Was Hitler and the mass murder he brought about caused by secularization, or, on the contrary, was Christianity responsible for the Holocaust? As I demonstrate in my forthcoming book, Hitler’s Religion (November 2016), this subject arouses intense passions in debates over religion and atheism. In 2010 Richard Dawkins became livid after Pope Benedict XVI praised the British for having fought “against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society.” Dawkins countered that Hitler was not only not an atheist, but rather Hitler was a Catholic Christian who sincerely believed in God. Dawkins quoted a 1922 speech where Hitler called himself a Christian and referred to Jesus as “my Lord and Savior.”
This 1922 quotation by Hitler seems to be a favorite of religious skeptics, who manifest absolutely no skepticism whatsoever about this particular pronouncement (of course, they simply ignore the many anti-Christian statements Hitler made). Their attitude seems to be: Hitler said it, I believe it, and that settles it. Apparently it does not occur to them that Hitler would lie about something as important as religion.
By comparing Hitler’s public statements with his private utterances, we find that Hitler was a religious chameleon. He warned in Mein Kampf against alienating people over religion, and for the most part he followed his advice, trying to pose as friendly to Christianity to woo the masses. However, privately—and even occasionally publicly—he was dismissive of Christianity and expressed hostility toward it.
This does not mean that Hitler was an atheist. Christians need to beware of assuming that he was an atheist, just because he rejected Christianity. Hitler seems to have believed in some kind of a higher power.
Some Christians seem to assume that because Hitler was so diabolical, he must have been a follower of the occult. This would also be a mistake, as Hitler was contemptuous of the occult and had astrologers and prognosticators thrown into concentration camps.
So, if Hitler was not a Christian, nor an atheist, nor an occultist, what was he? Also, did his religion make any difference in his ideology and policies? These are questions I will explore in my talk at the National Conference on Christian Apologetics in October and that will receive fuller treatment in my book, Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs That Drove the Third Reich (forthcoming in November 2016).
Richard Weikart is professor of history at California State University, Stanislaus, and author of The Death of Humanity: And the Case for Life, and Hitler’s Religion.