Hitler is the trump card. Even if you hold a royal flush, if your opponent plays the Hitler card, you lose. Those arguing for Western Civilization or the Judeo-Christian tradition frequently fold when confronted by the mustachioed monster. Mention of Hitler is used to insist that we need to throw out the baby, throw out the bath water, and accept just about any alternative to Western Civilization as more peaceful, less genocidal, shinier and newer.
What is the genesis of Political Correctness? One good place to start seeking for that genesis is the West’s horrified backlash against, and attempt to compensate for, Nazism.
In the early twentieth century, society’s best and the brightest, including US presidents, The New York Times and The Atlantic Monthly, Ivy League Universities and Congress accepted scientific racism. This Darwin-inspired worldview placed Nordic people at the pinnacle of human evolution. Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger advised abortion and sterilization for less-evolved humans. Carl Brigham invented intelligence tests, the ancestors of the SAT, that proved Polish immigrants incapable of education. Madison Grant, cofounder of the Bronx Zoo and board member at the Museum of Natural History, recommended elimination of the unfit. Hitler dubbed Grant’s 1916 book Passing of the Great Race his “Bible.” At the Nuremberg Trials, Baldur von Schirach, head of the Hitler Youth, would blame another publication from America’s scientific racism era, Henry Ford’s The International Jew, for his becoming an anti-Semite.
Grant and Lothrop Stoddard positioned their scientific racism in opposition to Christianity. Racism was supported by science, they insisted. Christianity was absurd, and its championing of the oppressed weakened society.
What happened? How did a society that had been excessively arrogant a hundred years ago become a society that expresses Politically Correct self-condemnation and shame today? World War II happened.
Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin killed more people than Hitler. Tamerlane, the fourteenth-century “Sword of Islam,” killed five percent of the world’s population. There are two important differences between other notorious genocides and Nazism. We read of Tamerlane’s mountains of skulls, his 1398 massacre of a hundred thousand infidels in Delhi, and his burying alive four thousand Armenian Christians in the name of Islam, but we do not witness these horrors. Hollywood directors did not film the eighteen million prisoners of the Soviet Gulag. Hollywood directors like Alfred Hitchcock and George Stevens did participate in documentation of Nazi concentration camps. We don’t just read about Nazi horrors; we see them in documentary footage produced by experts.
There is a second important difference between the Holocaust and other horrors. Russia with its serfs, czars, and commissars, perennial enemy of Bond films; China, land of foot-binders and dog-eaters: they are alien to us. The Nazis are us. Germany was democratic, secular, capitalist, educated and industrialized. Beethoven, Einstein, Thomas Mann, hot dogs, hamburgers, Christmas trees: all German. More Americans trace their ancestry back to Germany than to any other country. English is a Germanic language.
Americans watching film footage of Nazis horrors felt shattered in a way that reading of a fourteenth-century massacre of Hindus by a Muslim could never shatter them. We in the West have looked at Nazi crimes and said, “There is something wrong with us. We must change.”
If quality X is associated with Hitler, we want to reject quality X. Hitler was a vegetarian; if someone wanted to prove that Hitler did what he did because he was a vegetarian, we might reject vegetarianism. This “logic” is fodder for jokes: “Do you drink water? So did Hitler!” an internet meme mock accuses.
It is exactly because the Hitler card is played against Western Civilization that everyone ought to read Richard Weikart’s new book, Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich. The book’s substance justifies Weikart’s clam that it is “the most extensive to date in the English language” on its topic. Weikart makes the case that Hitler’s God was a Darwin-inspired, non-personal, pantheistic deity exacting a pitiless survival-of-the-fittest-through-struggle morality. Neither Hitler nor Nazism were Christian, and the elimination of Christianity was certainly one of the long-term goals of Nazism. Previous canonical scholars have asserted part or all of Weikart’s main thesis; thus, his book should not be controversial.
Certainly when Nazism was arising, its flamboyant flirtations with Neo-Paganism and its attacks on Christianity were so obvious that in 1942, Polish-Jewish artist Artur Szyk depicted Hitler as the anti-Christ. Nazism declared itself a break with the Judeo-Christian tradition, obedient to science in a way that Christianity could never be, and a return to Pagan values rooted in one’s natal blood and soil. In his 1930 book The Myth of the Twentieth Century,Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg declared the “collapse” of all that had come before and a “new dawn” and “new faith” a “new light” a “new mission:” “blood and blood, race and race, folk and folk.” “That is the task of our century; to create a new human type out of a new view of life.” Goebbels wrote in his novel Michael of “demolishing his old faith world.” “The churches have failed. Totally failed. Millions await a new religion.”
The Third Reich flag is one of the most famous and in-your-face graphic designs in history: red field, white disc, black swastika. Dating back at least 11,000 years, the swastika is a near universal Pagan symbol for eternity, representing the path of the sun in the sky. TIME film critic Richard Corliss called the Hitler of Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous 1935 film, Triumph of the Will, a “Wagnerian deity.” Riefenstahl’s 1938 film Olympia, documenting the 1936 Berlin Olympics, opens with a lengthy homage to Ancient Greece and Rome. Marble gods appear to spring to life in the bodies of German athletes. This homage makes clear that Nazism plans to skip over the inconvenient rise of Christianity and resurrect virile Pagan virtues. Hitler regarded pre-Christian Rome as humanity’s high point. The Luftwaffe bombed Coventry’s 14th century cathedral to a ruin, but Hitler would not allow Athens to be bombed.
Nazi Neo-Paganism was a lived experienced that bonded followers to one another and inspired them to reject their own reason and adopt the group’s morality. Historian Manfred Gailus wrote that Nazi religiosity was felt as “a mass experience, cult, ritual, as highly symbolic and sacred actions in the context of a novel NS annual calendar of festivals and celebrations of life.” “The whole country was as if under a kind of a spell,” reported Brunhilde Pomsel, Goebbels’ secretary, in 2016.
Living, nocturnal swastikas constituted of thousands of marchers carrying torches high aloft, the Blutfahne ceremony, in which a new swastika was consecrated through physical contact with a flag bearing Nazi blood, or the roll call for the martyrs of the Beer Hall Putsch: Nazis were diabolically clever at creating rituals that erased the past and sucked the participant into a new ethic. These rituals intoxicate audiences, even today. The London Times called Olympia “visually ravishing.” The spectacle, the camaraderie, the meaning, order and self-discipline, the loss of self and sacrificial surrender to a moving historical wave: watching Nazi spectacle, one is both moved and one is horrified by being moved. We are not immune to fascism’s appeal.
Nazi Neo-Paganism was inscribed into material culture including grave markers, jewelry and clothing. The SS insignia is in fact two runes: the doppelte Siegrune. Runes were letters of an ancient Germanic alphabet used in divination and magic. During the Nazi era, an extra key was added to German typewriters to make possible the typing of the double sieg rune with one stroke. The hagal rune was used at weddings to symbolize unshakeable faith in Nazism. The todesrune replaced the Christian cross in death notices and grave markers.
Recent years have seen a new trend in publishing about the Holocaust. Authors link Nazism to Christianity. Richard Steigmann-Gall’s 2004 The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity 1919-1945 is one such book.
The Holy Reich states that “Christianity did not constitute a barrier to Nazism.” And that Nazi Germany was waging “a war in the name of Christianity.” Steigmann-Gall quotes John 16:2 “Whoever kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” This verse appears to support Steigmann-Gall’s insistence that Nazis were Christians murdering in obedience to unambiguous Biblical commands to do so. An Amazon reviewer says that Holy Reichconvinced him that “the Nazis were inspired by Jesus’ message as delivered by the New Testament.”
New Atheists also play the Hitler card. The Richard Dawkins Foundation hosts a piece by Michael Sherlock stating “Hitler was a Christian … Christianity played a pivotal part in the heinous atrocities [committed by Hitler’s] Christian Nazi Party.” In his last interview, Christopher Hitchens insisted that 1930s fascism was equivalent to an “extreme-right Catholic party.” Atheist actor Stephen Fry attributed the Holocaust to right-wing Polish Catholics.
Are recent revisionist histories and New Atheist proselytizers correct? Was Hitler Christian? Are recent revisionist histories and New Atheist proselytizers correct? Was Hitler Christian? Was Nazism? No. And that “no” matters a lot.
Written by: Richard Weikart
Reviewed by: Danusha V. Goska