How persuasive are these claims? Hitler was born Catholic just as Stalin was born into the Russian Orthodox Church and Mao was raised as a Buddhist. These facts prove nothing, as many people reject their religious upbringing as these three men did. From anearly age, historian Allan Bullock writes, Hitler “had no time at all for Catholic teaching, regarding it as a religion fit only for slaves and detesting its ethics.”0 How then do we account for Hitler’s claim that in carrying out his anti-Semitic program he was an instrument of divine providence? During his ascent to power, Hitler needed the support of the German people—both the Bavarian Catholics and the Prussian Lutherans—and to secure this he occasionally used rhetoric such as “I am doing the Lord’s work.” To claim that this rhetoric makes Hitler a Christian is to confuse political opportunism with personal conviction. Hitler himself says in Mein Kampf that his public statements should be understood as propaganda that bear no relation to the truth but are designed to sway the masses.”

The Nazi idea of an Aryan Christ who uses the sword to cleanse the earth of the Jews— what Hitler once called “Positive Christianity”— was obviously a radical departure from traditional Christian understanding, and was condemned as such by Pope Pius XI at the time. Moreover, Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not religious, it was racial. Jews were targeted not because of their religion—indeed many German Jews were completely secular in their way of life—but because of their racial identity. This was an ethnic and not a religious designation.

We can see the difference by looking at attitudes toward Jews in medieval Europe. In fifteenth-century Spain, a Jew could escape Christian persecution simply by converting to Christianity. Ferdinand and Isabella did not object to having ethnic Jews in Spain; they objected to the practice of Judaism in what they wanted to be a completely Catholic country. Hitler’s objection to Jews, on the other hand, was not religious. A Jew could not escape Auschwitz by pleading, “I no longer practice Judaism,” “I am an atheist,” or “I have converted to Christianity.” This mattered nothing to Hitler because he believed the Jews were inferior racial stock. His anti-Semitism was secular.