The religious beliefs of Adolf Hitler are frequently misunderstood as either Christian or Atheist. A look at his own words reveals a complicated truth.
Guest Post By History on the Net
No matter how little you know about history, you know something about Adolf Hitler. And if you want to shut down an opponent, you can claim that Hitler said/did/believed the same thing. Godwin’s Law exists for a reason.
But Hitler remains a persistent mystery on one front—his religious faith. Atheists tend to insist Hitler was a devout Christian. Christians contend that he was an atheist. And still others suggest that he was a practicing member of the occult.
None of these theories is true, says historian Richard Weikart in his new book Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich. Delving more deeply into the question of Hitler’s religious faith than any researcher to date, Weikart reveals the startling and fascinating truth about the most hated man of the twentieth century: Adolf Hitler was a pantheist who believed nature was the only true “God.” (click here to listen to an interview with Weikart on the History Unplugged Podcast)
In mid-January of 1940, Hitler was discussing with his colleagues a rather frequent topic of his conversations and monologues: the church. After he sarcastically imitated Niemöller, the Confessing Church leader who was incarcerated in a concentration camp, someone in his entourage indicated to him that posterity might not be able to figure out what Hitler’s religion was, because he never openly stated his beliefs. The person who brought this to Hitler’s attention had clearly noticed the discrepancy between his private expressions of intense antipathy to Christianity and his public religious image. Since many in Hitler’s entourage were also intensely anti-Christian, perhaps they were trying to provoke him to state his personal religious views publicly. In any case, this observation about the inscrutability of Hitler’s religious views still has merit today— even though we have far more information about Hitler available to us than most of his contemporaries had.That, of course, does not mean everyone draws the same conclusion. As we have seen, some people today interpret Hitler as an atheist, while others insist he was a Christian. In fact, he has been described as an adherent of just about every major religious position in twentieth-century European society (excepting Judaism, of course), which included agnosticism, pantheism, panentheism, occultism, deism, and non-Christian theism.
Interestingly, when he was confronted in January 1940 with the observation that people might not know Hitler’s religion, he suggested that, on the contrary, it should not be difficult for people to figure it out. After all, he asserted, he had never allowed any clergy to participate in his party meetings or even in funerals for party comrades. He continued, “The Christian-Jewish pestilence is surely approaching its end now. It is simply dreadful, that a religion has even been possible, that literally eats its God in Holy Communion.” Hitler clearly thought that anyone should be able to figure out that he was not a Christian. Nonetheless, Rosenberg reported in his diary later that year that Hitler had determined that he should divulge his negative views about Christianity in his last testament “so that no doubt about his position can surface. As head of state he naturally held back—but nevertheless after the war clear consequences will follow.” Many times, Hitler told his colleagues that he would reckon with Christianity after the successful conclusion of the war.
Interestingly, even in these conversations, Hitler only indicated what he did not believe. He did not explain at that time what he did believe about God, the after-life, or other religious issues. Indeed, it is much easier to figure out what Hitler did not believe than to figure out Hitler’s religion and feelings. Probably, this is partly because Hitler considered God ineffable. Hitler’s God was not one who revealed himself clearly to humanity, but a mysterious being who superseded human knowledge.
Hitler’s religion: What he did not believe
So, what did Hitler not believe? He continually rejected Christianity, calling it a Jewish plot to undermine the heroic ideals of the (Aryan-dominated) Roman Empire. He did not accept the deity of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, or indeed any of the miracles of Jesus. There is no evidence that he believed in a triune God. Though he esteemed Jesus as an Aryan fighter against Jewish materialism who was martyred for his anti-Jewish stance, he did not ascribe to Jesus’s death any significance in human salvation. Indeed, he did not believe in salvation at all in the Christian sense of the term, because he denied a personal afterlife. Despite his public invocations to God, Hitler also did not believe in the efficacy of prayer. His God responded to people and judged them according to their works, not their words. Although he spurned Christianity, this did not lead him to disbelieve in every form of deity, however. He overtly rejected atheism, associating it with “Jewish-Bolshevism.” Further, he explicitly condemned mysticism, occultism, and neo-paganism. Thus, it is evident Hitler was neither a Christian, atheist, occultist, nor neo-paganist.
While this narrows the range of options of Hitler’s religion slightly, it still leaves us with agnosticism, pantheism, panentheism, deism, and non-Christian theism. A reasonable case could be made for more than one of these options. In order solve this puzzle, however, one must not only examine the full panoply of his religious statements but also decipher how to weigh those statements on Hitler’s religion. Are his private statements more revealing of his true convictions than his public speeches? Probably, but even his private statements must be used cautiously. Are his books a better indication of his personal beliefs than his speeches? This is likely, because he seemed to be more systematic in explaining his worldview in Mein Kampf and in his Second Book. However, they also served propaganda purposes and must be used carefully as well. There also remains the question of whether Hitler even had a coherent metaphysic; if not, perhaps there is no single answer to what Hitler’s religion was.