A few years ago the Truth Project portrayed Adolf Hitler as an atheist and argued that the Holocaust was the consequence of atheism. I was surprised why the “Truth” project would employ untrue means to make their argument. It is historically well established that Hitler abhorred godless atheism and fought to defeat it.
“We were convinced that the people need and require faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations; we have stamped it out.”
After all, how could Hitler have been an atheist if he believed he was chosen by divine providence?
On the other side was popular atheist Richard Dawkins eager to disprove the “erroneous assertion that Hitler was an atheist” by proving that “Hitler was a Christian” and the Nazi atrocities committed by Christianity. He claimed that “this undeniable fact couldn’t be made any clearer than by his own confessions.” I was equally taken aback how a well known scientific scholar could be so ignorant to the context and complexity of history.
Adolf Hitler’s religious views are just as messy, confusing and contradictory as the rest of his political worldview; not to mention his marriage of a far-right nationalist ideology with a socialist economic theory, which still a century later leaves people shout at each other whether Nazism was and is far-left or far-right. (I will explore this in a different post.)
Both the Truth Project and Richard Dawkins got it wrong. Their claims are not intended to understand and draw relevant lessons from history. They are ideological weapons to fight each other’s worldviews. This clouds any meaningful academic or spiritual debate about what we need to learn from that history.
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It is true that Hitler publicly professed Christianity. He referred to himself as a Christian and to Christ as his Savior. He credited divine providence for his rise to power. He established a strong alliance with the Protestant Evangelical Church and transformed it into the nation’s Reich’s Church. Yet, behind closed doors he often lamented that a proud nation like Germany was stuck with a “religion of the meek” rather than a “religion of the strong and mighty.”
But to gain and maintain power Hitler had to face the reality that the country of Luther’s reformation was mainly a Christian people with a deep spiritual conviction, albeit increasingly challenged by the enlightenment and secularization movement of the Left (as well as the influence of the “false religion of Judaism.”) How could he make Germany great again if not by returning the nation to its deep spiritual and Christian heritage and shape and defend Nazi Germany as a “Christian nation?”
“We regard Christianity as the unshakable foundation of all morality… I pledge that I never will tie myself to parties who want to destroy Christianity… We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit … We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theater, and in the press – in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during the past years… We will tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the ideas of Christianity. Our movement is Christian…“
It is therefore not surprising that an atheist would argue that the atrocities of the Nazi regime were committed by a “Christian nation” and not by atheists. The atheist does not distinguish between political Christianity and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Nor does he know or care about the difference. Once you proclaim to be a “Christian nation” then the acts that nation commits will be seen as acts of Christianity. This is the very reason I warn against a political “Christian” nationalism.
But Nazi Christianity was not Biblical Christianity. This is why conservative Christians throw the Hitler card right back at the liberals and atheists. But that’s ignorant, as well! Hitler did not seek to diminish Christianity through secularism, enlightenment or liberal theology which he regarded a poison. He elevated and reshaped Christianity into a proud religion of the strong and mighty, a Christianity of nationalism, patriotism, prosperity and victory.
Not the meek, the humble or the repentant would inherit the earth but the powerful and mighty; those with the stronger economy, the bigger military, the prouder Christian patriots, the tougher warriors and fighters for God to bring judgment upon the wicked and ungodly. Now that was a Christianity one could be proud of.
This patriotic nationalist Christianity was not to please the liberal Left who advocates for separation of state of church. It was mostly for the nationalists and patriots who welcome the joining of religion and political power. This is precisely why Billy Graham warned against a marriage of religious fundamentalists and the political far right, stating that “the hard right has no use for religion but to manipulate it.”
Even the persecution of the Jews was justified with arguments of the “Christian right;” because the Jews had rejected Christ.
“My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. 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. …Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross…”
But this was not the Antisemitism of the Left because Jews are God’s chosen people. Rather it was defended as a “righteous anger” against the Jews who had brought God’s holy wrath and judgement upon themselves by rejecting Christ. The strong Christian support for Israel has only come about post-Holocaust once these atrocities were exposed to the world. Pre-Holocaust antisemitism was rather common among Christians, including Martin Luther, as they perceived the Jews cursed for having rejected Christ.
Nazi school books taught children that whenever they see a crucifix at the side of the road – and there were plenty in Germany – to remember that it was the Jews who nailed Christ their Savior to that cross. And what do Christ-murderers deserve?
Do you see the dangers of such far right “Christian” demagoguery and how it is completely different from the antisemitism and anti-religious demagoguery of the Left?
Public school teachers pushing Hitler’s doctrines were not liberals either. When the Nazis overtook Germany school teachers had to be 1.) Nationalists and 2.) Christians to remain employed. (I saw no requirement for a teacher to actually be a socialist.) Teachers with liberal or communist leanings, or ties to the unions were sucked. Primary historic documents from my grandfather’s school that I researched at public archives confirmed this, as well.
Regardless of what Hitler believed behind closed doors, the public practice and defense of “Christianity” was an integral part of Nazi Germany. Consequently, most Nazis faithfully attended church and many faithful Christians (at times even enthusiastically) joined the Nazi Party, supported Hitler and believed that God was using him.
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And yet, nowhere in Deception & Discernment did I ever state that “Hitler WAS a Christian and here are his proclamations to prove it.” I am no Richard Dawkins! I referred to Hitler as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a deceiver and madman, the world’s greatest evil coming in the disguise of the world’s greatest faith to mislead and to deceive.”
I warned what can happen when the Christian church exchanges biblical discernment for a political “Christian nationalism,” or the costly call to be a “disciple” for the cheap profits of being a “Christian patriot.” I urged them to be “alert and sober” because many false prophets will appear claiming “here is Christ or there is Christ,” yet, the Bible instructs us “do not listen to them!”
Thus, the comparison to Nazi Germany is not that much about Hitler, himself. It is primarily about the discernment of the Christian church. You might remember that I first got involved in these debates when I read Theo Bendito’s statement that he does not think Trump is a godly man but supports him because Trump defends Christianity. I responded: “…but so did Hitler.” That was not a comparison of Trump to Hitler. It was a challenge toward Theo’s discernment seeing that Trump’s outward profession of Christianity outweighed Theo’s concern that Trump was not actually a godly or moral man. And that can be a dangerous trade off.
Whatever religious beliefs might have driven Hitler, even conservative and evangelical Christians believed that he was raised up by God to do God’s will. But why? Why did they allow his promises to make their country great again, to build a strong economy and military, to strengthen German pride and nationalism, to defend Christianity, etc., make them look the other way once the first Communists, Marxists, Social Democrats, Homosexuals, Gypsies and Jews were sent to concentration camps?
Why would Christians accept a man like Hitler in their midst merely for professing to defend their religion? (And the early prisoners of the concentration camps proved that Hitler did so, as well. They were almost all in one way or the other a threat to the Christian right – including the Jews “with their false religion” – rather than a threat to liberalism.)
And what does that say about the discernment of the Christian church when it comes to politics under the so called “Christian flag?” If Christians believed that even Hitler was raised up by God how much easier it is to believe that Donald Trump is raised up by God? After all, he did not invade another country or commit a Holocaust. Yet, how much credibility should we give to the institutionalized church when it comes to “Christian politics” and “anointed leaders,” if they even believed that Hitler was an anointed man of God?
What evil can potentially be brought upon the world once Christians exchange the costly call to discipleship for the profiting promises of a so called “Christian nationalism,” so that they will no longer be the oppressed, having to pick up their cross, deny themselves and follow Christ, as Christ commanded, but rather be the ones on top, partaking in the rule of political power over others and bringing judgement to the “godless?”
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Can we thus make a comparison between Hitler and Trump in the way they are embraced by the church? When it comes to the evil Hitler was capable of – absolutely not! Such comparison would be irresponsible! But Hitler did not start out this way. He started as a master manipulator, deceiver and charlatan, a master of lies, demagoguery and propaganda, who seduced the Christian church into following him.
Yet, he himself was ungodly, corrupt and immoral at the core of his heart. Because of it, once he achieved ultimate unchecked power and eliminated opposition, he was able to step by step commit increasing crimes and atrocities no one would have thought a man capable of. Yet, no one dared speak out against him anymore, either, in fear of retribution.
But are there no similarities to Nazi Germany, at all? Studying Trump’s life and career, his morality, ethics, integrity, honesty and business practices, impersonating his own fake publicist to brag about himself and his personal, financial and sexual irresistibility, his bait and switch Trump University scams and Trump Charity frauds, his lying, cheating, and adultery, as well as his life long lack of personal faith, can you stand before the Christian church and vouch for certain that there is no immorality, corruption, evil or ulterior motives hidden at all behind Trump’s political promise to defend Christianity to gain evangelical support? (After all, he would not have been able to win without it. You don’t think this was and is a consideration for a man who claims that what drives his life is winning at all cost?)
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And how about this: The Bible warns that greed is idolatry and that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Yet, throughout his election campaign Mr. Trump boasted: “The beauty of me is that I am very rich… I love money, I have always loved money. I have grabbed all the money I could get…. I am greedy, greedy, greedy…. I want to be greedy for America, as well.”
You might question my comparison to Nazi Germany. That’s fair. But will you also question the word of God and not take HIS warnings seriously? God himself warns us that much of what drives Mr. Trump is the root of all kinds of evil. Look at the gaping conflict between his proclamations and his heart:
He claims “I will be the best representative of Christianity Christians had in a long time.” At the same time he purposefully defiles Christian teachings by boasting in front of Christians with his greed and love of money. He holds up the Bible at rallies and claims it is his favorite book. At the same time he passes out his best selling book “The Art of the Deal” that brags with his affairs and sexual conquests.
He promises to defend Christian values, life and marriage, yet he demonizes the free press as “enemy of the people,” the social democrats as evil, and all critics and opposition as wicked and demonic, just as Hitler did. He separates families, puts children into cages, and defiles what God has made holy by boasting that it gives him a feeling of power to get a married woman to break her marriage vow to sleep with him.
Trump celebrates himself as defender of Christianity and is hailed as the most pro-life president. In private he reportedly mocks Pence’s conservative beliefs and and belittles his wishful thinking that abortions could be banned. Meanwhile abortions-until-birth bills are being passed during his time in office.
The Bible warns against pride and vanity that will bring men and nations to fall. Yet Trump insist “I know more than the generals… I am my own best adviser… I am the chosen one… in my great and unmatched wisdom…” No one can fix the world’s problems but him alone.
The Bible calls upon leaders to be above approach and avoid the appearance of evil. Yet, Trump claims he can shoot someone at 5th street and not lose votes. He is telling us that he has the power to build a cult-like following, so loyal to him that he could commit crimes in the open and his followers would not turn from him.
Christianity teaches repentance and forgiveness. Yet, Trump insists “I don’t not need forgiveness because I am a good man….” and teaches “if someone hurts me I will hurt them ten times as bad.” Even the Old Testament teaches “a tooth for a tooth” not “ten teeth for one.”
How will such temperament translate into political actions in times of global crisis and conflict with weapons of mass destruction even Hitler didn’t have? Imagine, if a terrorist group strikes and brings down multiple Trump towers abroad? Is it impossible to think that this could drive him into such a rage of impulsive, erratic and disproportional vengeance as to nuke the entire Middle East “until the dessert glows,” all in the name of punishing the ungodly?
Sadly, I have little reason to believe that such a scenario would be absolutely impossible or that it would be heavily opposed by the “Christian” far right that believes everything he does is the will of God and nothing can be questioned. “I am a Trump fan, and he should turn the entire region into glass,” (nuke it) was the advice of one of his Christian supporters on Social Media.
Regrettably, this president does have the temperament of a ticking time-bomb with little moral compass or willingness to listen to moderate advisers. Whether or not he can for ever be constrained or might eventually blow up, and to what extend, (or whether or not he might respond with pushing the button when his buttons are pushed,) is everyone’s best guess.
You say even if you had heard Deception & Discernment before 2016 you would still have met it with disdain because of its “false premise” of comparing the Christian church in Nazi Germany to the Christian right in America. I might actually challenge you on that. In the 10 years I preached that message I had not a single evangelical respond with disdain. A member of the Billy Graham organization wrote “Powerful! A Must Hear for the American Church.” Brannon Howse, VCY and other evangelical stations played it in full length on their radio program.
The reason for that might be that the message makes no reference at all to the political left or right. It is timeless and transcends political factions. I started preaching it when Bush was president and preached it for 8 years under Obama until Trump became president. Many evangelicals actually believed that the message was aimed at the Left and a warning against Obama. The message points to the danger of Christian nationalism and the gospel of prosperity just as it points to the deceptions of pluralism, relativism and secularization. People can chose how they want to hear this message. Perhaps you chose to hear it as a “message against the right” because of your predisposition regarding our previous conversations?
When Obama run for president I warned about his messianic speeches, as well. My friends on the left found my comparison to Hitler absurd. Of course it was. Yet, the hypnotic effect his rhetoric had on the masses and swept them along was all too familiar to me. And it frightened me. What mere man claims about himself that he can heal the planet and slow the tide of the oceans, while school children were singing praises to him? With chills in my bones I was waiting for him to claim that he was sent by God to save the world.
But on the other hand, what mere man claims about himself to be a stable genius, smarter than the generals, his own best adviser, the chosen one, with great and unmatched wisdom, the only one to save America and fix the world’s problems because he has the greatest IQ unmatched by any men?
Come on, brother Mark, the messianic rhetoric of either man should give you the chills, as well. Yet, both these “saviors” claim to be Christians.
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It does not even matter if the deceiver will come from the Left or from the Right. The Bible calls us to be alert and sober at ALL times, not only when the political opposition is in power. It just so happens, however, that unlike Christian liberalism, “Christian nationalism” is a movement of the right. It is largely opposed by the Left that calls for separation of state and church. In my next posts I will therefore challenge your assertion that the Reich’s Church of Germany was supported by the Left and opposed by the Right. With exceptions, it was largely the other way around.
As a matter of fact I will demonstrate to you that the Confessing Church that resisted Hitler was founded and lead by liberal theologians. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a proponent of Classic German Liberalism and a student of the writings of existential philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, (who is greatly demonized as a dangerous liberal among American evangelicals.)
Co-founder of the Confessing Church Karl Barth and author of the Augsburg Confession was a theologian so liberal in his biblical interpretations that my grandfather and his pietist movement declined the invitation to join the main Confessing Church because of their liberal theology. Instead they chose to resist Hitler with an independent, much smaller, free-evangelical movement of professing Christians.
And yet my grandfather’s life, who as a pietist was a more conservative evangelical than all of us, was not being defined by being the “political right.” It was defined by being a disciple of Jesus Christ which caused him to oppose the ungodly Communists and their liberal atheism as much as he opposed the Nazis and their political Christian nationalism.
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Last but not least, it just so happened, that Mr. Trump decided to run for office by using the very slogan I had already evoked a decade prior when warning that someone would come promising to defend Christianity, to fix all their nation’s problems and to make their country great again. And it also also happened to have been Hitler’s slogan. That the shoe fits is not that much my making as it is the making the Mr. Trump himself and the making of the Evangelical church embracing him.
As a matter of fact, when Mr. Trump run for the nomination, a leader from within the Billy Graham organization contacted me, asking if I saw similarities between Trump’s rhetoric and Hitlers rise to power. That fear was not mine alone. Nor was I the only one seeing similarities. Regrettably, by now many of such voices have faded, grown silent, or are only expressed in private, as the larger evangelical leadership pressures believers to conform and support Mr. Trump, – and that not because he is a godly, moral, Christian leader, but because “no one has done so much politically for religious liberties.” I fear that this could turn out to be the same misguided view the German Christians had in the 1930ies...
The truth that the Nazi movement and its Christian nationalism has been much more far-right than far-left might be too uncomfortable for many evangelical Christians to admit However, it should not have to be if we understand history as a warning to GUARD our conservative Christian beliefs against misuse and manipulation, rather than seeing such warnings as an assault against them￼.
I believe my grandfather understood this. I believe Rev. Billy Graham, in his warning against a marriage between the religious fundamentalists and the hard right, might have understood this, as well. Consequently, like my grandfather, he remained apolitical in public his entire life and preached God’s kingdom alone, instead.
I wish more evangelical leaders today would follow his example….
This shall conclude this lengthy post. Thank you very much for your time and consideration and for giving me a fair hearing.
In my next post I will explore whether the Nazis were and are left-wing or right-wing and who between the left-wing and right wing Christians supported and opposed Hitler and his Christian nationalism.
Until then may God bless and direct you as you seek to follow him.