Nazism and the Christian Heritage: Robert Carr Draws Uncomfortable Parallels between Christianity and Nazism

By Carr, Robert | History Review, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Nazism and the Christian Heritage: Robert Carr Draws Uncomfortable Parallels between Christianity and Nazism


Carr, Robert, History Review


At first sight, the very idea that Nazism bears any relation to Christianity seems absurd. Yet before dismissing such an idea, we have we consider certain similarities. Certainly there were marked Christian influences on Nazism. This article will look specifically at the expression of Nazi anti-Semitism.

Christian Anti-Semitism

Nazi Germany was both a product of, and established in, Christian Europe. The Fuhrer himself was educated in the strictest of Catholic institutions-a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria. More than that, he'd been a church chorister. Without doubt, childhood experiences help to mould adulthood. Christian influences certainly remained important in Hitler's life: his favourite bed-time reading was Martin Luther. Luther had particular advice to offer concerning those who had failed to follow Christ-the Jews. Luther urged Christian action against them, including concentrating them in certain areas, drowning Jewish individuals and even wholesale murder:

   We are at fault in not avenging
   all this innocent blood of our
   Lord and the blood of the
   children they have shed since
   then (which still shines forth
   from their eyes and their skin).
   We are at fault in not slaying
  them.

Christian protagonists and texts have levelled spiteful accusations at Jews since the advent of Christianity. Part of the very foundations of the faith are ideas of Jewish betrayal, hard-heartedness and deicide. New Testament characters such as Judas, Herod, Saul, the Pharisees and the Jerusalem crowd (baying 'Crucify him!') have shaped, over centuries, European attitudes towards Jews. Such accusations and the demonisation of Jewry are based on the Christian idea that it has, as a faith and a civilisation, superseded Judaism. For Christians, God transferred his covenant and favour to them; rather than being the chosen people, Jews simply became stubborn unbelievers.

Antagonism between the new faith and Judaism has characterised aspects of Christian history including the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the blood libel. Indeed, before Nazism even, Theodor Fritsch argued, 'Surely Christian teaching arose as a protest of the Aryan spirit against the inhumane Jew spirit.'

Out with the Old, In with the New

There is an interesting parallel in terms of both Christianity and Nazism regarding themselves as usurping Jewish culture. Christianity had to throw off the shackles of its Jewish heritage, i.e. the laws of Deuteronomy, besides dietary, Sabbath and other rituals: 'Beware of those dogs and their malpractices. Beware of those who insist on mutilation-circumcision' (Philippians 3).

Similar to Christianity, Nazism offered salvation of a sort--a new and perfect Aryan order to replace the old. Indeed the 'debased' culture the Nazis hated so virulently was much shaped by Jews, including Einstein, Freud, Marx and Mahler.

Both movements sought to end Jewish culture, albeit in different ways. How though can it be possible to regard Nazism in religious terms?

Nazism and Religion

Fundamentally, religion is a means of binding and supporting society. The overlap of nationhood and religious practice is evident, for example in Japanese Shintoism, Judaism and the Church of England. Nazi faith was in the same mould and, likewise, relied on indoctrination, preaching, mass gatherings, rituals and shrines.

More than advocating supposed Aryan spiritual superiority, Nazism, like Christian institutions, introduced laws and measures against Jews. All aspects of 1935's Nuremberg Laws had been previously exercised in Medieval Christendom as a way of isolating Jews in society. Interestingly, Hitler even framed Jew-hatred in religious terms: 'This was the time of the greatest spiritual upheaval I have ever gone through. I had ceased to be a weak-kneed cosmopolitan and become an anti-Semite.'

Regardless of proclamations and violence against Jewry, Hitler's regime was legitimised by various Christian churches from the start.

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Nazism and the Christian Heritage: Robert Carr Draws Uncomfortable Parallels between Christianity and Nazism
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