This is a guest post by Max. He can be found under the Handle@atheisttothemax on Twitter.
Often times in discussions between Theists and Atheists, someone will bring up Hitler, and the whole debate derails, heading straight into absurdity.
It should be clear to anybody that whether Hitler believed in Jesus, pink fluffy unicorns or nothing at all is completely irrelevant for two reasons. Firstly, it doesn’t tell us anything about the “effects” of either worldview, because one person can never be sufficient data. Secondly, when discussing the nature of the world, moral implications (if they exist at all) of either side should be irrelevant.
Now, then, why am I even talking about the issue? It’s simple, really: I’m somewhat sick of it, because these discussions often become very heated and emotional, which is why it seems to me that massive cherry picking of data occurs on both sides, which is something I’d like to shed some light on.
This post can be considered somewhat of a response to religious apologist websites and also to @SecularScarlet on Twitter, whose blog post brought me back to the issue (shout out to her by the way, you should go and check her blog out).
I’ll try to make my point clear first and then provide evidence to support it, but to be clear: I’m not a historian, my knowledge on this subject comes from occasional readings online and history class, in which the NS era is one of the most important subjects, though. So, everything from now on must be taken with a considerable grain of salt. If something I say doesn’t stand scrutiny, please do tell me.
Hitler surely was not a Christian, though he did want to give that impression to the public. Now then, was he an Atheist? Again, the answer is no, though this is somewhat more of a tricky one.
Hitler’s antichristian tendencies, mostly expressed to those close to him, are undebated among historians, and can be looked up online. I’d bring some forward myself, but all sources I have here are in German, and I don’t feel like translating any of that right now, but I might if someone specifically wants insight. He often described religion as something that had to be abolished, which makes sense as two totalitarian ideologies don’t fit well together. It is a common position that his especially positive remarks on Christianity, especially before 1933 were meant to persuade the Christian majorities in Germany, which worked well among Protestants.
So, then, is it settled? No. If one examines his remarks in his infamous “Mein Kampf”, it becomes clear that he believed in supernatural forces such as the “Vorsehung” (fate), a creator and a “natural order” close to Social Darwinism (an ideology mostly found with Christian white supremacists of the time), which inspired his atrocities towards Jews, Sinti, Roma and all the others he considered “inferior” or “Untermenschen” (“sub-humans”). Some exemplary quotes from Wikipedia:
“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.”
“The völkisch-minded man, in particular, has the sacred duty, each in his own denomination, of making people stop just talking superficially of God’s will, and actually fulfill God’s will, and not let God’s word be desecrated. For God’s will gave men their form, their essence and their abilities. Anyone who destroys His work is declaring war on the Lord’s creation, the divine will.”
It is sometimes argued that this was just a setup, as likely were his previously mentioned praises of Christianity as a moral basis etc., but this seems unlikely to me. Having written his book in prison after a failed coup, I doubt he was planning ahead as far or foreseeing what might happen. It seems more reasonable to me to assume that his somewhat occult, semi-deistic remarks show that he might have believed in a superior force of some sort. The quasi-religious ideology he spread in Germany is unlikely to have sprung from a complete dismissal of organized religion, and there are many religious references within Nazi symbolisms.
Debaters arguing that Nazism somehow shows what an “Atheistic society” would look like end up ridiculing themselves, as Atheism is not a dogmatic ideology, but merely a claim on one specific subject. Hitler’s anti-scientific attitude, made clear by his remarks on how he imagined the youth to be educated, stating science to be the last thing to be considered in the education process (I have quotes in German back from history class if someone is interested), is at odds to the attitude shown by most “popular Atheists” today.
Now, why did I sum this all up? I want to make clear that the story isn’t as black and white as many on both sides of the issues tend to portray it. There are quotes that indicate a tendency towards both notions, Hitler having been an Atheist or not. He therefore can’t be used as an example to show “the evils of Atheism”, but one can also not say that he was a right-wing Christian, as it’s sometimes done.
I therefore plead the following: Keep Hitler out of the theological debate, on whichever side you may stand. It won’t get us anywhere except people getting emotional and throwing rocks at each other.
PS: Thanks a lot to René for hosting me. I really appreciate it as this was my first endeavor into the realm of blogging. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts