It is often claimed that the Third Reich was hardly a Christian institution or movement; that it was at its religious core pagan, as its members sought the return to the old Germanic religions, but this is not entirely true. Emil Fackenheim writes in the publication Judaism (6/2002)“I once used that term, Christian Nazi, in a lecture—just once. (If one used it more often, one would cheapen it.) Someone stormed forward after the lecture: ‘Christian Nazi? A contradiction in terms!’ I said, sadly ‘true by definition, but for twelve years the impossible-by-definition was empirically real.”

Long before the Final Solution, German theologians spoke of killing Jews. One of the leaders of the Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life, Siegfriend Leffler, wrote that although the Bible commands men not to murder, and the Bible instructs them to love Jews, he is persuaded by the laws of his people, which are in conflict with the Jews. (for an excellent account of this see Susannah Heschel’s The Aryan Jesus).

Many members of the Institute felt compelled to recover Christianity from the clutches of the Jews. For these men the battle against the Jewish people was also spiritual: Aryan was more than just race, it was a way of viewing the world — a way of thinking. It was the inner spirit of German people that needed protection, in this case from the Jews.

The Nazis believed that the Führer’s mission, and their own, was to usher in a so-called millennium that would bring with it a regenerated Volksgemeinshaft (“peoples community”), which would be for the Germans as coming out of darkness into light. For many of the most devoted Nazis, Adolf Hitler was the primary catalyst for this new world (for an interesting read on this topic see David Redles’ Hitler’s Millennial Reich). This is of course a spin on the Christian view of the the World to Come. Hitler’s enthusiasm to use Christianity for his purposes, gave the Nazis great opportunity to appeal to Germans through their so-called religious sensibilities.

We come back to Emil Fackenheim’s words: “It will not do for Christian apologists, at this late date, to get away with ‘Nazism was pagan.'”