Hitler as a Religious Figure, continued

Hitler’s work was pseudo-religious—there lay its power. Rituals of purgation, purging, cleansing, uniting, chanting, processing, bowing, adulating, invoking cosmic powers of hatred and battling—all of it appealed to the first level of evil cleansing as Ricoeur defines defilement. This quest to purify a defilement even overrode the war effort.

Deported Jews from Franconia at the Langwasser camp near the Märzfeld. Photo credit: Ernst Gortner. From the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds Museums of the City of Nuremberg

Morris Berman sees this clearly when he writes:

The Nazis’ fanatical eagerness to exterminate the Jews even when it was detrimental to the war effort (as was the case by 1944) become much more understandable. We are talking about cosmology, eschatology, world-myth, and ultimate salvation. In a cosmic battle between Aryan and Jews, victory could usher in a thousand-year reign, in which the ‘righteous’ would redeem the earth.

Hitler’s “religion” appealed to the first level of religion’s promise to cleanse and save from defilement. And it stopped there: no sense of sin, ethics, conscience, guilt or even shame.  At least none that drove large numbers to action, that is to say, resistance.  It ginned up cult-like fanaticism and squelched the search for truth and reason.

Hitler Youth give the Nazi salute at a rally in the Lustgarden in Berlin, May 1, 1933. Photo from the German Federal Archives, on Wikimedia Commons

Call it denial, call it desperation, call it fear; call it the trapped, wounded child: whatever it is called, it is real evil.

But its appeal was religious because Hitler promised salvation and healing to a wounded, despised and self-loathing people eager to escape defilement.

If the Christianity of the twentieth century had had a cosmology, a sense of creation, instead of just redemption, might there have been more resistance to Hitler?  

Hitler chose to replace Hildegard’s awareness of viriditas, or “greening power” with a scorched earth policy. He effectively killed Spirit and replaced it with a spirit of hatred even of the earth.

The Polish town of Wieluń after Luftwaffe bombing on 9/1/1939: the first Nazi blitzkrieg of WWII was on a civilian town with no military or economic assets to target. Up to 2000 people died and 90% of the city center was destroyed. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Berman says Nazism “seems unavoidably demonic in character, a different level of evil from that of mere administrative violence.” He sees Hitler’s goal as a

…demonic attempt to reenchant the world. The language of National Socialism was that of transcendence. Hitler recognized instinctively a religious need on the part of the masses.

November 1933: Luthertag (Luther Day) celebrations of the German Evangelical Church in front of the Berlin PalaceJoachim Hossenfelder is speaking. Photo from the German Federal Archive, on Wikimedia Commons.

One wonders: Why?  Why was there such a religious need on the part of the masses? Why did the churches so fail in their job that they left a void for Hitler to fill? 

How could the churches fail so dramatically that so many Germans could fall for such a pseudo-religion as this?

And fall they did. “An entire nation followed him and furnished a legion of executioners,” notes Karl Bracher.

It could happen again, warns Berman:

Frankly, I see nothing to prevent the emergence of some form of race ideology, and… when this happens, the search will be on for convenient scapegoats.

When the sacredness of creation is lost, evil emerges in religious guise.  Or as Erich Fromm put it, “necrophilia grows when biophilia is stunted.”

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 391, 398. 

Banner Image: Pastors of the German Confessing Church, a Protestant dissident movement opposing Nazi efforts to unify all Protestant churches into a single state church. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is in the middle row, far left. From Christian History Today; photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you recognize evil emerging today in religious guise at times?  What are we doing about it?

Recommended Reading

Fox makes the point that religion has so often oversold the concept of “sin” that it has left us without language or power to combat evil. Through comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them.

Responses are welcomed. To add your comment, please click HERE or scroll to the bottom of the page.

Share this meditation


Daily Meditations with Matthew Fox is made possible through the generosity of donors. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation

Search Meditations





Receive our daily meditations

1 thought on “Hitler as a Religious Figure, continued”

  1. Avatar

    The Muslim ban that Trump is strengthening is another step toward this “religious” zealousness and evil, I think. Thank you, Matthew Fox, for keeping us aware of the spiritual struggle that is needed.

Leave a Comment

To help moderate the volume of responses, the Comment field is limited to 1500 characters (roughly 300 words), with one comment per person per day.

Please keep your comments focused on the topic of the day's Meditation.

As always, we look forward to your comments!!
The Daily Meditation Team

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join us in meditation that supports your compassionate action

Receive Matthew Fox's Daily Meditation by subscribing below: