Friday, May 22, 2009

Hitler and Christianity

Hitler’s religious beliefs continue to provoke plenty of sterile argument on the internet. Ignorant Christians claim he was an atheist while foolish atheists claim he was a Christian. A very quick look at the relevant scholarship reveals he was neither – he believed in a higher power but he was aggressively anti-Christian.

Joe Keysor has researched the topic of the Nazi’s religious policy in-depth for his book Hitler, the Holocaust, and the Bible: A Scriptural Analysis of Anti-Semitism, National Socialism, and the Churches in Nazi Germany. The book is clearly intended for a Christian audience and is published by a small press that specialises in apologetics. In some senses, this is unfortunate because Keysor’s research would reach a wider audience if it had not been written from a clear confessional stance. The apologetics probably plays well with his intended target audience, especially given that the publisher seems to specialise in such literature. But it would have been a good scholarly book if he had toned it down a bit. He does admit the Church in Germany could have done more against Nazism (p7). But remarks such as "all atheists will inevitably lose" (p347) and "when Christ returns in great power and glory as God to reign" (p377) are a bit much if he is hoping to reach a non-Christian readership.

I’m no specialist on the Nazis but luckily I know a man who is. My friend Edward Bartlett-Jones, while certainly no Nazi himself, does appear to know far more about them than might be considered healthy. Some say he has the score of Wagner’s Die Walküre embroidered into his bathrobe, others claim that he leaves copies of Nietzsche’s Also sprach Zarathustra in dentists’ waiting rooms. Needless to say, he lives in Berlin. He is also an agnostic and so I thought I should send him Keysor’s Hitler, the Holocaust and the Bible for an expert opinion. He replied,

Overall I think it's a good book but it has a strong Christian bias. The research is commendably thorough and without going back through the original sources, I didn't see anything that struck me as being taken out of context. There is a good summary of Hitler's philosophy (p48-49) and anyone who still thinks Hitler was a Catholic should be persuaded otherwise by page 87. There is also a good explanation of what Hitler meant by "God" on pages 93 to 94.

One possible shortcoming: he missed a good opportunity to discuss Wagner's Parsifal. He mentions it twice in passing, but considering he devotes a whole chapter to Wagner he could have gone further. Parsifal was Wagner's last opera and was the only one actually to be banned in the Third Reich (I didn't see him mention that either). I believe it was banned for its overt Christian imagery so in a book as thorough as this, it merits a slightly longer look.

I liked the Nietzsche chapter but again, he flits between scholarship and partisan polemic. He doesn't seem to find any inconsistency between berating atheists for having invented their moral code while lauding Christians for accepting theirs without question from a presumed supernatural authority. He also mistakenly and repeatedly conflates Darwinism with its supposed Nazi implications if taken to extremes. Darwinism is a descriptive biological theory and does not prescribe any sort of ethical system.

Overall, then, I recommend this book which accurately describes the religious beliefs of the Nazis and their policy towards Christianity. Had it been written as straight-forward scholarship rather than as apologetics, it would have been even better.

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Joe Keysor said...

I was aware while writing it that the Christian apologetics would not be agreeable to some, but I did not want to write an academic book. I wanted to explore the problem of Hitler from the standpoint of biblical truth, which is as far as I am concerned the only way to really understand him.

Anonymous said...

When I get time I will have to give it a read. It is so difficult
to find razor sharp research these days. Faith in the ability to uncover humilty. Peter has the keys
but one is at the door so enjoy...