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“Well Hitler was an atheist, and look what he did!” by underground

Unfortunately this is a common argument, devoid of historical support and logical reasoning. It is argued, usually in response to those who point out the many killed in holy wars, that atheistic leaders have killed more than religious ones. Evil dictators are bought forward as examples of what happens when society rejects religion and secularism takes hold. Although many theists employ this tactic, it does appear a ploy by the more conservative, as an underhand way of undermining secularism, freedom from religion and separation of the church and state, and in place installing theocracies (or at least religion based regimes) in western countries. Although many tyrants are put forward as examples, possibly the most common one is Adolf Hitler. And just like Christians try to claim Albert Einstein (and even sometimes Darwin!?), Hitler is cast off as an atheist. But was he?

Whereas Christians will claim that the Nazis were secularists and Hitler was an atheist, there is significant evidence to counter this assertion. The Nazis certainly had elements of Catholic, Lutheran and Pagan traditions in their ideology. The soldiers’ belts were indeed inscribed with “Gott im uns” (God with us). Hitler was born and raised a Catholic and never renounced his faith. Although he did rally against established religion, particularly in his later life, this was arguably because he saw it as a threat to his totalitarian regime. While I don’t think any historians will outright say he was definitely a Christian, he does mention his faith and religion regularly in speeches and writings.

Hitler in 1914 after hearing about declaration of WWI :

I sunk down on my knees and thanked Heaven out of the fullness of my heart for the favour of being permitted to live in such a time”

Hitler in 1922 speech:

My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Saviour as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognised 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 out the temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight for the world against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognise more profoundly than ever blood upon the cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be created, 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 grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.

Hitler in 1925 speech:

“The first thing to do is to rescue [Germany] from the Jew who is ruining our country…We want to prevent our Germany from suffering, as another did, the death upon the cross.”

Mein Kampf 1925

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 folkish-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.”

Hitler to Gerhard Engel:

I shall remain a Catholic forever.”

Hitler in 1933 speech:

We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that is not merely with a few theoretical decisions: we have stamped it out.”

There are of course dozens of other quotes in which he derides religion. It appears he was very anti-Christian establishment, although it appears did believe in Jesus and followed “Positive Christianity”. Whilst I acknowledge that as a deceptive politician Hitler may have used religion for political gain, Catholicism played a large part in the party’s ideology, as did Pagan rituals and the anti-Semitic ravings of Martin Luther. As history John Toland said in his Adolf Hitler: The definitive Biography, at the time of the final solution Hitler was:

Still a member in good standing of the Church of Rome despite detestation of its hierarchy, he carried within him its teaching that the Jew was the killer of god. The conscience since he was merely acting as the avenging hand of god – so long as it was done impersonally, without cruelty.”

Goering once described Hitler, “only a Catholic could unite Germany.”

Although he may have been many things, he was not an atheist. To claim that secularism or atheism account for the actions of the Nazis is disingenuous at best. He may not have Catholic, Christian, or subscribed to anyone one religion, he certainly drew spiritual inspiration from several faiths and religious traditions. Anti-Antisemitism, for example, has it roots centuries before Darwin, based mainly around the Christian claim that the Jews killed their messiah. It was only 40 years ago that the Vatican removed the charge of deicide against the entire Jewish people!

Pol Pot and Stalin, among others, may have very well been atheists, but there is no evidence to prove their lack of religion led to their crimes. (Those of you about to say nihilism – let me direct you here.) They certainly did not kill in the name of no god! As Richard Dawkins puts it: “Individual atheists may do evil things, but they don’t do evil in the name of atheism”. They may, however, do such things in the name of dogmatic doctrinaire systems, such as communism and fascism. Bertrand Russell rightly groups Communism with other religions in Why I am not a Christian. Fascism and Communism become religious cults, with strict dogma, infallible leaders and notions of utopia. This is not secular humanism or atheism. Atheism is the belief there is no god. Nothing more. Secularism is the desire to keep institutions and government free from superstition, requiring all in these spheres to appeal to empirical evidence to support their arguments and actions. This does not mean that people can not practice what they choose, but only that the decisions made by leaders be subject to the sort of reasoned scrutiny not allowed in theocracies.

So should Atheists still point to religion as the cause or conflict and mass murder? Why of course! Because holy books actually ask for their followers to wage these conficts. Followers of Christianity and Islam, for example, are asked to kill non-believers! Gods are evoked in battle, and martyrdom promised to ease the fear of death. By contrast, as Dawkins says, “Why would anyone go to war for the sake of an absence of belief”?

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