notion of the Aryan race.) That is not incompatible with a veneration of pagan chotchkes without actually worshiping anything—or of idolizing some version of Jesus, the man, without being a Christian or Catholic. If anything, he might’ve seen Jesus as a kind of Nietzschean Ubermensch (Superman) .

    (If Nietzsche had been in ancient Athens, would he have declared, “Zeus is dead?”’ Would he have discovered the same fate as Socrates?)

    Karen—Like you, I was raised Catholic and later became a Christian (of the Evangelical variety ).. As an atheist, I find it amusing that every church denies that the others are “true” Christian churches. Wouldn’t it be great if they spent so much time fighting each other that they left the rest of us alone?

  6. Avatar
    William

    Looks like a very difficult question to answer. What is the definition of being a Christian? Some evangelicals say Martin Luther was not a Christian because he mentions baptismal regeneration in his catacombs, which is a work. Very difficult task.

  7. Avatar
    Obstaclechick

    Hitler and his cronies were among the worst types of humans, so it isn’t surprising that no group wants to admit that those Fellows were a part of their group.

  8. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Two things about Hitler come to mind. He sounds like he was fond of the Catholic Church,and the Popes admired him. His actual beliefs seem to run to both Nordic myth and heavy occultism. I once saw a video about the Nazi Bell,a time travel machine that was constructed with the help of two women who were into that stuff. In some place called Der Weise, The Giant, in German.

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Bruce Gerencser