What was Hitler's religion

Adolf Hitler's theology

April 8, 2017, 9:58 pm

The 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. One of the liturgy of sport and the cult of the body, meticulously staged by Nazi propaganda, is opened with fanfares. The film director Leni Riefenstahl is shooting "Olympia", an aesthetically extraordinary, but politically highly controversial documentary.

In it, Riefenstahl suggests to the public with archaic religious pathos a new time of salvation that began with the National Socialists. Here the athletic representatives of a master race are presented, who bring classical Greece of antiquity to Berlin of 1936.

The National Socialist cult fascinates most of our contemporaries. Even today, the viewer can get goose bumps of frenetically cheering crowds, of men and women with the gleam of submissive enthusiasm in their eyes when the Führer seems to merge with his people in religious emphasis.

How is the religious Nazi pathos to be understood?

What role does religion play in National Socialism? Is Adolf Hitler simply an ice cold calculating seducer of the people who only plays rhetorically with religious vocabulary for his own benefit? Or did Hitler actually believe in what he relentlessly described in his book "Mein Kampf" ?:

So today I believe I am acting in the spirit of the almighty Creator: By defending myself against the Jew, I fight for the work of the Lord.

Adolf Hitler actually believed he was acting in the name of a god. Hitler even found a theological justification for the project of exterminating the Jews, for the Holocaust.

Essence of the habilitation
That is the thesis of a carefully researched and exciting book entitled "Hitler's Theology". It was written by Rainer Bucher. He is Professor of Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Psychology at the Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Graz. "Hitler's Theology" is the condensate of his habilitation thesis, the essence of which he has now presented on a little over 200 pages in the Echter-Verlag.

What does Rainer Bucher mean when he speaks of Hitler's theology? Theology not in the scientific sense, not even in the specifically Christian sense, but theology in the sense of speaking about God, which is personally significant for those who speak in this way. And the latter was the case with Hitler, says Rainer Bucher. He describes theology as the mainstay of Hitler's political project.

Adolf Hitler's belief is not only evident in the fact that he justifies and legitimizes his political projects theologically, but above all in the fact that they had fatal consequences for action.

The Effect of National Socialism
In a speech by Hitler at the Nazi Party Congress in 1938, the contours of his personal view of the world become clear:

At the top of our program is not mysterious ancestry, but clear recognition and thus open confession. But by placing the preservation and thus the continuation of a being created by God at the center of this knowledge and this confession, we serve the preservation of a divine work and thus the fulfillment of a divine will, and not in the mysterious twilight of a new place of worship, but before the open face of the gentleman.

The success of National Socialism was not based solely on terror and violence. It was something really new: The fascination that emanated from this political movement consisted of a mixture of national, culturally uniform national community, social promise of equality, technical progress and individual heroism. Modernity and tradition should be combined with each other as well as individuality and community. But this rectification only worked with force and through the exclusion of all others. The National Socialists clearly declared this as a political price from the start.

Church competition
But in order for this price to be paid or at least accepted by the German people, the spirit of the people had to be aligned accordingly. And so the Nazis soon competed with the Christian churches, also in the area of ​​the religious formation of life. In addition to staging neo-pagan rituals, they imported Christian and non-Christian ritual traditions into their rulership practice.

Adolf Hitler wanted to restore the divine order of creation - as he understood it. However, Hitler was not a religious fanatic - rather the opposite. His thinking was largely shaped by scientism and rationalism. And he expected the "fading of the churches" due to their "unreasonable doctrines". Hitler believed that the divine order of creation amounted to restoring a concrete secular political order and he saw himself called upon to do so - at the latest after the two unsuccessful attacks on him. But even if Hitler was stylized as a messiah by some of his close followers, he did not see himself that way, says Rainer Bucher.

Hitler's political religion
Hitler's National Socialism is at its core a political religion. This term comes from the emigrated Austrian philosopher and constitutional lawyer Eric Voegelin. Voegelin advocates the thesis that modern totalitarianisms are secularized forms of formerly absolute ecclesiastical-religious certainties. The classical, religious authority of the churches has disintegrated. But this has led to the emergence of inner-worldly religions which put immanent objects in the place of a transcendent God.

For the followers of the political religions, however, the immanent phenomena now have the significance that guides knowledge and action that once belonged to the Christian God. Political religions are thus doctrines of salvation which claim to be able to produce an achievable end goal in human history themselves. With this claim they also justify the use of force, because it is only used to achieve a logical goal that has already been recognized.

Hitler's relationship with the churches
In his early days, Hitler admired - especially the Catholic Church as a faith-based organization that has been alive over the centuries.

Hitler's fascination with the churches dwindles as his own political religion becomes strong. He increasingly sees them as rival centers of loyalty that undermine the political will to fight against the National Socialists.

It is true that the churches as an organization do not offer any organized resistance to the Nazis, but many individual clergymen do. They are monitored, persecuted, and some die in the concentration camps. The spiritual resistance was a thorn in Hitler's side.

From today's perspective it seems incomprehensible why the churches were so unsuccessful in resisting National Socialism. Rainer Bucher sees an essential reason in the fact that the Catholic Church did not yet have any categories to appropriately criticize the phenomenon of National Socialism.

In dealing with Hitler's theology, the specifics of Christian theology once again became very clear to him, says Rainer Bucher. This had a deep impact on his personal beliefs.

Listening tip
Logos, Saturday, March 29, 2008, 7:05 p.m.

Book tip
Rainer Bucher, "Hitler's Theology", Echter-Verlag

Real publisher - Hitler's theology