HISTORY: by Bill JamesNews Weekly
Hitler proposed a "final solution" for Christianity
, August 30, 2008
Atheist Richard Dawkins fails to prove that Hitler was a Christian, writes Bill James.Was Hitler a Christian? To most people the question would be absurd. In this regard, there is an important ongoing debate as regards the response of churches and individual Christians - both Protestant and Roman Catholic, and both inside and outside Germany - to the whole Nazi phenomenon.
Did they react appropriately and adequately? And if not, why not? Was the heroic witness of Bonhoeffer and Niemoller, Galen and Kolbe and Edith Stein, natural and representative or aberrant? These are live questions.
Hitler's attitude toward Christianity, on the other hand, appears beyond dispute. Spiritually and morally he was a nihilist, whose creed boiled down to a crude social Darwinism - the survival of the fittest.
The German churches were rival organisations to the would-be totalitarian Nazi Party. They were therefore to be co-opted and controlled in the short-term, and eventually eliminated. He treated not only Christianity, but all religion, with contempt. Attempts by Nazis such as Rosenberg to revive allegedly ancient Teutonic forms of worship were indulged, but not encouraged.
However, as Orwell famously observed, in order to believe some things, "One has to belong to the intelligentsia ... no ordinary man could be such a fool." Recently, acolytes of Richard Dawkins asserted Hitler's Christian credentials in Melbourne's The Age
, as part of the controversy over religion in general and Christianity in particular, generated by the World Youth Day. They were emulating the master, who in The God Delusion
spends half a dozen pages attempting to work the miracle of transforming the fuehrer
into one of the faithful.
The refutation of such a proposition involves treating it seriously, thereby bringing the refuter down to the level of the proposer (a little like debating a flat-earther, or an abductee of aliens). Nonetheless, the effort must continually be made since, as Barnum asserted and The Age
letters column proves, there is
"a sucker born every minute".
Dawkins starts by arguing that Hitler never formally renounced his childhood Catholicism. That is true, but it is equally true that Stalin never formally repudiated his adolescent affiliation to the Russian Orthodox Church, nor Mao the Buddhism of his early teens. In the case of each of the three dictators, his rejection of religion was demonstrated by his subsequent career.
Dawkins's other argument is that Hitler from time to time used religious language. That is also true, but Dawkins scores a number of "own" goals against himself by three admissions which expose the true state of affairs.
The first is that the deity invoked by Hitler lacked any historical credal content. It was as impersonal, amorphous and nebulous as Hegel's Weltgeist
, or World Spirit. The God Delusion
contains a number of quotes in which Hitler used the word "God" interchangeably with various other terms for an abstraction which Dawkins calls a "mysterious agency". In a couple of instances in Mein Kampf
, neither of which Dawkins quotes, Hitler refers to the "Goddess of Fate" and the "Goddess of Destiny", concepts with about as much doctrinal substance as Lady Luck.
Second, Hitler sometimes used religious language in his public speeches in order to ingratiate himself with the German electorate, which was overwhelmingly Christian, if in many cases nominally. His real feelings toward Christianity came out in his private conversation, that is, in his rambling monologues to bored and cowed associates.
Dawkins admits as much, reproducing lines which, he confesses, constitute "virulently anti-Christian views" such as: "The reason that the ancient world was so pure ... was that it knew nothing of the two great scourges: the pox and Christianity." A former acquaintance of Hitler not cited by Dawkins, Hermann Rauschning, claimed that Hitler told him: "One is either a Christian or a German. You can't be both."
Such blatant two-facedness demonstrates that Hitler was only interested in using Christian terminology to further his own ends. He sincerely admired the Roman Catholic Church, but only as a paragon of size, organisation and hierarchical authoritarianism.Opportunistic
The reality of his spiritual motivation is summed up in the current standard authoritative biography of Hitler by Ian Kershaw, the two-volume Hubris 1889-1936
and Nemesis 1936-1945
. Kershaw obviously does not consider Hitler's personal religious outlook as either interesting or important; he pays very little attention to it, and dismisses it as "purely opportunistic".
Third, Dawkins concedes that Hitler invoked Germany's Christian heritage in order to cynically exploit its unfortunate tradition of anti-Semitism, both Catholic and Protestant. Hitler's own anti-Semitism was rooted not in theology but in pseudo-scientific 19th-century race theory, so it is fanciful to present him as the inevitable historical progeny of Luther.
In fact, he criticises Protestantism in Mein Kampf
for its lack of anti-Semitism: "Protestantism violently opposes every attempt to rescue the nation from the clutches of its mortal enemy." At the same time, there is an abundant and nauseating vein of anti-Semitic vilification in Luther's collected writings, elements of which had probably passed into the German psyche.
Oddly enough, Hitler did not believe that Jesus was Jewish, but hated Christianity as the creation of the Jew Paul. He informed his intimate circle that, "The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity's illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew."
In short, any seeming concessions to Christianity on Hitler's part were purely Machiavellian. "He saw the role of religion far too pragmatically, as a tool of power politics, to let it become a needless source of opposition" (Karl Dietrich Bracher, The German Dictatorship
The "final solution" of the Christian problem, had Hitler finished up triumphant, can be deduced from the words of two of his closest Nazi associates. Heinrich Himmler vowed that "We shall not rest until we have rooted out Christianity", while Martin Bormann demanded that "...the influence of the churches has to be completely eliminated".
Godwin's Law states that anyone who resorts to associating their opponent with Hitler and the Nazis automatically loses the argument. If the smear tactics of Dawkins et al.
don't actually fall foul of this law, they come pretty close.- Bill James is a Melbourne writer.