Gott is not mit uns

Last night (Monday, March 7, 2011) I did my 87th public debate, my 6th debate with Dinesh D’Souza in as many states. An overflow crowd of more than a thousand people packed the Price Center Ballroom at the University of California–San Diego to hear us debate the topic, “Is religion the problem?” Judging from the crowd response, it seemed to me that the audience was divided about 80% believers and 20% nonbelievers, though the atheists were twice as exuberant in their laughter and applause, so it sounded roughly even.

I don’t want to analyze the debate here. A video will be available soon, so you can make your own judgment. But I do want to mention one particularly shocking statement by Dinesh during cross examination.

During much of the evening, Dinesh attempted to minimize the historical crimes of Christianity while making it look like atheists have been responsible for the overwhelming majority of mass murders in history. He mentioned Mao, Stalin, and the Nazi regime, among others. (I know better than to bring up Hitler to make more than a passing point in a debate, but this time it was Dinesh who brought him up.) I replied that indeed there have been horrible atheists, as there have been horrible Christians, but that there is no historical evidence that Stalin, for example, committed his atrocities in the name of atheism, unlike the Christian church, which explicitly invaded and killed in the name of God. When I mentioned the beautiful/ugly Spanish missions along the coast of California, which were built by the slave labor of local Indian tribes who were forcibly converted, many driven to extinction, by the Catholics, Dinesh brushed that aside by claiming that most American Indians were killed by disease, not by the sword.

But the shocker came during cross examination. Questioning Dinesh’s lumping of the Nazis into godless regimes, I asked him, “Was Hitler an atheist?”

“Yes, he was,” he replied quickly. Since Hitler had dabbled in German paganism, and since pagans don’t really believe their gods are actual creatures (how does he know that?), Hitler was devoid of any belief in a personal God.

I had not come prepared to discuss Hitler, so I had to extract some quotes from the top of my head. I pointed out (from memory) that Hitler had said that “the work that Jesus started, to eliminate the Jews, I Adolf Hitler will complete.”

Dinesh asked me, “Where did Hitler say that?”

“It was in Mein Kampf,” I replied.

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“No, it wasn’t in Mein Kampf. Hitler never mentioned Jesus. You are taking that quote out of context.” He went on to discuss some other quote by Hitler, which I don’t remember, and didn’t seem to relate to the quote I mentioned. When I countered that Hitler was a member of the Catholic Church, never excommunicated, and that besides, the Nazi regime was not composed of just one man: it was made of many thousands of Lutherans and Catholics, many of whom wore “Gott Mit Uns” (“God is with us”) on their uniforms, Dinesh said that just because people come from a cultural religious background does not mean they are true believers or that the religion is to blame for the atrocities of its nominal followers. (I’m reconstructing these comments from memory.)

In Dinesh’s closing statement, he claimed that we should seek “the truth that works for us.” If Christianity makes us better people, offers a feeling of “the sublime,” and gives us hope and meaning, then that is what we should embrace. During my closing, I pointed out the bias in that remark by insisting that scientists do not look for “the truth that works for us”: they look for “the truth that works.” Truth should be truth, no matter how it makes us feel.

After the debate, I came back to my hotel room and looked up Mein Kampf on the internet. It is true that Hitler sometimes expressed conflicting and confused views on religion, sometimes praising “the Creator,” and sometimes criticizing organized religion. But he was definitely not an atheist. Here is the email that I immediately sent to Dinesh:

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Another fun debate!

I didn’t come prepared with Hitler references . . . you brought it up. Here is from Mein Kampf, Chapter 2:

“And so I believe to-day that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. In standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord.

• Therefore, I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator. By fighting off the Jews, I am doing the Lord’s work.

• I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator.”

See also:

“Christ was the greatest early fighter in the battle against the world enemy, the Jews … The work that Christ started but could not finish, I — Adolf Hitler — will conclude.” Nazi Christmas celebration in 1926.

In a Reichstag speech in 1938: “I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews, I am fighting for the Lord’s work.”

“I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so,” he told Gerhard Engel, one of his generals, in 1941.

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You can find some of those quotes in the Freethought Today article by Anne Gaylor, “Hitler’s Religion.” There are many more quotes (look them up) showing that Hitler expressed a deep belief in the Christian God, even though his image of that god was quite bizarre and idiosyncratic–but that is not much different from any other Christian. I think there may be as many Christianities as there are Christians. I am quite willing to admit that Hitler may have been a “bad Christian” (if that is not an oxymoron), but he was a Christian. It is a gross distortion of history and of language to claim that Hitler was an atheist. It is also a form of slander against millions of good people who do not believe in a god.

The debate was passionate, but civil. The questions from the audience were the most fun. Afterwards we shook hands and had our photos taken before going to the back table for a book signing. The entire evening was an enjoyable pogrom–I mean program.


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