Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Was Hitler an atheist?

In yesterday's Independent, as part of the ongoing atheism wars, the usually stimulating Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wrote this piece on how stupid atheists are. Alright, fair comment, whatever. However, I was irritated to see that once again Hitler is being touted as an atheist, and I'm sure this isn't right.

Yasmin tells us that "Militant atheists have never accepted that evil comes out of their camp as well as ours, and good does too. Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and Mao were driven to genocide not by religion but cold, cruel power. None of these men feared God."

Now Hitler was raised in the Catholic Church, and like many Catholics he came to despise that organisation - and he frequently denounced Catholicism in his political speeches. However, he often praised Christianity, although whether we should regarded himself as a Christian is rather more open to question. He did advocate something he called "Positive Christianity" which was basically a repainting of Christ as someone sent by God to oppose Judaism, I think.

You can see this pretty clearly in a speech Hitler gave in 1922 where he says "In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison."

The Nazi manifesto stated "The Party as such takes its stand on a positive Christianity but does not tie itself in the matter of confession to any particular denomination. It fights the spirit of Jewish materialism inside and outside ourselves." Not Catholic, certainly unpleasant, but far from atheist.

Within the Nazi movement there were also many who believed in the occult and, although I'm fairly sure Hitler was not one of them, he did use occultist ideas and imagery at times and, rather cleverly, used the predictions of Nostradamus for his own ends. Again, these ideas are not atheist, even if they are not "God fearing".

Don't get me wrong - there are lots of atheists who've committed terrible acts and lived villainous lives, but Hitler can't be listed among them because he wasn't an atheist. I'm not trying to palm Hitler off on to the Christians in order to make them somehow responsible for the holocaust, I'm just hoping that those opposed to atheism stop wheeling out Hitler as an example of atheism gone bad - we've already got Stalin... isn't that enough?


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Jim Jay said...

Readers may wish to know that I've a letterin the Independent today here which reads;

"Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (Opinion, 3 September), like many who attack atheism, has chosen to include Hitler among our number. Hitler was not an atheist.

Whilst Hitler despised Catholicism he described himself as a Christian many times – to the extent of promoting a perverted form of "Positive Christianity" more suited to the anti-Semitic barbarism of the Nazi ideology. The Nazi Party itself described itself as a Christian organisation that did not "tie itself . . . to any particular denomination".

While the point that there have been many bad atheists still stands, it's just not accurate to include Hitler among their number. That doesn't mean that the Holocaust was down to his Christianity any more than Stalin's pogroms and labour camps were down to his atheist predilections.

Jim Jepps