Were the Nazis Christian?
Everyone thinks they have the simple, absolute answer to this question. Finding the answer isn’t complicated. It’s the question that’s tripping everyone up.
What people are actually answering, and what they think you’re implying, in this question is that you’re going to causally connect Christianity with Nazism. If they say yes, then everything Nazis did is in line with Christianity, and thus Christianity caused everything that happened under Hitler. If they say no, then they are telling you that Christianity as a religion is not responsible for WWII. It’s no mystery which answer people in today’s world will give you, even if they have no idea what historians think.
No, this isn’t horrible logic, it’s perfectly normal psychology. This is the same as asking what inspired these ideas and who gave the marching orders. Did you base your government’s design on Marxist theory? Well then, you’re a Marxist and your actions are driven by that philosophy. Are you following the bible and praying to the Christian god for direction? By the same logic, you’re a Christian.
Think about this for a minute. That’s not the question you want to answer. More pointedly, that’s not the question I’m asking when I ask whether you’re a Christian. You could say yes, but that does not tell me whether you’re for or against gay marriage, for or against abortion, war, the welfare state. Logically, a single religion can’t support both sides of a debate. That people can comb through their religious texts and find dual support doesn’t nullify basic logic.
The problem is that you’re asking two different things when you ask about the Nazis versus when I ask about you. When I ask about you, I know nothing about you. I don’t know whether you do things I approve of. I can’t say why you do certain things. When we ask about the Nazis, though, we already know what they did and we already have a value judgement for them. Anything we ask about them based on this information will feel like a causal connection: they did these things because they had these beliefs.
That’s not what the question actually asks, even though that can be implied. The information you actually want to know is whether the Nazis were Christian in the same way I’d ask whether you’re a Christian. This is an identity question: do you believe in the Christian Bible? It doesn’t matter what you believe, it doesn’t matter if you’re a serial killer or the pope. Someone else—say, John—could have beliefs completely opposite yours and yet still tell me that they’re a Christian. Every Christian will claim that their beliefs and actions are biblically supported, no matter how diverse those beliefs are.
That can’t logically be true. What’s actually going on here is that our definition of “a Christian” is too broad for this kind of discussion. Socially, you and me and John are all Christians. Strictly logically though, we can’t all be Christians—at least, we can’t all be the same kind of Christian. Your Christianity differs from mine, and both of ours differs from John’s. We all share the same core beliefs, though, such that we feel comfortable with calling all of it “Christianity”—it would be nutty to claim that only mine, only yours, or only John’s is the “true” and the “real” Christianity. Think of it as shades of blue: yours might be more of a royal blue, mine might be more powder blue, and John’s could be a sea-foam aqua. They’re all still blue, but they’re not *the same* blue. It’s the same color family, but not the same shade or the same intensity.
The same analogy goes for religion. My Christianity, John’s, yours, and the Nazis’ are all in the same religious family—Christianity—but they’re wildly different shades, intensities, hues, whatever other properties that can vary while still being the same basic “type”.
Thinking of these factors neatly erases the implied blame of the original question. Yes, the Nazis’ beliefs did cause them to do what they did; but in the same breath, your beliefs are not the same as theirs.
The last snag is that some people will claim the Nazis used Christianity as a front to peddle their own ideas, that they weren’t really Christian. This again is the same psychology as before. Acknowledging that Nazis justified their actions with biblical text does not mean you hold to that same belief.
Notice I haven’t said that the Nazis’ biblical beliefs were wrong or false, that mine, yours, or John’s were wrong or false. Just as you can’t claim that only your Christianity is the “true” one, it logically follows that you also can’t claim that all the others except yours has no biblical support, are “false”, “not real”. That theirs is an interpretation of Christianity and that you also follow an interpretation of it does not mean your views are similar. What it does mean, though, is that the source of those beliefs is not terribly clear: the ability to generate thousands of denominations and yet more sects requires incoherent logic and self-contradiction. There’s no other way to generate so many clashing views given that each one has just as much support and justification as the other.
2015/01/09: The people who deny the Nazis were Christian tend to be the same people who blame all Muslims for terrorist attacks. You know what happens to Muslims after an attack. If these people acknowledged facts, then by their own logic they should be run out of society and killed on sight. It’s interesting that they cling to that rule rather than consider that there might be a better way to live.