Hitler, Atheism and Christianity

I have regularly heard it claimed that atheism is responsible for the deaths of millions. It is often claimed Hitler was an atheist and therefore atheists are responsible for the Holocaust. The problem with this argument is that Hitler was not an atheist. In fact he denounced atheism and praised Christianity. The Church worked with him and after all anti-Semitism originally came from Christianity.

Hitler was certainly not an atheist. He regularly referred to God and the beneficial aspects of religion in his speeches. He declared that “We hold the spiritual forces of Christianity to be indispensable elements in the moral uplift of most of the German people.” Mein Kampf is full of religious references and it is clear Hitler believed he was doing God’s work. In it he said: “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

He regularly denounced atheism. For example, in a speech delivered in Berlin, October 24, 1933, Hitler stated: “We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.” Ironically, he believed that religious instruction was necessary as a source of morality. During negotiations leading to the Nazi-Vatican Concordat of April 26, 1933 Hitler argued that “Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith.”

It is also important to remember that Hitler was never excommunicated or criticised by the Church during his life. In fact the only Nazi excommunicated was Goebbels but this was because he married a Protestant. It says a lot that the Church thought this was a greater crime than the Holocaust. The Church banned a huge number of books for often the pettiest of reasons (usually if there was the slightest hint of sex) yet not Mein Kampf. Evidently, it didn’t feel it was immoral. Several in the Church even helped Nazis escape to Latin America after the war. There is an ongoing controversy over whether or not the Pope assisted the rounding up of Jews and failed to denounce Nazism.

It must be remembered that anti-Semitism came originally from the Christian view that Jews killed Jesus (this was the topic of an earlier post). Martin Luther was a source of vicious hatred and murderous language. He said: “In sum, they [the Jews] are the devil’s children, damned to hell…The Jews got what they deserved.” “We ought to take revenge on the Jews and kill them.” It is easy to see how Hitler could find justification and support for his beliefs in the words of the founder of Germany’s main religion.

It is also true that there are quotes from Hitler denouncing Christianity. It is quite possible that he merely faked being religious for political reasons, while mocking religion in private. After all Hitler said a lot of things in public which were blatant lies. However, this still not make him an atheist. While in private he did mock Christianity, he never expressed disbelief in God or made atheistic statements.

Regardless of Hitler’s personal beliefs, his supporters were definitely religious. The millions who voted for him were religious Christians. There were few atheists in Germany at the time, and they would have been less likely to support the Nazis, preferring the Social Democrats and Communists. The Nazis won support by criticising the lack of traditional values in Germany. They strongly opposed the liberalisation of sexuality, abortion, pornography, homosexuality and secularism.

In fact, he seems to be a spiritualist, in that although he probably did not support any Christian Church, he did believe in some sort of higher power. Hitler’s crimes cannot be laid at atheisms door. He was supported by Christians, he continued the Christian practice of persecuting the Jews and faced little or no opposition from the Christian Churches.

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A side issue is why would God allow something as awful as the Holocaust to happen, which I discuss here

28 thoughts on “Hitler, Atheism and Christianity”

  1. While you make many spot on points in this post, I think there are a few things that should also be noted.

    1. If Hitler did criticize Christians and Christianity, it’s quite possible that he did not actually believe in God or have any real kind of religious belief. It would seem far more plausible that he was merely using culture, specifically religious culture, to brainwash the German population. He supplemented this with nationalistic and anti-Communistic rhetoric. I believe that’s who he was berating when he mentioned atheists. Back then Germany was a very religious nation and it would’ve been far more difficult to unite people under atheism than theism. He merely took the background he was given and molded it for his purposes. Now, some atheists, perhaps yourself, would be upset that I declare that Hitler was neither a theist or an atheist. Why? Perhaps because that’s one less example of the evils of religion that we can use against Theists and it’s a particularly strong example at that. But this doesn’t matter. The evidential problem of evil and the examples of religiously motivated evils are extremely detailed and frequent. There is no need to make use of the Holocaust as a tool of debate. We can use other, less serious examples to make the same forceful point.

    2. When Atheists resort to using these ad hominem-esque attacks, it is the equivalent of the Theist saying “I just have faith that God exists” or “God’s ways cannot be comprehended by humans.” Such an approach nullifies truth value as the focus of the debate and instead focuses on the pragmatic purposes of religion. But when we shift focus from truth value to practicality, the debate is over. Either one or both sides have decided that the truth value aspect cannot be satisfactorily answered and so they move on to pragmatic guidelines for judging religion. This is very tempting but I would encourage Atheists to stay focused on the truth value aspect more than the pragmatic one. The reason for this is that Atheism, when evaluated pragmatically, falls short of Theism in terms of strengths. I talk about this a little bit in my post “Assorted Musings” in which I discuss the health benefits linked to religious belief.

    3. Even if Hitler were an Atheist, he didn’t commit those crimes and horrors in the name of Atheism. He didn’t kill people and then boldly/loudly proclaim “THERE IS NO GOD! HEAVEN DOES NOT EXIST.” He just killed them and went on with his business. Certainly the killings had an ideological aspect to them, but it wasn’t motivated by Atheism. It was motivated by anti-semitism which can arguably be pinned back on the Christians as blame.

    Overall, great post. All the best.

    1. I would pretty much agree with you. We can never know for sure what Hitler thought and it is possible that he was faking belief. It is also true that his religious beliefs or lack of them did not affect his actions. The reason I wrote this post was to counter a claim I regularly heard that atheism leads to genocide with Hitler and Stalin being given as examples. This would be more of side issue rather than the crucial one of whether God exists or not.

      1. I agree 100%. I’m tired of hearing Theists say “Oh yeah? Well Stalin/Hitler/etc. were Atheists and look how much harm they caused!” Granted, every belief system’s metaphorical hands have the blood of the innocent on them, but Theism far more so than any other belief system. But yeah, Atheists may have committed atrocities throughout history but it was never explicitly done to promote the truth value of Atheism. Atheism does not have a formal structure like religions do. But Theists seem to gloss over this or ignore it completely. I understand your frustration.

  2. “The Church worked with him and AFTER ALL ANTI-SEMITISM ORIGINALLY CAME FROM CHRISTIANITY.” (emphasis for clarity of my response)

    Prove it. Give me scripture right now that says Christians are supposed to hate Jews. Back up the innuendo you have just painted with your words.

    Don’t tell me what people who called themselves “Christians” did or said without any support from the Bible; give me scripture that paints the same picture you just tried to paint against Christianity.

    1. I actually wrote a whole post on this (you must have missed the link so here it is: https://robertnielsen21.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/terrible-parts-of-the-bible-part-6-anti-semitism/)

      There are several parts of the New Testament that claim the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. I fully discuss them in the post, but I’ll list some of the main points. Matthew 27:25 says the Jews themselves claimed responsibility declaring that “His blood be on us, and on our children.” There is 1st Thessalonians 2:14-6 which says the Jews killed Jesus, angered God, are contrary to all man and shall be punished.

      John 8:44 quotes Jesus saying the Devil is the father of the Jews and Matthew 23:31-5 has him comparing them to serpents.

      The post has more quotes and a proper discussion about it. Would you consider it proper back up from scripture?

      1. @ Robert and Daz

        You mean the same Bible that says this – “The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the Lord and against His Christ.’ “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together” (Acts 4:26-27)???

        The same Bible that says the Jews were responsible also says the gentiles were responsible. So I guess according to your logic Christians are called to hate everyone and not just Jews???

        Weak, very weak. You have pathetically twisted John 8:44 and Matthew 23:31-35 to make it say something that you want it to say and not what it’s actually talking about. But I understand why you do that; because it’s the only way you can “back up” your hate-filled claim based on intentional ignorance.

        Try again – where does the scriptures say a Christian is supposed to hate Jews?

        1. I won’t presume to speak for Robert, but I can find no assertion on this page to the effect that Christians are supposed to hate Jews, on any grounds.

          The assertion is that, historically, many Christians have hated and persecuted Jews, and have excused that hatred and persecution by recourse to the claim that “The Jews killed Christ.”

          If you find that to be a twisting of scripture, so be it, but don’t take it up with us—take it up with those who, sadly, still use that twisted argument from your scripture.

          1. Part of what you’re saying is my point, Daz. Read my first reply to Robert again where I put his words in CAPS. They are words that it make sound like the Bible teaches that Christians are supposed to hate Jews. That’s part of the underlying theme of Robert’s post.

            Also I would encourage you to read Robert’s reply to me. I said, “Give me scripture right now that says Christians are supposed to hate Jews. Back up the innuendo you have just painted with your words. Don’t tell me what people who called themselves “Christians” did or said without any support from the Bible; give me scripture that paints the same picture you just tried to paint against Christianity.”

            And here’s how he replied, “Would you consider it proper back up from scripture?”

            You see, he’s still saying that the Bible teaches people to hate the Jews which it does not. And I just gave you both scripture that shows who was responsible for the death of Christ when it came to the nation’s powers/leaders – it was every one.

            Robert has a very anti-Christian theme in the majority of his posts, including this one.

            So again, Robert, show me where the scriptures say that Christians are supposed to hate Jews. That was my original point and I’m still waiting for a reply.

            1. Eugene, Christianity, in the way used in your all-capped quote from Robert, is defined as “The body of people who believe in and worship the deity, Yahweh, and believe that Jesus Christ was his son [etc]”

              You’re conflating it with another definition; “The teachings of Jesus Christ as portrayed in the Bible.”

              “Robert has a very anti-Christian theme in the majority of his posts, including this one.”

              Well yes. Robert’s an atheist, and believes that religion is harmful in at least some aspects. As am, and do, I. Christianity (definition 2) is a religion. What did you expect, a ringing endorsement?

              By the way, if you want to use emphasis, surround the word(s) to be emphasised in emphasis tags: <em>these words would be italic</em>. All-caps is considered shouting, and is considered gauche.

              1. That’s why I said, “Don’t tell me what people who called themselves “Christians” did or said without any support from the Bible; give me scripture that paints the same picture you just tried to paint against Christianity.”

                Still hasn’t happened.

                1. Why does it matter, in a discussion of what people have done as a matter of historical fact, whether their justification for their acts is, in your view, scripturally correct? It doesn’t alter the fact that they did it. And it doesn’t alter the fact that they did use that religion-based justification.

                  1. Because the whole point of me replying is because Robert said the Bible teaches Christians to hate Jews. I simply gave Robert a chance (or you if you would like to do it for him) to show me where the Bible says this.

                    I know that Robert teaches this because of his reply that encouraged me to read his post – https://robertnielsen21.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/terrible-parts-of-the-bible-part-6-anti-semitism/) The very title shows that he believes the Bible teaches Christians to hate Jews.

                    But the truth is that the Bible does not teach anyone to be an anti-semit or racist in any way one time! I don’t care what people tried to use as their justification; there is no justification in the scriptures for these things as Robert tries to validate.

                    If the Bible validates the hatred of Jews then show me where it does…until then stop saying that the Bible is a justification for it becuase it is not, no matter who TRIED to use it as a justification. It’s that simple. Either the Bible justifies it or it does not.

                    Thanks for trying to finish what Robert started though 🙂

                    1. Christians who persecute Jews have found scriptural justification for doing so. Do you claim this to be a lie? I’m not asking if you think their reading of scripture is correct, merely whether they have so used scripture.

                  2. They did not find scriptural justification for it because it’s not what the scriptures teach.

                    So you’re saying just because people commited suicide in the Bible that a person can use that as justification to kill themselves? You’re saying just because people murdered other people in the Bible that someone can justify their actions with the scriptures?

                    If you’re actually saying this, you have no understanding of the scriptures.

                    1. Thank you for affirming that you are deliberately misunderstanding my words. I specifically included a caveat to the effect that I wasn’t asking whether you found their justification correct.

                      Why does nearly every debate I have with a Christian end up with them doing this? It’s very telling.

                  1. Thanks for proving my point that you are trying to say the Bible teaches Christians to hate Jews and not that people try to use it for it justification in thier hatred.

                    Man, can’t you even see that one of the verses you quoted/twisted were the words of Jesus! I guess you’re saying Jesus hated the Jews too???

                    1. I don’t see how any of this proves your point. All I’m saying is that there is some nasty anti-Semitism in the Bible and it has been used as justification for pogroms against the Jews.

                      Yes it is absurd that Jesus says words that were used to justify anti-Semitism. (and I acknowledged I was quoting Jesus) But racism is absurd, there’s nothing logical about it. But if you reject it are you saying Jesus was misquoted? That the Bible is inaccurate on this point? Or if I’m “twisting” words, explain how. I read the chapter its in and I think its in context. If it isn’t say why.

                      You are still ignoring all the other quotes I mentioned. You don’t have to agree with me, but the least you could do is say why you think I am wrong. What is wrong with the quotes? Are they out of context or what?

                  2. There are none so blind as those who will not see. Your hatred of God and the Bible has blinded you to what His word teaches. You will be without excuse my friend.

    2. Who said Christians are supposed to hate Jews?

      It’s a matter of historical fact, though, that such hatred was excused on the entirely Christian religion-derived premise that “the Jews killed Christ.”

  3. The attitudes expressed by Jesus on dietry laws, working on the sabbath and usury have been used by Christains since Roman times to persecute Jews for their differences in beliefs. Nobody thinks they are correct but clearly priests and onther religious leaders in the middle ages felt that god wanted them to persecute Jews.

    The real argumant for me is that whatever Hitler’s, Stalin’s or Mao’s beliefs, their actions were not carried out in the name of atheism. They were carried out in the name of twisted ideologies that are utterly incompatible with modern secularism.

    Anders Breivik has blond hair, this does not mean that people with blond hair are serial killing maniacs or that having blond hair causes you to kill.

  4. If you read the book, ‘Moral Relativism: Feet planted firmly in mid-air’, you will find a quote from Hitler which effectively refutes the notion that he was a Christian. I do not have the book on me at the moment, but the quote was a condemnation of absolute morality, which is a core tenet of Christianity. To reject this belief is tantamount to a rejection of Christianity, as it undermines its entire moral foundation. Thus it was Hitler’s relativistic beliefs (or at a deeper level- his hatred of who-knows-what) that propelled his actions.

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