Was Hitler a Catholic?

Having said Hitler “was not” an atheist during his Q & A debate with Cardinal Pell, Richard Dawkins was more explicit the following morning on ABC Radio National’s Breakfast program.“Hitler was a Roman Catholic” he told an acquiescing Fran Kelly.

As an institution that played a decisive role in the fall of communism, and which contests many progressive agendas, the Church has long had to suffer the smear of association with Nazi crimes. Various leftists have pointed to Hitler’s birth into an Austrian Catholic family, the Nazi Party’s origins in Munich, a Catholic city, Pope Pius XII’s alleged failure to speak out against the Holocaust, amongst other things, as evidence of Catholicism’s influence on, or at least sympathy for, Nazism. A small publishing industry has grown around the question of whether Pius was indeed “Hitler’s Pope”.

As many writers have explained, such assertions have no foundation, and the particular allegation that Hitler was a believing Catholic is false. With the likes of Dawkins around, it seems, the myth needs to be dispelled again and again.

Hitler’s religious beliefs were obscure. At times he seemed attached to Norse Mythology and occult practices like astrology. He is reported to have said “Richard Wagner is my religion”. His speeches were peppered with religious terminology like “providence”, “salvation” and “the Lord’s work”, but, by his own admission, he was a thoroughly cynical propagandist. It can’t be stated with certainty that he was an atheist, but it can be stated that he was neither a Catholic nor any kind of Christian. On its face, Dawkins’ claim is absurd. From his youth, Hitler was a fierce critic of the Catholic Church as an impediment to “pan-Germanism”, or the incorporation of all Germanic peoples into a single Reich. Nor did he hesitate to destroy Catholic Poland in pursuit of this objective. The so-called “Church struggle” was always an integral, though pragmatic, feature of Nazi policy, harking back to Bismarck’s anti-Catholic Kulturkampf.

Reputable Hitler biographers like Sir Alan Bullock, Joachim Fest and Ian Kershaw offer no support for the canard that he was a believing Christian. Kershaw’s biography in two volumes, Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris, and Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis, published in 1998 and 2000, is now the most authoritative work on the subject. Widely praised, it was hailed as “magisterial” by no less authority than Niall Ferguson. Kershaw does not believe Hitler was a Christian, however duplicitous he might have been about his personal beliefs when it suited him. Here’s Kershaw’s account of Hitler’s encounter with a Catholic prelate in the early years of his regime:

[Hitler] was good at attuning to the sensitivities of his conversation-partner, could be charming, and often appeared reasonable and accommodating. As always, he was a skilled dissembler. On a one-to-one basis, he could pull the wool over the eyes of hardened critics. After a three-hour meeting with him at the Berghof in early November 1936, the influential Archbishop of Munich-Freising, Cardinal Faulhaber – a man of sharp acumen, who had courageously criticized the Nazi attacks on the Church – went away convinced that Hitler was deeply religious.

Hitler’s hostility to Christianity leaps from the pages of Hitler’s Table Talk, a compilation of his private conversations recorded by Martin Bormann and others, excerpts from which were posted by Andrew Bolt following the Q&A debate. The English version, edited by the renowned Oxford historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, was published in 1953. Expressing hatred of Christianity in the most vitriolic language, Hitler expounded the official Nazi position that like Bolshevism, it was invented by the Jews to oppress Aryans. Nazi “intellectuals” absorbed the Nietzschean idea of Christianity as a “slave religion”, which corrupted the pure world of classical antiquity, and added their own anti-Semitic twist. This fantasy was elaborated at length by Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi Party’s chief ideologist, in his pseudo-intellectual rant The Myth of the Twentieth Century. Nazism was blatantly an anti-Christian ideology. Features of this world-view emerge from some of the more egregious passages in Hitler’s Table Talk:

The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew. The deliberate lie in the matter of religion was introduced into the world by Christianity.

Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of failure.

The reason why the ancient world was so pure, light and serene was that it knew nothing of the two great scourges: the pox and Christianity. Christianity is a prototype of Bolshevism: the mobilisation by the Jew of the masses of slaves with the object of undermining society. 

Also untrue is the notion that Germany’s southern Catholic regions were hot-beds of Nazism. As Kershaw explains, “for Catholics – the other sub-culture which Nazism found greatest difficulty in penetrating, before and after 1933 – Hitler was above all seen as the head of a ‘godless’, anti-Christian movement.”

This is confirmed by voting patterns in the Reichstag elections between 1928 and 1932. At no time did the Nazis win a majority of the votes, although the July 1932 election handed them more deputies than any other grouping. This was a factor in the machinations which led to Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor in January 1933. According Dick Geary of the University of Nottingham, who analysed new research on the elections for History Today magazine (October 1998), the Nazis won 37.3 per cent of the votes in July 1932, but almost 63 per cent of the electorate did not vote for them. Geary’s observations on the Catholic vote are revealing:

Although Hitler’s political career began in Munich, in the elections of 1928 to November 1932 the NDSAP won a higher share of the vote in Protestant than in Catholic Germany. In the Catholic Rhineland and Bavaria (apart from Protestant Franconia) it polled disproportionately badly. In fact in July 1932 the Nazi share of the vote was almost twice as high in Protestant as in Catholic areas. The inability of the Nazis to attract the Catholic vote was demonstrated by the stable support for the Catholic Centre Party, which regularly gained between 11.8 and 12.5 per cent between 1928 and November 1932; and by that of its sister confessional party, the Bavarian People’s Party (BVP), which stayed firm at around 3 per cent in those same elections.

In light of all this, Dawkins’ statement about Hitler’s religious affiliation exposes massive ignorance, if not, to borrow a phrase, the mind of a “skilled dissembler”.

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