Book Review: Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich by Richard Weikart.
Last week, our very own Kurt Jaros interviewed Richard Weikart, who is a professor of history at California State University in Stanislaus, California. This is his fourth book dealing specifically with Hitler and Nazi Germany leading up to the end of WWII. This work is also the most extensive treatment of the subject matter: Hitler’s Religion. For anyone conversant in religious debates, especially those between Christianity and Atheism, this book will come as a welcome study of this important topic. As Weikart notes, while mainline atheists such as Richard Dawkins claim that Hitler was a Christian, others like Pope Benedict XVI have suggested Hitler was an atheist. But why such radically different views on such a public figure?
Into this milieu, Richard Weikart has bravely waded. In so doing, he has presented what appears to be the most thorough treatment of the subject in the English language. His conclusions:
“He (Hitler) was not an atheist, because he sincerely believed in the existence of God. He was not a Christian, because the God he believed in was not Jesus Christ or the God of the Christian Bible. He was not an occultist, because he overtly rejected occult beliefs and mystical practices.”
He further concludes that “Hitler’s religion was pantheism—or, if not pantheism, at least close to it. He believed that nature, or the entire cosmos, is God.” This certainly makes sense of Hitler’s views of morality as Weikart points out. Hitler would often refer to the laws of nature in his moral reasoning. In this way, Richard Weikart not only gives support for his thesis that Hitler was a pantheist, but also gives helpful explanation concerning Darwinism’s influence on Hitler’s view of nature.
Weikart also points out that Hitler did not care what people believed, on the religious level, as long as they did not then apply that to any other level. In essence, this meant that Hitler allowed everyone to believe anything as long as they kept their belief to what some might call metaphysical speculation. But as soon as they began applying their religious principles to their culture, society and political structures, Hitler would have none of it.
At this point a flaw can be seen in one of the starting assumptions of the book. For the purposes of this work, the author decides to use the definition of the World Council of Churches (WWC) for the term “Christian”. This might immediately raise red flags for many as the definition given by that organization merely assumes a vague concept of Judeo-Christian theism with the addition of the Bible having some authority. This is not the robust Christianity of history nor is it in agreement with the Christian creeds. The reason this is so important for such a book is because of the theological history in Germany in the century leading up to the rise of Hitler. The German church, while still functioning socially, had largely denied many or all of the basic tenets of Christianity. In such a context, to say that many Protestant German Christians joined the Nazi party or supported Hitler is essentially to say nothing more than that members of vaguely religious social clubs had given much support to Hitler. Thankfully, Weikart then acknowledges the influence of theological liberalism in many of the German churches and even gives evidence that some church members were deists and not Christians.
The question then becomes why he would begin with a definition of Christianity that many of these deists and theological liberals would be happy with? Thankfully, this flawed starting point does not seem to have significantly skewed the conclusions of the book. Nevertheless, a better starting definition would have been helpful in some of the later explanations he gives when the term “Christian” is used but the reader is at a loss to understand in what sense the person being spoken about was a “Christian”.
After the introduction, the first chapter deals with Hitler’s contradictory statements about his beliefs. At this point, Richard Weikart points out the simplistic thinking of many who claim Hitler as an atheist, Christian or occult member based on one or two quotes from one of his speeches or writings. As Weikart points out, Hitler was a notorious liar and knew how to get popular support on his side. This automatically means that those interpreting him cannot be simplistic in their analysis. He even shows that many of those closest to Hitler seemed to disagree on their analysis of what Hitler believed. Surely this is a call for caution to anyone trying to gain a systematic understanding of Hitler’s beliefs. In this chapter, Weikart notes that Hitler only “believed in religious liberty insofar as it did not conflict with his own ideology.”
The second chapter deals with the influencers of Hitler’s religious outlook. Here too things are not as clear as some might like. Weikart details the influences of Kant, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche as well as others. However, as the author points out, Hitler seemed to take what he liked from an author, fit it into his system, and leave the rest. This makes it difficult to discern to what extent individuals influenced his thinking and actions. Also, even Hitler’s own statements regarding his influencers cannot be trusted, since he was adept at playing to his audience.
Chapters three and four deal with the questions of whether Hitler was an Atheist or Christian respectively. When the information from these chapters is combined, it makes for compelling evidence of the author’s conclusion of pantheism. Chapter five then considers whether or not Hitler wanted to destroy the churches in general. This is a fascinating chapter as Hitler’s view of politics and religion is discussed.
Chapter six considers whether or not any Christian influences can be found for Hitler’s anti-Semitism. The seventh chapter investigates any occult or pagan influences on Hitler personally and the Third Reich by inference. Chapter nine deals with whether or not Hitler was a creationist in any sense of the term.
Finally, the tenth chapter considers Hitler’s views on morality. No doubt for many readers this will be one of the most fascinating chapters as it explains a great many pieces of evidence. How could Hitler encourage certain actions the Nazis undertook? This chapter provides many of Hitler’s strands of thought concerning morality, nature and politics and how they work together.
This work seems to be the new standard on a thorny set of questions. Thoroughly argued and logically considered, the evidences in this book do seem to support the conclusion of pantheism as the best category for what Adolf Hitler believed. The extensive nature of the research in this work also make the conclusion on that much more of a sure foundation. While those interested in the topics presented will be thankful for such a complete treatment of the subject matter, the casual reader might be put off by the length and academic nature of the work. Nevertheless, any reader who continues investigating this work chapter by chapter will find something new at every turn and many fascinating discussions along the way.
 Weikart, Richard. Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich. Regnery History. Kindle Edition. Loc 113.
 Weikart, Richard. Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich. Regnery History. Kindle Edition. Loc 221.
 Weikart, Richard. Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich (p. 7). Regnery History. Kindle Edition. Loc 489.