Confusion surrounds what we think about Adolf Hitler and his religious beliefs. He invoked God’s name, but was he really a Christian? Or what about his Darwinian beliefs, was he an atheist? Listen in as Kurt speaks with Dr. Richard Weikart, author of “Hitler’s Religion.”
Here is the mentioned C-SPAN 2 interview with Dr. Weikart, which aired on August 26th.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. So nice to be with you here. Episode 111. It’s Bilbo Baggins Veracity Hill episode. His 111th birthday. We’ve got a great program for you today. We’re talking about Hitler’s religion and there’s some confusion surrounding that by many people. He seems to have invoked God’s name for various things and some people think he was a Christian, but he really obviously didn’t do many Christian things following in the way of Jesus so how should we understand his beliefs? Before we get to that though, we’ve got a few announcements on today’s program.
First, September 28-29, the Defenders’ Conference inches closer and closer, week by week, as some of us here at Defenders’ Media are preparing for the event. We’ve got these great hand cards that came in, front and back. Really awesome. Here’s the back with the different speakers you can see. It’s going to be an awesome opportunity. You can see there, text GENOCIDE to 555-888 to learn more. I was speaking to someone who brought up the event with someone at their church and they thought, “There’s blood on the text and that’s something that we can’t really show people.” Wait a second. It’s there in the Scriptures. YHWH commands the Israelites to kill the women and the children so how should we understand that command and evangelicals have different perspectives on interpreting those passages. This event is going to be an awesome event and I want to encourage you to come into Chicago to attend this Friday night-Saturday event. We’ve got a family coming from Oklahoma, believe it or not, for this event. That’s the farthest that I’ve heard, and also a couple from Virginia also coming. I’d have to check the map to see which one’s further from Chicago. If you’re thinking about spending a weekend in Chicago, this is a great opportunity to do that. If you want to learn more you can go to thedefendersconference.com. You can learn about the speakers, the breakout sessions, and even register for the event.
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Today, we’re talking about Hitler’s religion. In order to help speak in an educated manner on these issues, we’ve invited Dr. Richard Weikart who is a professor of history at the California State University Stanislaus and Richard, thank you so much for joining us on our program today.
Richard: Yeah. Thanks for having me on, Kurt.
Kurt: Great. Before we get talking about Hitler’s religion, I would like to have you give us a background of sort of who Hitler was, sort of square one. Let’s imagine that you’re speaking to someone who’s never heard of Hitler. How would you describe in as brief as possible, how would you describe who he was and the effect on western civilization that he had?
Richard: Hitler, of course, was the dictator of Germany from 1933-1945 and he’s the one who was one of the major causes of World War II so he had a profound impact in that respect on world history, but also then in his antagonism toward the Jews, he was going to initiate the holocaust, killing about 6 million Jews during the time of World War II. He had a huge impact on the middle part of the 20th century and a very deadly impact, in fact, not only killing Jews, but also killing people with disabilities, by the tens of thousands, about 200,000 Germans, and we don’t even know the exact number for people in occupied territories, and also we have all the Slavs he killed, millions of Soviet POWs were killed. We don’t know what the exact death toll was, but it was well above 10 million people killed, and that doesn’t even include the military combatant figures which would boost the figure by another several tens of millions.
Kurt: The reason why I bring this up is I found an article, and maybe I can find it, there was some study conducted, I’m not sure if it was academic or popular, but many people, something like 33% of people, didn’t know what the holocaust was. I’ll have to look that up here while we’re conducting our interview. Here it is. CBS news, 4 in 10 millennials don’t know 6 million Jews were killed in the holocaust. 40% of millennials, wow. That’s just astounding. That’s why I sort of gave you this very basic upfront question, many of us who are interested more in theology and politics and issues in society and history, are very familiar with this, but sadly, there’s some people out there, that I don’t know what it is, but it hasn’t been on their historical radar. Before even talking about the way he utilized religion in his public speeches and whatnot and we want to get into those issues, who was he in terms of his upbringing? Was he raised in a Christian church? What sort of beliefs did he have as a child? Maybe we can start from there and work our way chronologically?
Richard: Yeah. He was baptized as a Catholic in Austria which was overwhelmingly Catholic. His mother was fairly pious and devout. His father, however, was probably would be best described as a freethinker, that is someone who was antagonistic toward the Catholic Church which was not an uncommon position for a lot of people to be taking at the time. Hitler, by the time he got to his confirmation age, there’s one witness who suggested that he even though he went through it, he did go through his confirmation in Catholicism. One of his relatives claimed that he was rather contemptuous of the Catholic Church already at that time and sort of scoffing it. Once he reached his teenage years and left home, he never attended church with the few exceptions during his adult life for a few marriages and funerals and things like that. He never attended mass at the Catholic Church. As a young man, once he left home and moved to Vienna. In 1907 when he was 18 he moved to Vienna and from that point on there’s no evidence that he had any interest in Catholicism and Brigitte Hamann, who’s done one of the best studies of Hitler’s time in Vienna. It’s just called Hitler’s Vienna, she argues that he was very anti-clerical already by that time and the only evidence we have from that time suggests that he was already anti-religious.
Kurt: So certainly by his young adult age when he left home, he was what we might call a nominal Catholic. Did he even affiliate with the name? Did he even take the name or did he just become anti-religious?
Richard: This is tricky when you’re talking about a country where you have a state church. We don’t understand this quite in the United States. In Germany and Austria, both places, there’s a state church. You’re officially a member until you go down to the City Hall and withdraw from the church. You have to pay a fee to get out of the church. Right? A lot of people even though they didn’t have any heartfelt affiliation with the church, never bothered to go down to City Hall and withdraw for one reason and another and Hitler once he became a politician, didn’t want to withdraw because he thought that would be bad PR of him. No. Hitler never officially withdrew from the Catholic Church so officially he was a Catholic till the day that he died.
Kurt: And so part of getting through the muddy waters here on this issue is that in recognizing that sometimes there are these labels and these labels may not apply in substance. It’s in name only. It’s nominal. People have these discussions on ethics and apologetics and so they bring up the Nazis and so some people say, “Hitler was a Christian.” We need to ask ourselves, “What do you mean when you’re using that term?” It’s a label. How are you using the label? Did he self-identify as that? Maybe not even devotedly, but at least on the record books he was a Catholic, but that doesn’t really mean very much in substance.
Richard: And it doesn’t mean he believed in Catholic teachings and doctrines and practices. He didn’t practice Catholicism so he was in mortal sin essentially. The Catholic Church would have seen him being in mortal sin because he never went to mass. He never went to confession. In fact, I mentioned that he went to some funerals and weddings and after one of the funerals that he went to in the mid 1930s in Berlin, Goebbels recorded in his diary that Hitler came back just scoffing at the funeral mass that he had just been too. Hitler had a lot of contempt for Catholicism and its doctrines and this comes out a lot in his private speeches, monologues that he gave during World War II, especially, Goebbels records this in his diary. Rosenberg records this in his diaries, their conversations with Hitler. Because Hitler did talk a lot about religion interestingly. If you look at his monologues, if he look at what his colleagues had to say, he talked a lot about religion, but typically it was anti-Catholicism, anti-Christian, in his speech.
Kurt: We’ve got some folks listening in today. We’ve got John here. He writes, “According to historian Alan Bullock, Hitler was anti-religious and if not atheist then some form of non-religious belief in a providence.” Hitler did incorporate the religious language in his speeches. Some might call it a sort of civil religion. Many politicians will invoke God or other religious concepts in order to appear as if you’re one of the people and so certainly Hitler does this. He even goes further than that and there becomes as he rises to power, there becomes this cultlike mentality. Give us some details about the cultlike things that were associated with the marketing and messaging, the confessions people created that included him. It’s really a fascinating thing for many of us Americans where we have a different political structure than, they had a Democracy but it began to change. Tell us more about that.
Richard: Yeah. Some historians have actually argued that Nazism was what they call a political religion because of the way it tried to incorporate rites and ceremonies and other kinds of things to sort of replace Christianity in certain kinds of ways and Hitler becomes in that context becomes sort of a Messiah figure. There were some ways, this fairly old birthed[NP1] , the League of German Girls, for example, formulated a prayer, if you can call it that, that was modeled on the Lord’s prayer, but it was in honor of Hitler and it was speaking to Hitler as being their fuhrer and the second line of it, the Lord’s Prayer would be thy kingdom come, which is the[NP2] third reich, reich means kingdom. They’re talking about instead of God’s kingdom coming, the third reich, the third kingdom to come, and Hitler, the most interesting way I found that Hitler sort of played upon this interestingly is when he talked about Jesus and Hitler did actually speak highly and positively about Jesus, but he saw Jesus as being a non-Jew, he said Jesus was an Aryan and he was an Aryan fighter and Hitler’s favorite story of Jesus was when Jesus went into the temple and drove out the money-grubbing Jews, these greedy Jews, with a whip, as that plays into Hitler’s idea of the Jewish stereotypes and such, so Hitler thought highly about Jesus but at one place he made this comment about how Hitler was going to fulfill what Jesus had failed to do and Jesus had failed to do it because Jesus had died and Hitler didn’t believe in the resurrection, so Hitler thought Jesus had died at the hands of the Jews and therefore He’d failed essentially. Hitler was going to come along and succeed by destroying the Jews.
Kurt: And there were many people who viewed Hitler as a Messiah-like figure. He was going to be the savior and some compared Hitler or called him a half-plebeian, half-god.
Richard: That was Goebbel’s comment, yes.
Kurt: Give him this status of deity, a Herculean figure if you will in their minds.
Richard: In fact, Ian Kershaw who has once of the best biographies of Hitler. It’s a massive two-volume 800 page or so biography of Hitler. He wrote a book called the Hitler myth and in that book he argues that Hitler up until about 1923 or so saw himself as sort of a John the Baptist figure, sort of a forerunner for some Messiah of sorts, but around 1923 or so, Hitler became to take upon himself the aura of Messiah himself and so there was a shift in his thinking about his own role in which he became the Messiah figure in his own view and then portrayed that to the public.
Kurt: Who wouldn’t want to be a Messiah instead of John the Baptist? Pretty wild. A question for you. There are many books out there on Hitler, his biography, even some about his religious beliefs. What got you interested to explore this topic and feel like you were making a contribution here. As we do this, let me put this up here. Here’s “Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that drove the third Reich. You can check that out. We’ll be sure to put a link to at our website. What got you interested in putting forth a publication like this?
Richard: I certainly got interested in a roundabout way, because when I was doing my doctoral dissertation which was on the acceptance of Darwinism by the German socialists which has nothing to do with the third Reich or the Nazi period, I got interested in the way that some of the Darwinists in the late 19th century had been using evolutionary ethics as a way of replacing Judeo-Christian ethics or any other ethics for that matter, Kantian or other ethics. I decided to a research project on evolutionary ethics on late 19th century Germany and I wasn’t thinking of Hitler, Nazis, at that point, but as I began investigating I began finding out that the people who believed in evolutionary ethics by the late 19th, especially the 1890’s and early 1900’s, largely were people who also believed in eugencis, the idea that we need to improve human heredity by controlling reproduction, they were people who were embracing euthanasia, they were people who were embracing scientific racism and I thought this does sound a lot like Nazi ideology. I thought to myself, “Okay. Does this then apply? Did Hitler believe in evolutionary ethics?” Of course, Hitler doesn’t use the term evolutionary ethics himself, but as I began investigating his ideology, I discovered that yeah. Basically, the ideas he was putting forward were social Darwinistic ideas that embraced that idea evolution produces morality in humans, that morality is hereditarily ingrained and that we can help the evolutionary process along and that’s sort of what is moral is helping the evolutionary process along. To make a long story short then, I wrote the book called From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. That came out in 2004. The last chapter of that was on Hitler. The rest of it was on before World War I, it was pre-World War I German ideologies, I cite a lot of biologists and social thinkers and such. The chapter on Hitler, I expanded into a full-length work in 2009 called Hitler’s Ethic, the Nazi pursuit of evolutionary progress. That laid out the way that Hitler embraced evolutionary ethics and social Darwinism in a variety of field, eugenics, euthanasia, militarism, and such, and showed that it really was a central figure of his ideology. It wasn’t just some tangential thing. It sort of had its tentacles in a lot of different areas. As I writing that book and research that book, I got Richard Steigmann-Gall at Kent State University put out a book called “The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity.” Steigmann-Gall’s book argues that Nazis were a lot closer to Christianity than most historians heretofore had argued and so that’s one of the things that got me interested in thinking about this political issue. Steigmann-Gall’s thesis was pretty controversial. Most historians didn’t really embrace it. I got interested in looking at that particular issue and in some of my work is arguing against Steigmann-Gall’s position.
Richard: Let me say more too. As I got into the issue more, I started recognizing in sort of the popular sphere, there’s all sorts of misconceptions about Hitler’s religious views. A lot of atheists and agnostics claim that Hitler was a Christian. A lot of Christians claim that he was an atheist. Other people claim he was an occultist. You’ve got these three main views that are out there, the popular sphere. A lot of scholars don’t buy into those ideas, but there’s a lot of popular misconceptions like that. My book argues against all three of those ideas.
Kurt: Nice. I’m hoping we’ll get a chance to explore some of those ideas and you put forth an interesting theory, at least from someone who hasn’t studied the topic, that he was, and correct me if I’m wrong just from checking this out, that he viewed nature as God. You’ve kind of categorized it that way, a pantheistic view, and of course, he wouldn’t use that terminology, but when the rubber hits the road, what do you label it? What do you call his view? That’s something different than the popular options out there like you said.
Richard: I’m not the first person who suggested this. Robert Pois, who was a professor of history at the University of Colorado wrote a book about Nazi Nature Religion. He also suggests that the Nazis were largely pantheist. He wasn’t looking just at Hitler, but he was looking at Himmler and others in the SS. He argued that the Nazis were pantheistic as well. It’s not like I’m totally the first person to bring forward this idea, but I’m the first person to apply this to Hitler in a thoroughgoing fashion and looked at it in that way. There’s a lot of indications that Hitler did deify nature. In Mein Kampf, for example, there’s some very interesting passages there. One of the most famous passages from Mein Kampf, interestingly, is the passage where Hitler says that by persecuting the Jews, I am doing the work of the Lord, and that is used so often to sort of place Hitler in sort of this Christian context, to see Hitler as a Christian persecution the Jews and such, but if you look at the context, there’s a very interesting sentence that comes right above it and the whole context is very interesting. The context, the aristocratic laws of nature and how they are constraining things, and then just before this sentence where he says about by persecuting the Jews I am doing the work of the Lord, he says the eternal nature of vengeance any transgression of its commands[NP3] and so he calls nature eternal which is very interesting because if you’re a theist, you don’t believe that nature is eternal. A theist believes that God created nature and so it had a beginning, it had a start. Hitler believed that nature was eternal. That’s one clue. That doesn’t tell you for sure that he’s a pantheist, but that’s a clue there, but he also talks about nature having commands, nature avenges its commands and the infringement of its commands. Hitler speaks of nature that way and very interestingly, if you look at the various translations of Mein Kampf and there are about four or five translations of Mein Kampf that were done back in the 30’s, you find out that most of the translators, in fact I think all of the translators, actually capitalized nature in those contexts so the translators recognized that he was deifying or at least personifying nature in those contexts as well. Hitler, of course, we don’t know if Hitler would have gone with that stylistic convention because the Germans always capitalize nature. It’s a noun. Germans capitalized all nouns. Hitler did capitalize nature so that doesn’t mean a whole lot, but the translators at least recognize that Hitler was doing something with nature there that was not just speaking about it as an inanimate object.
Kurt: You talked about Darwinism, how that had an influence. What were the influences over his religious beliefs?
Richard: Interestingly, when Hitler in his monologues reflects back and we’re not exactly sure up and up, Hitler a lot of times, lied about his earlier upbringing, but in his monlogues, he actually does talk about how when he was at school, how in his religion classes which were mandated by the state, this is state-run, these are state churches in Austria and also in Germany at the time. They had mandated religion classes and Hitler mentioned how during his religion class he would be taught something different than in his science class and in his science class he was being taught Darwinian evolution. In his religion classes he was being taught creation and such. Hitler mentions this and clearly takes the side of Darwinism against his Catholic teachings he had had in his religion classes there and uses this as an opportunity, this was I think in October 1941 if I recall correctly in his monologue, where he uses an opportunity to bash Catholicism in his religious upbringing that he had, but he definitely saw Darwinian evolution as being a very important component of his worldview and ideology and again, I think that fits in with this pantheistic framework because he sees Darwinism as being the origins of morality and so he sees morality as being tied in with nature and so morality doesn’t come from God. Morality comes from nature.
Kurt; It’s interesting because there are some atheists today that still take that route. They still take that line of reasoning, that our morals just have evolved from the evolutionary process, but when you bring up, how’s that different from Nazism, they say “No, no, no. We’ve learned from that.” It doesn’t seem like there’s still that intellectual grounding for them to say that. I always pose the hypothetical, “What if Hitler had won?” Some people say, “It would have been impossible giving all the factors,” but I think there’s an Amazon Prime show that I haven’t watched yet called The Man In the High Castle and it presents this fictional reality, “What if the Nazis had won?” Where would that lead? Very fascinating.
Richard: If you look at a person who did win like Genghis Khan, Genghis Khan had a lot of the same, committed a lot of atrocities like Hitler did, massacred multitudes of people. He even made a statement at one point that he enjoyed, it brought him great joy to kill his enemies, to rape their wives, to destroy their cities, he did win. I don’t know what the number of his descendants around today, but they’re maybe in the hundreds of millions of people who are his descendants today. He had lots of people put in the gene pool. He did win in the evolutionary sense. The question is what’s wrong with what Genghis Khan did and people who think morality simply evolved I don’t think have any way of saying, well he evolved too, so how is evolving to be kindly and gentle, how is that better than evolving to be brutal and a massacre and I don’t think atheists have a good answer for that.
Kurt: Right. We’ve got a question here and then after this question we’ll head to a break. It comes from Ted who’s listening in. He writes, “Is professor Weikart familiar with Richard Weaver’s 1948 book, ‘Ideas Have Consequences?’ What are his thoughts on it and does he agree with Weaver’s thesis that the philosophy of 14th century nominalism was a major component which led to Hitler’s rise to power in Weimar, Germany?” Very academic question here.
Richard: I do know about Weaver’s work. Ideas Have Consequences, and obviously as an intellectual historian myself, I certainly believe ideas have consequences and that’s what I’m trying to spin out in my work about Hitler’s ethic and Hitler’s religion and such. I haven’t done enough in-depth study on the impacts of nominalism. I’m a little skeptical though of that claim that’s made. A lot of times that claim gets made in fact, by Catholic scholars who want to tag the Protestants as being the heirs of nominalism and so they sort of see the trajectory as going from Nominalism to Protestantism and then ultimately in the 20th century to Hitler and such. I don’t really think that works very effectively in terms of an intellectual lineage in thinking about Hitler. Again, Hitler came from a Catholic context anyway. I don’t see any way of suggesting that Hitler himself was influenced by nominalism so again, I am kind of skeptical of the way that would work itself out.
Kurt: Great. Thank you. We’re going to go a break here, but when we come back we’re going to talk about Hitler’s religion and how some historians are misguided, certainly in the popular ideas here, that Hitler was a Christian or that he was an occultist or that he was an atheist and the truth requires a little bit more digging than that. On today’s program we’ve got Dr. Richard Weikart so stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt:Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. If you’d like to learn how you can become a sponsor, go to our website Veracityhill.com and click on that patron tab. There’s some different levels and options. We would love to get your support if you want to help advertise your business, your organization, or your ministry. We’d love to partner you and help promote what you’re doing as well. On today’s program, we’re talking about Hitler’s religion and before we get back to that, we have this wonderful segment of the show that we call Rapid Questions and Dr. Weikart, I didn’t tell you about this segment did I? That was intentional. This is a fun part of the program where we just ask quick questions and we’re looking for sort of genuine answers so we’ll see how many you can get through here. I’ll get the game clock going and after I start it I’ll read the first question. Are you ready?
Kurt: Okay. Here we go. What is your clothing store of choice?
Richard: Goodwill probably.
Kurt: Taco Bell or
Richard: Taco Bell.
Kurt: What’s your most hated sports franchise?
Richard: I don’t follow sports.
Kurt: No problem. What is your spouse’s favorite holiday?
Kurt: Who’s one person you’d like to have dinner with to discuss a topic you disagree on?
Richard: Maybe Richard Dawkins.
Kurt: That’s a popular one. Pick a fictional character you’d like to meet.
Not much of a fiction guy.
Richard: No. I don’t read a lot of fiction actually. Some, but not a lot.
Kurt: No worries. You can pass. Last question here. Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Richard: Hardly ever. I hardly ever drink.
Kurt: You’re breaking my heart.
Richard: I like Dr. Pepper, but I don’t drink pop very often.
Kurt: Alright. Good. I’ll let you pass with that one. Thank you for playing that round of Rapid Questions. Let me ask you this. Goodwill. That’s your favorite clothing store of choice? There are some good deals to be found at Goodwill. That’s for sure. My wife and I like to swing in and see. You never know what you might find there. One man’s donation is another man’s treasure. Let’s put it that way. Great.
Richard: We’re talking about Hitler’s religion on the program. Before we get to that, I wanted to share a few links here to apologetics315 which is one of our ministries that we manage here and Chris, if you can put that up for viewers here, you can see here our weekly bonus links. It’s a wonderful opportunity, once a week we put up these bonus links, a variety of links here on Kindle deals or just articles, videos. This week we’ve got some videos by reasons.org, Christian-thinktank.com, Bible Sprout, Clear Lens, some great deals on Kindle books, Craig Keener, J. Warner Wallace, Greg Koukl. I want to encourage you to go and check that out. Just go to apologetics315.com and it’s right there. We post those links Friday nights so it’s fresh, top of the page. Check that out if you can. Okay. Back to the topic for today’s program. Confusion surrounds what exactly Hitler believed about his religious views. Some people think, he certainly evoked religious themes and motifs in his speeches and he grew up Catholic so maybe he was a Christian, but again, he didn’t really do Christlike things. David Floyd here comments here too, he makes that distinction. David, thanks for watching on the program. John’s tuning in. “I started to watch the Man in the High Castle,” he writes. Some people believe that Hitler was an atheist, but it’s not quite so clear-cut. He didn’t believe God did not exist and so the truth is a bit, requires some digging to uncover and so on today’s program we’ve got Dr. Richard Weikart to help us seek the answer to this question. What was his beliefs on this matter? Dr. Weikart is the author of Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs That Drove The Third Reich. We will be sure to put a link to this on our website so you can check that out. Richard. I want to now with the rest of the program go through here these different options sort of people have. First, let’s start with this question. Was Hitler a Christian?
Richard: Okay. We’ve already talked about this a little bit and definitions, but Hitler, by his own understanding of Christianity, he rejected Christianity in private many, many times. In his monologues. He called Christianity the most insane thing a human brain had ever devised at one point. He scoffed at Christian doctrines like the virgin birth, the resurrection, some pretty basic Christian doctrines. He himself did not see himself as being a Christian and in fact, one time when he was in Landsberg Prison after his Beer Hall Putsch, Rudolf Hess, his righthand man, was holding a discussion with some other guys there about religion and Hitler stayed aloof out of the discussion. After it was over though, Hess and Hitler talked privately and Hitler told Hess point blank that he had to play the religious hypocrite, even used the term himself, that he had to be a religious hypocrite, for political reasons. When he made statements like in April 1922 there’s a famous speech that he gave, it’s famous now because the atheists play on it where he called Jesus his Lord and savior, it was purely a political ploy. What’s interesting to is if you look at the times when he said those things, he was usually responding to some other politician who would call him out on his religious, his anti-religious views and Hitler’s basically, “No no. I really am a Christian”, but one of the interesting things I discovered as I was doing this book and I have the pictures and photos of this in the book was in 1932, the year before Hitler became chancellor, when he was still having to pander to the Germans political sensibilities a little bit more, his personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, did a photo of him coming out of the church in Northern Germany and there’s this white cross right above Hitler’s head, about sort of like a halo effect, and the caption to the photo says, “A chance event becomes a symbol. Hitler, the supposed heretic coming out of the[NP4] . The takeaway of that is supposed to be, Hitler’s coming out of a church, you assume he’s going to a church service, and he has this cross above his head so it’s a sort of a sign that he’s really not a heretic. He’s really a Christian. However, what I discovered in researching my book was that five or six years later in a new edition of that same book that had that photo in it, Heinrich Hoffmann and Hitler had the cross airbrushed out of the photo…
Kurt: Is that right?
Richard: Yes. There’s no longer no cross in it anymore. They had to change the caption because of that too, so the new caption and this is 1938 by the time Hitler was entrenched in power, he didn’t have to worry quite as much about his popularity in these ways, the new caption said, “Hitler after sightseeing in the historical[NP5] so making clear that he hadn’t gone to a church service. He was just looking at the architecture. Hitler, at that point was distancing himself more from Christianity and if you look at Hitler’s pronouncement before 1933 and after 1933, you find that after 1933 he hardly ever identified even publicly with Christianity and certainly never called Jesus his Lord and savior after 1933. Then, if you look at his private conversations that he had, Goebbels kept diaries during the times, Rosenberg kept diaries that we have access too today. Hitler’s secretary wrote memoirs, and then we have his monologues during World War II and all of those, Hitler made very strong anti-Christian statements ridiculing the churches and such and so, it’s pretty clear that Hitler was not a Christian. I also have a chapter in my book talking about how Hitler persecuted the churches in various kinds of ways too. He didn’t come out and try to totally disband the churches in 1933. He knew that wouldn’t go over with the German public so he’s playing to the German public still in some degree, but he tried to whittle away their influence wherever he could.
Kurt: That was going to be my follow-up. For those that are familiar with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s story, we learn about Hitler’s persecution of the church and he didn’t like that some people were saying, that pastors and priests were saying critical things about him, so what were some of the things that he did to push down evangelical views on him?
Richard: Well, once he got into World War II there’s some very interesting things that happened. Again, he sort of moved slowly. He didn’t try to come out and just sort of squash the churches completely. In fact, he even warned sometimes his colleagues, there were some SS leaders who Hitler sometimes told to back off of their anti-Christian activities and again, it was not because he disagreed with their anti-religion. It was because he said it’s not politically wise. It will alienate too many people and such, and those were the kinds of things that went on. During World War II he assigned the chaplains to the forward up in the front, as far as front as possible to try to get them all killed off. This was actually referred to at the time, by people, Hitler didn’t call it this, but other people refer to this as the Uriah Order after King David…
Kurt: David put Uriah at the front lines.
Richard: Hitler tried to get the chaplains killed off if he could in battle. Hitler also drew up plans for the German cities to rebuild them after World War II, no churches in those plans, architectural plans drawn up for the new cities. During the war, they’d put paper restrictions, they said this was rationing for the war effort so church periodicals got shut down during the war. They did a lot of different things to try to cut down on church influence. Hitler youth became mandatory during the late 1930’s and because of that they shut down all the church youth organizations, both the Protestant and Catholic church had very thriving youth organizations before the Nazi period. They all got shut down and all the youth had to join the Hitler Youth and there was a lot of anti-religious propaganda in the Hitler Youth also so there’s just all sorts of ways that Hitler was trying to undermine the influence of the churches especially with the young people, especially in the schools, and especially in the Hitler youth.
Kurt; You really see propaganda play out where the government is manipulating even the history, like they airbrushed the cross out of the church picture and some people are worried they might draw connections to American presidents. People have been doing it for decades now. So-and-so. That’s what Hitler did. The comparisons, they’re so weak when you look at what exactly Hitler did to paint himself to be a better person or to veer peoples’ thoughts in a certain direction. Alright. Let’s move along here to the second issue. Hitler wasn’t a Christian. Was he an atheist?
Richard: This is a little trickier because in part it’s going to depend on how you define atheism. Some people say that pantheism is atheism. I’ve run into people that when I argued Hitler was a pantheist they say no, he was, and they’ll say that means he is an atheist because if you believe nature is God, that is an atheistic view. I don’t think that’s quite true. Hitler does have some belief in, he uses the word providence an awful lot not just in public but also in private. Hitler never said that he was an atheist or said that he believed there was no kind of god. He did deny a personal afterlife. He did claim that once we die, we simply get reabsorbed back into the reservoir of nature which is again why I think he’s a pantheist. He seems to see everything going back to nature and such, but he does have this notion that nature can intervene in certain ways too. When he survives assassination attempts and such he assigns this to providence and again I don’t think this was just a political ploy. I think he really did think that way, that providence was behind him. In fact, I actually argue that because he had some belief in some kind of active providence in this pantheistic god, I think this is one of the things that gave him hope that he was going to win World War II even when it was obviously lost and when he should have known better, to the very end, again, not quite to the very end because he does commit suicide before his country surrenders and he tells his successors to go ahead and keep waging the war when it’s all done, but when everyone else realized the war was up, Hitler was still confident that somehow God was going to save him. Somehow God was going to intervene and he’d seen this happen before. He’d lost at the Beer Hall Putsch and somehow he’d come out on top after that, and other episodes where he had survived assassination attempts and other kinds of things, so he somehow, he had this confidence that somehow God was going to save him in World War II, that I think stuck with him and that was not complete atheism. However, if we do look at, Hitler does actually speak quite positively of some atheists and he does sort of associate himself with some atheists. He thought highly of Nietzsche. There’s a photo of him across from Nietzsche in the Nietzsche archives. He gave money to the Nietzsche archives. Nietzsche of course was the “God is Dead.” He thought very highly of Frederick the Great, his religious ideas, which Frederick the Great was a religious skeptic certainly and Hitler certainly lauds religious skepticism at various times, but again when it comes down to what he really believed, it does seem that pantheism is sort of the best and closest thing if he actually had a consistent metaphysic. By the way, that’s also a possibility. It’s possible he didn’t have a consistent metaphysic in which case he may not have been a consistent pantheist, but I think his pantheism comes closest to where it usually ends up.
Kurt: So why is that some people float the idea that he was in the occult?
Richard: I think that’s largely because there were other in his entourage who were into the occult. If you go to the History Channel and you see all sorts of shows about the Nazism in the occult and there were a lot of occult elements that were integrated into Nazism, especially the SS, because Himmler was very interested in the occult and neo-paganism and such. Hess, who I mentioned earlier is Hitler’s personal secretary and such, Hess was very interested in astrology and the occult. There’s an interesting story about Hess and this sort of brings in Hitler’s anti-occultist side. When Hess fled to England, bailed out over Scotland in May 1941 to try to broker a deal with the British, Hitler thought he’d gone insane and Hitler blamed the occultists and blamed the astrologers for sort of putting Hess up to that and so a couple weeks later Hitler ordered the SS and his police forces to round up leading astrologers and occultists throughout Germany because Hitler was mad at them for having sort of, he thought, put Hess up to this. They rounded up all these astrologers, put them in the concentration camps in prisons in Germany again signifying Hitler’s anti-occultist bent, but there’s a very interesting twist to this story too, because Himmler was interested in the occult. Himmler actually took one of those astrologers and took him out of custody. a guy named Wilhelm Wulff, took him out of custody and made him his personal astrologer. Hitler and Himmler were not of the same mind about this particular issue so some of the Nazis like Hitler and Goebbels and Heydrich who were very anti-occultist, but others like Himmler and Hess and there were others as were, Rosenberg, also were into more occult and neo-pagan kind of things.
Kurt: Interesting. I never knew that. I was always curious why people associated the occult, but his associates were into that sort of stuff. Alright. Do you think the continued debate surrounding Hitler’s religion will sort of officially be laid to rest? It seems like it just keeps going on and on. What would it take for people to finally realize, hey, he wasn’t a Christian. He wasn’t an atheist. That’s the end of the story.
Richard: I’m hoping my book “Hitler’s Religion” will help lay it to rest in some degree. I don’t think it’s going to necessarily succeed, but interestingly, the reviews that have come out, there was actually a review in humanist.com that was very positive toward it which kind of surprised me because I thought the atheists were going to come jump on me with it and say, “No. No. No. Hitler really was a Christian.” Actually, this one review and I think some atheists will just dismiss my ideas probably, but humanist.com actually gave me a pretty positive review of my book and such. Possibly that’s also because I’m arguing Hitler wasn’t an atheist too. That sort of fits into their thinking so I’m hoping my book will sort of shed light on this issue in a way that maybe can help us get over the misconceptions that are out there. I’m not totally convinced that’s going to happen. There’s really bizarre things that get up brought up sometimes on atheist websites and such trying to prove that the Nazis were Christians and one of the most bizarre ones I think up that just got brought up to me yesterday when I was talking with someone was the thing about the belt buckles having Gott Mit Uns on them, the German army had belt buckles that said Gott Mit Uns. However, those belt buckles with Gott Mit Uns were initiated in the German military well before the Nazi period. Hitler didn’t introduce those into the Nazi period. It’s just one of those things he tolerated because the military already had it and he wasn’t wanting to antagonize them by saying they gotta get rid of those or something. Hitler didn’t make them get rid of it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Hitler was approving of the Gott Mit Uns. Also, you could interpret Gott to be whatever you wanted in that context. It doesn’t have to be the Christian Gott at that point. In fact, when Himmler, Himmler did in the mid 1930’s did withdraw from the Catholic Church, Himmler had also been raised Catholic and Hitler at first when he came to power told his associates not to withdraw but by the mid 1930’s Hitler actually did allow them to withdraw from the Catholic Church and so when Himmler withdrew from the Catholic Church he and many other SS leaders and members instead of identifying themselves as religionless registered as God-believers. Gottgläubige was the German term. Believers in God, but just a vague, it could be any kind of god. It was just some vague god, but they withdrew from the Catholic Church or in some cases SS leader maybe the Protestant Church as well, but they called themselves Gottgläubige, so again Hitler believed in god of some sorts, Gott Mit Uns, this pantheistic God could be the Gott Mit Uns too.
Kurt: Yeah. Anthony writes here, “I love the themes Richard Weikart is hitting on. Sort of following in Rodney Stark’s footsteps by clearing up some of these attempts to revise history.” Anthony. Thank you for that comment and for watching along today. Richard. You’ve had the awesome opportunity to be interviewed by C-Span and so tomorrow, broadcast at 7:42 Central time on C-Span2, you’re going to be interviewed on the death of humanity and the case for life and then of course, Hitler’s Religion. How did that come about? How did you get that great opportunity?
Richard: C-Span was doing interviews with book authors at a conference I went to called FreedomFest in Las Vegas in July and so they contacted me and asked me if they could interview me about my books and I said, “Sure”, so they interviewed me about both Hitler’s religion as well as the death of humanity, it’s about a 15-20 minute interview that they did with me and so it’s going to be showing tomorrow on C-Span. I think they said they’re going to run it a couple of other weekends later on too so if you miss it tomorrow, it may show later. They may put it on their website eventually too. I think they do put most of them on their website. I think I’m not positive that, but I’m guessing it will be on their web site later on too.
Kurt: We’ll be sure to keep a lookout for it and if they do put it up online and it’s embeddable then we’ll put it up on our website too. For those that want to even read more, apologetics315 is coming out with a review of Dr. Weikart’s book that’s going to be published, the review will be published next week at that website, Apologetics315.com. Glad to be partnering and utilizing that ministry to help spread the great work that you’ve done here Dr. Weikart and thank you so much for coming on our program today.
Richard: Yeah. Thanks for having me.
Kurt: We’ll be sure to bring you on again to talk about the death of humanity. I’ll be in touch in the coming weeks here.
Richard: Great. Looking forward to it.
Kurt: God bless you.
Richard: Okay. You too.
Kurt: Alright. That does it for our program today. I again want to encourage you if you haven’t yet gone to our conference web site, thedefendersconference.com, please consider coming to Chicago September 28-29. It’s going to be a wonderful event. We’re going to hear from a number of different evangelical perspectives on the supposed genocide commands and those keynote speakers are Dr. John Walton, Dr. Paul Copan, Dr. Kenton Sparks, and Dr. Clay Jones, and at the end of the conference, there will be a roundtable discussion and that’s going to be really fascinating to hear these perspectives engage with each other and to see what are some of the pros and cons, what are the strengths and weaknesses to your interpretation or your interpretation? It really will provide an opportunity for Christians to maybe have their own views challenged as well, to think critically about how we understand the Israelites conveying to us that God commanded them to do these things and dealing with those issues. Of course, during the breakout sessions, there will be other topics as well. If you go to the website, you can learn more about that, thedefendersconference.com, and you can register there too.
I want to give folks just a heads-up that Chris and I have been busy working on a fundraising video for apologetics315 so keep a lookout for that. Hopefully coming this week. We’ve just got a few more final edits. If you want to become a patron of our program, go to our website, Veracityhill.com/patron and please leave a review for us on iTunes and Google Play Store or wherever you’re listening. Facebook. We would love to get more reviews. That’s going to help with the search results so please leave us those five-star reviews.
Alright. That does it for the program today. I am grateful for the continued support of our patrons and the partnerships that we have with our sponsors and those sponsors are Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. I want to thank our technical producer Chris and to our guest today, Dr. Richard Weikart and last but not least, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
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