Almost immediately after the German surrender in May 1945, people began trying to explain what had happened. The horrors of the Nazi regime were such that almost every explanation has been offered. The weakest of explanations is bewilderment. But Nazi depravity and German complicity is not inexplicable.
As the process of explication began to unfold, one of the more troubling issues revolved around the fact that Nazi Germany was a thoroughly Christian nation. When Hitler came to power in 1933, 54% of Germans identified as Christian Lutheran and 40% as Christian Catholic. These numbers were unchanged on the eve of World War II.
For some, this issue had to be explained or explained away. German Christianity had to be disassociated from German Nazism. One of the ways in which this was done was to argue that Nazism was the godless product of materialist Darwinism. Thus was born a veritable cottage industry of apologetics which associates Nazism with evolution and disassociates Nazism from Christianity.
Yet anyone who has studied Nazism and the Third Reich knows it was drenched in a metaphysics with which German Christians were quite comfortable. The Nazis did not repudiate German Christianity: they drew on its resources to advance their nationalist project. German Christianity was deeply imbricated with Nazism.
In one of the best treatments of this relationship I have seen, astrophysicist Coel Hellier recently posted a nine-part article titled Nazi Racial Ideology was Religious, Creationist and Opposed to Darwinism. In this richly sourced piece, Hellier debunks the apologist mythology which associates Nazism with Darwinism and disassociates Nazism from Christianity.
Here are some excerpts from the summary, but I encourage you to read the whole thing:
The Nazi doctrine of race was fundamentally opposed to and incompatible with Darwinism. Instead Nazi racial theory and their justification for extermination of the “sub-human” races was religious and creationist.
The main ideas of Darwinism are that natural selection, operating over lengthy time periods, can cause species to transform into other species, and that all modern mammals descend from a common ancestor. Both of these notions the Nazis explicitly rejected, finding them abhorrent, materialistic notions that would strip man of his soul and of his special status.
The Nazis preferred, as do many other religious people, to see man as God’s special creation. It was seeing, in particular, the Aryan race as “God’s handiwork” that led the Nazis to consider it sinful to allow the destruction of the Aryan race by allowing racial inter-marriage, and hence the necessity for removing the possibility by finding a “final solution” to the “Jewish problem.”
The labelling of the Nazis as “atheistic” is similarly motivated and is also the exact opposite of what the evidence says. The Nazi ideology was theistic and religious and an offshoot of Christianity, merging Christianity with Nazi racial theory. It is true that the Nazified Christianity was opposed to more mainstream Christian views, and thus that the Nazis wanted radical reform of the Christian religion, but in no sense was it “atheistic.”
As is evident from the piece, Hitler professed belief in a creator God to whom the Nation and Volk were indebted. He led by example: