Was Hitler an Atheist?

Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun with two dogs in front of a house.

Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

There is a widespread myth that atheism is more dangerous than religion because atheists like Adolf Hitler killed millions in the name of atheistic ideologies (like Nazism). That's far more people than those who have been killed in the name of religion.

A popular image of the Nazis is that they were fundamentally anti-Christian, while devout Christians were anti-Nazi. The truth is that German Christians supported the Nazi party because they believed that Adolf Hitler was a gift to the German people from God.

Was Adolf Hitler an Atheist?

Adolf Hitler was baptized in a Catholic Church in 1889. He was never excommunicated or in any other way officially censured by the Catholic Church. Hitler frequently referred to and Christianity in his speeches and writings. In the 1933 Proclamation to the German Nation speech, he said: "To do justice to God and our own conscience, we have turned once more to the German Volk." In another, he said: "We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out."

In a 1922 speech, he said:

"My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who — God's truth! — was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man, I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord, at last, rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross. As a Christian, I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice."

"...And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly, it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian, I have also a duty to my own people. And when I look on my people, I see them work and work and toil and labor, and at the end of the week, they have only for their wages wretchedness and misery. When I go out in the morning and see these men standing in their queues and look into their pinched faces, then I believe I would be no Christian, but a very devil, if I felt no pity for them. If I did not, as did our Lord two thousand years ago, turn against those by whom today these poor people are plundered and exploited."

Nazis and Atheism

The NSDAP Party Program stated:

“We demand freedom for all religious confessions in the state, insofar as they do not endanger its existence or conflict with the customs and moral sentiments of the Germanic race. The party as such represents the standpoint of a positive Christianity, without owing itself to a particular confession.”

Positive Christianity adhered to basic orthodox doctrines and asserted that Christianity must make a practical, positive difference in people’s lives. It's difficult to maintain that Nazi ideology was atheistic when it explicitly endorsed and promoted Christianity in the party platform.

Communism and traditional socialism were both hated and oppressed by the Nazi party — which argued that, as atheistic and Jewish ideologies, they threatened the future of both German and Christian civilization. In this, most Christians in Germany and elsewhere agreed, and this explains much of the Nazis' popular support.

Christian Response to the Nazis

Key to understanding Nazism’s popularity with Christians is the Nazi condemnation of everything modern. The Weimar Republic (an unofficial title for Germany from 1918 to 1933) was regarded by a large percentage of Christians in Germany as godless, secular, and materialistic, betraying all of Germany’s traditional values and religious beliefs. Christians saw the social fabric of their community unraveling, and the Nazis promised to restore order by attacking godlessness, homosexuality, abortion, liberalism, prostitution, pornography, obscenity, and so on.

Early on, many Catholic leaders criticized Nazism. After 1933, criticism turned to support and praise. Commonalities between Nazism and German Catholicism that helped to foster a closer working relationship included anti-communism, anti-atheism, and anti-secularism. Catholic churches helped identify Jews for extermination. After the war, some Catholic leaders helped many former Nazis either get back into power or escape prosecution.

Protestants were even more attracted to Nazism than Catholics. They, not Catholics, produced a movement dedicated to blending Nazi ideology and Christian doctrine.

Christian “resistance” was mostly against efforts to exert greater control over church activities, not Nazi ideology. Christian churches were willing to tolerate widespread violence against Jews, military rearmament, invasions of foreign nations, banning labor unions, imprisonment of political dissenters, detention of people who had committed no crimes, and more. Why? Hitler was seen as someone restoring traditional Christian values and morality to Germany.

Christianity in Private and Public

There is no evidence that Hitler and top Nazis only endorsed Christianity solely for public consumption or as a political ploy. At least, they did this no more so than political parties in the postmodern era that emphasize their support for traditional religious values and rely heavily on support from religious citizens. Private remarks on religion and Christianity were the same as public remarks, indicating that they believed what they said and intended to act as they claimed. The few Nazis who endorsed paganism did so publicly, not secretly, and without official support.

The actions of Hitler and the Nazis were as “Christian” as those of people during the Crusades or the Inquisition. Germany saw itself as a fundamentally Christian nation and millions of Christians enthusiastically endorsed Hitler and the Nazi party, seeing both as embodiments of German and Christian ideals.

Sources:

Hilter, Adolf. "Proclamation to the German Nation." Amazon Kindle, October 11, 2018.

Baynes, Norman H. "The Speeches of Adolf Hitler: April 1922-August 1939." Oxford University Press, 1942.

Hitler, Adolf (speaker). "Speech of April 12, 1922." Hitler Historical Museum, April 12, 1922, Munich, Germany.

Steigmann-Gall, Richard. "The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945." First paperback edition edition, Cambridge University Press, July 12, 2004.