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Nazism: Atheism’s Bane?

Whenever I critique the inherent, ubiquitous, and incessant relationship between Abrahamic monotheism and senseless violence, which all too often rises to the level of genocide, I inevitably receive defiant rejoinders not only from Christian rigorists but from misinformed moderates and secularists as well.

They typically insist that such violence results primarily from humanity’s nondenominational dark side, the Jungian collective “shadow” as it were, and not from religious dogma. Almost invariably, such people offer Hitler and Nazism as verification of humanity’s purely secular propensity toward excessive bloodshed.

But contrary to popular opinion, Adolf Hitler was not an atheist. In Mein Kampf, in fact, Hitler professed that “faith is often the sole foundation of a moral attitude,” and that other moral systems “have not proved so successful from the standpoint of results that they could be regarded as a useful replacement for previous religious creeds.” In his Reichstag speech of 1938, Hitler boasted, “I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work.” Martin Luther, in fact was one of Hitler’s dearest heroes.

Nor should we ignore the religious predilections of other prominent Nazis. For example, Alfred Rosenberg, German race theorist and Reich Minister for the Eastern Occupied Territories, employed biblical passages liberally in 1930 in order to support his opinions in The Myth of the Twentieth Century: An Assessment of the Psychical-Spiritual Struggle of our Time. In fact, Rosenberg’s goal was to purify Christianity, fusing New Testament and Germanic mythology, dubbing the result, “positive Christianity.”

It was Christian scripture, of course, that initiated a long and consistent history of discrimination against the Jews. Religious and secular experts agree that such Biblical sentiments profoundly influenced not only the Crusades, but both Hitler and his Nazi cohorts as well.

According to Alfred J. Eppens, Adjunct Professor of History and director of the Michigan Center for Early Christian Studies, the “doctrinal roots in support of [the eleventh century Crusades] existed in the earliest Christian writings.” The professor refers to letters attributed to Paul, including those represented in Galatians 3:10-11, 6:15; Romans 3:20, 9:31, and 11:28, all of which have been interpreted to support anti-Judaic views.

The Crusades, argues Eppens, “set in motion the ‘first holocaust’ of European Jews.” Closely following the Council of Clermont on November 25, 1095, Jews were reportedly attacked in Rouen, France. As the Christian Crusaders departed in 1096, Count Emich of Leiningen mercilessly assailed Jews in Speyer. One Jewish female committed suicide and 12 others were murdered. By mid-May, Emich and his army had proceeded to Worms where they slaughtered every Jew they could distinguish, approximately five hundred in the end.

The Christians under Emich attacked Mainz after his army was joined by those from Germany, France, England, Lorraine, and Flanders. In late May, more than a thousand Jews were killed. Similar but smaller massacres occurred in Cologne, Trier, Metz, Neuss, Wevelinghofen, Eller, and Xaten. At about the same time, Peter the Hermit’s army raided Regensburg and forced the Jews there to undergo Christian baptism. According to Eppens:

The goal [wa]s crystal clear: eliminating European Jewry through conversion or slaughter … The Christian tradition was that the Jews were indeed a bad lot, so sinful as to have lost their position as God’s chosen people, having failed to recognize Christ as the Son of God, and having crucified him as well. Christians were now God’s chosen people, and the Jews were clearly inferior in spiritual, and thus societal, status.

Again, in the mid-fourteenth century, Christians attacked Jews after blaming them for the recent spread of the Black Death. The Church supported anti-Jewish campaigns in the fifteenth century as well. Jews were driven out of Spain, for example, in 1492. Finally, in the 1930s and 1940s, Eppens concludes, the Nazis expanded the scale of this butchery into the millions.

Popular historian, Karen Armstrong, agrees: “The consequences of this history of irrational prejudice have been seen catastrophically in our own century, and Hitler’s attempted destruction of the Jewish people was fueled by many submerged crusading myths.”

Grant R. Shafer, former Assistant Professor of Early Christianity, insists as well that Nazism and between twelve and fifteen million victims thereof “can be partly traced to Christianity,” and that “Christian anti-Semitism [sic] made Nazi murder of Jews easier and its opposition the more delayed.”

Modern Christians have denied Nazism’s association with their sacred scripture. But, as Shadia Drury, professor of philosophy and political science, confirms, “Jesus was particularly nasty to his fellow Jews … When confronted with doubt about his extravagant claims, he became belligerent and threatening.” Indeed, in John 8:24, Jesus warns the Jews, “[I]f ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins,” and in Matthew 23:33, he likens Jews to “serpents,” a “generation of vipers,” that will never escape damnation.

Professor of religious studies, Hector Avalos, finds much in common between Nazism and the Hebrew Bible, including a demand for ethnic purity, the encouragement of endogamy, a belief that foreigners were contaminants, and an insistence on genocide as the solution to such contamination. According to Avalos, “Nazi racism is a synthesis of modern pseudoscience and biblical concepts of ethnocentricism and genealogical purity.”

Do monotheists really expect the community of reason to continue ignoring these doctrines and their sordid history? The minions of the politically correct might wave their fingers in our faces as they chastise us with their hollow, self-serving mantras about religious tolerance. But once one researches and accepts the reality of religiously inspired bloodshed, it becomes obvious that, to the contrary, it is the intolerance of religionists and their pernicious traditions that pose the genuine threat.

I am not suggesting, of course, that monotheistic religions are and have always been responsible for all violence. Such a statement would be absurdly overbroad. But, by far, the most pervasive and constant cause of such violence is and has long been the narcissistic and jealously exclusive dogma inherent in Abrahamic monotheisms.

Capable and independent thinkers have always known as much. It was Sigmund Freud, after all, who in 1939 judged that “religious intolerance … was inevitably born with the belief in one God.” Even contemporary Jungian analysts acknowledge this fact, including best-selling author Dr. James Hillman: “Because a monotheistic psychology must be dedicated to unity, its psychopathology is intolerance of difference.”

In recent years, Americans have grown particularly vulnerable to religious and political demagoguery, largely because of their indifference to serious and continuing education. “The only thing new in the world,” Harry Truman once advised, “is the history you don’t know.” As progressive freethinkers, as people with a better and safer plan, we have an obligation to preach history’s true gospel–not only to fundamentalist and moderate religionists, but to our conscientious and secularist compatriots as well.


Michael Shermer, The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule. (New York: Times Books, 2004), 153.

Hector Avalos, Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2005), 303-319.

Alfred J. Eppens, “The Crusade Pogroms: Christian Holy War on the Home Front,” in The Destructive Power of Religion: Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Volume 4: Contemporary Views on Spirituality and Violence, ed. J. Harold Ellens (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishing, 2004), 19-30.

Karen Armstrong, Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World (New York: Random House, 2001), 71.

Grant R. Shafer, “Hell, Martyrdom, and War: Violence in Early Christianity” in The Destructive Power of Religion, Volume 3: Models and Cases of Violence in Religion, 241.

Shadia Drury, Terror and Civilization: Christianity, Politics, and the Western Psyche (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 8.

Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism trans. Katherine Jones (New York: Vintage Books, 1939), 21.

James Hillman, A Terrible Love of War (New York: Penguin, 2004), 183.