This week I debated whether Hitler was really a Christian, on London radio, with historian Richard Weikart of the Discovery Institute, hosted by Justin Brierley. I’ve been on Brierley’s Unbelievable? show before. Last time I was literally in London so I could join him in the studio. This time I was a call-in guest. He’s a great host. And he runs a good informal debate when he has opposing guests on, as he has done with me both times now. Last time, it was me with Mark Goodacre, discussing the historicity of Jesus. This time, it was me with Richard Weikart, discussing the religion of Hitler. That show just aired and went online, so you can listen to it now. Brierley did a good job of having both our cases presented so they can be compared. And considering the limited time, I think it’s a fair discussion, even if unavoidably incomplete.
The Book in Contention
Weikart’s new book, Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich is actually fairly thorough, well researched, and not ridiculous. You only need to read it with due caution, as he misinterprets evidence, misconstrues context, and leaves some evidence out (I’ll give examples shortly), but apart from that there is nothing so thorough you’ll ever find elsewhere, and he carefully cites all his sources, so it’s a goldmine for anyone who wants to debate, think about, or study Hitler’s religious beliefs. Some of his key assumptions and conclusions are wrong, and he does overlook some stuff. So use his book critically. But there’s nothing better to start with. If you read his book next to my chapter on the same subject in Hitler Homer Bible Christ, which updates and expands on my 2003 article in German Studies Review in ways relevant to Weikart’s treatment, I think you’ll have a complete picture. (See also my latest update on Professor Nilsson’s research expanding on mine; and further updates will appear here in future.)
Weikart concedes, and repeatedly shows from primary sources in his book, that Hitler was certainly not an atheist, nor did atheism drive his thinking. In fact, as Weikart shows, Hitler despised atheists and deemed them a threat to social order. Weikart does try to vaguely blame secularism, as having secularized anti-Semitic thought through the perversion of social Darwinism (and influencing Hitler thereby), but he does this alongside documenting the equally potent role of anti-Semitic Christianity as well. So it’s worth noting that here we have a member of the creationist Discovery Institute admitting and even proving Hitler was not an atheist, and was actually explicitly opposed to atheism. You can make good use of that in dealing with Christians who keep claiming Hitler was an atheist, or approved of atheism. (Astonishingly, even the otherwise excellent Amazon Prime series The Man in the High Castle depicts Hitler as an atheist, indeed as even banning the Bible. So even secular culture has been duped into that myth.)
But what Weikart tries to do instead, since he can’t get Hitler to be an atheist, is argue that at least he wasn’t a Christian.
Weikart tries to get to that conclusion with two tactics.
First, with a fallacy of special pleading, by using a biased definition of Christianity as only trinitarian Christianity (a requirement of membership in the World Council of Churches). That not only excludes many famous Christian sects of the past and today (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Unitarians, Arians, Cathars, Branch Davidians, People’s Temple of the Disciples of Christ, some Quakers), but it excludes even the original Christians over the first sixty years of the movement, including Saint Paul the Apostle, and every Christian he knew. No Christians originally believed in the trinitarian view that Jesus was God. In fact that was an alien notion to Christians across the first two lifetimes of its original growth (OHJ, pp. 148-52). It was actually a later perversion of the religion, first seen in the final canonical redaction of the Gospel of John, probably originating in the early-to-mid second century (OHJ, pp. 92, 94-96, 267-69; see also Bart Ehrman on How Jesus Became God).
Even those other sects, many of which still exist (and some, like Unitarianism, were professed by prominent Founding Fathers of the United States, like Thomas Jefferson), are certainly Christian sects, historically and theologically—they grew out of Christianity, and regard themselves as the true realizations of the original Christian faith. If they can’t be called Christians because they deviate at all from the original faith, then trinitarians can even less be called Christians, because they deviate just as much in that detail alone.
Weikart wants Christians to only count as Christians if they agree with that perversion, the doctrine of the trinity, but also only if they admire the teachings of Jesus—even though they do so only selectively, just like Hitler did—and believe in his literal miracles and resurrection—even though millions of liberal Christians the world over regard his miracles, and his resurrection, non-literally; so in effect, most Christians are no longer Christians in Weikart’s view. That’s a specious way to argue. It would be more honest to just say Hitler was a liberal-minded non-trinitarian Christian. He was certainly more Christian than Thomas Jefferson (a Deist by modern description, but in fact a professing Unitarian Christian). In fact, as I’ll show, though publicly Hitler was a professing Catholic (never renounced; never excommunicated), he was privately disgusted by Catholicism, and instead was an advocate of a recently developed Christian sect known at the time as Positive Christianity.
Second, Weikart tries to shoehorn Hitler into the mold of a pantheist. So that not only is Hitler not a Christian because he rejects the doctrine of the trinity, but he is not even a theist, because he does not believe in a personal God. Or so Weikart wants you to believe (and perhaps, out of cognitive dissonance, wants to believe himself). And this is an attempt to make Hitler out to be practically an atheist. But the evidence that Hitler believed in a personal creator God—and a personal afterlife, which also rules out pantheism—is amply strong, and ruins Weikart’s case. Likewise the evidence that Hitler revered Jesus Christ as a central figure in his twisted soteriology.
This is what I’ll discuss below. Though I already hit some of the bullet points on the show, here I’ll give more detail, in a more organized fashion.
Mistreating the Evidence
Weikart wants to insist Hitler was a pantheist. Pantheism means the belief that the universe is God. Weikart identifies it as a strain of secularism (Hitler’s Religion, loc. 270), “the worship of nature or the cosmos as God” (loc. 321), and as even less theistic than Deism (loc. 332), in fact practically identical with atheism (loc. 3516-17). Pantheists can’t be creationists in any literal sense (not even of the Old Earth variety: loc. 4166). Nor believe in a personal afterlife of any kind (loc. 1163, 1190). And they only believe in “Providence” as the inevitable outcome of the laws of nature; not as the personal, instantiated plan of a sentient being (loc. 3690). In other words, “pantheism” really just sounds like a code word for atheism; indeed it’s really “only a polite atheism,” as Weikart quotes Shopenhauer saying.
This does not describe Hitler’s beliefs. Weikart tries to make it seem so, but only by ignoring and speciously over-interpreting the evidence, or disregarding context. As an example of ignoring evidence, in the original German text of Hitler’s Table Talk, the private notes of his secretaries on what he said over dinner or tea in his bunker (which Weikart often relies on; but correctly not trusting the only English translation in print, citing my work favorably as having suitably warned against that: loc. 4709; he works from the original German with his own translations), Hitler once remarked, “I feel good in the historical society I am in if there is an Olympus. In the place I’m entering will be the most illuminated spirits of all times” (HHBC, pp. 181-82). Weikart never mentions this passage anywhere in his book. He simply omits entirely the one clear declaration from Hitler that expressed his belief in a personal afterlife.
Similarly, as an example of over-interpreting the evidence, when Weikart says Hitler “disparaged the Christian heaven,” he doesn’t tell you that in fact he disparaged a specific kind of Christian heaven (one he considered boring), not the entire Christian concept of heaven. Hitler only spoke against the Catholic version of heaven, which valorizes pacifists and weaklings rather than the excellent and strong (and beautiful). He himself believed real heroes would go to heaven instead, “the most illuminated spirits,” not, as he regarded them, the pathetic Saints the Catholics revered. Which is a view not uncommon among Christian Nationalists in the United States today, who believe any Catholic mumbo jumbo is a pagan lie, while pinko pacifists will burn in hell, and only people who fight for their country, who “aren’t pussies,” get into heaven. Yet when, like them, Hitler attacks only one particular kind of heaven, Weikart presents this as Hitler rejecting any concept of heaven whatever. Weikart does this frequently throughout the book, so be on your guard against this reliance on non sequitur when he jumps from evidence to conclusion, case after case.
Similarly Hitler’s remarks about hell: he attacked doctrines of hell as barbaric, but not because he was a pantheist, but because he appears to have been an annihilationist—the damned would just stay dead, reabsorbed into the cosmos (Weikart presents ample evidence he believed this); only the saved would live forever in heaven (Hitler’s “Olympus” of “enlightened spirits” he was looking forward to). A great many Christians today also reject hell just as Hitler did; and annihilationism is an accepted Christian doctrine in many sects (and was probably the view of the Apostle Paul himself). So these beliefs do not make Hitler not a Christian, either.
Likewise, as passages even Weikart cites show (loc. 1145-50; and as I noted in HHBC, p. 186), Hitler appears to have held to the original Christian view, voiced in Paul, that no one, not even Jesus, rises from the dead in their original flesh (a “bestial notion,” as Hitler calls it), but in a new superior form (on this as an ancient belief, see TET, pp. 105-55; Spiritual Body FAQ; and most recently, my article Response to Pitts on the Resurrection Body). We become something else in the afterlife. And moreover, only the most “enlightened spirits” get to experience that; contrary to the “Jewish” teaching that everyone lives forever. But that the chosen do live forever, Hitler said in Mein Kampf, we “must” believe. Hitler just said he wasn’t sure what the afterlife would be like (loc. 1153); a remark that entails he believed there was one. Weikart also mistakes something Hitler said about what the Japanese believed—that people dissolve back into nature, body and soul—as being what Hitler himself believed (loc. 1160); in fact Hitler said he wasn’t going to wrack his brain trying to understand that Japanese view of the afterlife. So we can’t really get Hitler to be a denier of an afterlife, either, as hard as Weikart tries.
And as an example of disregarding context, Weikart will frequently quote Hitler saying something about “Christianity” or “Christians” that actually, when you check the context, is unmistakably referring only to Catholicism. In fact, it’s pretty clear, from instance after instance, that Hitler used the word Christentum (translated as “Christianity” when his quotes are brought into English) to mean not Christianity, but Christendom: the Catholic Church as a world historical phenomenon (HHBC, pp. 184-86). So be on your guard against that. Weikart often ignores or even conceals the telling context of these quotes. For instance, when Hitler is recorded as saying “Christianity” is “the maddest thing that a human brain has ever concocted in its delusion,” a context that got deleted was that he was talking about transubstantiation—a doctrine only taught by Catholics (and some early breakaway sects like the Copts); and thus Hitler cannot have been referring to all Christianity, as his remark doesn’t apply to Protestants, for example. This is clear not just from the context, but also, when the published German text was corrected against the original note sheets made by an eyewitness, it was determined that the text read or meant, “Christianity teaches ‘Transubstantiation,’ that is the maddest thing…”
You won’t learn of this from Weikart (loc. 1884). Yet this radically alters the thought being expressed. Hitler isn’t talking about Christianity. He is talking about Catholicism. He similarly uses the word Christentum when mocking specifically the beliefs of Italians and Spaniards (meaning Catholicism again), the worship of Saints (also distinctively Catholic), dependence on the Vatican (which can only mean Catholicism), or “elaborate Jewish rites,” which can only mean Catholic mass and rituals. Protestants can’t be accused of using “elaborate rites,” at all, much less ones that could be accused of being Jewish—that was a distinctive accusation of the Positive Christians, who taught that Catholicism was a Jewish perversion by the Apostate Paul of the true original Aryan creed instituted by Jesus. In other words, this is, once again, code for Catholic. Again and again you’ll find that every context in which Hitler uses this word, he means Catholics, not Protestants. And thus, not Christianity in the abstract sense Weikart needs for his thesis (sometimes Weikart almost admits this, e.g., loc. 1135-38). Be aware of that when you use his book. In every case, it makes an enormous and fundamental difference if Hitler was speaking about “Christianity,” or only Catholicism. And Weikart often won’t give you the data you need to answer that question for any given quote or claim.
This also reminds me to remark that Weikart relies too much on the Jochmann edition of the German text of the Table Talk (which he cites as the Monologe), proclaiming it more reliable than Picker, simply because other scholars, who didn’t read my published findings and thus whose opinions are uninformed, say so. In fact, Picker’s edition comes directly from Picker’s original unedited notes about what Hitler said each the day before (making Picker himself an eyewitness, who wrote his recollections down within 24 hours—that’s as close as you can get to Hitler’s actual words), even checked by a third party against his original note sheets (for Picker’s subsequent revised edition). The Jochmann edition, by contrast, was in fact heavily edited by the noted atheist Martin Bormann (we even have sheets showing his hand-written changes in the margins; and some entire entries are explicitly written by Bormann), and was held in custody by Francois Genoud for thirty years, with no one being allowed to see hardly any of it—and Genoud is a known conman and forger of passages in this very text. So caution is also needed when trusting any passages Weikart quotes from the Table Talk. Were they written or altered by Bormann? Or by Genoud? Weikart’s book won’t give you any guidance on that.
Notably missing from Weikart’s book as well is a serious discussion of Positive Christianity as a sect developed by German intellectuals at the beginning of the 20th century. He mentions it repeatedly, even purports to describe it (e.g. loc. 1464-92), and admits Hitler advocated it (loc. 1452), but never explains what it’s doctrines were or its historical development and its specific influence on Hitler, especially through it’s most well-known articulator, Alfred Rosenberg (see HHBC, pp. 188-90). If you want a proper historical treatment of that, you should read Susannah Heschel’s The Aryan Jesus (merely mentioned in an early note but never used by Weikart; who instead tries to argue a lot with Richard Steigmann-Gall’s treatment in The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945, and I encourage readers to compare Weikart with what’s actually in Steigmann-Gall’s book, though Heschel is more directly on point). Positive Christianity was the sect of Christianity publicly adopted by the Nazi Party in its 25 Point Programme in 1925. So this was a public and popular sect of the time.
The doctrines distinctive of Positive Christianity were that sects and dogmas were corruptions of the original teachings of Jesus and should be abandoned for a pure true faith; that Christianity should be unified and serve the state; that Jesus was an Aryan speaking truth to power against the Jews, and died as a hero and martyr to the truth; that his teachings would lead to the salvation of all who followed them (in this life and the next); that Paul corrupted the true religion taught by Jesus by plaguing it with Jewish rituals and ideas, producing Catholicism, which was thus deemed a perversion of Christianity (making this very definitely a Protestant sect), responsible for widespread misery in history (a view of Catholicism shared by many a Protestant throughout history); and that true Christianity was also in agreement with traditional Nordic religious principles, because religious truth could be interpreted out of God’s design of nature, so those who attend to deducing God’s will from the laws and operations of nature were seeing the mind of God. In other words, because God made nature, following nature was following God’s will, because its laws and operations embody His will. Positive Christianity was also unitarian—just like the Jehovah’s Witnesses of today, and the Arians of antiquity, and many of the Founding Fathers in the American Revolution.
Hitler himself cited the teachings of Jesus, like feeding the poor, as fundamental to Positive Christianity. Even Weikart quotes him saying so (loc. 1532), with Hitler declaring, “If positive Christianity means love of one’s neighbor, i.e. the tending of the sick, the clothing of the poor, the feeding of the hungry, the giving of drink to those who are thirsty, then it is we who are the more positive Christians.” Though Weikart justifiably mocks the hypocrisy of Hitler for only deeming certain persons as suitable recipients of such charity, this is also true of much of modern Christianity, which manifests plenty of rampant anti-immigrant racism, open hostility to welfare, and denigration of the poor and homeless—and that’s still going on today; the far worse hypocritical horrors of Medieval Catholics hardly need be recounted here. It’s a specious tautology to say hypocrites aren’t “real” Christians. That would mean there has almost never been a Christian in the whole of history.
Hitler also admired everything Jesus said against the Jews, such as his declarations against hypocrisy and greed, and “such lessons as serving God vs. mammon, paying dues to Caesar, and clearing the money changers” (HHBC, p. 189). Hitler, and Positive Christians generally, thus admired and followed the teachings of Jesus (not Mohammed or the Talmud or any other non-Christian religious authority), and defined themselves by that fact. That’s what makes them Christians. That they were selective in what teachings they followed, and hypocrites in their implementation, makes them no different from pretty nearly all Christians the world over. So you can’t get Hitler to not be a Christian with this information, either.
But the most distinctive and peculiar of these Positive Christian teachings are this idea of Paul as a Judaizing corruptor, creating the abomination of the “secretly Jewish” Catholic Church against the real teachings of Jesus, and the notion that Jesus was actually an Aryan condemning the Jews. They took the ancient Jewish slander, that Jesus was fathered by an adulterous liaison between Mary and a Roman legionnaire named Pantera, as not only true, but as no longer a slander but in fact a heroic fact that legitimized Jesus as their religious hero. And their view of Paul and “the disease” of Catholicism is stranger still. Yet in his private rants in the Table Talk Hitler espouses all three of these peculiar teachings—that Christ was an Aryan hero, that Paul was an apostate who Judaized Christianity, and that Catholicism was a blasphemous crypto-Judaism (HHBC, pp. 184-85, 189-90). These views are too peculiar to be coincidental, proving Hitler’s private sympathies were entirely aligned with Positive Christianity. That makes him a Christian.
Hitler didn’t just believe in a personal afterlife, too (as I already showed earlier). He also believed in the providence of God, and though Weikart tries to argue that Hitler only meant by that the inevitable outcome of the laws of nature, the context of many of his references to it does not match that interpretation. That Hitler believed God had chosen him to effect God’s will on earth and make the world a better place, and that God was helping Hitler achieve that goal by deciding the outcome of chance events (facts Weikart himself documents), really only fits the idea of a personal, sentient deity; not blind laws of physics. Hitler also thought that organized churches and creeds made a mockery of God’s providence, and he condemned anyone who makes “a mockery of Eternal Providence” (e.g. HHBC, p. 181). Hitler said “I am here due to a higher power” and believed he had to destroy atheism so “Man may be able to develop his God-given talents” (HHBC, p. 177). And he said, “if there is a God, he gives not only life, but also knowledge” and “I regulate my life on the basis of the insight given to me by God” (Table Talk entry for 13 December 1941). You have to really stretch these facts with unevidenced assumptions to twist such remarks into pantheism.
Hitler was also a creationist. He declared that “what man has over the animals, possibly the most marvelous proof of his superiority, is that he has understood there must be a Creative Power” (HHBC, p. 179-80). Following nature was following God’s laws and thus God’s will according to Hitler (Weikart himself shows this with numerous examples), and that was a doctrine of Positive Christianity. Since the laws of nature were put there by God, rejecting or defying them was rejecting or defying God. Hitler’s attitude implies a sentient plan in God’s mind; a divine intent that was to be respected precisely because it came from an intelligent Creator, someone smarter than us. And in Hitler’s condemnation of churches that rejected or opposed the findings of science, not only was he espousing in that view Positive Christianity, he was echoing even the sentiments of Saint Augustine, who likewise declared that Christianity ought not contradict scientific facts but accept them as God’s truth, and thus in turn condemned Christians who tried to deny or reject the scientific facts. Just as Hitler did.
Weikart tries to deny Hitler was a creationist by insisting that whenever Hitler refers to Nature being Eternal, he means “past eternal,” even though Hitler never says that, and such a concept is an esoteric specialized use of the word “eternal” only common in Christian apologetics decades later—and even there, apologists using the term that way, even today, know they have to say specifically “past eternal” to carry that specific meaning. Hitler never does. And so Weikart has no basis for concluding that Hitler means by “eternal” the specialized sense of “past” eternal (and thus never “created” in any literal sense). More obviously Hitler means that what God made will last forever, and can never be thwarted or undone. There is no evidence for his pantheism here either.
Finally, Weikart tries to argue Hitler wasn’t a Christian because he praised the valorism of Muslims and the pagan Japanese, and regarded their religions as producing better soldiers than Catholicism. But that’s just more anti-Catholic ranting. That he thought true Christians should be as valorous as Muslims and pagans did not make him a Muslim or a pagan. Hitler said repeatedly that he revered and follows teachings of Jesus; he never says anything about revering or following the teachings of Mohammed or the Divine Emperor of Japan. It was, again, a feature of Positive Christianity to preach strength over weakness, and to see the Catholic Worship of Saints, for example, as a corruption of the true heroism of the Aryan Jesus. Many an American “Make America Great Again” Evangelical has similar views of God “really” rewarding strength over weakness in the same way. They are in this just as Christian as Hitler.
Darwinian vs. Christian Anti-Semitism
Anti-semitism doesn’t come from Darwinian thought. Nowhere in fact did Darwinism ever make sense of hostility toward the Jews. That came entirely from Christians. Hector Avalos has already proved that the Nazi program against the Jews was entirely the same, line by line, with Martin Luther’s, and derives nothing from Darwin (see “Atheism Was Not the Cause of the Holocaust,” in John Loftus, ed., The Christian Delusion). Even turning anti-Semitism into a condemnation of Jews as a corrupt race threatening Aryan blood, and not just a religion they could be saved from, predates anything Darwin wrote—it was being advocated as early as 1848 by Arthur de Gobineau, whose influence on the Nazis is well documented. Whereas in none of Darwin’s writings is there any mention of Jews or Judaism in such a fashion.
Darwin did not racialize the Jews, nor even say anything about races needing to be exterminated at all. He also did not condemn homosexuals or Jehovah’s Witnesses or black people or the Roma or the congenitally diseased, or any of the people the Nazis exterminated in camps. The idea of doing any of that evolved out of pre-Darwinian Christian Nationalism (see Infected Christianity by Alan Davies). Even the idea of eugenics, which was derived from Darwinian ideas, was widely adopted by Christian leaders and intellectuals, and thus wasn’t a distinctively secular movement. Social Darwinism, a deviant pseudoscience never espoused by Darwin, did lend support for atheists who wanted to adopt the same vile ideas. But it also just further corrupted already-racist strains of Christianity that existed even before; and it is by such strains of Christianity (most prominently in Positive Christianity), and not Darwinism directly, that the majority of Nazis were influenced.
If Christianity was so widely corrupted that way before, it can be again (and among some today, already has). And that is a caution never to forget. We must remain forever vigilant against that disease.
By contrast, while Hitler said what separates man from the animals is that he acknowledges a Creator, Darwin said that what separates man from the animals is that he recognizes the cruelty of Darwinism, and unlike the cruel indifference of nature, we have sympathy for our fellows (see “Darwin On Moral Intelligence” by Vincent di Norcia). In other words, Darwin took from his discovery of evolution by natural selection the conclusion that we are superior to animals precisely because we no longer follow such barbaric laws but actually care for the weak and sick. So why did others take the exact opposite lesson from Darwinism? When you look at what caused that radical shift, all too often—and explicitly in Nazi ideology generally and Hitler’s professed belief system specifically—it’s the introduction of Christian nationalism and Christian anti-Semitism. In other words, Darwinism by itself was compassionate. Add Christianity, and it became virulent.
Darwin in the end did not regard nature as ordained by God, and therefore had no reason to believe nature expressed the will of a superior mind. Thus he could freely condemn nature as barbaric. This is in fact the readiest conclusion of the atheist: nature is as evil as any God would have to be if one existed; in fact, the unconscionable cruelty of natural selection was evidence against the goodness of any possible God, and thus evidence against any God worthy of worship. It took the addition of theism—and at the time, the dominant theism was Christianity—to get to the opposite conclusion, that natural selection must in fact be good, because of the very fact that otherwise the God they deemed worthy of their worship would never have made the world that way.
Some Christians rebelled against the facts and stopped their ears and tried to deny God made the world in such a vile way—they became the Young Earth Creationists. But those who couldn’t live in such denial of the facts (thus becoming Old Earth Creationists) had only two remaining options: abandon their belief in a worthy God (and thus join the atheists), or abandon their belief that evolution by natural selection is cruel. And many Christians did indeed take the latter path: if God ordained the world to be that way, then that must be good, and therefore social Darwinism must be God’s will. Thus Christians who did believe nature was intelligently created and thus expressed the will of a superior mind, the very will of God Himself, were easily led to conclude, against Darwin, that the “seemingly” cruel barbarity of natural laws was in fact the very will of God and thus to be obeyed and even perfected. How could it be otherwise? Add in hundreds of years of Christian (especially Lutheran) anti-Semitism, and you get Positive Christianity.
Contrary to Hitler, Darwin wrote how moral cooperation in society, and helping the weak, was so pervasive it was obviously an evolved trait, and thus was actually the outcome of natural selection. It therefore had to be more conducive to differential reproductive success for complex social animals like humans than war and killing each other. Social Darwinists, whether Christian or atheist, tended to disregard the scientific facts Darwin pointed to, because they already had a racist, nationalist, or aristocratic disdain for minorities. They used social Darwinism as a rationalization for beliefs they already held before it. The same way Christians disgusted by homosexuality and women’s sexual liberation use their Christianity to rationalize voting for candidates who call for the Biblically ordained execution of gays and the outlawing of safe sex education. Christianity did bring with it these vile attitudes, but they could still have originated elsewhere; what Christianity mostly does is make it so much easier to rationalize them. Christians who wake up to the barbarity of these attitudes, change their Christianity, making it more humanist, by sequestering away all the vile things their Good Book commands them to (from Leviticus 20 to 1 Timothy 2). Christians who don’t, drift toward Hitler.
Hitler was clearly a Christian believer. You can say he was an adherent of a dark and twisted sect of Christianity. But to try and deny his Christian beliefs and roots is simply a crime against history. And trying to turn his belief in a Creator and God’s guidance of history and his own personal afterlife and reverence for the teachings of Jesus into quasi-atheistic pantheism is wholly disingenuous.
Hitler also could not have accomplished his massive enterprise to extinguish the Jews and other “undesirables” without the willing cooperation and even enthusiasm of millions of Christian bigots, of many different sects. Some Christians had the decency to oppose his plans, but they were always in the minority, and thus did not typify the Christian reaction. In fact, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, whom Weikart won’t even admit are Christians, were the Christians most faithfully opposed to Hitler—far more so than any of the majority sects, like the Lutherans or Catholics. Thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses were killed by the Nazi regime, most of them in concentration camps, where they were rounded up and killed as enemies of the state. All because of their strongly held Christian beliefs. But the people killing them were also the very people Weikart will admit were Christians: the Catholics and Lutherans and other mainstream sectarians who manned the camps, pulled the triggers, dropped the gas.
Gott mit uns, “God is with us,” a quotation from the Gospel of Matthew, remained the motto of the Nazi mainline army throughout the war. The horrors of the holocaust were a Christian-imagined, Christian-enacted, Christian-led atrocity. It was just an efficient realization of the dreams of mainstream Christians throughout history, from the Rhineland massacres of 1096 to Martin Luther’s declaration in 1543 that “we are at fault in not slaying them.” Hitler and the Nazis were simply a culmination of this; not of social Darwinism. It is important not to hide from history the participation of Christianity and Christian leaders, and the use of Christian, even Biblical arguments, in advancing evil causes. Trying to paint Hitler as a pantheist, which is really just a code word for crypto-atheist, does not do humanity a service. It is an attempt to hide what really happened, and what dangers really lurk within Christian ideology and the Christian mind.
We shouldn’t be trying to hide or deny the role of Christians or Christianity in creating and sustaining the Holocaust, any more than in creating and sustaining antebellum slavery, or the genocide of Native Americans. That the Bible, creationism, a belief in heaven, even revering the teachings of Jesus, can all be turned to evil purposes must not be forgotten. Trying to play games with definitions is only working to conceal the truth, not preserve it or teach it. And misusing evidence to get implausible conclusions about this that the evidence doesn’t honestly support, aims to the same unsavory end. Indeed, if we are to condemn Hitler’s Positive Christianity as “not really Christianity” because of arbitrary technicalities, we have to condemn Hitler’s social Darwinism as “not really Darwinism” for exactly the same reason. Indeed, the latter is even more clearly the case, because there is nothing in Darwin or Darwinism that endorses Hitler’s designs on the Jews and gays and “gypsies” and Witnesses. Yet there is a long, clear history of Christian leaders and Christian ideology doing so. Where Hitler got the idea then should be obvious.