The Nazis were Christians!?! You aren’t serious – are you?
|January 19, 2011||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Short Essays|
The first time I heard that the Nazis were Christians, my immediate reaction was disbelief – it didn’t seem possible to me that any reasonable person could make such an extraordinary claim. Becoming more involved with the subject, I found that people did in fact hold such a strange, illogical, and one might say even irrational idea.
How do people arrive at conclusions that are, to us Christians at any rate, so far removed from reality? Isn’t it obvious to any thinking person that Christ’s Sermon on the Mount has nothing whatever to do with the bizarre fantasies of the Third Reich?
Recently I came across a concise description of one reason for confusing Naziism with Christianity. It is found in Yossi Klein Halevi’s book At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for Hope With Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land (New York, 2002). In the introduction, Halevi discusses the view of his father, a Holocaust survivor, on this subject:
“My father reserved a special rage for Christianity, which he blamed for preparing the ground of the Holocaust by demonizing Jews. No phrase struck him as more ironic than ‘Christian love.’ When Christians spoke of love, he said, they meant ‘everyone but Jews.’ The church leaders my father and his friends remembered from Hungary and Poland were Jew-haters and pogromists; for survivors, Hitler wasn’t a pagan but a Christian [p. 3].”
This sort of thinking, sometimes in less extreme forms, is more common than many Christians are aware. A well-known Jewish scholar, Prof. Steven Katz, has made a similar claim in his book The Holocaust in Historical Context (New York / Oxford 1994). Katz recognizes that the Nazis were not Christians, and were contrary to Christianity, but still asserts that Christianity laid the foundation for the Holocaust by its centuries of Jew-hatred (hatred, which in Katz’ view, comes directly from the New Testament) [p. 226].
Halevi has gone beyond his father’s thinking, and is interested in building bridges between the religions (especially but not exclusively the three monotheistic faiths), but still the stereotypes of Germany as a Christian nation and the Nazis as Christians linger on in the Jewish community.
This goes far beyond Jewish responses to the Holocaust. Non-Jews also like to make the connection. Some are openly hostile to Christianity and are eager to believe and say anything bad about it. They feel they are furthering the progress of civilization by marginalizing Christianity, and painting Christians as fanatics is one way to do it. Pictures of Church leaders saluting Hitler; statements by Church leaders praising Hitler; the Nazi party’s official report for ‘positive’ Christianity; Hitler’s references to God and the Bible and his one or two claims to have been a Christian; the massacres of the Old Testament; crimes over the centuries by people with the name of “Christian” – these make the Nazi-Christian connection more plausible, and more widespread, than many Christians like to think.
What should our response as bible-believing Christians be to this sort of thing? It is a mistake to just dismiss it as too extreme and too ignorant to be dignified with a response. Increasing numbers of people in our post-Christian culture do not really know what Christianity is, and a few photographs or simple-minded quotes are convincing to them. A Holocaust video checked out from the library blames Christianity for demonizing the Jews; a history of the Third Reich by a well-known and reputable historian compares Hitler’s speeches to religious revival meetings; radical secularists claim Christians are by nature dangerous and a menace to democracy. Severe attacks are being made against us – how do we respond?
Let us recall that Christ and Paul both responded to false statements and exposed and rejected them. When Christ was accused of being an evil doer while on earth, he gave an appropriate response. When Christianity was misrepresented, Paul gave a response. Preaching the Gospel includes dealing with distortions and misrepresentations of the Gospel that hinder people from believing.
But, what sort of response should there be? Let us recall that we need something here that goes beyond mere debating and presentations of facts. Many people are hostile to Christianity and do not want to hear the truth about it. Others may be more receptive to reason, facts, and argument, but still need to be approached in different ways depending on their situation. Just winning an argument is not good enough.
This all a part of a much larger spiritual warfare. Darkness hates the light and is eager to discredit it, and reluctant to accept it. Therefore, we need a spiritual response, not merely an academic or an intellectual one. This requires wisdom, sensitivity, holiness, obedience to God – in short, all of the spiritual armor necessary for us to adequately represent Christ. Do we have this? If so, we can present Christ, and represent Christ, in suitable ways. If not, we are only beating the air, arguing and disputing with logic, facts, and evidence that do not touch the heart.