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Adolf Hitler was raised by an anticlerical, sceptic father and a devout Catholic mother. Baptized and confirmed as a child in Austria, he ceased to participate in the sacraments after childhood. In adulthood, Hitler became disdainful of Christianity, but in seeking out and in trying to retain power in Germany, he was prepared to set aside his views on religion out of political considerations. He repeatedly stated that Nazism was a secular ideology founded on science. It is generally accepted by historians that Hitler's post war and long term goal was the eradication of Christianity in Germany. The adult Hitler did not believe in the Judeo-Christian notion of God, though various scholars consider his final religious position may have been a form of deism. Others consider him "atheist". The question of atheism is debated, however reputable Hitler biographers Ian Kershaw, Joachim Fest and Alan Bullock agree Hitler was anti-Christian. This view is evidenced in sources such as the Goebbels Diaries, the memoirs of Albert Speer, and the transcripts edited by Martin Bormann which are contained within Hitler's Table Talk, an influential translation of which was completed by historian Hugh Trevor-Roper.
During his early career, and for a variety of reasons, Hitler made various public comments against non-Nazi atheistic (i.e. "Bolshevik") movements, and in favour of so-called positive Christianity (a movement which sought to purge Christianity of its Jewish elements and Apostle's Creed and instill it with Nazi philosophy). Once in power, the Hitler regime sought to reduce the influence of Christianity on German society, though by 1939, despite the encouragement of the Nazi Party, only around 5% of Germans had declared themselves neo-pagan deists (gottglaubig) or atheists. The majority of the three million Nazi Party members continued to pay their church taxes and register as Christians.
In his semi-autobiographical Mein Kampf, Hitler makes religious allusions, but declares himself neutral in sectarian matters and supportive of the separation between church and state, while criticising political Catholicism. He presents a Social Darwinist vision, in which the universe is ordered around principles of struggle between weak and strong, rather than on conventional Christian notions long prominent in Germany. While campaigning for office in the early 1930s, Hitler offered moderate public statements on Christianity, promising not to interfere with the churches if given power, and calling Christianity the foundation of German morality. In power, the Hitler regime conducted a protracted Struggle with the Churches. Hitler moved to eliminate political Catholicism, while agreeing a Reich concordat with the Holy See which promised autonomy for the Catholic Church in Germany. Hitler then routinely violated the treaty, moved to close all Catholic organisations that weren't strictly religious, and permitted a persecution of the Catholic Church. He launched an effort to co-ordinate German Protestants under a unified Protestant Reich Church under the Deutsche Christen movement, but the attempt failed and was resisted by the Confessing Church. He angered the churches by appointing the neo-pagan Alfred Rosenberg as official Nazi ideologist, and generally permitted or encouraged anti-church radicals such as Himmler, Goebells and Bormann to conduct their persecutions of the churches. Smaller religious minorities faced far harsher repression, with the Jews of Germany expelled for extermination on the grounds of racist ideology and Jehovah's Witnesses ruthlessly persecuted for refusing military service, and any allegiance to Hitlerism.
Kershaw wrote that few people could really claim to "know" Hitler - "he was by temperament a very private, even secretive individual", unwilling to confide in others. In Hitler's Table Talk Hitler often voiced stridently negative views of Christianity. Bullock wrote that Hitler was a rationalist and materialist, who saw Christianity as a religion "fit for slaves", and against the natural law of selection and survival of the fittest. Richard J. Evans wrote that Hitler used a Nazi variant of the language of Social Darwinism to persuade his followers that what they were doing was justified by "history, science and nature". Biographer John Toland, while noting Hitler's antagonism to the Pope and Catholic Church hierarchy, drew links between Hitler's Catholic background and his antisemitism. Steigmann-Gall saw a "Christian element" in Hitler's early writings; and wrote that while use of the term "positive Christianity" in the Nazi Party Program of 1920 is commonly regarded as a tactical measure", he himself believes that it was "more than a political ploy for winning votes" and instead adhered to an "inner logic" - though anti-Christians later fought to "expunge Christian influence from Nazism" and that the movement became "increasingly hostile to the churches". Following meetings with Hitler, General Gerhard Engel and Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber wrote that Hitler was a believer. Kershaw cites Faulhaber's encounter as an example of Hitler's ability to "pull the wool over the eyes of even hardened critics". Laurence Rees concludes that "Hitler's relationship in public to Christianity - indeed his relationship to religion in general - was opportunistic. There is no evidence that Hitler himself, in his personal life, ever expressed any individual belief in the basic tenets of the Christian church".
Reliable historical details on the childhood of Adolf Hitler are scarce.
Hitler was born in 1889, in Braunau, Austria. Hitler's father Alois, though nominally a Catholic, was somewhat religiously skeptical and anticlerical, while his mother Klara was a practicing Catholic.
As an infant, Hitler was baptised a Catholic in April 1889. Hitler attended several primary schools. For six months, the family lived opposite a Benedictine Monastery at Lambach, and on some afternoons, Hitler attended the choir school there. Around this time, Hitler is said to have dreamed of taking holy orders. Hitler was confirmed on 22 May 1904. Rissmann relates a story where a boyhood friend[who?] claimed that after Hitler had left home, he never again attended Mass or received the sacraments.
In 1909, Hitler moved to Vienna. According to Bullock, his intellectual interests vacillated and his reading included: "Ancient Rome, the Eastern religions, Yoga, Occultism, Hypnotism, Astrology, Protestantism, each in turn excited his interest for a moment... He struck people as unbalanced. He gave rein to his hatreds - against the Jews, the priests, the Social Democrats, the Hapsburgs - without restraint".
According to historian Michael Rissmann, young Hitler was influenced by Pan-Germanism, and began to reject the Catholic Church, receiving confirmation only unwillingly. Toland wrote of the 1904 ceremony at Linz Cathedral, that Hitler's confirmation sponsor said he nearly had to "drag the words out of him... almost as though the whole confirmation was repugnant to him".
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Hitler's public and private statements on religion were often in conflict. The biographer Kershaw wrote that few people could really claim to "know" Hitler - "he was by temperament a very private, even secretive individual", unwilling to confide in others. In private Hitler scorned Christianity to his friends, but when out campaigning for power in Germany, he publicly made statements in favour of the religion. "The most persuasive explanation of these statements", wrote Laurence Rees, "is that Hitler, as a politician, simply recognised the practical reality of the world he inhabited... Had Hitler distanced himself or his movement too much from Christianity it is all but impossible to see how he could ever have been successful in a free election. Thus his relationship in public to Christianity - indeed his relationship to religion in general - was opportunistic. There is no evidence that Hitler himself, in his personal life, ever expressed any individual belief in the basic tenets of the Christian church".
Though Hitler retained some regard for the organisational power of Catholicism, he had utter contempt for its central teachings, which he said, if taken to their conclusion, "would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure". In Hitler: A Study in Tyranny Alan Bullock, wrote that Hitler was a rationalist and a materialist with no feeling for the spiritual or emotional side of human existence: a "man who believed neither in God nor in conscience ('a Jewish invention, a blemish like circumcision')". In Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, Bullock added that Hitler, like Napoleon before him, frequently employed the language of "Providence" in defence of his own myth, but ultimately shared with the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, "the same materialist outlook, based on the nineteenth century rationalists' certainty that the progress of science would destroy all myths and had already proved Christian doctrine to be an absurdity".
For political reasons, Hitler restrained his anti-clericalism and refused "to let himself be drawn into attacking the Church publicly, as Bormann and other Nazis would have liked him to do. But he promised himself that, when the time came, he would settle his account with the priests of both creeds. When he did, he would not be restrained by any judicial scruples". German conservative elements, such as the officer corps opposed Nazi efforts against the churches. In the long run, Hitler intended to destroy the influence of the Christian churches:
Hitler had been brought up a Catholic and was impressed by the organization and power of the Church. For Protestant clergy he felt only contempt: 'They are insignificant little people, submissive as dogs...[-] They have neither a religion you can take seriously nor a great position to defend like Rome'. It was the 'great position' of the Church that he respected; towards its teaching he showed only the sharpest hostility. In Hitler's eyes, Christianity was a religion fit only for slaves; he detested its ethics in particular. Its teaching, he declared, was a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle and the survival of the fittest.
According to Max Domarus, although Hitler did not "abide by its commandments", he retained elements of the Catholic thinking of his upbringing even into the initial years of his rule: "As late as 1933, he still described himself publicly as a Catholic. Only the spreading poison of his lust for power and self idolatry finally crowded out the memories of childhood beliefs and in 1937 he jettisoned the last of his personal religious convictions, declaring to comrades, 'Now I feel as fresh as a colt in the pasture'", wrote Domarus. Ultimately, Domarus believed, Hitler replaced belief in the Judeo-Christian God with belief in a peculiarly German "god". He promoted the idea of God as the creator of Germany, but Hitler "was not a Christian in any accepted meaning of that word." Domarus also points out that Hitler did not believe in organized religion and did not see himself as a religious reformer.
According to historian Laurence Rees, "Hitler did not believe in the afterlife, but he did believe he would have a life after death because of what he had achieved." Historian Richard Overy maintains that Hitler was not a "practising Christian," nor was he a "thorough atheist." According to Robert S. Wistrich Hitler thought Christianity was finished but he did not want any direct confrontation for strategic reasons. Samuel Koehne, a Research Fellow at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute, working on the official Nazi views on religion, answers the question Was Hitler a Christian? thus: "Emphatically not, if we consider Christianity in its traditional or orthodox form: Jesus as the son of God, dying for the redemption of the sins of all humankind. It is a nonsense to state that Hitler (or any of the Nazis) adhered to Christianity of this form." Koehne says Hitler was probably not an atheist and refers to the fact that recent works have asserted that he was a deist. Richard Evans concluded his statements on Hitler's religious views by suggesting that the gap between Hitler's public and private pronouncements was due to a desire not to cause a quarrel with the churches that might undermine national unity.
Richard Steigmann-Gall saw evidence of a "Christian element" in Hitler's early writings. Steigmann-Gall wrote that while use of the term "positive Christianity" in the Nazi Party Program of 1920 is commonly regarded as a tactical measure", he himself believes that it was "more than a political ploy for winning votes" and instead adhered to an "inner logic". Though anti-Christians later fought to "expunge Christian influence from Nazism" and the movement became "increasingly hostile to the churches", Steigmann-Gall wrote that even in the end, it was not "uniformly anti-Christian". Even after a rupture with institutional Christianity (which he dated to around 1937), Steigmann-Gall saw evidence that Hitler continued to hold Jesus in high esteem, considering him to have been an Aryan fighter who struggled against Jewry. In Hitler's view, Jesus' true Christian teachings had been corrupted by the Apostle Paul, who had transformed them into a kind of Jewish Bolshevism, which Hitler believed preached "the equality of all men amongst themselves, and their obedience to an only god. This is what caused the death of the Roman Empire." Steigmann-Gall concluded Hitler was religious at least in the 1920s and early 1930s, citing him expressing a belief in God, divine providence, and Jesus as an Aryan opponent of the Jews. However, he admits that by holding this position he "argues against the consensus that Nazism as a whole was either unrelated to Christianity or actively opposed to it."
The Anschluss saw the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in early 1938. The Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg had traveled to Germany to meet Hitler, who, according to Shuschnigg's later testimony, launched into a threatening rage against the role of Austria in German history, saying: "Every national idea was sabotaged by Austria throughout history; and indeed all this sabotage was the chief activity of the Hapsburgs and the Catholic Church". Hitler gave an ultimatum, which was to end Austrian independence and hand the nation to the Nazis.
The biographer John Toland, noted that, in the aftermath of a 1939 attempted assassination, Hitler told dinner guests that Pope Pius XII would rather have seen the "plot succeed" and "was no friend of mine". Later in his biography, Toland wrote that, in 1941, Hitler was still "a member in good standing of the Church of Rome despite his detestation of its hierarchy, he carried within himself its teaching that the Jew was the killer of God. The extermination, therefore, could be done without a twinge of conscience since he was merely acting as the avenging hand of God — so long as it was done impersonally, without cruelty." (for the official Catholic position against Nazi racism in the 1930s see Mit brennender Sorge). Derek Hastings sees Hitler's commitment to Christianity as more tenuous. He considers it "eminently plausible" that Hitler was a believing Catholic as late as his trial in 1924, but writes that "there is little doubt that Hitler was a staunch opponent of Christianity throughout the duration of the Third Reich."
In his writings on Hitler's recurrent religious images and symbols, Kenneth Burke concluded that "Hitler's modes of thought are nothing more than perverted or caricatured forms of religious thought" 
Hitler combined elements of autobiography with an exposition of his racist political ideology in Mein Kampf ("My Struggle"), published between 1925 and 1927. According to the biographer Ian Kershaw, the reflections Hitler himself provided in Mein Kampf are "inaccurate in detail and coloured in interpretation", information that was given during the Nazi period is "dubious", as can be the post-war recollections of family and acquaintances. The book contains various religious pronouncements. Laurence Rees described the thrust of the work as "bleak nihilism" revealing a cold universe with no moral structure other than the fight between different people for supremacy: "What's missing from Mein Kampf", wrote Rees—"and this is a fact that has not received the acknowledgement it should—is any emphasis on Christianity"—though Germany, Rees noted, had been Christian for a thousand years. So, concluded Rees, "the most coherent reading of Mein Kampf is that whilst Hitler was prepared to believe in an initial creator God, he did not accept the conventional Christian vision of heaven and hell, nor the survival of an individual "soul"... we are animals and just like animals we face the choice of destroying or being destroyed." Mein Kampf makes various statements on Christianity.
Paul Berben wrote that insofar as the Christian denominations were concerned, Hitler declared himself to be neutral in Mein Kampf - but argued for clear separation between church and state, and for the church not to concern itself with the earthly life of the people, which must be the domain of the state. According to William Shirer, Hitler "inveighed against political Catholicism in Mein Kampf and attacked both of the Christian Churches for their failure to recognise the racial problem...", while also warning that no political party could succeed in "producing a religious reformation".
Hitler spoke of the importance of a definite and uniformly accepted Weltanschauung (outlook on the world), and noted that the diminished position of religion in Europe had led to a decline in necessary certainties - "yet this human world of ours would be inconceivable without the practical existence of a religious belief". The various substitutes hitherto offered, he said could not "usefully replace the existing denominations". Therefore he said:
The political leader should not estimate the worth of a religion by taking some of its shortcomings into account, but he should ask himself whether there be any practical substitute in a view which is demonstrably better. Until such a substitute be available only fools and criminals would think of abolishing the existing religion.
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
Examining how to establish a new order, Hitler argued that the greatness of powerful organisations was reliant on an intolerance of all others, thus he said the greatness of Christianity arose from the "unrelenting and fanatical proclamation and defence of its own teaching". Hitler rejected a view that Chritianity brought civilization to the Germanic peoples however, "It is therefore outrageously unjust to speak of the pre-Christian Germans as barbarians who had no civilization. They never have been such." Foreshadowing his conflict with the Catholic Church over euthanasia in Nazi Germany, Hitler said that the churches should give up missionary work in Africa, and concentrate on convincing Europeans that is more pleasing to God if they adopt orphans rather than "give life to a sickly child that will be a cause of suffering and unhappiness to all". The Christian churches should forget about their own differences and focus on the issue of "racial contamination", Hitler said:
The two Christian denominations look on with indifference at the profanation and destruction of a noble and unique creature who was given to the world as a gift of God's grace. For the future of the world, however, it does not matter which of the two triumphs over the other, the Catholic or the Protestant. But it does matter whether Aryan
humanity survives or perishes.
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
When he arrived in Vienna as a young man, Hitler indicated that the later fervency of his anti-Semitism had not fully formed: "In the Jew I still saw only a man who was of a different religion, and therefore, on grounds of human tolerance, I was against the idea that he should be attacked because he had a different faith." Hitler decided that anti-Semitism based on religious, rather than racial grounds, was a mistake: "The anti-Semitism of the Christian-Socialists was based on religious instead of racial principles. The reason for this mistake gave rise to the second error also... this shilly-shally way of dealing with the problem the anti-Semitism of the Christian-Socialists turned out to be quite ineffective.
In Mein Kampf, Richard Steigmann-Gall saw "no indication of [Hitler] being an atheist or agnostic or of believing in only a remote, rationalist divinity, writing that Hitler referred continually to a providential, active deity."
"Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord."
"His [the Jewish person's] life is only of this world, and his spirit is inwardly as alien to true Christianity as his nature two thousand years previous was to the great founder of the new doctrine. Of course, the latter made no secret of his attitude toward the Jewish people, and when necessary he even took to the whip to drive from the temple of the Lord this adversary of all humanity, who then as always saw in religion nothing but an instrument for his business existence. In return, Christ was nailed to the cross, while our present-day party Christians debase themselves to begging for Jewish votes at elections and later try to arrange political swindles with atheistic Jewish parties—and this against their own nation." 
"The individual may establish with pain today that with the appearance of Christianity the first spiritual terror entered into the far freer ancient world, but he will not be able to contest the fact that since then the world has been afflicted and dominated by this coercion, and that coercion is broken only by coercion, and terror only by terror. Only then can a new state of affairs be constructively created. Political parties are inclined to compromises; philosophies never. Political parties even reckon with opponents; philosophies proclaim their infallibility."
Elsewhere in Mein Kampf Hitler speaks of the "creator of the universe" and "eternal Providence." He also states his belief that the Aryan race was created by God, and that it would be a sin to dilute it through racial intermixing:
"The völkisch-minded man, in particular, has the sacred duty, each in his own denomination, of making people stop just talking superficially of God's will, and actually fulfill God's will, and not let God's word be desecrated. For God's will gave men their form, their essence and their abilities. Anyone who destroys His work is declaring war on the Lord's creation, the divine will."
In Mein Kampf, Hitler saw Jesus as against the Jews, rather than of them: "And the founder of Christianity made no secret indeed of his estimation of the Jewish people. When He found it necessary, He drove those enemies of the human race out of the Temple of God." 
Hitler's intimates, such as Joseph Goebbels, Albert Speer, and Martin Bormann record that Hitler was deeply hostile to Christianity. Ian Kershaw wrote that, while Hitler would occasionally tell his inner circle that he wanted to delay the 'Church struggle" out of political considerations, his inflammatory remarks gave his underlings license to intensify their church struggle.
In his memoirs, Hitler's chief architect, Albert Speer, wrote "Amid his political associates in Berlin, Hitler made harsh pronouncements against the church...", yet "he conceived of the church as an instrument that could be useful to him":
Around 1937, when Hitler heard that at the instigation of the party and the SS vast numbers of his followers had left the church because it was obstinately opposing his plans, he nevertheless ordered his chief associates, above all Goering and Goebbels, to remain members of the church. He too would remain a member of the Catholic Church he said, although he had no real attachment to it. And in fact he remained in the church until his suicide.
The Goebbels Diaries also remark on this policy. Goebbels wrote on 29 April 1941 that though Hitler was "a fierce opponent" of the Vatican and Christianity, "he forbids me to leave the church. For tactical reasons."
According to Speer, Hitler's private secretary, Martin Bormann, relished recording any harsh pronouncements against the church: "there was hardly anything he wrote down more eagerly than deprecating comments on the church". Speer wrote that Bormann was the driving force behind the regime's campaign against the churches. Hitler approved of Bormann's aims, but was more pragmatic and wanted to "postpone this problem to a more favourable time":
"Once I have settled my other problem," [Hitler] occasionally declared, "I'll have my reckoning with the church. I'll have it reeling on the ropes" But Bormann did not want this reckoning postponed [...] he would take out a document from his pocket and begin reading passages from a defiant sermon or pastoral letter. Frequently Hitler would become so worked up... and vowed to punish the offending clergyman eventually... That he could not immediately retaliate raised him to a white heat...
— Extract from Inside the Third Reich, the memoir of Albert Speer
Hitler, wrote Speer, viewed Christianity as the wrong religion for the "Germanic temperament": Speer wrote that Hitler would say: "You see it's been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn't we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?" Speer also wrote of observing in Hitler "quite a few examples", and that he held a negative view toward Himmler and Rosenberg's mystical notions.
Extensive transcripts on Hitler's thoughts on religion are contained within Hitler's Table Talk. Between 1941 and 1944, Hitler's words were recorded in these transcripts. The transcripts concern not only Hitler's views on war and foreign affairs, but also his characteristic attitudes on religion, culture, philosophy, personal aspirations, and his feelings towards his enemies and friends. Within the transcripts, Hitler speaks of Christianity as "absurdity" and "humbug" founded on "lies" with which he could "never come personally to terms."
Michael Burleigh contrasted Hitler's public pronouncements on Christianity with those in Table Talk, suggesting that Hitler's real religious views were 'a mixture of materialist biology, a faux-Nietzschean contempt for core, as distinct from secondary, Christian values, and a visceral anti-clericalism.' Richard Evans also reiterated the view that Nazism was secular, scientific and anti-religious in outlook in the last volume of his trilogy on Nazi Germany, writing, 'Hitler's hostility to Christianity reached new heights, or depths, during the war;' his source for this was the 1953 English translation of Table Talk.
The widespread consensus among historians is that the views expressed in Trevor-Roper's translation of Table Talk, are credible and reliable, although as with all historical sources, a high level of critical awareness about its origins and purpose are advisable in using it. The remarks from Table Talk accepted as genuine include such quotes as 'Christianity is the prototype of Bolshevism: the mobillization by the Jew of the masses of slaves with the object of undermining society.' Alan Bullock's seminal biography Hitler: A Study in Tyranny quotes Hitler as saying "Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure", found also in Table Talk, and repeats other views appearing in Table Talk such as: the teachings of Christianity are a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle and survival of the fittest.
In the transcripts, Hitler spoke of the myths of religion crumbling before scientific advances:
The dogma of Christianity gets worn away before the advances of science. Religion will have to make more and more concessions. Gradually the myths crumble. All that's left is to prove that in nature there is no frontier between the organic and the inorganic. When understanding of the universe has become widespread, when the majority of men know that the stars are not sources of light but worlds, perhaps inhabited worlds like ours, then the Christian doctrine will be convicted of absurdity.
— Adolf Hitler, from Hitler's Table Talk (1941-1944)
When one thinks of the opinions held concerning Christianity by our best minds a hundred, two hundred years ago, one is ashamed to realise how little we have since evolved. I didn't know that Julian the Apostate had passed judgment with such clear-sightedness on Christianity and Christians.... the Galilean, who later was called the Christ, intended something quite different. He must be regarded as a popular leader who took up His position against Jewry... and it's certain that Jesus was not a Jew. The Jews, by the way, regarded Him as the son of a whore—of a whore and a Roman soldier. The decisive falsification of Jesus's doctrine was the work of St. Paul.... Paul of Tarsus (his name was Saul, before the road to Damascus) was one of those who persecuted Jesus most savagely.
— Adolf Hitler, per transcript appearing in Hitler's Table Talk
According to the Goebbels Diaries, Hitler hated Christianity. In an 8 April 1941 entry, Goebbels wrote "He hates Christianity, because it has crippled all that is noble in humanity." Hitler, wrote Goebbels, saw the pre-Christian Augustinian Age as the high point of history and could not relate to the Gothic mind, nor "brooding mysticism". In another entry, Goebbels wrote that Hitler was "deeply religious but entirely anti-Christian." Goebbels wrote on 29 December 1939:
The Fuhrer is deeply religious, though completely anti-Christian. He views Christianity as a symptom of decay. Rightly so. It is a branch of the Jewish race. This can be seen in the similarity of their religious rites. Both (Judaism and Christianity) have no point of contact to the animal element, and thus, in the end they will be destroyed. The Fuhrer is a convinced vegetarian on principle.
— Goebbels Diaries, 29 December 1939
In his diary Goebbels reported that Hitler believed Jesus "also wanted to act against the Jewish world domination. Jewry had him crucified. But Paul falsified his doctrine and undermined ancient Rome." Goebbels notes in a diary entry in 1939 a conversation in which Hitler had "expressed his revulsion against Christianity. He wished that the time were ripe for him to be able to openly express that. Christianity had corrupted and infected the entire world of antiquity."
In 1937, Goebells's noted Hitler's approval of anti-Christian propaganda and the show trials of clergy. Hitler's impatience with the churches, wrote Kershaw, "prompted frequent outbursts of hostility. In early 1937 he was declaring that 'Christianity was ripe for destruction', and that the Churches must yield to the "primacy of the state", railing against any compromise with "the most horrible institution imaginable". In his entry for 29 April 1941, Goebbels noted long discussions about the Vatican and Christianity, and wrote: "The Fuhrer is a fierce opponent of all that humbug".
Hitler typically tailored his message to his audience's perceived sensibilities. In the early 1930s, Hitler's public comments on Christianity were moderate. In public speeches, he often made statements that affirmed a belief in Christianity. According to Max Domarus, Hitler had fully discarded belief in the Judeo-Christian conception of God by 1937, but continued to use the word "God" in speeches - but it was not the God "who has been worshiped for millennia", but a new and peculiarly German "god" who "let iron grow". Thus Hitler told the British journalist Ward Price in 1937: "I believe in God, and I am convinced that He will not desert 67 million Germans who have worked so hard to regain their rightful position in the world."
According to Bullock, Hitler had a materialist outlook, that believed science had already discredited Christianity and would ultimately destroy all myths - but he continued to speak of "Providence" to support his own myth:
Hitler's own myth had to be protected, and this led him, like Napoleon, to speak frequently of Providence, as a necessary if unconscious projection of his sense of destiny which provided him with both justification and absolution. 'The Russians', he remarked on one occasion 'were entitled to attack their priests, but they had no right to assail the idea of a supreme force. It's a fact that we're feeble creatures and that a creative force exists'".
— Excerpt from Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives by Alan Bullock
Historian Joachim Fest wrote, "Hitler knew, through the constant invocation of the God the Lord (German: Herrgott) or of providence (German: Vorsehung), to make the impression of a godly way of thought." He used his "ability to simulate, even to potentially critical Church leaders, an image of a leader keen to uphold and protect Christianity," according to biographer Ian Kershaw. Kershaw adds that Hitler's ability also succeeded in appeasing possible Church resistance to anti-Christian Nazi Party radicals.
In public statements, especially at the beginning of his rule, Hitler frequently spoke positively about a Nazi vision of "Christian" German culture, and his belief in an Aryan Christ. In 1922, a decade before his ascension to power, Hitler stated before a crowd in Munich:
My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only 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. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison. 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. As a Christian, I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice."
Key voting blocs which Hitler needed to persuade to drop their opposition to a Nazi Government were the Catholic Centre Party and German conservatives. He pursued their votes with a mix of intimidation, negotiation and conciliation. In a proclamation to the German Nation February 1, 1933, Hitler stated, "The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and co-operation. It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life."
On 23 March 1933, just prior to the crucial Reichstag vote for the Enabling Act which effectively dissolved Parliamentary government in Germany, Hitler described the Christian faiths as "essential elements for safeguarding the soul of the German people" and "We hold the spiritual forces of Christianity to be indispensable elements in the moral uplift of most of the German people." "With an eye to to the votes of the Catholic Centre Party", wrote Shirer, he added that he hoped to improve relations with the Holy See. He promised that the passing of the Enabling Act would not threaten the Reichstag, the President, the States or the Churches. Hitler secured passage of the Act, but did not honour these promises.
According to Steigmann-Gall, Hitler's references to Jesus, God as the "Lord of Creation" and the necessity of obeying "His will" reveals that Christianity was fused into his thinking. "What Christianity achieves is not dogma, it does not seek the outward ecclesiastical form, but rather ethical principles.... There is no religion and no philosophy that equals it in its moral content; no philosophical ethics is better able to diffuse the tension between this life and the hereafter, from which Christianity and its ethic were born," Hitler stated.
The propaganda machinery of the Nazi party actively promoted Hitler as a saviour of Christianity, and Nazi propaganda supported the German Christians in their formation of a single national church that could be controlled and manipulated.
During negotiations relating to the Concordat with the Catholic Church and the Nazis state in 1933, Hitler said to Bishop Wilhelm Berning: "I have been attacked because of my handling of the Jewish question. The Catholic Church considered the Jews pestilent for fifteen hundred years, put them in ghettos, etc, because it recognised the Jews for what they were. In the epoch of liberalism the danger was no longer recognised. I am moving back toward the time in which a fifteen-hundred-year-long tradition was implemented. I do not set race over religion, but I recognise the representatives of this race as pestilant for the state and for the church and perhaps I am thereby doing Christianity a great service by pushing them out of schools and public functions".
John Cornwell quotes Hitler as saying in 1933: "The fact that the Vatican is concluding a treaty with the new Germany means the acknowledgement of the National Socialist state by the Catholic Church. This treaty shows the whole world clearly and unequivocally that the assertion that National Socialism is hostile to religion is a lie." Letter to the Nazi Party, 22 July 1933; John Cornwell (2008). Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII. New York: Penguin, p. 118.
If positive Christianity means love of one's neighbour, i.e. the tending of the sick, the clothing of the poor, the feeding of the hungry, the giving of drink to those who are thirsty, then it is we who are the more positive Christians. For in these spheres the community of the people of National Socialist Germany has accomplished a prodigious work
— Speech to the Old Guard at Munich 24 February 1939
According to Steigmann-Gall, Hitler never directed his attacks on Jesus himself, whom Hitler regarded as an Aryan opponent of the Jews. Hitler viewed traditional Christianity as a corruption of the original ideas of Jesus by the Apostle Paul. In Mein Kampf Hitler had written that Jesus "made no secret of his attitude toward the Jewish people, and when necessary he even took the whip to drive from the temple of the Lord this adversary of all humanity, who then as always saw in religion nothing but an instrument for his business existence. In return, Christ was nailed to the cross." In a speech 26 June 1934, Hitler stated:
The National Socialist State professes its allegiance to positive Christianity. It will be its honest endeavour to protect both the great Christian Confessions in their rights, to secure them from interference with their doctrines (Lehren), and in their duties to constitute a harmony with the views and the exigencies of the State of today.
Former Prime Minister of Bavaria, Count von Lerchenfeld-Köfering stated in a speech before the Landtag of Bavaria, that his beliefs "as a man and a Christian" prevented him from being an anti-Semite or from pursuing anti-Semitic public policies. Hitler while speaking the Bürgerbräukeller turned Lerchenfeld's perspective of Jesus on its head:
I would like here to appeal to a greater than I, Count Lerchenfeld. He said in the last session of the Landtag that his feeling 'as a man and a Christian' prevented him from being an anti-Semite. I say: 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 only 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. .. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison.
Various scholars consider Hitler's final religious position to be one of deism. Some have written of him as "atheist". The question is debated.
Alan Bullock saw Hitler as a "materialist", not only in his "dismissal of religion" but also in his "insensitivity to humanity". Hitler's materialist outlook, wrote Bullock, was "based on the nineteenth century rationalists' certainty that the progress of science would destroy all myths and had already proved Christian doctrine to be an absurdity". Richard J. Evans wrote that "Hitler emphasised again and again his belief that Nazism was a secular ideology founded on modern science. Science, he declared, would easily destroy the last remaining vestiges of superstition [-] 'In the long run', [Hitler] concluded, 'National Socialism and religion will no longer be able to exist together'".
Yet during his career, and for a variety of reasons, Hitler made various comments against "atheistic" movements. He associated atheism with Bolshevism, Communism, and Jewish materialism. In 1933, the regime banned most atheistic and freethinking groups in Germany - other than those that supported the Nazis. In A Short History of Christianity, the historian Geoffrey Blainey wrote that Hitler and his Fascist ally Mussolini were atheists, but that Hitler courted and benefited from fear among German Christians of militant Communist atheism. "The aggressive spread of atheism in the Soviet Union alarmed many German Christians", wrote Blainey, and with the National Socialists becoming the main opponent of Communism in Germany: "[Hitler] himself saw Christianity as a temporary ally, for in his opinion 'one is either a Christian or a German'. To be both was impossible. Nazism itself was a religion, a pagan religion, and Hitler was its high priest... Its high altar [was] Germany itself and the German people, their soil and forests and language and traditions".
Through 1933 and into 1934, Hitler required a level of support from groups like the German conservatives and the Catholic Centre Party in the Reichstag, and of the conservative President von Hindenberg, in order to achieve his takeover of power with the "appearance of legality". During this period, he gave a number of undertakings not to threaten the German churches. On 21 March 1933, the Reichstag assembled in the Potsdam Garrison Church, to show the "unity" of National Socialism with the old conservative Germany of President von Hindenburg. Two days later, the Nazis secured passage of the Enabling Act, granting Hitler dictatorial powers. Less than three months later all non-Nazi parties and organizations, including the Catholic Centre Party had ceased to exist.
In early 1933, Hitler publicly defended National Socialism against charges that it was anti-Christian. He stated in a speech to the people of Stuttgart on February 15, 1933: "Today they say that Christianity is in danger, that the Catholic faith is threatened. My reply to them is: for the time being, Christians and not international atheists are now standing at Germany’s fore. I am not merely talking about Christianity; I confess that I will never ally myself with the parties which aim to destroy Christianity. Fourteen years they have gone arm in arm with atheism. At no time was greater damage ever done to Christianity than in those years when the Christian parties ruled side by side with those who denied the very existence of God. Germany's entire cultural life was shattered and contaminated in this period. It shall be our task to burn out these manifestations of degeneracy in literature, theater, schools, and the press—that is, in our entire culture—and to eliminate the poison which has been permeating every facet of our lives for these past fourteen years." Responding to accusations by Eugen Bolz, the Catholic Centre Party Staatspräsident of Württemberg, that the National Socialist movement threatened the Christian faith, he said:
And now Staatspräsident Bolz says that Christianity and the Catholic faith are threatened by us. And to that charge I can answer: In the first place it is Christians and not international atheists who now stand at the head of Germany. I do not merely talk of Christianity, no, I also profess that I will never ally myself with the parties which destroy Christianity. If many wish today to take threatened Christianity under their protection, where, I would ask, was Christianity for them in these fourteen years when they went arm in arm with atheism? No, never and at no time was greater internal damage done to Christianity than in these fourteen years when a party, theoretically Christian, sat with those who denied God in one and the same Government.
Hitler's speech referred to the political alliances of the Catholic aligned Centre Party with parties of the Left, which he associated with Bolshevism, and thus, atheism. Eugen Bolz was forced from office soon after the Nazis took power, and imprisoned for a time. Later he was executed by the Nazi regime.
During negotiations leading to the Reichskonkordat with the Vatican, Hitler said that "Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith." However, as Hitler consolidated his power, schools became a major battleground in the Nazi campaign against the churches. Hitler sometimes allowed pressure to be placed on German parents to remove children from religious classes to be given ideological instruction in its place, while in elite Nazi schools, Christian prayers were replaced with Teutonic rituals and sun-worship. By 1939 all Catholic denominational schools had been disbanded or converted to public facilities.
In a radio address October 14, 1933 Hitler stated, "For eight months we have been waging a heroic battle against the Communist threat to our Volk, the decomposition of our culture, the subversion of our art, and the poisoning of our public morality. We have put an end to denial of God and abuse of religion. We owe Providence humble gratitude for not allowing us to lose our battle against the misery of unemployment and for the salvation of the German peasant."
In a speech delivered in Berlin, October 24, 1933, Hitler stated: "We were convinced that the people needs and requires this 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." In a speech delivered at Koblenz, August 26, 1934 Hitler said: "There may have been a time when even parties founded on the ecclesiastical basis were a necessity. At that time Liberalism was opposed to the Church, while Marxism was anti-religious. But that time is past. National Socialism neither opposes the Church nor is it anti-religious, but on the contrary, it stands on the ground of a real Christianity. The Church's interests cannot fail to coincide with ours alike in our fight against the symptoms of degeneracy in the world of today, in our fight against the Bolshevist culture, against an atheistic movement, against criminality, and in our struggle for the consciousness of a community in our national life, for the conquest of hatred and disunion between the classes, for the conquest of civil war and unrest, of strife and discord. These are not anti-Christian, these are Christian principles."
According to Kershaw, Hitler could "pull the wool over the eyes of even hardened critics", thus, following a meeting with Hitler, Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber, a man who had "courageously criticized the Nazi attacks on the Catholic Church - went away convinced that Hitler was deeply religious". In November 1936 the Roman Catholic prelate met Hitler at Berghof for a three-hour meeting. He left the meeting convinced of Hitler's religiosity and wrote "The Reich Chancellor undoubtedly lives in belief in God. He recognises Christianity as the builder of Western culture". Kershaw wrote this demonstrated Hitler's "evident ability to simulate, even to potentially critical church leaders, an image of a leader keen to uphold and protect Christianity". Nazi General Gerhard Engel also wrote that Hitler was a believer, having written in his diary that in 1941 that Hitler had stated: "I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so."
In Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, Bullock wrote that Hitler, like Napoleon before him, frequently employed the language of "Providence" in order to defend his own myth and sense of destiny. In Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, Bullock wrote that Hitler's belief in himself had an echo of Hegel's thoughts on heroes standing above conventional morality and the role of "world-historical individuals" as the agents by which the "Will of the World Spirit", the plan of Providence is carried out. Hitler, wrote Bullock, came to see himself as "a man with a mission, marked out by Providence, and therefore exempt from the ordinary canons of human conduct". Bullock concluded: "It is in this sense of mission that Hitler, a man who believed neither in God nor in conscience ('a Jewish invention, a blemish like circumcision') found both justification and absolution". Following his early military successes, Hitler "abandoned himself entirely to megalomania" and the "sin of hybris", an exaggerated self-pride, believing himself to be more than a man.
Transcripts contained in Hitler's Table Talk have Hitler expressing faith that science would wear away religion. On 14 October 1941, in an entry concerning the fate of Christianity, Hitler is reported to have said: "Science cannot lie, for it's always striving, according to the momentary state of knowledge, to deduce what is true. When it makes a mistake, it does so in good faith. It's Christianity that's the liar. It's in perpetual conflict with itself." The transcript continues: "The best thing is to let Christianity die a natural death... The dogma of Christianity gets worn away before the advances of science. Religion will have to make more and more concessions. Gradually the myths crumble."
Nevertheless, wrote Evans by 1939, 95% of Germans still called themselves Protestant or Catholic, while 3.5% 'Deist' (gottglaubig) and 1.5% atheist. Most in these latter categories were "convinced Nazis who had left their Church at the behest of the Party, which had been trying since the mid 1930s to reduce the influence of Christianity in society". However, the majority of the three million Nazi Party members continued to pay their church taxes and register as Christians, wrote John Conway, and this "despite all Rosenberg's efforts".
Hitler emphasised that Nazism was a secular ideology founded on modern science. In a diary entry of 28 December 1939, Joseph Goebbels wrote that "the Fuhrer passionately rejects any thought of founding a religion. He has no intention of becoming a priest. His sole exclusive role is that of a politician." In Hitler's political relations dealing with religion he readily adopted a strategy "that suited his immediate political purposes."
According to Marshall Dill, one of the greatest challenges the Nazi state faced in its effort to "eradicate Christianity in Germany or at least subjugate it to their general world outlook" was that the Nazis could not justifiably connect German faith communities to the corruption of the old regime, Weimar having no close connection to the churches. Because of the long history of Christianity in Germany, Hitler could not attack Christianity as openly as he did Judaism, Communism or other political opponents. The list of Nazi affronts to and attacks on the Catholic Church is long. The attacks tended not to be overt, but were still dangerous; believers were made to feel that they were not good Germans and their leaders were painted as treasonous and contemptible. The state removed crucifixes from the walls of Catholic classrooms and replaced it with a photo of the Führer.
Hitler issued a statement[when?] saying that he wished to avoid factional disputes in Germany's churches. He feared the political power that the churches had, and did not want to openly antagonize that political base until he had securely gained control of the country. Once in power Hitler showed his contempt for "non-Aryan" religion and sought to eliminate it from areas under his rule. Within Hitler's Nazi Party some atheists were quite vocal, especially Martin Bormann. According to Goebbels Hitler hated Christianity. In 1939, Goebbels wrote that the Fuhrer knew that he would "have to get around to a conflict between church and state" but that in the meantime "The best way to deal with the churches is to claim to be a 'positive Christian'"."
Hitler often used religious speech and symbolism to promote Nazism to those that he feared would be disposed to act against him. He also called upon religion as a pretext in diplomacies. The Soviet Union feared that if they commenced a programme of persecution against religion in the western regions, Hitler would use that as a pretext for war.
In his childhood, Hitler had admired the pomp of Catholic ritual and the hierarchical organisation of the clergy. Later he drew on these elements, organizing his party along hierarchical lines and including liturgical forms into events or using phraseology taken from hymns. Because of these liturgical elements, Daim's claim of Hitler's Messiah-like status and the ideology's totalitarian nature, the Nazi movement, like other fascist movements and Communism, is sometimes termed a "political religion" that is anti-ecclesiastical and anti-religious. However, Robert Paxton cautions that the "historical peculiarity of the original fascisms does not mean that future integrist movements could not build upon a religion in place of a nation, or as the expression of national identity. Even in Europe, religion-based fascisms were not unknown: the Falange Española, Belgian Rexism, the Finnish Lapua Movement, and the Romanian Legion of the Archangel Michael are all good examples".
In 1920, the aspiring revolutionary, Adolf Hitler, included use of the term "Positive Christianity" in the 1920 Nazi Party Platform. Non-denominational, the term could be variously interpreted, but allayed fears among Germany's Christian majority as to the oft expressed anti-Christian convictions of large sections of the Nazi movement. The Platform promised to support freedom of religions with the caveat: "insofar as they do not jeopardize the state's existence or conflict with the moral sentiments of the Germanic race". It further proposed a definition of a "positive Christianity" which could combat the "Jewish-materialistic spirit". In 1937, Hans Kerrl, Hitler's Minister for Church Affairs, explained "Positive Christianity" as not "dependent upon the Apostle's Creed", nor in "faith in Christ as the son of God", upon which Christianity relied, but rather, as being represented by the Nazi Party: "The Fuehrer is the herald of a new revelation", he said.
Given Hitler's personal hostility to Christianity, historians, including Ian Kershaw and Laurence Rees, characterise his acceptance of the term "Positive Christianity" and involvement in religious policy as driven by opportunism, and a pragmatic recognition of the political importance of the Christian Churches in Germany. Nevertheless, efforts by the regime to impose a Nazified "positive Christianity" on a state controlled Protestant Reich Church essentially failed, and resulted in the formation of the dissident Confessing Church which saw great danger to Germany from the "new religion". The Catholic Church too denounced the creed's pagan myth of "blood and soil"" in the 1937 papal encyclical Mit brennender Sorge and elsewhere.
Prior to the Reichstag vote for the Enabling Act under which Hitler gained the "temporary" dictatorial powers with which he went on to permanently dismantle the Weimar Republic, Hitler promised the German Parliament that he would not interfere with the rights of the churches. However, with power secured in Germany, Hitler quickly broke this promise. He divided the Protestant Church and instigated a brutal persecution of the Jehovah's Witnesses. He dishonoured a Concordat signed with the Vatican and permitted a persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany. William Shirer wrote that, under the leadership of Alfred Rosenberg, Martin Bormann and Heinrich Himmler, backed by Hitler, the Nazis intended to destroy Christianity in Germany, if they could."
In office, the Nazi leadership co-opted the term Gleichschaltung to mean conformity and subservience to the National Socialist German Workers' Party line: "there was to be no law but Hitler, and ultimately no god but Hitler". Nazi ideology conflicted with traditional Christianity in various respects. Nazis criticized Christian ideals of "meekness and guilt" on the basis that they "repressed the violent instincts necessary to prevent inferior races from dominating Aryans". The Nazi-backed "positivist" or "German Christian" church sought to make the evangelical churches of Germany an instrument of Nazi policy.
In effort to counter the strength and influence of spiritual resistance, Nazi security services monitored clergy very closely. Priests were frequently denounced, arrested and sent to concentration camps. At Dachau Concentration Camp, the regime established a dedicated Clergy Barracks for church dissidents.
Hitler possessed radical instincts in relation to the Nazi conflict with the Catholic and Protestant Churches in Germany, and though he occasionally spoke of wanting to delay the Church struggle and was prepared to restrain his anti-clericalism out of political considerations, his "own inflammatory comments gave his immediate underlings all the license they needed to turn up the heat in the 'Church Struggle, confident that they were 'working towards the Fuhrer'". As with the "Jewish question", the radicals pushed the Church struggle forward, especially in Catholic areas, so that by the winter of 1935-1936 there was growing dissatisfaction with the Nazis in those areas. Kershaw wrote that in early 1937, Hitler again told his inner circle that though he "did not want a 'Church struggle" at this juncture", he expected "the great world struggle in a few years' time". Nevertheless, wrote Kershaw, Hitler's impatience with the churches "prompted frequent outbursts of hostility. In early 1937 he was declaring that 'Christianity was ripe for destruction', and that the Churches must yield to the "primacy of the state", railing against any compromise with "the most horrible institution imaginable".
Hitler moved quickly to eliminate Political Catholicism in Germany. Amid widescale intimidation, the Bavarian People's Party and Catholic Centre Party had ceased to exist by early July. Vice Chancellor Papen meanwhile negotiated a Reich Concordat with the Vatican, which prohibited clergy from participating in politics. "The agreement", wrote Shirer, "was hardly put to paper before it was being broken by the Nazi Government". Almost immediately Hitler promulgated the sterilization law, and began work to dissolve the Catholic Youth League. Clergy, nuns and lay leaders began to be targeted, leading to thousands of arrests over the ensuing years, often on trumped up charges of currency smuggling or "immorality". In Hitler's bloody night of the long knives purge of 1934, leading Catholic dissidents Erich Klausener and Edgar Jung of Catholic Action were murdered, as was Adalbert Probst, the national director of the Catholic Youth Sports Association, and anti-Nazi Catholic journalist Fritz Gerlich. Catholic publications were shut down. The Gestapo began to violate the sanctity of the confessional. By early 1937, the church hierarchy in Germany, which had initially attempted to co-operate with Hitler, had become highly disillusioned and Pope Pius XI issued the Mit brennender Sorge encyclical - accusing the Hitler regime of violations of the Concordat and of sowing the tares of "open fundamental hostility to Christ and His Church". Goebbels noted heightened verbal attacks on the clergy from Hitler in his diary and wrote that Hitler had approved the start of trumped up "immorality trials" against clergy and anti-Church propaganda campaign. Goebbels' orchestrated attack included a staged "morality trial" of 37 Franciscans.
Hitler's invasion of predominantly Catholic Poland in 1939 ignited the Second World War. Kerhsaw wrote that, in Hitler's scheme for the Germanization of the East, "There would, he made clear, be no place in this utopia for the Christian Churches". Hitler instigated a policy of murdering or suppressing the ethnic Polish elites: including religious leaders. He proclaimed: "Poles may have only one master – a German. Two masters cannot exist side by side, and this is why all members of the Polish intelligentsia must be killed." Between 1939 and 1945, an estimated 3,000 members (18%) of the Polish clergy, were murdered; of these, 1,992 died in concentration camps.
According to Bullock, Hitler considered the Protestant clergy to be "insignificant" and "submissive" and lacking in a religion to be taken seriously. The Nazi-backed "positivist" or "German Christian" church sought to make the evangelical churches of Germany an instrument of Nazi policy. Although ideas about racial superiority and the destiny of their race which animated the German Christian movement had been present in German religious circles as early as 1930, the movement was not formally established until 1932 when it officially became known as the "German Christians" with backing from Hitler himself. It was nationalistic and anti-Semitic and some of its radicals called for repudiation of the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures) and the Pauline epistles of the New Testament - because of their Jewish authorship.
Kershaw wrote that the subjugation of the Protestant churches proved more difficult than Hitler had envisaged however. With 28 separate regional churches, his bid to create a unified Reich Church through Gleichschaltung ultimately failed, and Hitler became disinterested in seeking supporting the so-called "German Christians" Nazi aligned movement. The Church Federation proposed the well qualified Pastor Friedrich von Bodelschwingh to be the new Reich Bishop, but Hitler endorsed his friend Ludwig Muller and the Nazis terrorized supporters of Bodelschwingh. Muller's heretical views against St Paul and the Semitic origins of Christ and the Bible quickly alienated sections of the Protestant church. Not all the Protestant churches submitted to the state, which Hitler said in Mein Kampf was important in forming a political movement. Pastor Martin Niemöller responded with the Pastors' Emergency League, which resisted Muller's efforts in making the Protestant churches an instrument of Nazi policy. The movement grew into the Confessing Church, from which some clergymen opposed the Nazi regime. By 1940 it was public knowledge that Hitler had abandoned advocating for Germans even the syncretist idea of a positive Christianity.
By 1934, the Confessional Church had declared itself the legitimate Protestant Church of Germany, but Muller had failed to form a united Protestant movement behind the National Socialist Party. To instigate a new effort at coordinating the Protestant churches, Hitler appointed another friend, Hans Kerrl to the position of Minister for Church Affairs. A relative moderate, Kerrl initially had some success in this regard, but amid continuing protests by the Confessing Church against Nazi policies, he accused dissident churchmen of failing to appreciate the Nazi doctrine of "Race, blood and soil". He rejected the Apostle's Creed and called Hitler the herald of a new revelation.
The pretension of the Hitler regime that all Protestant churches in Germany should be subsumed under the leadership of the German Christians served as an impulse to action for other Christian leaders who saw the racist, ultra-nationalistic, and totalitarian emphases of the German Christian church as incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When those not in agreement organized their opposition and, calling themselves the Confessing Church, publicly proclaimed articles of faith that denied the position of the German Christians, they eventually came under severe persecution by the State. About the end of March 1935 six hundred of the principal leaders of the Confessing Church were arrested and many others received visits from the Gestapo to emphasize the government's point of view concerning these matters. Later, there were new arrests, and it began to be known that those who had been taken away were ending up in concentration camps. Given the totalitarian atmosphere of Nazi Germany at that time, it would be ingenuous to believe that these measures against the Confessing Church and in support of the policies of the German Christians might have been taken without Adolph Hitler's consent. The Confessing Church seminary was banned. Its leaders, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer were arrested. Implicated in the 1944 July Plot to assassinate Hitler, he was later executed.
Jehovah's Witnesses were a small Christian minority, numbering around 30,000 at the start of Hitler's rule in Germany. For refusing to declare loyalty to the Reich, and refusing conscription into the army, they were declared to be enemies of Germany and persecuted. About 6000 were sent to the concentration camps.
Steigmann-Gall argues that Hitler demonstrated a preference for Protestantism over Catholicism, as Protestantism was more liable to reinterpretation and a non-traditional readings, more receptive to positive Christianity, and because some of its liberal branches had held similar views. According to Steigmann-Gall, Hitler regretted that "the churches had failed to back him and his movement as he had hoped." Hitler stated to Albert Speer, "Through me the Protestant Church could become the established church, as in England."
In 1999 Julie Seltzer Mandel, while researching documents for the "Nuremberg Project", discovered 150 bound volumes collected by Gen. William Donovan as part of his work on documenting Nazi war crimes. Donovan was a senior member of the U.S. prosecution team and had compiled large amounts of evidence that Nazis persecuted Christian Churches. In a 108-page outline titled "The Nazi Master Plan" Office of Strategic Services investigators argued that the Nazi regime had a plan to reduce the influence of Christian churches through a campaign of systematic persecutions. "Important leaders of the National Socialist party would have liked to meet this situation [of church influence] by complete extirpation of Christianity and the substitution of a purely racial religion," said the report. The most persuasive evidence came from "the systematic nature of the persecution itself."
In Hitler's scheme for the Germanization of Eastern Europe, there was to be no place for Christian Churches. For the time being, he ordered slow progress on the 'Church Question'. 'But is clear', noted Goebells, himself among the most aggressive anti-Church radicals, 'that after the war it has to be solved... There is, namely, an insoluble opposition between the Christian and a Germanic-heroic world-view". Bullock wrote that "once the war was over, [Hitler] promised himself, he would root out and destroy the influence of the Christian churches, but until then he would be circumspect": Writing for Yad Vashem, the historian Michael Phayer wrote that by the latter 1930s, church officials knew that the long term aim of Hitler was the "total elimination of Catholicism and of the Christian religion".
In his memoirs, Hitler's chief architect Albert Speer recalled that when drafting his plans for Hitler's "new Berlin", when he told Hitler's private secretary Martin Bormann that he had consulted with Protestant and Catholic authorities over the locations for churches: "Bormann curtly informed me that churches were not to receive building sites.
Among eastern religions, Hitler described religious leaders such as "Confucius, Buddha, and Mohammed" as providers of "spiritual sustenance". In this context, Hitler's connection to Mohammad Amin al-Husseini, who served the Mufti of Jerusalem until 1937 — which included asylum in 1941, the honorary rank of an SS Major-General, and a "respected racial genealogy" — has been interpreted by some as more of a sign of respect than political expedience. Starting in 1933, al-Husseini, who had launched a campaign to free various parts of the Arab region from British control and expel Jews from both Egypt and Palestine, became impressed by the Jewish boycott policies which the Nazis were enforcing in Germany, and hoped that he could use the anti-semitic views which many in the Arab region shared with Hitler's regime in order to forge a strategic military alliance that would help him get rid of the Jewish Zionist colonists in Palestine. Despite al-Husseini's attempts to reach out to the Third Reich, Hitler refused to form such an alliance with al-Husseini, fearing that it would weaken relations with Britain, and early relations between the two would be solely based on anti-semitic ideology
During the unsuccessful 1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine, which was instigated by mass Jewish migration to Palestine, Husseini and his allies took the opportunity to strengthen relations with the Third Reich and enforced the spread of Nazi customs and propaganda throughout their strongholds in Palestine as a gesture of respect. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood would follow al-Husseini's lead. Hitler's influence soon spread throughout the region, but it was not until 1937 that the Nazi government agreed to grant al-Husseini and the Muslim Brotherhood's request for financial and military assistance.
Nazi-era Minister of Armaments and War Production Albert Speer acknowledged that in private, Hitler regarded Arabs as an inferior race and that the relationship he had with various Muslim figures was more political than personal. During a meeting with a delegation of distinguished Arab figures, Hitler learned of how Islam motivated the Umayyad Caliphate during the Islamic invasion of Gaul and was now convinced that "the world would be Mohammedan today" if the Arab regime had successfully taken France during the Battle of Tours, while also suggesting to Speer that "ultimately not Arabs, but Islamized Germans could have stood at the head of this Mohammedan Empire." Hitler expressed admiration for the Muslim military tradition and later directed Himmler to initiate Muslim SS Divisions as a matter of policy.
According to Speer, Hitler stated in private, "The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?" Speer also stated that when he was discussing with Hitler events which might have occurred had Islam absorbed Europe:
Hitler said that the conquering Arabs, because of their racial inferiority, would in the long run have been unable to contend with the harsher climate and conditions of the country. They could not have kept down the more vigorous natives, so that ultimately not Arabs but Islamized Germans could have stood at the head of this Mohammedan Empire."
— Albert Speer
Hitler's choice of the Swastika as the Nazis' main and official symbol was linked to the belief in the Aryan cultural descent of the German people. They considered the early Aryans of India to be the prototypical white invaders and the sign as a symbol of the Aryan master race. The theory was inspired by the German archaeologist Gustaf Kossinna, who argued that the ancient Aryans were a superior Nordic race from northern Germany who expanded into the steppes of Eurasia, and from there into India, where they established the Vedic religion.
Bullock found "no evidence to support the once popular belief that Hitler resorted to astrology" and wrote that Hitler ridiculed those like Himmler in his own party who wanted to re-establish pagan mythology, and Hess who believed in Astrology. Albert Speer wrote that Hitler had a negative view toward Himmler and Rosenberg's mystical notions. Speer quotes Hitler as having said of Himmler's attempt to mythologize the SS:
What nonsense! Here we have at last reached an age that has left all mysticism behind it, and now [Himmler] wants to start that all over again. We might just as well have stayed with the church. At least it had tradition. To think that I may some day be turned into an SS saint! Can you imagine it? I would turn over in my grave...
In a 1939 speech in Nuremberg, Hitler stated: "We will not allow mystically-minded occult folk with a passion for exploring the secrets of the world beyond to steal into our Movement. Such folk are not National Socialists, but something else—in any case something which has nothing to do with us."
According to Ron Rosenbaum, some scholars believe the young Hitler was strongly influenced, particularly in his racial views, by an abundance of occult works on the mystical superiority of the Germans, like the occult and anti-Semitic magazine Ostara, and give credence to the claim of its publisher Lanz von Liebenfels that Hitler visited him in 1909 and praised his work. John Toland wrote that evidence indicates Hitler was a regular reader of Ostara. Toland also included a poem that Hitler allegedly wrote while serving in the German Army on the Western Front in 1915. This poem includes references to magical runes and the pre-Christian Germanic deity Wotan (Odin), but it is mentioned neither by Goodrick-Clarke nor by Fest.
Hitler's contact to Lanz von Liebenfels makes it necessary[according to whom?] to examine how far his religious views were influenced by Ariosophy, an esoteric movement in Germany and Austria that flourished from the 1890s to the 1920s. (Whether Ariosophy is to be classified as Germanic paganism or Occultism is a different question.) The seminal work on Ariosophy, The Occult Roots of Nazism by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, devotes its last chapter the topic of Ariosophy and Adolf Hitler. Not at least due to the difficulty of sources, historians disagree about the importance of Ariosophy for Hitler's religious views. As noted in the foreword of The Occult Roots of Nazism by Rohan Butler, Goodrick-Clarke is more cautious in assessing the influence of Lanz von Liebenfels on Hitler than Joachim Fest in his biography of Hitler.
While he was in power, Hitler was definitely less interested in the occult or the esoteric than other Nazi leaders. Unlike Heinrich Himmler and Rudolf Hess, for example, Hitler had no interest in astrology. Nevertheless, Hitler is the most important figure in the Modern Mythology of Nazi occultism. There are teledocumentaries about this topic, with the titles Hitler and the Occult and Hitler's Search for the Holy Grail. In fact, the latter is all about Himmler's search for the Grail, and probably only had "Hitler" in the title because he's the more well-known Nazi.
Comparing him to Erich von Ludendorff, Fest writes: "Hitler had detached himself from such affections, in which he encountered the obscurantism of his early years, Lanz v. Liebenfels and the Thule Society, again, long ago and had, in Mein Kampf, formulated his scathing contempt for that völkish romanticism, which however his own cosmos of imagination preserved rudimentarily." Fest refers to the following passage from Mein Kampf:
"The characteristic thing about these people [modern-day followers of the early Germanic religion] is that they rave about the old Germanic heroism, about dim prehistory, stone axes, spear and shield, but in reality are the greatest cowards that can be imagined. For the same people who brandish scholarly imitations of old German tin swords, and wear a dressed bearskin with bull's horns over their heads, preach for the present nothing but struggle with spiritual weapons, and run away as fast as they can from every Communist blackjack.
It is not clear if this statement is an attack at anyone specific. It could have been aimed at Karl Harrer or at the Strasser group. According to Goodrick-Clarke, "In any case, the outburst clearly implies Hitler's contempt for conspiratorial circles and occult-racist studies and his preference for direct activism." Hitler also said something similar in public speeches. Although, the quote is really just criticizing German romanticists for lack of action, not necessarily their spiritual or cultural beliefs. Hitler, himself, was very much into the culture he refers to here, especially in the case of Wagner operas.
Older literature states that Hitler had no intention of instituting worship of the ancient Germanic gods in contrast to the beliefs of some other Nazi officials. In Hitler's Table Talk one can find this quote:
"It seems to me that nothing would be more foolish than to re-establish the worship of Wotan. Our old mythology ceased to be viable when Christianity implanted itself. Nothing dies unless it is moribund.
Jackson Spielvogel and David Redles in an article published by the Simon Wiesenthal Center assert that the influence of the anti-Judaic, Gnostic and root race teachings of H.P. Blavatsky, the founder of The Theosophical Society with doctrines as expounded by her book "The Secret Doctrine", and the adaptations of her ideas by her followers, through Ariosophy, the Germanenorden and the Thule Society, constituted a popularly unacknowledged but decisive influence over the developing mind of Hitler. The scholars state that Hitler himself may be responsible for turning historians from investigating his occult influences. While he publicly condemned and even persecuted occultists, Freemasons, and astrologers, his nightly private talks disclosed his belief in the ideas of these competing occult groups - demonstrated by his discussion of reincarnation, Atlantis, world ice theory, and his belief that esoteric myths and legends of cataclysm and battles between gods and titans were a vague collective memory of monumental early events.
Scholarly interest continues on the extent to which inherited, long-standing, cultural-religious notions of anti-Judaism in Christian Europe contributed to Hitler's personal racial anti-Semitism, and what influence a pseudo-scientific "primitive version of social-Darwinism", mixed with 19th century imperialist notions, brought to bear on his psychology. Laurence Rees noted that "emphasis on Christianity" was absent from the vision expressed by Hitler in Mein Kampf and his "bleak and violent vision" and visceral hatred of the Jews had been influenced by quite different sources: the notion of life as struggle he drew from Social Darwinism, the notion of the superiority of the "Aryan race" he drew from Arthur de Gobineau's The Inequality of the Human Races; from events following Russia's surrender in World War One when Germany seized agricultural lands in the East he formed the idea of colonising the Soviet Union; and from Alfred Rosenberg he took the idea of a link between Judaism and Bolshevism. Hitler espoused a ruthless policy of "negative eugenic selection", believing that world history consisted of a struggle for survival between races, in which the Jews plotted to undermine the Germans, and inferior groups like Slavs and defective individuals in the German gene pool, threatened the Aryan "master race". Richard J. Evans wrote that his views on these subjects have often been called "social Darwinist", but that there is little agreement among historians as to what the term may mean, or how it transformed from its 19th century scientific origins, to become a central component of a genocidal political ideology in the 20th century.
Derek Hastings writes that, according to Hitler's personal photographer Heinrich Hoffmann, the strongly anti-Semitic Hieronymite Catholic priest Bernhard Stempfle was a member of Hitler's inner circle in the early 1920s and frequently advised him on religious issues.He helped Hitler in the writing of Mein Kampf.  He was killed by the SS in the 1934 purge. Hitler viewed the Jews as enemies of all civilization and as materialistic, unspiritual beings, writing in Mein Kampf: "His life is only of this world, and his spirit is inwardly as alien to true Christianity as his nature two thousand years previous was to the great founder of the new doctrine." Hitler described his supposedly divine mandate for his anti-Semitism: "Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord." In his rhetoric Hitler also fed on the old accusation of Jewish Deicide. Because of this it has been speculated that Christian anti-Semitism influenced Hitler's ideas, especially such works as Martin Luther's essay On the Jews and Their Lies and the writings of Paul de Lagarde. Others disagree with this view. In support of this view, Hitler biographer John Toland opines that Hitler "carried within him its teaching that the Jew was the killer of God. The extermination, therefore, could be done without a twinge of conscience since he was merely acting as the avenging hand of God...". Nevertheless, in Mein Kampf Hitler writes of an upbringing in which no particular anti-Semitic prejudice prevailed.
According to historian Lucy Dawidowicz, anti-Semitism has a long history within Christianity, and that the line of "anti-Semitic descent" from Luther to Hitler is "easy to draw." In her The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945, she writes that Luther and Hitler were obsessed by the "demonologized universe" inhabited by Jews. Dawidowicz states that the similarities between Luther's anti-Jewish writings and modern anti-Semitism are no coincidence, because they derived from a common history of Judenhass, which can be traced to Haman's advice to Ahasuerus, although modern German anti-Semitism also has its roots in German nationalism. Catholic historian José M. Sánchez argues that Hitler's anti-Semitism was explicitly rooted in Christianity.
Richard J. Evans Evans noted that Hitler saw Christianity as "indelibly Jewish in origin and character" and a "prototype of Bolshevism", which "violated the law of natural selection". In the decades between Charles Darwin and the mid-twentieth century, various historians have noted that the concept of "Social Darwinism" had been vaunted by both "proponents of altruistic ethics", and by "spokesmen of a brutally elitist morality", but in many of its exponents, it took a rightward shift at the close of the 19th Century, when racist and imperialist notions joined the mix. According to Evans, Hitler "used his own version of the language of social Darwinism as a central element in the discursive practice of extermination...", and the language of Social Darwinism, in its Nazi variant, helped to remove all restraint from the directors of the "terroristic and exterminatory" policies of the regime, by "persuading them that what they were doing was justified by history, science and nature".
According to Fest, the Nazi dictator simplified Arthur de Gobineau's elaborate ideas of struggle for survival among the different races, from which the Aryan race, guided by providence, was supposed to be the torchbearers of civilization. In Hitler's conception, Jews were enemies of all civilization, especially the Volk. Sherree Owens Zalampas wrote that, although Hitler has been called a "Social Darwinist, he was not such in the usual sense of the word, for, whereas Social Darwinism stressed struggle, change, the survival of the strongest, and a ceaseless battle of competition, Hitler, through the use of modern industrial technology and impersonal bureaucratic methods ended all competition by the ruthless suppression of all opponents." Henri Ellenberger considered his understanding of Darwinism incomplete, and based loosely on the theory of "survival of the fittest" in a social context, as popularly misunderstood at the time. Similarly the historian Karl Dietrich Bracher has argued that it would be wrong to believe that Hitler's views were formed through the discipline of close study and that rather Hitler had drawn on, 'a chance reading of books, occasional pamphlets, and generalisations based on subjective impressions to form the distorted political picture which became the Weltanschauung ' that dominated his future life and work. An example from Hitler's formative Vienna years was the influence of Lanz von Liebenfels, whose programme spread 'the crass exaggerations of the social Darwinist theory of survival, the superman and super-race theory, the dogma of race conflict, and the breeding and extermination theories of the future SS state', and whose Ostara publication was widely available in the tobacco kiosks of Vienna. In Mein Kampf, p.59, Hitler recounts the genesis of his anti-Semitism and says his 'books' are polemical pamphlets bought 'for a few pennies'. 
Hitler biographer Alan Bullock wrote that Hitler did not believe in God, and that one of his central objections to Christianity, was that its teaching was "a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle and the survival of the fittest". Steigmann Gall concludes that, to the extent he believed in a divinity, Hitler did not believe in a "remote, rationalist divinity" but in an "active deity," which he frequently referred to as "Creator" or "Providence". In Hitler's belief God created a world in which different races fought each other for survival as depicted by Arthur de Gobineau. The "Aryan race," supposedly the bearer of civilization, is allocated a special place:
"What we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and the reproduction of our race ... so that our people may mature for the fulfilment of the mission allotted it by the creator of the universe. ... Peoples that bastardize themselves, or let themselves be bastardized, sin against the will of eternal Providence."
"Hitler’s evident ability to simulate, even to potentially critical Church leaders, an image of a leader keen to uphold and protect Christianity was crucial to the mediation of such an image to the church-going public by influential members of both major denominations. It was the reason why church-going Christians, so often encouraged by their 'opinion-leaders' in the Church hierarchies, were frequently able to exclude Hitler from their condemnation of the anti-Christian Party radicals, continuing to see in him the last hope of protecting Christianity from Bolshevism."