Adolf Hitler – philosopher, or theologian? (1 of 3)
|June 28, 2014||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
The recent issue of Contemporary Church History Quarterly contains a review by John Conway of Rainer Bucher’s Hitler’s Theology: A Study in Political Religion (London: Continuum Books 2011) . According to the review, “Bucher’s main contention is that Hitler’s worldview was far more than just an ideology adopted for political reasons in order to gain political support.” His world view was rather a theology – “intellectually crude and merciless . . . and based on an abominable racism,” but a form of theology nevertheless.
Conway states that Bucher (himself a professor of theology) is aware of the provocative nature of this assertion, because it seems to link Hitler to Christianity, but Bucher believes that these theological concepts, “drawn from Christian traditions” (more than Hitler’s charisma or rhetorical skills) explain Hitler’s appeal to Catholics (and to other Germans as well).
What was the nature of this theology of Hitler’s? It “was not orthodox in any dogmatic or academic sense,” but served to add legitimacy and depth to the Nazi creed of political racism. It contained, however, “frequent references to a higher transcendent reality.” This is amplified by a quote from Ian Kershaw referring to the “quasi-messianic” beliefs that were “consistent and comprehensive.” Yet, this “quasi-messianism” extended not to all of mankind, but to the German people, the superior race that Hitler saw it as his mission to safeguard.
“In Bucher’s view, Hitler’s world-view was deeply influenced by his Catholic upbringing.” He admired the Church’s ability to inspire loyalty and devotion, as well as its insistence on infallibility, and its single-minded refusal to weaken itself by compromise with its rivals. This Catholic influence led Hitler, according to Bucher, to reject “the fake religiosity and neo-paganism” of Alfred Rosenberg and others. Hitler knew such ideas would never command the loyalty of a significant number of the German people, and scorned the fantasies of “well-meaning fools” who tried to prop up National Socialism with a clumsily contrived and transparently false revived Germanic paganism.
Hitler stressed instead a “supra-national dimension” that relied on a “concept of Providence, which, as Bucher rightly pointed out, was cleverly positioned between traditional Christian language and general religious vocabulary.” That is, it was close enough to conventional religion to give it plausibility and respectability, yet still capable of admitting new applications unknown to traditional Christianity. Thus “Hitler used the idea of Providence to legitimate the National Socialist project” and even his own career as well.
“Heaven and Providence has blessed our efforts,” Hitler liked to claim, making Hitler’s movement “into a divine project, through which God was enacting his plans.” Thus National Socialism was in Hitler’s view nothing less than “fulfillment of a divine will . . . to make the German race the dominant force in the world,” and Hitler was not a mere politician or political reformer. He was the executor of a divine purpose.“By such means he gave his aggressive nationalist racist concepts a quasi-religious legitimization.” This was convincing to many people, who saw Hitler as “a religious savior, a divine messenger, or a prophet. Such was the impact of Hitler’s theology.”
I have not read the book, but the review seems to be objective and fair (as one would expect from Prof. Conway). It was however only a brief summary informing us of the book’s main contents. A lengthier critique might have gone further and informed us of one major flaw in Bucher’s thesis which – if my understanding of this is correct – completely nullifies the entire purpose of his book.
“Heaven . . . Providence . . . the Almighty” – such words have often been used to place Hitler among the ranks of religious believers. If we reject the idea that such comments were mere rhetoric (as I believe we should), then it does seem inarguable that Hitler really saw himself as the agent of some sort of higher power. He had a genuine sense of mission as the chosen instrument of some sort fate, destiny, providence, one that might even be called “god.”
The problem is this. Bucher uses Hitler’s obviously religious language to link him to religion, and present him as a theologian – but such religious terminology was also widely used outside of the conventionally Christian tradition, by people who directly repudiated the official teachings of the Protestant and Catholic Churches, yet still felt there was some sort of higher spiritual reality. Thinkers who did not accept the Bible nevertheless used such words as “Divine . . . Divine Providence . . . the Creator . . . Absolute Spirit . . . Divine governance of the World . . . God” – such rhetoric was very common, especially among German philosophers.
 Volume 20, Number 2 (June 2014). All quotes in this entry are John Conway’s, unless otherwise indicated.