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