My recent email encounter with a Hitler expert
|May 16, 2012||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
Not long ago I came across an article on the internet about Hitler and his religious beliefs that seemed very insightful, profound even. Among other things, the author stated that it was impossible to seriously maintain that Hitler practiced or believed in traditional orthodox Christianity. I sent him an email explaining that I was a Christian who had an interest in responding to accusations that Hitler and the Nazis could be connected to Christianity, and made some general comments about aspects of this problem.
He responded with a serious message stating that he appreciated my comments and read them with interest, and adding some more details about the background of Hitler’s beliefs. I was very surprised to note that he thought it was important that theologically orthodox Christians supported Hitler, and that there was still some question as to whether Hitler considered Christ to be divine. He also thought it significant that Hitler somewhere referred to Christ as “our religious teacher.” Even though he recognized the obvious fact that Hitler was not involved with orthodox Christianity, the Christian angle still seemed important to an understanding of Hitler and the phenomenon of National Socialism (when in my view it makes much more sense to study German thinkers of the 19th century, many of whom articulated ideas fundamental to National Socialism but nowhere to be found in the Bible, and indeed unheard of until the misguided and dismal 19th century).
Hitler’s paganism is so obvious, his hostility to and contempt for Christianity so evident, the vast gulf separating him from any teachings of Christ and the apostles is so undeniable, that now only the most far-out extremists of the anti-religious left try to claim Hitler was actually a Christian. One example of this is Jim Walker, whose website http://www.nobeliefs.com/Hitler1.htm actually tries to show some common ground between Hitler and Jesus. Unfortunately, his mind has been so corrupted by hatred, ignorance, and fear, that he is incapable of rational thought on anything having to do with Christianity – a subject of which he has not the slightest real understanding. By the way, we always hear of “the religious right.” Why do we never hear of “the anti-religious left”? That is a fair and accurate description of many of them, not simply a “same-to-you” kind of argument.
Anyway, the Hitler expert reflects a significant trend – accepting that Hitler was not a Christian, but still trying to link Christianity to Hitler in some way. I tried to respond to his message in a way that was brief yet substantive, but received no response. It would have been most interesting to receive a candid response, which I would have welcomed.
What can we as Christians say to an intelligent and informed person with impeccable academic credentials (such as my erstwhile correspondent) when he refers to orthodox Christians supporting Hitler; to Hitler’s understanding of Christ, and to Hitler’s few and rare comments about Christ, as something meriting study and careful consideration? When Hitler said “Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the greatest war criminal of all time,” we don’t have to study this seriously to see if there is any substance to it. When Hitler said that he attacked Poland out of self defense, or that he wanted peace but the Jews controlling England wanted war, we don’t have to study these things to see if there is any substance or important meaning in them. The historical facts are evident, and we can easily recognize the nature of Hitler’s comments.
Christianity is, unfortunately, not well understood today. Moreover, it is under a cloud of suspicion, and people are eager to believe something bad about it. After all, if Hitler promised to support the churches (a promise he broke) and if many Christians supported Hitler, and if Hitler used some religious ideas and rhetoric on occasion, and if the spirit of the age is innately hostile to Christianity as an irrational religion of intolerance and bigotry that encourages and is related to right-wing extremism, then it makes a great deal of sense to look on the Christian religion as having some part of the key to the solution of the Hitler riddle.
So, let’s look at three of the points he raised as meriting serious study (there were others, but these three will do). They are (a) that orthodox Christians supported Hitler; (b) Hitler somewhere referred to Christ as “our teacher”; and (c) whether or not Hitler saw Christ as divine is not yet clear.
Concerning the first of these points, many secularists are unaware that one of the main assertions of the traditional Protestantism of Luther, Calvin, the Wesleys, Jonathan Edwards, and many others), as well as of current Evangelicalism, is that the Bible is the ultimate standard of what Christianity is and is not. People who came nearly two thousand years after Christ, and added many variations unknown to the early Christians do not reflect on Christ or on the teachings of Christ or on other Christians by their failures.
The question is not, “What is the relationship of Christianity to Naziism” – a question that can be answered easily, since not a single one of any of the fundamental tenets of Naziism can be found in the New Testament. The question is, “Why did the German Christians, with rare exceptions, fail so lamentably to follow the teachings of Christ?” It says in the book of Acts that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation…” If Christians refuse to believe this, or believe it in their hearts but are afraid to act upon it because they have a strange and mysterious aversion to being sent to a concentration camp, are the biblical authors to blame. If we fail to follow the teachings of Christ, as we all too often do, that reflects on us, not on Christ.