Was Hitler a Christian, an atheist, or neither?

A new book takes a look at the controversial—and complicated—issue of the religious views of Adolf Hitler.

Images of Adolf Hitler are seen at an art festival in Weimar, Germany, in this Aug. 31, 2015, file photo. (CNS photo/Sebastiana Kehnert, EPA)

More than seven decades after his suicide, Adolf Hitler continues to play a surprisingly prominent role in America’s culture wars. In debates about the social and public role of religion, both Christians and secularists are fond of citing the example of Hitler—whose name is more synonymous with human depravity than perhaps anyone else’s—as an example of the evils either of religion or of irreligion. How is it possible that Hitler continues to be pegged as either a Christian or atheist, two completely contradictory positions, oftentimes by well-informed people? In his illuminating and well-argued new book Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs That Drove the Third Reich, historian Richard Weikart convincingly argues that Hitler was neither, and that as an adroit politician he often made mutually exclusive statements to appeal to various sectors of German society.

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful,” Seneca mused. Weikart’s book makes it clear that Hitler would likely agree. Drawing upon a plethora of English and German sources—such as Hitler’s radio addresses and statements for the Nazi press—Weikart cites many contradictory statements by Hitler about religion, some showing him to be anti-religious, others praising “the Almighty” and even sometimes Christianity. This was because Hitler was less interested in the veracity of religion and than in its political usefulness. Weikart notes, for example, that while Hitler approved of Martin Luther’s strong anti-Semitism, he ultimately passed a negative judgment on the father of the Reformation for breaking up German unity. In other words, Hitler’s evaluation of Luther had nothing to do with the latter’s doctrine on justification by faith alone or his approach to the Bible, but was based solely on the political consequences of his break with the Catholic Church.

Likewise, Hitler frequently tailored his statements on religion to appeal to various sectors of German society. Because German and Austrian society was still overwhelmingly Christian (split between Lutherans and Catholics) between 1933 and 1945, Hitler—who was, in Weikart’s words, “a religious chameleon, a quintessential religious hypocrite”—made statements that praised Germany’s Christian roots so as not to not alienate his supporters. An accomplished scholar of German history, Weikart notes that pragmatism has for years characterized many Germans’ approach to Christianity, and even today it’s not uncommon for Germans who have long abandoned faith in the transcendental realm to still pay the Church tax to secure their children spots in prestigious Catholic schools.

However, Weikart makes it clear that Hitler’s pro-Christian statements were little more than lip service to his churchgoing constituents. Although Hitler was born and raised in historically Catholic Austria, he lost his faith in the Church at an early age. Weikart writes that the young Adolf was a rebellious student who frequently quarreled with his high school religion teacher and often mocked Christianity in class. Weikart’s excellent command of German is on display when he notes that in Mein Kampf and in private correspondence Hitler frequently used the term Pfaffe, a disparaging German term for a priest, to refer to clergymen. Hitler’s long-established anti-clericalism was evident after his rise to power as well, when Goebbels’ propaganda machine portrayed the Catholic priesthood as dominated by sexual perverts (on a side note, does that tactic sound familiar?).

In fact, Hitler’s real views on Christianity were so bizarre that they would actually be amusing in their imaginative eccentricity, if not for the fact that they were part of the worldview of a psychopath whose genocidal policies killed 11 million civilians and unleashed the bloodiest war in history. Weikart writes that Hitler, like his favorite philosopher, Nietzsche, disliked Christianity, but admired the figure of Jesus Christ. In Hitler’s view, Jesus himself was a Roman or Greek (Hitler believed that the ancient Greeks and Romans were the precursors of the Nordic “master race”) killed by the perfidious Jews.

Hitler’s Religion is also a readable work of intellectual history. It is quite telling that, according to Weikart’s account, while many German soldiers carried copies of the Bible with them during World War I, Hitler took a five-volume collection of Schopenhauer’s works to the trenches. Weikart argues that while Hitler cared little about the Gospels, he was profoundly influenced by four German thinkers: the anti-Semite Schopenhauer, Kant, Hegel, and especially Nietzsche. In addition to the decades-long debate over Hitler’s religious views, Weikart also makes an important contribution to the equally contentious and unending debate among philosophers and intellectual historians on Hitler’s indebtedness to Nietzsche. Weikart convincingly argues that whereas Hitler undoubtedly used Nietzsche’s philosophy selectively, the Third Reich carried out certain aspects of the philosopher’s worldview to their logical conclusion. This was especially true in the case of Hitler’s euthanasia program; the fact that the first victims of Nazism were mentally ill or elderly Germans or those with disabilities clearly tracks with Nietzsche’s repulsion for the weak and suffering. Meanwhile, Nazi propaganda’s characterization of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, blacks, and others as Untermenschensubhumans”—was an obvious reference to Nietzsche’s concept of the superman Übermensch.

Hitler’s Religion includes a brief overview of Nazi Germany’s persecution of the Christian churches; from Weikart’s book, it is clear that the Catholic Church was targeted more than the Lutherans. Upon coming to power in Germany, the Nazis liquidated the Catholic Center Party (although Weikart does not mention this, it is worth noting that Georg Ratzinger, the uncle of the future Pope Benedict XVI, was a Center Party parliamentary deputy) and disbanded Catholic youth organizations, newspapers, and civic organizations. Weikart briefly mentions the internment of thousands of priests at the Dachau concentration camp, although one wishes he would do so in greater detail. The story of the imprisonment of more than 2,000 priests from across Europe in the oldest Nazi concentration camp needs to be better known, as it is a graphic representation of Hitler’s disdain for Christianity.

Weikart also brings an important perspective to the debate on the relationship between traditional Christian anti-Judaism and Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitism. Weikart does not sugarcoat anything and correctly notes that the Christian churches had a long history of disdain for the Jews and Judaism (although it should be mentioned that parallel to this tradition was also one of Christian support for the Jews centuries before the Second Vatican Council: in the Middle Ages, for instance, numerous popes beginning with Innocent IV in 1247 condemned the blood libel myth that often led to anti-Semitic violence across Europe). However, he brilliantly demonstrates how Christian anti-Judaism differed from Nazi anti-Semitism.

The former, Weikart notes, was related to theological matters. He notes that Jewish converts to Christianity were treated no differently than other Christians by the Christian churches.

Furthermore, Weikart writes that while the Christian churches were for centuries disdainful of Judaism, they at the same time preached love for one’s neighbor regardless of his or her origins. As St. Paul says in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Hitler’s anti-Semitism, however, had nothing to do with religion and was solely related to race. In fact, Hitler hated the Christian churches for refusing to see Jews as such after they were baptized. For Hitler, a Jew was a Jew, regardless of his or her membership in a church. Weikart’s book would be enhanced if he included an overview of the varied responses of the Christian churches—both in Germany and in the countries that it occupied during the war—to the Third Reich’s persecution and later slaughter of the Jews.

What, then, did Hitler believe? Weikart convincingly writes that, although there is no evidence that he explicitly applied the term to himself, Adolf Hitler was a pantheist. Hitler loved spending time in nature, and often spoke of nature and God interchangeably. Hitler believed that the world was willed and ordered by nature, which he gave divine properties. However, Hitler’s worldview was closer to an materialistic awe for the orderliness of the universe than to mystical panentheism. While Hitler saw nature as God, his worldview allowed little room for the supernatural. For example, Hitler did not believe in an afterlife in the way most people understand the term. Rather, his concept of the afterlife was that the collective memory of the greatness of a nation would be passed on in history. Weikart notes that while all nouns are capitalized in German, English translations of Mein Kampf—including the one billed as the Official Nazi Translation”consistently translate Natur as “Nature” with a capital “N.” In Weikart’s view, Hitler actually derived his anti-Semitism in part from the racist, pseudo-biological social Darwinism of German biologist Ernst Haeckel.

It is surprising, however, that Weikart does not mention Hitler’s vegetarianism at all. Just as the SS was killing millions in concentration camps or through mass shootings, Hitler often entertained his dinner guests with nauseating, visceral descriptions of what goes on in butcher shops and meat processing plants.

For all its many important contributions to intellectual history, Hitler’s Religion does have a couple flaws that should be noted. For instance, Weikart incorrectly writes that Hitler’s notion of the Volk “could even mean all those having Nordic racial characteristics, even if they were ethnically Danish or Dutch or Norwegian or Polish.” This error is quite striking. Whereas the Danes, Dutch, and Norwegians are undoubtedly Germanic nations, the Slavic Poles clearly are not. In the Nazi ideology, Poland and the Soviet Union were to be overrun and turned into Lebensraum, or living room, for German colonists. The Poles were to be exterminated or turned into slave laborers for the “master race.” This error is striking in that later in the book Weikart himself notes the extremely brutal persecution of Poland’s Catholic Church at the hands of Nazi Germany. Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance has estimated that at least 2.5 million non-Jewish Poles were murdered by Nazi Germany. After the Jews, ethnic Poles were the second largest group of Hitler’s victims.

In the introduction to his book, Weikart notes that when during his (surprisingly successful, I might add) 2010 pilgrimage to the United Kingdom, Pope Benedict XVI lauded the British people for courageously fighting against Nazi Germany, the world’s noisiest atheist, Richard Dawkins, wrote that as a former Hitler Youth member Benedict should have kept mum. The problem isn’t that this is false, but that Weikart leaves this without comment. It is a great public relations fiasco of  the Catholic Church that the image of Hitler Youth Ratzinger has persisted, rather than that of the heroic man who risked his life rejecting Nazism. Indeed, the future pope was a member of the Hitler Youth. However, it is not widely known that all German youths were made mandatory members of the organization and that the young Joseph Ratzinger deserted from it. This was a courageous act of defiance, as if he were caught, he would have likely been shot and the world would never be blessed with the pontificate of Benedict XVI. (It is telling that the mainstream media was much more lenient toward German novelist Günter Grass—a great writer but a flawed man—when in 2006, after six decades of calling on his countrymen to reckon with their Nazi past, he revealed that he was a voluntary member of the Waffen-SS as an adolescent.)

Nonetheless, Hitler’s Religion is a work of momentous importance. One can hope that it will end the dispute on Hitler’s religion for good. After its publication, the intellectually honest atheist will no longer be able to falsely maintain that Hitler was a Christian, while the intellectually honest Christian who cares about being precise will have to give a more nuanced response than Hitler did not believe in God. He did, but Hitler’s God was vastly unlike the God of Christianity.

Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich
by Richard Weikart
Regnery History, 2016
Hardcover, 352 pages

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About Filip Mazurczak 79 Articles
Filip Mazurczak is a historian, translator, and journalist. His writing has appeared in First Things, the St. Austin Review, the European Conservative, the National Catholic Register, and many others. He teaches at the Jesuit University Ignatianum in Krakow.


  1. Adolf was a member of his parish choir and aspired to the priesthood according to biographer William Shirer [Rise and Fall of the Third Reich]. That moment passed quickly and he became enthralled with Richard Wagner and German heroic mythology. Wagner’s music transported him with visions of Nordic heroism, victory against evil supported by the gods. Shirer would name it blood lust in the sense of worship of everything Teutonic. By the time he began his ascent to power his religion incorporated belief in the indomitable superiority of the pure blooded Aryan. He said if you wish to understand Germany listen to Wagner. Himmler supported Hitler’s German Mythological fantasies promoting Nordic pseudo mysticism. The SS Center for the occult was at Wewelsburg, a Renaissance castle located in the village of Wewelsburg [today it is used as a symbol in Odinism and Neo-Nazism and in occult]. Hitler also received occult guidance from Lanz von Liebenfels and had a penchant for prophetic signs in the stars. His religion can be described as occult Nordic mythology. Antithetical to Christianity, an Antichrist Satanically inspired occultism. Msgr Leon Christiani author of Evidence of Satan in the Modern World believed the German people under Hitler were largely obsessed [unwittingly] with the Satanic.

    • There are conflicting histories about Adolf. This latest account of his anti religious attitude in class, his entrance into seminary, and I have also read that he was arrested in Austria for male prostitution. Until a definitive biography is written we will continue to read irreconciliable stories about him.

  2. I could never get why Hitler hated Jews so much nor why there is some semblance of anti-Semitism in my German/Irish family. My aunt could reminisce that there were more Christians killed by Hitler than Jews. I recall seeing only Jews peeking through the side slats of cattle cars taking them to death camps. There are so many allegiances Hitler could have had beside the two mentioned. At this juncture who could care?

  3. The lazy anti-Catholic: “Hitler, Goerring, Himmler, and Goebbels were all Catholic!”

    The lazy anti-Semite: “Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev, and Yegoda were all Jews!”

    Idiots fail to ask what kind of Catholics and Jews they were? How often did Hitler, Goerring, Himmler, and Goebbels attend Mass and receive the sacraments? If they were Catholic in practice, then why did they brutally persecute their own Church, murdering many priests and nuns, and bitterly denounce their own faith?

    Likewise, how often did Trotsky, et al attend temple services? What kind of “Jews” were they? They were no more “Jewish” than Stalin was “Russian Orthodox” or an ethnic Georgian. These so-called “Jewish Bolsheviks” also persecuted and condemned Judaism–something the anti-Semites and the left have often ignored.

    • Catholic identity is to Catholics, and Jewish identity is to Jews, something more than, say, Republicanism is to Republicans. Catholics believe that baptism makes a mark on the soul which no action or inaction, however intentional and however sinful, can erase; as for the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, no one gets to choose into what family he is born. Ananias and Sapphira were Christians, though not very good Christians; Korah and Jeroboam were Jews, though not very good Jews.

    • Ask the same question about the catholic cardinals, and priests that have been found guilty of child and nun molestation. How much quality was in their Catholic faith?

    • They where jewish in the sense that they regarded themselves as their own in group different and superior to the russian rabble. The jewish religion is much like the shinto one. it is part and parcel of an entire people and almost never intersects with others of a genetic lineage. This is the result of jewish marriage practices and their inability to properly naturalize in most societies. You can also tell them apart from other people by physical features. Jewish lineage is decided also by bloodline. Think about that. we don’t have “christian lineage” we have spanish, or anglosaxon, etc. The jews are not just a religion but a race, and the Bolsheviks where not just part of that race, but so favored it that despite that races scarcity the vast majority of them where made up of that race.

  4. “Weikart notes that pragmatism has for years characterized many Germans’ approach to Christianity…”
    A difficulty amply manifested in the comportment of the contemporary Teutonic Roman Catholic hierarchy. They can make mashed potatoes out of anything, everything, including Divine Revelation and the perennial Magisterium of the Church.
    And the lemmings just follow along off the cliff.
    Hasn’t the world since 1517 had just about enough of German cult and culture?

  5. If he was neither than he was really atheist. An atheist will flip back and forth between theism and atheism as it suits him. A true theist would be afraid of offending God. One thing Hitler never had was a fear of offending God.

  6. Hitler’s vegetarianism isn’t mentioned, because Hitler was not a vegetarian. Now it is true, that most of his diet consisted of plant-based food, but he never abandon eating meat entirely, it was actually on the advice of one of his doctors that claimed the meat caused his problems with stomach aches and what not. I’m not saying what you write isn’t good, it is good, but this is a myth I’m getting tired of hearing, he had a primarily vegetarian diet, but he was never a total vegetarian.

  7. Since I am required to like “something” about everyone (including Hitler), he DID like nature…I do too as long as the insects and flowers are outside where they belong.

    I think he could be new age.

  8. Hitler was an apostate Christian and a testimony to the Church ironically, that the gates of hell would not prevail against it.


    I think we study history, including Hitler and the Nazi Phenomenon, because we are in battles with political and theological opponents regarding what should be the shape of Society and the Church in future.

    Sometimes we ourselves get accused of leaning towards Nazism.

    Sometimes we ourselves perceive that one or more of our political opponents is leaning toward Nazism.

    So, we investigate the past, gaining facts and theories, to try to determine: Who today is the true Hitler or proto-Hitler?

    One thing I’ve found interesting is that Hitler wasn’t always Hitler. Let me clarify. Adolf Hitler was always the same man, all of his adult life.

    What I mean is that when he was a politician in the 1920s and early 1930s, before he was appointed chancellor, and even for 20 months after he was appointed chancellor, Hitler went to great lengths to present himself as a German politician who would respect the German Weimar Constitution and the liberties and rule of law that it guaranteed.

    In fact, the Weimer Constitution was never revoked by the Nazis and officially remained the constitution of Germany until Germany’s defeat and occupation in 1945.

    The German President, Paul von Hindenburg, appointed Hitler as chancellor on January 30, 1933. And the German president (an elected position) had the complete right to remove Hitler or anyone from the office of chancellor at any time for any reason.

    So, until Hindenburg died in August 1934, Hitler was always vulnerable to being removed from office, and so he had to tread carefully to not offend Hindenburg, who was a war hero and who was more popular than Hitler.

    Hitler did not become the national “Führer” (unopposable dictator) until Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934 (a year and a half after Hindenburg appointed Hitler as chancellor)

    To you and me, Hitler is most known for:

    –Other Mass Murder of Civilians
    –Racism & Antisemitism
    –Wars of Aggression

    But in the 1920s and early 1930s, Hitler was NOT known for any of those things. In that period, Hitler was known for:

    –Rabid Anti-Marxism
    –Nationalism rather than Internationalism
    –Pledges to end unemployment and restore the economy
    –Strong national defense

    See what a different Hitler that Hitler was (seemed)!

    It wasn’t until the Nuremberg Racial Purity Laws of 1935 that most people realized that Hitler’s racism/antisemitism was a significant part of his platform. That was two and half years after Hitler became Chancellor.

    It wasn’t until the brutal murderous purge of Hitler’s enemies in the Night of the Long Knives that people woke up to the fact that Hitler did not follow the rule of law. But that was in June 1934, a year and a half after Hitler became chancellor.

    It wasn’t until Kristallnacht, in 1938, that most people woke up to the fact that Jews in Germany were in real danger. But that was about 6 years after Hitler became chancellor.

    In sum, though Hitler was always the same evil man that he always was as an adult, most people didn’t the true Hitler (the Hitler we all know so well) until several years after he obtained national office.

    In the 1920s and until about June 1934, most Germans simply saw Hitler as a pretty normal politician who was rabidly Marxist, pro-Constitutionalist, pro-democracy, pro-rule of law, pro-Nationalism, pro-strong military defense, and pro-strong economy and zero unemployment.

    Food for thought.

    P.S. Quite a lot of this information is summarized in this Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler's_rise_to_power

    • Oops. In one place, near the end my comment above, my fingers typed “rabidly Marxist” when they should have typed “rabidly anti-Marxist.” Bad fingers!

  10. Are Lutherans less Christian? Hitler belonged to a Christian country. He was a Christian but with a revolutionary view as against orthodoxy.He hated Jews as any Christian does even today. His views are commensurate with the European revolutions against superiority of the clergymen.

    • Leaving aside the rest of your nonsense:

      “He hated Jews as any Christian does even today.”

      I do not, and that in itself is enough to negate your statement. Added to that, I see no evidence that all or even most Christians hate Jews.

  11. I don’t believe Weikart made an error by including Polish children.

    “At more than 200,000 victims, occupied Poland had the largest proportion of children taken” (“Kidnapping of children by Nazi Germany” – Wikipedia with provided references)

    What you wrote is correct, also, but that fact doesn’t refute the specific claim by Weikart concerning the cultural Germanisation of Polish children due to their “Aryan characteristics.”

  12. The perception of many, if not most, is that Hitler was Catholic because he gladly accepted the churches support

    1933 Frank Von Papen … “The Concordat [with the Vatican] was a great victory for Hitler. It gave him the first moral support he had received from the outer world, and this from the most exalted source.” During the celebrations at the Vatican, Pacelli conferred on von Papen the high papal decoration of the Grand Cross of the Order of Pius.* Winston Churchill, in his book The Gathering Storm, published in 1948, tells how von Papen further used “his reputation as a good Catholic” to gain church support for the Nazi takeover of Austria. In 1938, in honor of Hitler’s birthday, Cardinal Innitzer ordered that all Austrian churches fly the swastika flag, ring their bells, and pray for the Nazi dictator.

    The Vatican provided much needed “outside” recognition, so did the individual churches and so did most priests. The belt buckles of the soldiers read “God is with us” and the vast majority of those soldiers were active church members. Hitler’s religion doesn’t really matter that much. The more interesting question is who actively supported him, why, and what responsibility do they have? He couldn’t fight a war without soldiers, and if they refused to fight as Christians are instructed, then their English and American brothers (members of the same churches) wouldn’t have had to go and kill each other, at the behest of their churches.

    • “Gott mit uns” goes all the way back to the Thirty Years War. I don’t buy your attempt to blame Christianity for the Third Reich.

  13. it is not uncommon for monstrous dictators to use religion when threatened. even stalin (evil incarnate) made appeals to the nationalist and religious instincts of his subjects during the darkest days of the second world war.

  14. I read a post that claimed that the “Catholic Church gave its tacit support to Hitler who was a Catholic, and the nazi’s and on the alters of the Roman Catholic church in Germany, flags of the Catholic Church a flag of the swastika are displayed.”” Is this true.

    • I recommend the book THE LION OF MÜNSTER by Fr. Daniel Utrecht if you want to see the way Hitler treated the Church.

      • All the comments are interesting to read. One book I read was “inside the Third Reich by Albert Speer who was high up in the Nazi regime. Assuming he is being truthful in his book, Speer mentions talking with Hitler for the last time before His suicide.

        He quotes Hitler as follows.” Speer, it is easy for me to end my life. A brief moment and I am freed of everything, liberated from this painful existence.”

        If this is what Hitler said and believed, he obviously had no fear of God.

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