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Hitler’s Religion: Chapter 7

Editor’s note: Here are some excerpts from the seventh chapter of Richard Weikart’s book.

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Under the leadership of Madame Blavatsky, theosophy had tried to blend a mystical racism with a scientific view of an evolutionary hierarchy of races. Despite professing the brotherhood of all humanity, theosophy taught racial inequality, and Blavatsky even endorsed the extermination of inferior races. Lanz also drew inspiration from non-mystical, non-occult sources, such as the physician and racial theorist Ludwig Woltmann. Before founding his own journal, Lanz wrote an extended review of Woltmann’s book, Die politische Anthropologie, for a freethinking journal and waxed enthusiastic about Woltmann’s racist doctrine of Nordic superiority. Woltmann’s book had been written for a prize competition for the best work on the political and social implications of Darwinian theory. He synthesized Darwin’s theory of natural selection with Arthur Gobineau’s theory of the racial superiority of the Nordic race.

[Left, Joseph Arthur de Gobineau (1816-1882), a French aristocrat.] Woltmann was a biological and racial determinist, believing that not only physical characteristics, but also mental and moral traits, are hereditary. Thus, one’s destiny is predetermined in one’s biological makeup. Race, according to Woltmann, is the key to historical development, because some races—the fair-skinned Nordic one especially—were superior. The Nordic race, he stated, is “the highest product of organic evolution,” and they were the founders of civilization. Further, he believed that races arose through an ongoing racial struggle for existence, and, like Gobineau, he thought that racial mixing was deleterious, leading to racial decline.

Though Lanz used the term Aryan rather than Nordic, many of his ideas about race were similar to those of Woltmann and other Nordic racists. Lanz believed that “race is the driving force behind all deeds,” determining the destiny of all peoples, or Völker. Racial wisdom was thus the paramount value, motivating him to establish a religion of race. Lanz warned that the Aryan race was threatened with decline, and his religion aimed at rescuing and preserving this endangered, but valuable, race. The key peril confronting Aryans was racial mixture. One of the more bizarre claims that Lanz made—based on his mystical interpretation of the Bible—was that the Fall happened when Eve copulated with an animal, producing progeny who were half-ape and half-human. These “ape-people” that Eve bore were the ancestors of the inferior races around the globe, such as black Africans, and their animal blood tainted all inferior races. This Fall involved racial mixture with a vengeance, and it dehumanized all non-Aryans, who supposedly had admixtures of animal blood coursing through their veins.

Unlike Hitler, who despised the Hebrew Bible as the effluvium of the Jewish mind, Lanz claimed that Moses was a Darwinist who—if interpreted in the proper mystical sense—taught Aryans how to triumph in the racial struggle through conscious racial selection. Lanz maintained that the Jews had succeeded historically despite their inferiority because they had appropriated the biblical wisdom that was really intended for Aryans. Aryans should embrace the Bible, including the Old Testament, “as the hard, racially proud and racially conscious book, which proclaims death and extermination to the inferior and world domination to the superior (Hochwertigen).” Unfortunately, Lanz continued, a false kind of love had been incorporated into the Bible by some misguided souls.

Elsewhere, Lanz elaborated that the kind of neighborly love and compassion that most people equated with Christianity, and which appeared in the Bible, was based on a misinterpretation hypocritically taught by the inferior races, the so-called “ape-people.” The word “neighbor” in the Old Testament really meant, he assured his fellow Aryan racists, one’s racial comrade. Thus the command to love our neighbor really “means that we only have to love our racial comrades, thus those who stand closest to our kind and our race.” In a 1907 issue of Ostara, he warned his fellow Aryans that they were committing race suicide by extending generosity to those of inferior races. Rather, they should always discriminate racially in their charitable giving. (Apparently, Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan meant nothing to Lanz—or to Hitler.) Ominously, Lanz compared racially inferior people to weeds needing to be pulled. A major theme in this pamphlet and many others was the need to introduce eugenics measures to improve the race.

Many of Lanz’s doctrines became core tenets of Hitler’s worldview: the primacy of race in determining historical developments, Aryan superiority (with the Aryans being the sole creators of culture), the Darwinian racial struggle, the need for eugenics policies, and the evils of racial mixing. Hitler also shared Lanz’s view that Aryans had developed an ancient civilization in the mythical Atlantis. In a passage of Mein Kampf that decries racial mixing in a manner reminiscent of Lanz’s writings, Hitler admonished the state to elevate the status of marriage, which under the present system was supposedly contributing to biological decline. By hindering the marriages of those he dubbed inferior, he hoped marriages could “produce images of the Lord and not monstrosities halfway between man and ape.” By claiming that racial mixture could result in human-ape hybrids, Hitler was pulling a page out of Lanz’s repertoire. No wonder [Wilfried] Daim was struck by the similarities between Lanz and Hitler and supposed that Hitler’s ideology hailed largely from Lanz’s writings. Given all these parallels, most historians acknowledge the likelihood that Lanz’s Ariosophy influenced Hitler’s ideology, either directly or indirectly.

But another like-minded Ariosophist in Vienna, Guido von List, was probably even more influential among early twentieth-century Pan-German nationalists than his colleague Lanz. He introduced the swastika symbol into Aryan racist circles before Lanz, and his ideas were widely discussed in the Pan-German press in Vienna. List and Lanz propagated similar occult racial ideologies, and they belonged to each other’s organizations. Before becoming entranced with occult thinking, List wrote for Pan-German publications. He carried this intense nationalist and racist heritage with him into his occult Aryan religion.

Like Lanz, he claimed he was recovering ancient Germanic wisdom that had been lost, and he wanted to replace Catholicism with his mystical faith. He preached Aryan supremacy, the need to engage in the struggle for existence against other races, and eugenics measures to improve the vitality of the Aryan race. In 1908, he explained the core of his message: “The high meaning of this custom [of ancient Aryans] lay in the intention of a planned, widespread breeding of a noble race, which through strict sexual laws would also remain racially pure.” List wanted to reconstitute an ancient Germanic priesthood with esoteric knowledge that could elevate the racially purified and ennobled Aryans to dominate the globe.

We do not know if Hitler had any direct contact with List or the List Society when he lived in Vienna. Brigitte Hamann, however, believes that Hitler’s racial ideology had more in common with List than with Lanz. List, for example, taught that the Aryans evolved into a superior race during the Ice Age. They were steeled in body and mind by the harsh conditions, and they had to wage a bitter battle against the elements. Natural selection eliminated the weak, sickly, and less cooperative, leaving the robust, healthy, and more moral members to propagate their superior biological traits. Hitler narrated a similar tale of Aryan origins in his 1920 speech, “Why Are We Anti-Semites?” List also viewed nature as the source of divine power, and according to Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, he reduced all morality to just one ethical precept: “Live in accordance with Nature.” Hitler’s ethical views also stressed conformity to nature and its laws…

In August 1918, shortly before the end of the war, he [Rudolf von Sebottendorff] founded the Thule Society in Munich as an organization to foster German nationalism and Aryan racism. The Thule Society adopted the swastika as its symbol and “Heil” as its greeting, thus contributing to later Nazi practices.

In June 1918, Sebottendorff acquired the Münchner Beobachter as the mouthpiece for the Thule Society. In order to attract young Germans to his movement, he featured sports articles in this newspaper. However, its real purpose was to advance his racist and ultranationalist views, so he also published articles on these themes. One early article he wrote was “Keep Your Blood Pure,” which sounds remarkably similar to Hitler’s racial philosophy in Mein Kampf. In this essay, Sebottendorff asserted that race is the key to understanding history. He was incensed that Christianity had led some Germans to embrace racial equality. He wrote,

Encouraged by Christianity they propagated the doctrine of the equality of humans. Gypsies, Hottentots, Brazilian natives, and Germans are supposedly completely equal in value. Too bad the great teacher, nature, teaches otherwise. It teaches: This equality is nonsense. It is the greatest lie that humanity has ever been talked into. To the destruction of us Germans. There are higher and lower races! If one values the racial mish-mash, the “Tschandalen” [this was Lanz’s term for inferior human races that had resulted from a human-ape hybrid] the same as the Aryans—the noble humans—then one commits a crime against humanity… Wherever one looks in the past, the bearers of Germanic blood have always been the bearers and creators of culture.

The affinities with Hitler’s worldview are obvious: racial inequality, the role of nature in confirming racial inequality, and the Aryans as the sole creators of culture. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Sebottendorff boasted that he had laid the intellectual foundation for Nazism.

Sebottendorff’s view of Christianity was similar to Hitler’s, too. He criticized many of its features, especially its tendency to promote human equality. While appreciating Luther’s anti-Semitism, he noted that it was nonetheless deficient, because it was based on religious, not racial, considerations. He also dismissed the notion that people should turn the other cheek. Rather, he proclaimed, they should strike back until their opponent remained on the ground. Strangely, Sebottendorff thought Jesus approved of this pugnacity, for he continued, “That was also the opinion of our Savior: He came to bring the sword”…

A different movement, neo-paganism, also held sway over some leading Nazis, especially Himmler and Rosenberg. Neo-paganism, the attempt to resurrect the old Germanic gods and goddesses, sometimes overlapped with occultism, though some neo-paganists were staunch opponents of it. Both schools of thought were anti-Christian in their orientation. The occultist Sebottendorff, for example, tried to resurrect the worship of Wotan and other ancient Germanic gods. Himmler and Rosenberg saw neo-paganism as a way to bring Germans back to their original pre-Christian religion. Neo-paganism countered the universalizing tendencies of Christianity and emphasized the distinctiveness of the Aryan race, even in their religion.

Despite all these historical connections between Hitler and occultists, the popular idea that Hitler was an occultist—or at least powerfully influenced by occultism—faces serious objections…