One of sensitive subjects in the study of recent history is the religious beliefs of Adolf Hitler. As a man nearly everyone can agree ranks among the most evil in history no one wants to be associated with him and his beliefs. Christians often label him an atheist or a pagan, pagans and atheists often label him a Christian. Likely these accusations say more about the ones leveling them then his actual beliefs since most historians today would disagree with all of those positions.
As far as the idea that Hitler was a Christian or more specifically a Catholic there are a number of statements he made publically that support this view point. In Mein Kampf he wrote:
” 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.”
Further we know that he was raised Roman Catholic both attending Mass and being confirmed although there is no evidence that he participated in the sacraments after leaving home. While many quotes in public speeches and Mein Kampf go on to reaffirm that he was Christian and believed he was doing God’s work there is another side to him.
Hitler’s closest advisors and subordinates had completely different things to say on the matter of the Fuhrer’s beliefs. Martin Bormann, his secretary, quoted him as saying:
“"National Socialism and religion cannot exist together.... The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity's illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew. The deliberate lie in the matter of religion was introduced into the world by Christianity.... Let it not be said that Christianity brought man the life of the soul, for that evolution was in the natural order of things."
Among the leaders of the Reich Heinrich Himmler head of the SS said of Christianity:
“We will have to deal with Christianity in a tougher way than hitherto. We must settle accounts with this Christianity, this greatest of plagues that could have happened to us in our history, which has weakened us in every conflict.”
On the other side of the question is how did the Church feel about the Holocaust? It has been, wrongly, claimed that the Church never spoke out against Hitler and his actions but this myth is easily dispelled by Mit brennender Sorge (With Burning Concern) published in 1937. This papal encyclical was written in German (where normally they would be written in Latin) by Pope Piux XI and smuggled into Germany. It condemn’s Racism, anti Semitism and national socialism, denounces the Nazi attempts to dismiss the Old Testament and most telling describes Hitler himself as: “a mad prophet possessed of repulsive arrogance.” This encyclical was created with the assistance of a number of cardinals including, at the time, secretary of state Cardinal Pacelli the man who would go on to become Pope Pius the XII. Pope Pius the XII would also go on to address Anti Semitism many times in his own time as pontiff. It is true that both popes avoided directly naming the Nazis or Hitler in particular, a long standing tradition of keeping politics out of it, but there can be no doubt who was being addressed. Hitler himself was infuriated by the church’s actions and over 150 Catholic monks and priests were imprisoned and secretly tried by the Nazis for homosexuality shortly after the release of the encyclical.
Claims that Hitler was an atheist come closer to the mark but still fall short. Certainly Hitler was extremely materialistic with little respect for the occult obsessions of Heinrich Himmler and some of the other Nazis. That said the quotes already mentioned, and many more, certainly imply some belief in the divine which would rule out atheism. The alternative claim that he was a pagan in any traditional or modern sense seems unlikely. Its true that Hitler drew on the symbolism and mythology of Germanic mythology as a way to manipulate people but that is not the same as saying he worshiped those deities.
Instead another option may exist. Hitler’s supreme arrogance, his complete disregard for the millions he ordered put to death in the name of racial purity and even his undeniable charisma are reminiscent of the traits often found among serial killers and other psychopaths and sociopaths. It is a common trait of these kinds of people that while they often mimic religious behavior (since that behavior is considered normal and makes it easier to blend in) deep down they do not belief in God. Instead these kinds of people often believe themselves to be divine. Joseph Goebels said of Hitler “"Germany has been transformed into a great house of the Lord where the Fuhrer as our mediator stands before the throne of God." Hitler himself wrote, on his first visit to Berlin “The luxury, the perversion, the iniquity, the wanton display, and the Jewish materialism [of Berlin’s commercial district] disgusted me so thoroughly that I was almost beside myself," Hitler recalled:
"I nearly imagined myself to be Jesus Christ when he came to his Father’s temple and found it full of money-changers. I can well imagine how he felt when he seized a whip and scourged them out." There was also a prayer given to members of the Hitler Youth:
"Adolf Hitler, you are our great Führer. Thy name makes the enemy tremble. Thy Third Reich comes, thy will alone is law upon the earth. Let us hear daily thy voice and order us by thy leadership, for we will obey to the end and even with our lives. We praise thee! Hail Hitler!"
"Führer, my Führer, give me by God. Protect and preserve my life for long. You saved Germany in time of need. I thank you for my daily bread. Be with me for a long time, do not leave me, Führer, my Führer, my faith, my light, Hail to my Führer!"
These quotations and the sheer audacity of a prayer dedicated to him do not suggest Christianity or any other conventional religion. Instead they suggest Hitler had the supreme arrogance to place himself in the position of a divinity, a savior to the Germanic people excluding him from both atheistic and theistic world views that are in any way rational.
Copyright 2014 Kevin P Meares All Rights Reserved
Article on Hitler's Religious Beliefs:http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/04/18/3480312.htm
English Translation of Mit Brenneder Sorge: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_14031937_mit-brennender-sorge_en.html
Straight Dope Article: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1699/was-hitler-a-christian