Also Available in:
This article is from
Journal of Creation 31(2):31–34, August 2017

Browse our latest digital issue Subscribe

Hitler the evolutionist; Hitler the pantheist (Hitler the atheist—Yes)

A review of Hitler’s Religion: The twisted beliefs that drove the Third Reich by Richard Weikart
Regnery History, New York, 2016

Hitlers-religion

reviewed by

The author is a well-authored historian. He is Professor of Modern European History at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of five books, and has published scholarly articles in German Studies Review, Journal of the History of Ideas, and other journals. His work has been featured in various media outlets.

The author provides a rigorous analysis of Hitler’s understanding of ‘God’. He also examines all the arguments for and against the different ideas about Hitler’s religious beliefs, or lack of them. Pointedly, Weikart warns against taking isolated statements of Hitler in order to draw conclusions about his beliefs. Instead, one must look at the main themes of Hitler’s pronouncements, and with greater weight to his private than his public comments.

The public Hitler and the private Hitler

What politicians say, and what they actually think, are often very different. Not surprisingly Hitler, dealing with a German nation that was still largely—if only culturally—Christian, also called himself a Christian. For the same reason, Hitler periodically invoked Christian themes, and generally refrained from publicly making harsh statements about Christianity. Furthermore, some Nazis, including Hitler, retained church membership even if they did not believe.

In private, Hitler often verbalized his hostility to Christianity and the church. However, Weikart warns of the fact that Hitler often told people, of his circle, what they wanted to hear. For instance, owing to the fact that Martin Bormann, Hitler’s personal secretary, was a hard-core atheist, it would hardly be remarkable if Hitler would posture as an atheist in discussions with Bormann.

On the other hand, Weikart’s warning appears to be an overreach in other contexts. Hitler told Christa Schroeder, his personal secretary, that the church was an outdated and stifling institution. Hitler also told two of his close and high-ranking associates, Otto Strasser and Walter Schellenberg, that he did not believe in God. It is not at all clear why Hitler would think that these officials ‘wanted to hear’ that he was a church rejecter and an atheist. If anything, the exact opposite was the case. Note that Otto Strasser broke with Hitler, already in 1930, because Strasser believed that, without Christianity, Europe was lost, and because Hitler was an atheist (p. xi). Now, if Hitler was indeed consistently telling his close associates ‘what they wanted to hear’, he would have told Strasser that he was a devout Christian, and certainly not that he was an atheist!

‘God’ can mean many different things

In the West nowadays, most people are biblically illiterate, and have many different conceptions of ‘God’. An atheist can even quip that: “I believe in God, because God is humanity’s greatest invention.” However, this is nothing new. Even in 19th- and 20th-century Europe, there were many different notions of ‘God’, many of them quite at variance with the biblical teachings about Him. There were a number of reasons for this. For one thing, owing to the residual strength of theism, those who rejected God usually preferred to redefine Him rather than disavow Him openly. Second, the development of higher criticism and modernism, both pioneered in Germany, made it quite facile to de-literalize God and Christian elements. For example, the anticipated ‘Second Coming of Christ’ became repackaged as one’s personal devotion to Christ at the time of one’s death. This de-literalization and contrived flexibility of God and Christian elements, in turn, made it easier to co-opt them, under decidedly unconventional new meanings, for the purposes of what eventually became Nazi ideology.

Apart from the deliberate attempts to mislead the German people, it is unremarkable that Hitler sometimes inadvertently lapsed into Christian terminology, that he mixed Christian and Nazi memes, and that he occasionally even seemed to hold Christian beliefs. After all, Hitler had been raised Christian. Weikart does not mention this, but one can think of famous American militant atheist Madalyn O’Hair, who indicated that, decades after having stopped believing, she could recall some Christian hymns in detail.

Owing to all the foregoing reasons, it is not surprising that Hitler’s statements about God seem contradictory. Still less surprising is his idiosyncratic reuse of theistic and Christian terminology for his own purposes. Let us examine some of them.

Who (or what) was ‘God’ to Hitler?

Hitler frequently used the words ‘providence’ and ‘almighty’, but he was actually referring to fate. Such was the conclusion of fellow Nazis Alfred Rosenberg and Hans Frank, who were hanged at Nuremberg. (I recall that, when I first read Mein Kampf as a teenager decades ago, I was struck by Hitler’s frequent allusions to fate.) There are other Nazi usages of ‘god’, not mentioned by Weikart, and these are in the sense of blood and race.1

At times, however, Hitler did make it sound as though he believed that history had been predetermined. However, this does not imply theism, at least not necessarily. In fact, it is not uncommon for people, especially when in a desperate situation, to imagine some sort of predetermined outcome, involving God or not involving God, where there is none. One obvious example, not mentioned by Weikart, involves Hitler’s reaction to the news of the death of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt in April 1945. Hitler deluded himself into concluding that ‘God’ had intervened on Nazi Germany’s behalf in the last minute, causing the impending collapse of the Allied war effort, and thereby enabling Germany to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Most of the time, when Hitler prayed, he did it in the sense that the one praying would be inspired to solve his own problems. (Nowadays, this is often verbalized as ‘God helps those who help themselves’.) At other times, however, it superficially seemed that Hitler was indeed praying, to a personal god, for deliverance. However, it is not rare for even atheists to pray to God when in difficult situations, wherein we get the saying that ‘there are no atheists in foxholes’. One might also think of the parallel Polish proverb, “Kiedy trwoga to do Boga” (when people are in fear, they turn to God).

Incredibly, some commentators have not only argued that Hitler was a theist, but also that he was a creationist—all because he sometimes referred to a creator of the universe. A close analysis of Hitler’s usage of this term disposes of this silly claim. In his infamous Mein Kampf, Hitler uses ‘creator’ with reference to nature. This is also consonant with his deification of nature in many other contexts. So when Hitler spoke that man was made ‘in the image of the creator’, he meant that man was made in the image of deified nature.

Hitler was no Christian

At times, Hitler spoke that Jesus was ‘his lord and saviour’, and that he was ‘fighting for the work of the lord’. In context, it is obvious that Hitler was referring to deified nature. Weikart adds that, in Hitler’s twisted thinking, Jesus was the saviour in the sense that He came to save the world from the Jews. Hitler thought that Jesus Christ had stood up to the Jews and their avarice and materialism and, for this reason, the Jews had Him put to death.

There is no way that Hitler could have been a Christian as conventionally defined. Hitler entirely rejected the miraculous. Furthermore, Hitler rejected all the Christian doctrines, including the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and disbelieved in an afterlife (except in the redefined sense of the persistence of the Volk), even weeks before his suicide.

The pattern of Hitler’s thinking is unmistakable. Weikart concludes that, “Most historians today agree that Hitler was not a Christian in any meaningful sense” (p. 69).

Hitler the pantheist / Hitler the atheist

Author Weikart suggests that Hitler’s frequent usages of the term ‘god’ mean that Hitler cannot be considered an atheist. So what term best describes Hitler’s beliefs? Weikart concludes that Hitler is best understood to be a pantheist—a conclusion also reached earlier by several investigators.

Let us take a closer look at this. The pantheist believes that ‘everything is god’. Now, if everything is god, it means that nothing in particular is god. It also certainly means that no personal, transcendent Supreme Being exists. This, by definition, is atheism. As Christian apologist and legal scholar John Warwick Montgomery pointed out:

Pantheism … is neither true nor false; it is something much worse, viz., entirely trivial. We had little doubt that the universe was here anyway; by giving it a new name (‘God’) we explain nothing. We actually commit the venerable intellectual sin of Word Magic, wherein the naming of something is supposed to give added power either to the thing named or to the semantic magician himself.2
Arthur-Schopenhauer
Figure 1. Author Weikart identifies Hitler as a pantheist. However, semantics aside, pantheism is indistinct from atheism. Such is also the conclusion of famous atheists, such as Arthur Schopenhauer and Richard Dawkins. Therefore, Hitler was an atheist.

Such was also the conclusion of Arthur Schopenhauer, a philosopher widely read, and admired, by Hitler (figure 1). Therefore, and contrary to Weikart, Hitler indeed was an atheist.

Modern definitions of atheism only reinforce this point. In the past, atheism was usually understood as a conscious and deliberate decision to disbelieve the existence of God. Nowadays, however, merely an absence of belief in God suffices to make one an atheist (in a self-serving definition to remove their burden of proof). On this basis, it is said that every child is born an atheist, and remains so unless or until he or she is indoctrinated in belief in God. (Actually, research shows that children’s default position is to see the world as design, and indoctrination is needed to reject that.3) Since Hitler had an absence of belief in a personal, transcendent supreme being, he was, by the new definition, an atheist.

Hitler, the occult, and neo-paganism

There is, first of all, no contradiction between being an atheist, and being involved in the occult or in neopaganism. In fact, being an atheist does not mean that one believes in nothing. It means that one can believe in anything (except God, of course).

Weikart does not support the importance of the occult in Nazi thinking. He points out that the early, proto-Nazi racist movements in Germany intersected with mysticism and the occult, but were not centred on them. The same can be said of Hitler. He had books on the occult in his library, and at least once engaged in dowsing, but there is no systematic body of evidence that Hitler was deeply involved in the occult. As for other leading Nazis, Hess and Himmler showed a sustained interest in the occult, while Goebbels and Bormann frowned upon the occult. Around 1941, the Nazis banned many public manifestations of occultism, including astrology, spiritism, theosophism, and parapsychology.

The author’s downplaying of the occult, in Nazi attitudes and actions, may be excessive. In fact, the Nazi outlawing of public occult practices does not necessarily mean that Nazism was anti-occult. The Nazis may have actually opposed the public’s use of the occult for elitist reasons: they wanted to monopolize the occult power for themselves, and not share it with the unwashed masses. In addition, the Nazi authorities perhaps feared that widespread public use of the occult could become an end in itself, thus reducing the hold of Nazi ideology upon the minds of the masses. (Note that this parallels the accusation of many occultists, who assert that the real reason that the church opposes the occult owes to the fear that the masses could come to feel that they can develop their own private spirituality, and that they no longer needed the church or its institutions.)

Support for the premise that the Nazis wanted to monopolize the occult, and not eliminate it, is found in the actions of Heinrich Himmler. Weikart quips:

One of the more bizarre aspects of this anti-occult campaign is that it was directed by Himmler’s police forces, despite Himmler’s own fascination with the occult. Indeed, Himmler released the astrologer, Wilhelm Wulff, from custody, under the condition that he ply his occult art for Himmler. Thus he became Himmler’s personal astrologer at the same time other astrologers were being persecuted (p. 192).

All in all, Weikart downplays the neo-pagan aspects of Nazism. Again, it appears that Nazism intersected with Nordic neo-paganism, but was not centred on it. As with the occult, there was no monolithic Nazi position on this subject. Rosenberg and Himmler wanted to resurrect ancient Germanic gods, rites, and shrines, while Hitler did not. The rationalist side of Hitler came to the fore (pp. 189–190). This meant that modern science and reason was what should animate the German people, and not a return to long-defunct habits. In addition to this, Hitler believed that Nazism should stress action, and not contemplation and mysticism.

Finally, since neo-paganism was repulsive to many Germans, Hitler had the following tactical reason for distancing himself from neo-paganism: It was unnecessarily divisive of the German people. In fact, Weikart could have made this consideration stronger by pointing out that Munich Bishop Michael von Faulhaber, who had a relatively good standing with Hitler, had been emphasizing the dangers of Nazi neo-paganism to German Christendom.4

Hitler was unquestionably an evolutionist

A commentator has argued that Entwicklung can mean development, and not evolution and, on this slender reed, tries to undermine Hitler’s belief in evolution. (Not mentioned by Weikart, the English word evolution can also have multiple meanings—for example, the evolution of gases in a chemical reaction—even though it normally refers to organic evolution unless it obviously does not. And its Latin root ēvolvere means to unroll, unfold, or expand out. Note that Darwin himself didn’t use the word in his Origin of Species until the very last word.) The usage, in each case, depends upon context. In addition, the default meaning of Entwicklung is in fact organic evolution, as had been the usage of this term by German biologists of the 1920s and beyond (pp. 227–228). Thus, claims that Entwicklung had fallen into disuse in the late 19th century, as a term meaning organic evolution, are totally fallacious.

Now consider the context of Hitler’s pronouncements. It seals the deal. In his Mein Kampf, and in the chapter “Nation and Race”, Hitler was obviously using Entwicklung in the sense of organic evolution. He could not possibly be referring to embryological development. Weikart elaborates:

Hitler has just described a struggle between living organisms that leads to the victory of the stronger and the elimination of the weaker. In that context, what would the ‘higher development of organic beings’ mean? ‘Higher development’ certainly implies that a change is transpiring. Further, just two paragraphs later, Hitler maintained the ‘struggle is always a means for improving a species’ health and power of resistance, and, therefore, a cause of its higher development (Hoeherentwicklung).’ Again, ‘improving’ a species and bringing about its ‘higher development’ is not a language of one committed to a fixity of species. Hitler used the term ‘higher development’ (Hoeherentwicklung) yet again in the following paragraph when discussing biological organisms. Thus, even if we do not translate Entwicklung as ‘evolution’, it is still clear that evolution is exactly what Hitler meant (p. 227).

Even stronger, in this regard, is the Nazi government’s manual on the official biological curriculum. It requires an “overview of the Entwicklung of life in the course of geological history” (p. 228). So Entwicklung is something that is taking place over the course of geologic time. Without a shadow of a doubt, this term can only be referring to organic evolution! In addition, this element of the official curriculum in Nazi Germany debunks the bizarre argument that the Nazi regime had outlawed the teaching of organic evolution. Precisely the opposite is the case.5

Hitler left no doubt that he did not believe in any form of Adam and Eve. Exactly the opposite was the case. Weikart comments:

As always, Hitler stressed that humans were no exception to the laws of nature. He stated, ‘In the process of evolution humans arose, just like animals, and their vocation was struggle for their existence.’ In a speech later that year, Hitler again expressed his belief that humans were descendants of animals. … Hitler thus thought that the forefathers of humans were animals and humans would still be animals if they had not been elevated by the struggle for existence (p. 234).

Hitler uses evolution as a rationalistic weapon against Christianity

Hitler was not only an evolutionist, but also one who eagerly repeated the standard old atheist arguments against theism. Weikart comments:

On October 24, 1941, Hitler spoke at great length to his entourage about the controversy between science and religion, and specifically between evolution and Christianity. Hitler opened this lengthy monologue by claiming that the church’s teachings are contrary to modern research. In fact, as Hitler expounded on this science-religion controversy, he clearly came down on the side of science and bashing the church. … In addition, Hitler praised the French Enlightenment thinkers’ anticlericalism and the progress of science. After expostulating on the glories of science and the ignorance of the church, Hitler pronounced his belief in the evolution of humans. … Hitler clearly accepted evolutionary theory, including human evolution, and rejected religious teachings to the contrary. Nor was this an isolated statement. … Two other associates of Hitler testify that belief in Darwinian evolution was integral to his ideology (pp. 224–225).

Conclusions

The preponderance of evidence is clear: Hitler was not a Christian. Isolated statements by Hitler to the contrary, and then said mostly for public consumption, do not invalidate this conclusion.

Weikart rejects the notion that Hitler was an atheist, and instead identifies Hitler as a pantheist. However, owing to the fact that pantheism and atheism are functionally identical, it follows that Hitler was indeed an atheist, Weikart notwithstanding.

There is no doubt about the fact that Hitler was a convinced evolutionist. Moreover, Hitler used evolution as a rationalist-style weapon against Christianity.

References and notes

  1. Coole, W.W. and Potter, M.F., Thus Spake Germany, G. Routlege & Sons Ltd, London, 1941. Return to text.
  2. Montgomery, J.W., The Suicide of Christian Theology, Bethany, Minneapolis, MN, p. 252, 1975. Return to text.
  3. Brooks, M., Natural born believers, New Scientist 201(2694):31–33, 7 February 2009. Return to text.
  4. Faulhaber, M., Judaism, Christianity, and Germany, MacMillan Company, New York, 1934. Return to text.
  5. Elsewhere Weikart has explicitly refuted that charge: Was Darwinism Banned from Nazi Germany? Evolution News, evolutionnews.org, 21 November 2016. Return to text.

Readers’ comments

Lance B.
Thanks for this demonstration that the semantics of a clever wordsmith are often meant to manipulate the masses, not declare a personal belief. I particularly appreciate the parallels between atheism and pantheism. Recognition of the created (or nature) as worthy of worship opens the door to individuals assuming the role as god of their own lives. This removes accountability. It is also hypocritical to refuse to submit to a higher power but expect others to submit to your supremacy. Luke 6:43-45 indicates that a tree is recognized by it’s fruit. Hitler regardless of his few allusions to Christianity bore fruit contrary to the Great Christian Commission. Pandering through semantics to further his personal agenda is evidence against Christianity and for pantheism. Clearly Hitler was a great wordsmith and orator furthering his own manifesto not the Christian salvation message. Christianity does not distance itself from Hitler because he has become unpalatable but because he never built on the Rock, Jesus Christ. I also conclude Hitler was not a Christian but a self-serving pantheist elevating himself at best for the benefit of his Aryan race and more likely to feed to his narcissism. Pantheism is often compromise trying to fence sit. This should act as a warning to dig into words and test the message by the fruit they aim to bear. Luke 6 says “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Bill P.
What is sad is that in the U.S. and around this world there are many n leadership positions who believe the same way this German leader believed. They deny this BUT if one studies Germany's history during this time and how he fooled many of the people of Germany, and compare it to the way today's leaders (in all fields: politics, education, etc...) operate we see many of the same ideas.
Years ago I did a study on this man wanting to know how he fooled so many into following him. I learned many followed him out of fear, and many did it because Germany was desperate for bread. I came across a quote of his where he revealed how he got others to follow him. He made this comment to the few who would not bow down to him.
"You say you will not follow me, that is okay, because I have your children, they are in my camp, being taught my ways. They are young and will live on, you who will not follow me are old and will pass away soon".
I see this same thinking coming from people in science, education, law, etc.... They accuse those who do not accept their views, and call them Nazis, (like groups who are loyal to their country, or those who have put their trust in The Lord). They are so full of themselves that they can not see that they are doing the same as Hitler, and are teaching their ways to our children just as he did.
I think this nation has gone past the point of no return. The Book of Roman's Chapter 1, hits the nail on the head as far as what has happened to our nation. The only hope for us and our children is His soon return. While we wait share The Gospel of Christ with any who will listen
Keep up the good work until then.
Dan M.
And it seems the world is once again heading down that self styled road of fascism, (Nazism). The governments of the world and there people for the most part, are becoming more and more hostile towards Judeo-Christian beliefs in a creator God. They instead fall for the banter that evolution is proven fact, but nothing could be farther from the truth, (metaphysically and scientifically).
All philosophical hypothesis of beginnings, (apart from recorded history) become religious and without an eyewitness account of a beginning people are left to speculate and invent different ideas and that, is what Darwin did. Rom 1:28 states that man, for the most part, doesn't like to retain God in their knowledge. So it logically follows that man will try to explain away God and that is the road the world has chosen.
As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD, Jos 24:15.
Manny M.
It is broadly recognized that Hitler was incapable of writing a book. Historians agree that the "mein Kampf" was actually written by a religious person by the name of Bernhard Stempfle. It is obvious why writers would shy away from including a religious organization in an expose of Hitler's beliefs since this opens a can of worms that few people are willing to touch. Maybe my reasoning and information is wrong but I am willing to listen to counter arguments and discussions.
Shaun Doyle
Stempfle's (a Catholic priest) role in the writing of Mein Kampf is controversial. Views range from him providing a few stylistic corrections of the manuscript to having a large role in the shape of its argument. But given the Bavarian origins of the Nazi party (a largely Catholic area of Germany), and Hitler's own Catholic upbringing, it's no surprise that German Catholics had a role in the origins of the Nazi party. But, according to historian Derek Hastings, it was largely the the wings of Bavarian Catholicism that frowned on the control of the bishops and the Vatican over German Catholic affairs that were most favourable to Nazi ideology.

However, after the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich in 1923, the Nazis became disillusioned with Catholicism and shifted their focus more to garnering support from the Protestant populace. But even this really didn't materialize into much. First, Hitler's 'Christianity' rejected even 'Nicene Creed' basics of the faith. Moreover, German Christianity, both Protestant and Catholic, largely had no confessional scruples at the time (weakened as it had been by Darwinism and higher criticism). See Was Hitler a Christian? for more information.
Doug K.
I'm not a historian by any stretch of the imagination, but it didn't take very long to realize the problem with this article. As a protestant, I'm always trying to witness to Roman Catholics. If you've ever spoken to them at length, you'll soon discover that their beliefs and practices are atheistic and pagan. It is probably safe to say that the majority of Roman Catholics hold to the view of theistic evolution, it's a common Catholic doctrine. Although they identify themselves as (Christians), the reality is, they're far from it. The doctrine of transubstantiation itself is pagan in its origins, not to mention the ancient Babylonian practice of mother son worship. And their beliefs such as , stigmata, weeping statues, the catacombs and the Catholic Mass, visitations by Mary, bleeding statues etc, are anything but Christian. Regarding Hitler and his henchmen, 95% of them professed themselves to be Roman Catholics, which is not being inconsistent with atheism and the occult.Almost every Catholic that I've witnessed to, openly mocks the areas where scripture touches on scientific issues.........As I see it, it depends on what your definition of a Christian is.
Shaun Doyle
Of course, we believe that Roman Catholicism is a fundamental departure from the gospel of God's grace (Luther's legacy). And many professing Catholics who disregard the Scriptures on scientific questions reflect the attitude of many Catholic clergy today, including several recent popes (The Pope on evolution and Roman Catholicism, science, and evolution).

Nonetheless, just because someone says they're a Catholic doesn't mean their views line up with official Roman Catholic dogma. For instance, an atheistic Catholic is an oxymoron, since official Roman Catholic teaching is theistic.

Now, this doesn't stop many people, including Nazis in early 20th century Germany, from continuing their association with the Catholic church. But that's what really happened. Nazis who remained attached to the Catholic church did so for political reasons; they didn't hold to e.g. the Apostle's Creed or the Nicene Creed (which are used in Catholic, Orthodox, and many Protestant churches to this day). There were also many anti-Catholics among Nazi ranks, and the Nazis' public moves against both Protestant and Catholic churches showed that they had no love for anything remotely resembling proper Christianity. For instance, Christianity has always regarded Jesus as the Jewish Messiah/Saviour of the world; something no Nazi could stomach. None of this is to say that Catholicism is good; merely that the evidence shows that Nazism was not simply a manifestation of Catholicism. See Was Hitler a Christian? for more information.
David B.
Going beyond Hitler's personal views, it became clear to me when studying the materials published by Nazis that they were very different from the impression I had been given by popular cultural sources. Starting with the fact that they were arguably Leftists, as socialists, "Nazi" being short for "National Socialist." Then, too, their persecution of the Jews was portrayed as powerful bullies attacking a poor minority, but it was carried out as a putting-down of a rich, powerful minority (hmm, the 1%?). The Nazis considered themselves a populist movement, and also very modern, progressive, and scientific. Look at the advances they made in aeronautics (jet aircraft) and rockets (V2s). They also advocated turning religious symbolism and holidays into celebrations of the State and its goals, turning churches into social clubs.

Comments are automatically closed 14 days after publication.