Hitler’s Table Talk, a revealing collection of the Fuhrer’s private opinions, assembled by a close aide during the war years, shows Hitler to be rabidly anti-religious. He called Christianity one of the great “scourges” of history, and said of the Germans, “Let’s be the only people who are immunized against this disease.” He promised that “through the peasantry we shall be able to destroy Christianity.” In fact, he blamed the Jews for inventing Christianity. He also condemned Christianity for its opposition to evolution.
Hitler reserved special scorn for the Christian values of equality and compassion, which he identified with weakness. Hitler’s leading advisers like Goebbels, Himmler, Heydrich and Bormann were atheists who hated religion and sought to eradicate its influence in Germany.
In his multi-volume history of the Third Reich, historian Richard Evans writes that “the Nazis regarded the churches as the strongest and toughest reservoirs of ideological opposition to the principles they believed in.” Once Hitler and the Nazis came to power, they launched a ruthless drive to subdue and weaken the Christian churches in Germany. Evans points out that after 1937 the policies of Hitler’s government became increasingly anti-religious.
The Nazis stopped celebrating Christmas, and the Hitler Youth recited a prayer thanking the Fuhrer rather than God for their blessings. Clergy regarded as “troublemakers” were ordered not to preach, hundreds of them were imprisoned, and many were simply murdered. Churches were under constant Gestapo surveillance. The Nazis closed religious schools, forced Christian organizations to disband, dismissed civil servants who were practicing Christians, confiscated church property, and censored religious newspapers. Poor Sam Harris cannot explain how an ideology that Hitler and his associates perceived as a repudiation of Christianity can be portrayed as a “culmination” of Christianity.
If Nazism represented the culmination of anything, it was that of the nineteenth-century and early-twentieth century ideology of social Darwinism. As historian Richard Weikart documents, both Hitler and Himmler were admirers of Darwin and often spoke of their role as enacting a “law of nature” that guaranteed the “elimination of the unfit.” Weikart argues that Hitler himself “drew upon a bountiful fund of social Darwinist thought to construct his own racist philosophy” and concludes that while Darwinism is not a “sufficient” intellectual explanation for Nazism, it is a “necessary” one. Without Darwinism, there might not have been Nazism.
The Nazis also drew on the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, adapting his atheist philosophy to their crude purposes. Nietzsche’s vision of the ubermensch and his elevation of a new ethic “beyond good and evil” were avidly embraced by Nazi propagandists. Nietzsche’s “will to power” almost became a Nazi recruitment slogan. I am not for a moment suggesting that Darwin or Nietzsche would have approved of Hitler’s ideas. But Hitler and his henchmen approved of Darwin’s and Nietzsche’s ideas. Harris simply ignores the evidence of the Nazis’ sympathies for Darwin, Nietzsche, and atheism. So what sense can we make of his claim that the leading Nazis were “knowingly or unknowingly” agents of religion? Clearly, it is nonsense.
So in addition to the mountain of corpses that the God-hating regimes of Stalin, Mao, Pot Pot and others have produced, we must add the body count of the God-hating Nazi regime. The Nazis, like the Communists, deliberately targeted the churches and the believers because they wanted to create a new man and a new utopia freed from the shackles of traditional religion and traditional morality. In an earlier blog, I asked what is atheism’s contribution to civilization? One answer to that question: Genocide.