Monday, 8 November 2010

Christianity Question #2

What about Adolph Hitler? Wasn’t he a Christian?
So what if he was Christian? Does that mean that intelligent people should not become Christians? Of course not!
There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.
- Larry Niven, Niven's Laws #16

I normally see this the other way around: Christians claiming that Hitler was an atheist. It forms part of a reductio ad hitlerum argument and Godwin's law says the discussion should be terminated as soon as you hear it. On the other hand, Hitler's religion is a legitimate target for scholarship. Generally we attempt to infer a historic persons beliefs from records of what they say and do and what other people thought of them. For example:

The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew.
- Adolph Hitler
Quoted in: "Hitler's Table Talks: 1941-1944" published in English 1953. Table Talks is full of this sort of thing, recalled by various people at dinner conversations. Hitler was brought up Catholic, and became increasingly frustrated that the Catholic Church didn't endorse him and his ideas. Wikipedia has a nice discussion. From the same volume:
The most marvelous proof of the superiority of Man, which puts man ahead of the animals, is the fact that he understands that there must be a Creator.
When we realise that he also made very Christian statements in private, we see that the apparent anti-Christianity in the other quotes can also be understood as anti-church ranting. Do we imagine Hitler, in these private talks, calmly and politely proffering philosophical arguments, or thumping the table and red in the face after someone comments on the church snubbing him yet again? Probably a bit of both.

Publicly we see lots of statements like the last quote (above) from Table Talk:
What we have to fight for is the necessary security for the existence and increase of our race and people, the subsistence of its children and the maintenance of our racial stock unmixed, the freedom and independence of the Fatherland; so that our people may be enabled to fulfill the mission assigned to it by the Creator. 
- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Vol. 1 Chapter 8
Even today I am not ashamed to say that, overpowered by stormy enthusiasm, I fell down on my knees and thanked Heaven from an overflowing heart for granting me the good fortune of being permitted to live at this time. 
- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Vol. 1 Chapter 5
It is pretty clear that Hitler, like many many politicians, was willing to manipulate the religious beliefs of his audience to achieve his goals. In public, he would use the rhetoric of Christianity. In private (talking to anti-Christians like Borman) he would denigrate Christianity or profess belief where it suited him. It is the assertion of Atheist activists like Richard Dawkins that religious theistic beliefs are inherently susceptible to this sort of manipulation. Atheist beliefs and practices, it is asserted, contain a core of free-thinking which makes a Hitler-esque mass manipulation less likely to succeed.

This would suggest that, even if Christian beliefs should turn out to be true, the tendency for organised Christian religions to undermine free and critical thought through dogma should be resisted - especially by the faithful.

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