Hitler’s Table Talk, a revealing collection of the Fuhrer’s private opinions assembled by a close aide during the war years, shows Hitler to be rabidly anti-religious. He called Christianity one of the great “scourges” of history, and said of the Germans, “Let’s be the only people who are immunized against this disease.” He promised that “through the peasantry we shall be able to destroy Christianity.” In fact, he blamed the Jews for inventing Christianity. He also condemned Christianity for its opposition to evolution. Hitler reserved special scorn for the Christian values of equality and compassion, which he identified with weakness. Hitler’s leading advisers — Goebbels, Himmler, Heydrich and Bormann—were atheists who hated religion and sought to eradicate its influence in Germany.

Some atheist writers like Christopher Hitchens have sought to push Hitler into the religious camp by pointing to Nazism as a “quasi-pagan phenomenon.” Hitler may have been a polytheist who worshipped the pagan gods, these writers say, but polytheism is still theism. This argument fails to distinguish between ancient paganism and modern paganism. It’s true that Hitler and the Nazis drew heavily on ancient archetypes—mainly Nordic and Teutonic legends—to give their vision a mystical aura. But this was secular mysticism, not religious mysticism. The ancient Germanic peoples truly believed in their pagan gods. Hitler and the Nazis, however, relied on ancient myths in the modern form given to them by Nietzsche and Wagner. For Nietzsche and Wagner, there was no question of the ancient myths being true. Wagner no more believed in the Norse god Wotan than Nietzsche believed in Apollo. For Hitler and the Nazis, the ancient myths were valuablebecause they could give depth and significance to a secular racial conception of the world.