Was Adolf Hitler a Christian?

During a recent exchange on Twitter, a number of atheists repeatedly claimed that Adolf Hitler was a Catholic Christian. Beyond the Godwinian implications of that claim, it’s clearly not true.

However, I certainly understand why atheists want it to be true.

The claim that Hitler was a Catholic Christian is lent superficial credibility by the fact that Hitler did claim in his political speeches and writings to be a Christian. One atheist on Twitter referred me to this site, containing many such quotes. I haven’t vetted these quotes from Hitler’s political writings and speeches, but I will stipulate (for the sake of discussion) that Hitler did write and say them.

Clearly, a lot of atheists are more than willing to continue falling for Hitler’s political bilge. It takes monumental gullibility (or maybe just mind-warping antireligious prejudice) to take Hitler’s politicized claims at face value. A little critical thinking is in order.

Responsible, credible historians such as John Toland, Derek Hastings, and Alan Bullock do not give Hitler’s public religious pronouncements any credence. And with good reason, as we shall see.

Hitler was raised by a nominally Catholic father and a devoutly Catholic mother. As a boy, young Adolf attended one year of Catholic education. As an adult, Hitler recalled his early rejection of the Christian faith in one of his “table talk” conversations—private conversations that were taken down verbatim by a stenographer and recorded for history. On October 24, 1941, Hitler said:

The present system of teaching in schools permits the following absurdity: at 10 a.m. the pupils attend a lesson in the catechism, at which the creation of the world is presented to them in accordance with the teachings of the Bible; and at 11 a.m. they attend a lesson in natural science, at which they are taught the theory of evolution. Yet the two doctrines are in complete contradiction. As a child, I suffered from this contradiction, and ran my head against a wall. Often I complained to one or another of my teachers against what I had been taught an hour before — and I remember I drove them to despair.

The Christian religion tries to get out of it by explaining that one must attach a symbolic value to the images of Holy Writ. Any man who made the same claim four hundred years ago would have ended his career at the stake, with an accompaniment of Hosannas.  [Adolf Hitler, Hitler’s Secret Conversations, 1941-1944 (New York: Octagon Books, 1972), 69.]

Hitler’s acquaintances from his boyhood and early adulthood said that he frequently expressed open contempt for Christianity, and some tell the story of how, as a boy, after receiving the Eucharistic host at Mass, he desecrated it by spitting it out and shoving it in his pocket.

Here are the findings of historian Alan Bullock from Hitler: A Study in Tyranny:

Hitler had been brought up as a Catholic and was impressed by the organization and power of the Church. For the Protestant clergy he felt only contempt: ‘They are insignificant little people, submissive as dogs, and they sweat with embarrassment when you talk to them. They have neither any religion they can take seriously nor a great position to defend like Rome.’ It was ‘the great position’ of the Church that he respected; towards its teaching he showed the sharpest hostility. In Hitler’s eyes, Christianity was a religion fit only for slaves; he detested its ethics in particular. Its teaching, he declared, was a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle and the survival of the fittest. ‘Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure.’ From political considerations he restrained his anti-clericalism, seeing clearly the dangers of strengthening the Church by persecution. Once the war was over, he promised himself, he would root out and destroy the influence of the Christian Churches, but until then he would be circumspect. [Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny: (New York: HarperPerennial, 1991), 219.]

Privately, Hitler rejected and detested Christianity. Publicly, in his speeches and in Mein Kampf, he spoke glowingly and approvingly of Christianity. As a canny politician and master manipulator, he knew what he needed to say in order to achieve and maintain his power—especially in Germany, with its large population of both Catholics and Lutheran Protestants. That’s why Hitler’s public pronouncements and his privately expressed views are so completely at odds.

Historian Derek Hastings, author of Catholicism and the Roots of Naziism, says that it is conceivable that Hitler might have been a believing Catholic as late as his 1924 trial for the failed “Beer Hall Putsch” coup attempt (he wrote Mein Kampf while in prison for that crime). But Hastings goes on to say that “there is little doubt that Hitler was a staunch opponent of Christianity throughout the duration of the Third Reich.” [Derek Hastings, Catholicism and the Roots of Naziism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 181.]

I could go on but the point is already well made: Those who claim that Adolf Hitler was a devout Catholic Christian can only do so out of ignorance—or out of sheer hypocrisy, antireligious bigotry, and intellectual dishonesty.

__________________________

Addendum:

One atheist on Twitter disputes my claim that the Soviet Union committed murder in the name of atheism. Here is some support for that claim:

“Practical atheism, enforced by government action, appeared in Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Inspired by the thought of Marx, the Soviet government, assisted by voluntary organizations such as the League of Militant Atheists, disestablished the Russian Orthodox Church, killed clergy and committed believers, disbanded religious organizations, and destroyed churches and religious buildings.” —Peter N. Stearns, Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World: 1750 to the Present (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 278.

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3 Comments

  1. John

     /  April 11, 2013

    Oh dear.

    Reply
  2. “it’s clearly not true.”

    It isn’t clearly not true. It’s debateably not true.

    Hitler referenced Jesus multiple times in his written works. His soldiers had belt buckles with ‘God with us’ in German written on them. And he worked with the Vatican.

    He certainly gave the outward perception of being a Catholic Christian. Not that it particularly matters.

    Nothing he did seems to indicate he committed his atrocities because of Christianity. So it’s sort of a moot point.

    Atheism, by the way, is not something one can use to commit atrocities. All atheism entails is the lack of a belief in deities. If you want to commit acts then you need more than atheism.

    Reply
  3. Justsayin'

     /  April 11, 2013

    I tend to agree with you in that pegging Hitler as a Christian is a reach. However, your claiming that Stalin committed his atrocities in the name of atheism is the same reach. You can’t cite political motivation for one, and ignore it for the other.

    Counterpoint…as per your reasoning:

    ‘Those who claim that STALIN COMMITTED HIS ACTS IN THE NAME OF ATHEISM can only do so out of ignorance—or out of sheer hypocrisy, PRORELIGIOUS bigotry, and intellectual dishonesty.’

    Reply

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