At first, Adolf Hitler seemed to accept Christianity.
“In his childhood, Hitler was enthralled by the pomp and ritual of the Catholic Church,” wrote Fritz Redlich in his 1999 biography of the Führer. “Allegedly, for a while he even considered becoming a priest.”
But Hitler, born 130 years ago on April 20, 1889, began rejecting religion as a teenager. He was pulled in different directions by his parents.
His mother, Klara, reportedly the only person Hitler ever loved, was a devout Catholic. His father, Alois, with whom Hitler often fought, thought religion was essentially a scam — a “crutch for human weakness,” as another historian put it.
Hitler followed his father’s religious path straight into infamy. He hated Judaism, gleefully murdering 6 million Jews. But he loathed Christianity, too.
“In Hitler’s eyes Christianity was a religion fit only for slaves,” wrote Alan Bullock “Hitler, A Study in Tyranny,” a seminal biography. “Its teaching, he declared, was a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle of the fittest.”
The Führer’s skepticism and devious behavior toward organized religion began innocently enough — in weekly Bible classes.
“During middle school,” Redlich wrote in “Hitler: Diagnosis of a Destructive Prophet,” the young pupil “made the life of his teacher of religion, Father Salo Schwarz, miserable” by adhering “to his father’s view that religion was for the stupid and old women.”
In describing those days in Austria, Redlich drew on translations of transcripts from nightly monologues Hitler delivered to his closest aides and sycophants in the early 1940s.
Hitler bragged of earning “the best marks” and for being “less impeccable under the heading of Behaviour.”
“I had a particular liking for the delicate subjects in the Bible,” he said, “and I took a naughty pleasure in asking embarrassing questions.”
The priest’s sister had a store in town. Hitler and his buddies would show up asking for women’s corsets and bloomers. In preparation for Easter, they confessed to made-up sins.
Hitler did mention one aspect of religious awe — the architecture in the local cathedral.
“I was full of respect for the majesty of the place,” Hitler said.
But he was full of contempt for everything else pious and divine.
Though Hitler was impressed and inspired by the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church, he grew to view its spiritual teachings, Redlich wrote, with an “impotent rage” because of the church’s “formidable power, which he was unable to replace by what he called science and reason.”
Bullock, in describing Hitler as a “rationalist and materialist,” quotes him in a wartime conversation with aides as saying:
The dogma of Christianity gets worn away before the advances of science ... Gradually the myths crumble. All that is left to prove that nature there is no frontier between the organic and inorganic. When understanding of the universe has become widespread, when the majority of men know that the stars are not sources of light, but worlds, perhaps inhabited worlds like ours, then the Christian doctrine will be convicted of absurdity.
By 1942, Hitler vowed, according to Bullock, to “root out and destroy the influence of the Christian Churches,” describing them as “the evil that is gnawing our vitals.”
“I can’t at present give them the answer they’ve been asking for,” Hitler said. “The time will come when I’ll settle my account with them. They’ll hear from me all right.”
But first, he had to finish off the Jews.
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