Hitler and Jesus have more in common than we’re willing to realize. Yes, one is understood as Evil Incarnate while the other is affirmed as God Incarnate. While this would certainly place them on opposite ends of a spectrum, they share that spectrum: that of functioning like gods in our modern Western mythology.
We recognize that there is nothing particularly deficient about German genetics that makes them predisposed to evil. Furthermore, while we understand that while German culture certainly played a part in giving rise to the evils of World War II, we also acknowledge that the cultural history of Germany isn’t substantially different from its Western neighbors to single out one thing that sets Germany apart that makes it intrinsically more capable of Genocide than other nations. Unless, of course, that thing is the presence of an almost supernaturally evil being like Adolf Hitler.
The name that we give the Evil that led to Holocaust and War is “Hitler.” And in so naming this evil, Hitler takes his place among the pantheon of modern Western civilization. If our society collectively recognizes supernatural beings–if we have gods–Hitler is one of them. He may play the part of the evil god, but he is a god nonetheless. To many, he has taken the place of Satan.
To illustrate my point (that Hitler is our culture’s evil god even to the point of usurping Satan), let us suppose you are in an argument with a friend over the ethics of veganism. Your friend (let us suppose) is a vegan. You, however, are an omnivore. The argument escalates to the point that your friend yells: “Every time you eat bacon, you are the same as Adolf Hitler!” Would that upset you more (be honest) than if your friend said you were the same as the devil?
If you are like me, you’re likely to feel offended at the former, and may even chuckle at the latter.
And so, the first commonality of Jesus and Hitler is that, in our modern mythology, they are both gods.
Another thing that Hitler and Jesus share is that they are both scapegoats. Jesus’ status as a scapegoat has been explored in numerous writings–most notably in the work of René Girard. Generally, Christians believe that our sins have passed to Jesus (in some way or another) so that when he is sacrificed, he is being sacrificed in our place. This grande “transaction” has led many to a “cheap” grace–one where not only are your debts cleared, but Jesus’ heaven-credits get wired to your account, providing the necessary funds to buy your ticket to heaven.
It is interesting to me that the thinker best known for exposing this Christian tendency towards “cheap grace” did so in the shadow of Nazism–Dietrich Bonhoeffer. How ironic that we can easily read Bonhoeffer and agree that we shouldn’t treat Jesus as a mere scapegoat only to turn to Adolf Hitler to propitiate our sins! Let me explain.
It is generally held that Adolf Hitler is the reason Nazism arose in Germany and proceeded to commit acts of genocide. Hitler becomes the Cause of Evil–an almost supernaturally sinister being. However, a different view of the rise of Nazism is that Hitler was focusing and manifesting the larger zeitgeist of the German people–or at least of a growing movement within the German people.
When we blame Hitler for what happened in WWII, we fail to name the larger conditions and trends that brought Hitler to power and enabled the horrific deeds of the Holocaust. And thus, Hitler becomes a scapegoat for the horrors of the war.
But he is much more than simply a scapegoat for the Germans. He serves a larger purpose in western society. To invoke his name is to invoke evil, and to assume that he is significantly more evil than we are. To liken someone to Hitler is taboo. When, in the course of internet conversation Godwin’s Law comes into effect, it is an instant conversation ender. In other words, nobody is as evil as Hitler, and to suggest so is as much of a taboo as we have in our culture.
So, when we say that American treatments of Native Americans was like a “Holocaust” or that modern day Israel is committing a genocide against the Palestinian people, etc., the conversation is over. It doesn’t matter how wicked a nation’s behavior is–nothing could ever rival the unspeakable evil that is HITLER. And, thank Jesus, Hitler is such an anomaly that we could NEVER do something like that again. We are simply incapable of such evil–we have progressed beyond it. We are, in comparison, good.
And so, Hitler is the evil scapegoat who takes away the sins for our own atrocities–our modern injustices, our past genocides.
And, for everything else, Jesus is there to take away our remaining sins.
In the end, we find that we don’t have to follow Jesus’ way, nor do we have to sufficiently name the evil that resides in our own hearts, our own societies, our own world. Because of the pure sacrifice of Jesus and the evil stain of Hitler, we’re fine just the way we are. Status quo affirmed!
Note: This is an adaptation from an earlier post on JesusRadicals.com.