November 17, 2007
The Nazis and Christianity
My recent American Thinker article "The Godless Delusion" generated a substantial volume of email and comment from atheists. Although I have directly responded to some of the people, assertions they have made -- some politely and others rudely -- require a detailed response. I have decided to focus on one particular theme that was most common: Many atheists presume that the Nazis were a weird variation of Christianity.
The sources that I use come from very old books, rather than Wikipedia. I own these books and the books were written during the very years in which Nazism came to power. The authors of these books came from a wide variety of perspectives -- Christian, Jewish, atheist, Marxist and the like.
Christianity had declined severely in Germany at the time the Nazis came to power, which is why the Nazis were able to come to power. In his book, The Dictators, Richard Overy states that in the decades preceding the First World War Germany was becoming increasingly secular, and that after that war, from 1918 to 1931, 2.4 million Evangelical Christians formally renounced their faith as well as almost half a million Catholics. In Prussia, only 21% of the population took communion and in Hamburg only five percent of the population took communion. Before Hitler, German religious leaders were publicly condemning the rise of moral relativism and decline of traditional religious values.
Weimar Germany largely had abandoned Christianity and increasingly was embracing hedonism, Marxism and paganism. There, decline of Christianity in Germany led directly to the rise of Nazism. Professor Henri Lichtenberger in his 1937 book, The Third Reich, describes the religious life of the Weimar Republic as a place in which the large cities were "spiritual cemeteries" with almost no believers at all, except for those who were members of the clergy. The middle class went through the motions, but lacked all living faith. The workers, influenced by socialism, were suspicious of the church. Even in the countryside, preachers had little influence on the people. In the 1938 book, The War Against God, by Sidney Dark and R.S. Essex, describes pre-Nazi antipathy toward Christianity by noting that churches had lost all their vitality and that their services were lifeless. Mower, in his 1938 book, Germany Puts the Clock Back, wrote that by 1920, God and Christianity had been in steady decline, a process that had begun in 1860. Mower talks about a culture not so much casual as vicious about sexuality. He writes of art sickened into atonal music, about the absence of any sense of sin, about entire graduating classes in high school turning up for birth control devices, and about the commonplace occurrence of abortion.
This hostility or indifference toward Christianity in Europe, and especially in Germany, led naturally to a profound anti-Christian sentiment in Nazi Germany. Nazis, more than most Germans, were indifferent or hostile to Christianity. Hitler originally appeared to just ignore Christianity. Dark and Essex write in their 1938 book that Mein Kampf has few passages which in any way refer to religion, none that refer to Hitler's own personal religion, or to the teaching of the Bible, nor any branch of Christian teaching. Jacob Marcus in his 1934 book by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations notes that "Though his parents were both Catholics, Hitler himself has apparently no interest in any organized religion." Marcus also has an entire section in his book about Nazi "anti-Christian anti-Semitism." Rauschning in 1938 wrote
"The purpose of the National Socialism fight against Christianity is the same: the total destruction of the last and most deep-rooted support of the forces of conservation. The destruction of the spirit of Christianity in Germany is certainly more far-reaching than appears on the surface...Such vestiges of living Christianity as remain are steadily degenerating in the direction of a superficial and unthinking deism" and that ultimate goal as "...the total abolition of Christianity, which is not a mere philosophical fad of the National Socialists but an iron necessity of their system."
Within a year of taking power, Hitler was saying:
"Christianity was incapable of uniting the Germans, and that only an entirely new world-theory was capable of doing so."
Also within a year of the Nazis taking power, The Twenty-Five Theses of the German Religion, a conscious modeling of the twenty-five points of the Nazi program, was published in Germany. Thesis XV of that Nazi publication states:
"The Ethic of the German Religion condemns all belief in inherited sin, as well as the Jewish-Christian teaching of a fallen world. Such a teaching is not only non-Germanic and non-German, it is immoral and nonreligious. Whoever preaches this menaces the morality of the people."
In February 1937 Hanns Kerrl, Minister of Religion in the Third Reich, said:
"The question of the divinity of Christ is ridiculous and inessential. A new answer has arisen as to what Christ and Christianity are: Adolph Hitler."
University Nazis in Keil wrote in 1935:
"We Germans are heathens and want no more Jewish religion in our Germany. We no longer believe in the Holy Ghost; we believe in the Holy Blood."
Preaching from the pulpit against Rosenberg's racial theories was forbidden by the Nazis and Law 130 threatened penalties against any priest who preached "against the interest of the state." Göring ordered that the Hitler Gruss (the Hitler salute) was the only religious gesture allowed.
Just as Nazi propaganda made odious caricatures of lecherous Jewish preying on young German maidens, Nazi propaganda made identical caricatures of lecherous priests preying on young German maidens. In August 1935, the bishops of Germany presented at Fulda a pastoral letter warning of the Nazi "campaign of annihilation against Christianity" and a year after that Bishop Bornewasser publicly spoke about the Christian men and women who were persecuted by the Nazis because of their faith. On November 4, 1936, the Nazis ordered the removal of crucifixes from schools in the Oldenburg area on the grounds that these were "symbols of superstition." This order was rescinded only after Nazis were faced with determined local opposition. Then despite rescinding the Nazi prohibition of these "symbols of superstition," in December 1936 Nazi bureaucrats simply removed crucifixes anyway in Munsterland. When Christians replaced them in some schools, they were arrested by the Nazis.
Nordland, a Nazi magazine, called the Sermon on the Mount "the first Bolshevist manifesto." The principle of the National Socialist state, Hitler told an audience in 1937, was "not in Christianity nor in social theory but in the unified people's community," and the same year Himmler banned all Confessing Church seminaries and instruction and he closed all private religious schools two years later.
In 1937 Stephen H. Roberts wrote in his book, The House That Hitler Built, that the hostility between Nazism and churches began as soon as the Nazis came to power, and that it quickly became impossible to be a good Catholic and a good Nazi. Some Nazis were overtly and clearly anti-Christian. Others were simply silent. Hitler, however, did nothing to stop the drumbeat of pagan propaganda within the Nazi Party which included Heinrich Himmler, Baldur von Schirach, Alfred Rosenberg, Dr. Frick and many others, some of whom formally renounced their Christianity. The Confessional groups of Christians --Protestants who had refused to join the "German Christian" movement -- sent Hitler a letter in May 1936 asking whether he intended to "de-Christianize the German people." The response was wholly unsatisfactory, with the Christian clergy believing that Hitler had accepted honors due only to God."
Nazis hated and mocked Christianity. Most particularly, Nazis loathed the ideas that faith, not race, was critical and that Christians had a duty to love all people, including Jews. Christian clergymen were harassed, dismissed, arrested, tortured and murdered for defending these beliefs. It is hard to see how less robust Christian faith would have made the lot of Jews easier in Nazi Germany. It is impossible not to see that, except for brave Christians, the lot of German Jews (some of whom escaped the Holocaust) would have been worse.
Dorothy Thompson wrote on October 17, 1938 that National Socialism, like Communism, was a secular religion and that until that was understood, then nothing about Nazism and Communism made sense. She then noted that both violated the First Commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." Then Thompson states that this is why the most formidable opposition to both these totalitarianism movements came from people of faith; and that while it may be possible to unite Communism or National Socialism with some economic theory or political system or sociology, it is absolutely impossible to harmonize either with the Bible. She observes that those who have thrown their lot with Hitler in Germany were those without serious religious convictions, and that Hitler has found the only opponent he could not terrorize or bribe among the Christians of Germany.
The same year, Professor Micklem at Oxford noted that
"All political questions are at bottom theological. The clash between National Socialism and the Christian church rests upon the incompatibility of two views of the world, two ‘anthropologies.' In National Socialism there are no ultimate, universal standards. Right is defined as that which accords with the demands of the people's souls.... The Church in Germany is of no mere ephemeral interest. It raises in an acute form an issue which both National Socialism and Bolshevism present to every country. What is to be the foundation of European civilization?"
The same book reveals -- surprise! -- that the pagan anti-Christian Nazi leader Alfred Rosenberg's movement "might easily ally itself with the anti-Christianity of Moscow." Of course, it did just that.
Fodor, who personally knew Russian Bolsheviks and followed closely the Bolshevik Revolution as well as the National Socialist revolution and the Fascist regime, noted in his 1940 book that the Nazis surpassed all other totalitarian systems in its persecution of churches, finding even the Soviet Union less hateful toward Christianity than the Nazis, who persecuted not only Christians but Christianity itself. In 1938 Hendrik Willem van Loon stated that Hitler has tried to deprive society of the only foundation on which true civilization and world peace can be grounded, Christianity, and for that van Loon leaves Hitler to the judgment of God. Overy, in his book, The Dictators, observes that Hitler's attitude toward religion and Christianity was identical to that of the Bolsheviks.
The very same year, Erika Mann, in her book School for Barbarians, wrote that the fanatic war of National Socialism against the Church is fought on so large a field that the contest results only in battles won by one side and then the other, but that one thing is clear: "the stake of the war is the souls of the children. Both sides are battling for their future." Mann notes that the three enemies constantly cited by Nazis were Judaism, Freemasonry and Christianity; and that the remedy proposed by the Nazis to solve the enemy of Christianity was to take Christian children, whose parents insisted on teaching them Christian virtues, away from their parents (much like the Bolsheviks would take Christian children away from their parents).
This is similar to what Pierre van Paassen wrote in his 1939 book, Days of Our Lives, who says that Germany is farther on the road to dechristianization than the Soviet Union and that in place of God, Nazis have placed the almighty state which demands everything from man. Also in 1939 Ernest Hambloch wrote that because the Roman Catholic Church had been opposing the Nazis as pagan, the Nazis accused the Vatican of being in league with Communism. The same year Ogg wrote in European Government and Politics that from the Nazi viewpoint Christianity was part of the common value systems which the Nazis most vigorously opposed, that the Nazis specifically objected to values of "a common European origin" and that Nazism opposed reason as a workable guide to social action."
Even the most superficial Christianity was rejected by many Nazi leaders and Nazi organizations. Karl Haushoffer, the mentor of many early Nazi leaders, preached non-Christian beliefs, and Nazi metaphysics included organizations like the Thule Society whose members greatly admired the Japanese Black Dragon Society. The Thule Society practiced occultism, alchemy and Islamic mysticism. Perhaps the best example of absolute repudiation of Christianity, even nominal Christianity contorted into something grotesquely different than any professed Christianity, comes from the mouth of Julius Streicher, a notorious defamer of Jews. He said that "It is only on one or two exceptional points that Christ and Hitler stand comparison, for Hitler is far too big a man to be compared with one so petty."
Christ, to Nazis, was a nebbish. Hitler was their Christ. The same book, which was published a few years after HaShoah by a respected Jewish organization trying to understand the nature of Nazi evil notes:
"A Nazi magazine commented on the Golden Rule in 1939: ‘This fundamental law of Christianity completely contradicts our moral conscience, contradicts above all our warrior-like nature peculiar to the soul of our race.' Children were taught to pray to Hitler instead of to God. Grace before meals given to poor children by the Nazi Welfare Committee ended: ‘For this food, my Fuehrer, my thanks I render.' Another official child's prayer ended: ‘My Fuehrer, by Fuehrer, my faith and my light, Heil my Fuehrer.'"
Alfred Rosenberg, Nazi theoretician, said that there was no place in the Third Reich for Christianity in any form. Christian ceremonies surrounding births, marriages, deaths and other solemnities ceased to be performed by Christian clergy. His ponderous tome, The Myth of the Twentieth Century, not only called for banning crucifixes from churches but also from village streets, and also for banning medieval images of Christ as the Lamb of God. In the training camps of the Nazi Party it was repeatedly stated that National Socialism has three enemies: Judaism, Masonry and Christianity. Martin Bormann hated Christianity even more than most Nazi leaders. Goebbels frequently made fun of Christian morality. Nazis in general considered Christianity a "soul malady," "foreign" and "unnatural." Heinrich Himmler despised Christianity and members of the SS had to formally renounce their Christian faith and formally become agnostic in order to become a member of the Schutzstaffel.
Erich Ludendorff, the earliest and most important political figure in Germany to support the Nazis, said:
"The Jews are not our enemies because of their race, but because one of their subtlest rabbis, that man called Saint Paul, distilled the poison of the Christ myth out of the life of the story of Jesus of Nazareth. The Jews are enemies of the Nordic race because they produced Christianity, which has been the poison that has destroyed the vitality of the Aryan people."
Matilde von Kemnitz, the wife of Ludendorff, promoted an unchristian neo-Teutonic cult that called, among other things, for the destruction of all churches and the creation of forest temples as places of sacrifice to pagan deities. Not only were Christians particularly hated by Nazis, but Jews were hated because Christianity came out of Judaism. Christianity emphatically repudiates racial theories, the right of the strong to dominate the weak, and other notions dear to Nazis. Hambloch in 1939 wrote:
"Modern democracy is the child of Christianity, and both were therefore anathema to Gobineau [the racial theorist who gave rise to much of Nazi racial "science."] Nietzsche proclaimed he was Antichrist. Gobineau was far more anti-social. He was anti-Christian."
Christianity is perfect anti-Nazism and the Nazis knew it. Members of the Hitler Youth were forbidden to join church organizations and membership in the Hitler Youth was more or less compulsory. Hitler Youth meetings were deliberately scheduled to coincide with Sunday church services. Hitler Youth were taught to be rebellious against their parents, contemptuous of religion and to use crude and offensive language. Lowenstein in 1941 wrote that in the Hitler Youth the neo-pagan cult began to fill the gap which was the result of a conscious erosion of Christianity.
The Nazis even forbade parents to give their children Christian names and ordered babies instead to be given names like Dietrich, Otto or Siegfried. The teaching of Christianity by parents in the home was forbidden. Churches were not allowed to collect funds for charitable work. The Nazis transferred Catholic clergy to Protestant areas and Protestant clergy to Catholic areas. Nazis smeared excrement on church altars and church doors, desecrated shrines, and threw statutes of saints into dung piles; and when synagogues were not available to attack and loot, churches were the target with Nazis yelling: "Down with Christians and Jews!" In many places, historic church feast days and holidays were banned and even the display of religious flags and banners was outlawed; often Nazis cordoned off areas necessary for church pilgrimages and offered free beer and sausages for secular events that deliberately coincided with church festivals.
This article is but the tip of the iceberg of evidence showing the total hatred for Christianity held by the Nazis. It is also instructive to note that these same authors (and many others) observed that the only organized resistance to Nazism in Germany came from devout Christians.
Now, the atheist response to this is that the Nazis believed in some sort of non-Christian metaphysical system, but that demonstrates the point in my article "The Godless Delusion" - everyone, even atheists, believe in something and all belief systems are not equal. Belief in the Judeo-Christian faith is uniquely good.
Bruce Walker is the author of the book Sinisterism: Secular Religion of the Lie.