In response to “Good for Nothing” (Vol. 2, No. 1).
To the editors:
In George Scialabba’s otherwise fair review of Jerry Coyne, he examines the assertion that Stalin, Mao, and Hitler committed their atrocities in part because they were unbelievers. While it is certainly true that Mao and Stalin were unbelievers, I am surprised to see Hitler placed unreflectively in the same category.
The evidence that Hitler was a staunch Christian is overwhelming. He banned secular education in Germany on the basis that Christian religious instruction is essential to moral development, repeatedly vilified atheism, and although he often clashed with Catholic bishops over his ill-treatment of Jews, Hitler did not perceive himself as being anti-Christian, but rather as bringing the Church back to what he saw as its proper, traditional role in persecuting the pestilent. While negotiating the Reichskonkordat, Hitler said to Bishop Berning that suppressing Jews was, “doing Christianity a great service by pushing them out of schools and public functions.”
There are numerous other examples, from Mein Kampf (“only fools and criminals would think of abolishing existing religion”), to Hitler’s letters (1941: “I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so”), to the Gott Mit Uns motto on German army uniforms during the Nazi era, to the Lutheran Church in Berlin, full of carvings celebrating Hitler’s rise to power (including an exquisitely carved SA paramilitary trooper on the baptismal font), to the amended 1934 loyalty oath of the German military (“I swear by almighty God this sacred oath: I will render unconditional obedience to the Führer of the German Reich and people, Adolf Hitler, Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht…”).
Perhaps the most telling Hitler quote of all shows that not only did he believe in God, he believed his racial purity laws would protect God’s creation from spoliation by interbreeding. From Mein Kampf (vol. 2, chapter 2):
[H]undreds and hundreds of thousands of people voluntarily submit to celibacy, obligated and bound by nothing except the injunction of the Church. Should the same renunciation not be possible if this injunction is replaced by the admonition finally to put an end to the constant and continuous original sin of racial poisoning, and to give the Almighty Creator beings such as He Himself created?
After the Enabling Act of 1933 delivered dictatorial powers to Hitler, one of his first actions was to outlaw atheist and freethinking groups. His public speech, after the fact, boasted that, “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 short, there is overwhelming evidence that Hitler saw himself as a Christian doing God’s work (even if his own church often opposed him), and that he saw atheism as one of many insults to the German nation requiring ruthless suppression.
George Scialabba replies:
Thanks to Chris Lawson for his extremely interesting letter. I have always had the impression that Hitler’s relationship to religion, especially organized religion, was rather opportunistic. But Lawson clearly knows a great deal more about the subject than I do.
George Scialabba is a contributing editor of the online art and literary magazine The Baffler.