FORT MILL, SC — A history professor spoke with PJ Media about his upcoming book Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs That Drove the Third Reich at the Ratio Christi symposium on Sunday. He said that Adolf Hitler was neither a Christian nor an atheist, but something else entirely.
“Hitler was being driven by evolutionary ethics,” Richard Weikart, professor of history at California State University, Stanislaus and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, told PJ Media in a video interview. Weikart said he had already detailed how the ethics of Darwinism drove the Nazi dictator in previous books, but that this new book focused on Hitler’s religious ideas in particular.
“If you go on the Internet, you’ll find a lot of things about Hitler and everyone has their own opinion about Hitler, especially his religious views,” Weikart said. He laid out three different religious beliefs the Nazi dictator is thought to have had: Christianity, atheism, and the occult.
“Atheists say, ‘Hitler was a Christian!’ Why do atheists think Hitler was a Christian? Well, of course, because he said so,” the professor explained. He mocked such atheists for appealing to authority rather than investigating the evidence. Atheists often mock the Christian appeal to authority in religion: “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” But in this case, the atheists adopt the mentality “Hitler said it, I believe it, and that settles it,” Weikart said.
This is a bit of an oversimplification of the atheist view that Hitler was a Christian. After all, the Nazis became heavily involved with Christian churches in Germany, so much so that Dietrich Bonhoeffer condemned the churches which accepted the Nazi rules. Bonhoeffer originally decided to return to Nazi Germany explicitly to fight the subversion of the churches, and this is the primary reason he decided to try to assassinate Hitler.
Nevertheless, it is a bit too trusting for atheists to declare that Hitler was a Christian, for other reasons, as Weikart pointed out. This view has big problems, but it’s not the only interpretation of the Nazi dictator’s faith.
“There’s another kind of view of Hitler that many Christians put forward: that Hitler was an atheist,” the professor explained. “The view there is often driven by the immoral things that he did, and the notion that he was anti-Christian,” as articulated by Bonhoeffer. No true Christian could have ordered the death camps, nor could one have so cracked down on the churches.
While some Christians may merely define Christianity in such a way as to exclude Hitler, there are good historical reasons to argue that Christian doctrine was not the driving religious force in the man’s life.
Weikart also pointed out a third view: “that Hitler was an occultist — he was into the occult, and you see a lot of things on the History Channel about the Nazis and the occult and so there’s this mystique about that as well.”
“And of course, Hitler was so diabolical that gives credence to this idea as well,” the professor added. Nevertheless, his book debunks all three of these popular ideas of Hitler’s faith.
Next Page: How we know Hitler wasn’t a Christian, wasn’t an atheist, and wasn’t an occultist.
After pouring through Hitler’s writings and speeches, the diaries of Joseph Goebbels and Alfred Rosenberg, and the memoirs and interrogations of Nazi secretaries, Weikart came to the conclusion that Hitler really did believe in a god.
“It does seem that he did believe in some kind of higher being,” the professor explained. “He talks about God and Providence extensively — not only in public but also in private — and many of his associates believed that there was some notion that he had of there being a higher being. So, I don’t think he was an atheist.”
Nevertheless, “it’s very clear that he wasn’t a Christian,” Weikart added. “He was very anti-Christian, except in some of his public propaganda. A few times publicly he did try to portray himself as Christian, but ultimately he rejected that.”
The occultist charge? Hitler’s associates were indeed involved in the occult, and this is the basis for the History Channel stories. But Hitler himself did not. Weikert explained that the Nazi dictator “spoke behind their backs in deriding that.”
The professor told a story about Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s Deputy Führer. During World War II (the professor said World War I, but the story actually happened in 1941), Hess flew to Scotland in order to negotiate with the British. “Hitler had thought he’d gone insane by doing that, and Hitler thought that he had been put up to it by astrologers,” Weikart explained.
“So Hitler, a couple of weeks later, had all of the astrologers and prognosticators rounded up and thrown in concentration camps.” So much for the Nazi dictator believing in the occult.
Next Page: So what did Hitler really believe?
Weikart identified Hitler as being a pantheist. “He deifies nature, and it’s very clear that he thinks that nature is God,” the professor argued. “If you read very carefully — especially in Mein Kampf and the second book, but also a lot of his speeches, especially in the monologues — it becomes very clear that he thinks that nature is God. In fact, his secretary actually said that point blank: that he believed that nature was God and all the natural laws.”
This actually ties in well with the Führer’s devotion to the ideas of Charles Darwin. “Hitler believed that what defined morality was nature’s laws, and specifically the Darwinian law of the struggle for existence, and so he thought that if we help advance humans by killing off the ‘negative’ people, the ‘inferior’ people, and the ‘inferior’ races, that that is advancing human progress by advancing us in an evolutionary scale,” the professor added.
While some Darwinists “are even denying that Hitler was a Darwinian at all,” Weikart dismissed this claim as “absurd if you actually read his stuff.” This point is important because of the implications of evolutionary morality, the professor argued.
“If you take seriously the Darwinian account of the origins of morality … if you believe the materialist story of Darwinism in the way that morality came about … that undermines the idea that there’s any kind of objective morality,” Weikart said.
This destruction of moral objectivity leaves full Darwinists without any kind of moral fulcrum to condemn Hitler.” To illustrate this point, the professor recalled speaking with a graduate student in philosophy at a conference about Darwinism in the social sciences and the humanities.
He made clear that he believed in evolutionary ethics, so I began pressing him and saying, “well, if you believe in evolutionary ethics, what about Hitler?”
He kind of hemmed and hawed a little bit, and said, “Well, I don’t really like Hitler. That’s not really what I like.” But we talked a little more and I pressed a little bit, and he said, “Well, I guess Hitler was OK.”
He didn’t really have any way to condemn him based on his own philosophy.
The professor insisted that he wasn’t saying that Darwinists are Hitler or like Hitler, just that they have no ability to condemn him from subjective morality. “They may say, ‘We don’t like Hitler, we don’t do stuff like Hitler,’ I’d say, ‘That’s right, you guys are nice gentlemen, I’m glad about that … but you have no way of condemning him, because he’s just another variation.'”
“If that’s his genetic propensity to kill other people that he considers inferior, then you have no way of condemning him,” Weikart argued.
This may seem unfair at first. In The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt provided a compelling image of morality from the evolutionary perspective, arguing that morality and the mind are rationalizations of instincts which helped people survive.
Even Haidt’s analysis — which is sympathetic to traditional moral norms, explaining their survival value and insisting that they have deep human meaning — is open to Weikart’s criticism, however. If morality is merely a sophisticated instinct for evolutionary survival, there is no objective ground for moral statements like “Hitler was evil.”
Haidt explains that there is a moral sense regarding liberty/oppression, by which people wish to see tyrants like Hitler deposed. This moral sense explains why people see Hitler as evil, but does not provide a truly universal ground for saying that he was indeed evil, in an objective sense.
I have great respect for Haidt, and greatly appreciate his work. But even he cannot fully escape this criticism. He may argue that he does not need to do so. But even he must admit that, even if everyone who hears about Hitler’s actions will each judge him evil based on their moral sentiments, that does not mean that a moral psychologist can call the Nazi tyrant evil in any objective sense.