Main Point 11
Contrary to popular belief, Wilhelmine, Weimar, and National Socialist Germany was not a deeply Christian country.
Statistics are sometimes cited to show that Hitler’s Germany was a strongly Christian country. Yet, when we look at the lifeblood of German culture in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and consider the poets, philosophers, novelists, scientists, and painters that made German culture renowned throughout the world, do we find that even one of them was a serious bible-believing Christian? Beethoven, Schiller, Goethe, Schopenhauer, Christians? Goethe laughed at Christianity. Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” is nothing but nonsensical romantic paganism devoid of any Christian influence. Hegel considered himself a “Protestant” yet had no regard for the fundamentals of the faith, which he felt were a distraction and a hindrance from Christ’s real teaching, which was only ethics. And what shall we say of Stefan George, Bert Brecht, Fritz Lang, Lotte Lenya, and Marlene Dietrich – Christians? Then of course there are Mann, Spengler, the German expressionist painters, Wagner, Nietzsche, Haeckel, physicists like Heisenberg and Planck – Christians? Is there one major cultural figure in 130 years of German cultural history from 1800 to 1933 that was a dedicated biblical Christian? Popular German culture of the 1920’s was certainly not preoccupied with biblical themes.
Any general secular history of Weimar or Wilhelmine Germany does not give the impression of a deeply Christian culture with large numbers of people speaking out from a biblical perspective against Darwinism, Freudianism, positivism, or other modern forms of secularism. One could read a number of histories of the Weimar Republic and find Christianity not even mentioned at all as a vital cultural force. The Lutheranism of the Reformation was a spent force before 1800, which is why the German Protestant church capitulated almost completely before the onslaught of modernism. “Protestant” churches and seminaries throughout Germany abandoned the historic doctrines in order to make Christianity more acceptable to the forces of modernism, and destroyed German protestantism in doing so. The Catholics, bound more rigidly by the Roman hierarchy, maintained an outward orthodoxy according to their understanding of it, but were by no means a vital force in German culture, and all too often looked to the fascists to protect them and preserve their role in the state and society.
Modern Germany was in fact a darkly pagan country in which Christian influence had been steadily declining since the so-called Enlightenment. The forces of secularism triumphed over the church, and traditional ecclesiastics like Hengstenberg who fought in vain to stem the tide are now only a minor footnote, mentioned in passing if at all. Darwinism, “Enlightenment” and scientific rationalism, Marxism, racism, militarism, imperialism, the Volkish movement (that considered the Germans a new Chosen People destined to lead mankind), theological liberalism that considered the bible to be full of mistakes, myths, and folk tales – these were the dominant forces in modern Germany, not biblical Christianity, and many of the “pastors” and “theologians” and “Christians” who embraced Hitler had long since abandoned the historic Christian faith.
Much of the problem is caused by the Lutheran and Catholic practice of baptizing people into the church as infants. Some water is sprinkled on the head of witless babes, and they are now Christians for life, no matter what they believe and how they live. They are brought up thinking that Christianity is a cultural matter that has nothing to do with what they actually believe.
However, one reputable source, without giving any documentation, said that 95% of all Germans in the Nazi era were loyal to their Catholic or Protestant churches. An online encyclopedia confirms this, stating that “Before World War II, about two-thirds of the German population was Protestant and one-third was Roman Catholic” [encyclopedia.laborlawtalk.com/Germany]. Yet, this same website, giving statistics on church membership in postwar Germany, casts some doubt on the significance of broad generalizations about church membership.
Writing after the unification of Germany in 1990, but describing the former West Germany in contrast to a significantly different situation in former East Germany, the encyclopedia entry asserts that “Christianity is the major religion, with Protestants (particularly in the north and east) comprising 33% of the population and Catholics (particularly in the south and west) also 33%. In total more than 55 million people, officially belong to a Christian denomination, although most of them take no part in church life except at such events as weddings and funerals.” A study cited by this same source indicates that according to a 1995-1997 survey, 14% of the population in West Germany attended church once a week. Thus, out of a seemingly large Christian population, the majority think the church is useful for weddings and funerals only. Of those who do attend, there is no doubt a significant percentage of people who attend for social reasons only, as is so often the case in America, do not believe in basic doctrines at all, and make no real effort to live the Christian life.
I have not been able to find a survey that asked people in Nazi Germany “Do you believe that Jesus Christ was God come to earth in human form to die on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of the world; that he rose from the dead; that those who believe in him can be saved from sin; that the bible is the divinely inspired word of God?” and so on. What if there were also great numbers of “Protestants” and “Catholics” in Nazi Germany that used those terms as a cultural lable, with no great regard for specific doctrines?
There are some who will claim that all of this is merely a clever evasive tactic on my part. It will seem to them that I am defining the terms “Christian” and “Christianity” so narrowly as to escape from the problem of Christian support for Hitler altogether. They will insist that those who call themselves “Christians” are so by definition, no matter what they believe or how they live. Here, the basic question is, “What is a Christian?” According to the bible’s definition, according to the teachings of Christ and the apostles, “Christianity” is much more than a cultural label that is indiscriminately applied to anyone whether they really believe in Christ or not. That this is in fact the case will be seen when Christ returns. Then it will be clear, who loved, served, obeyed, and believed in him – and who did not.