How does a Christian really study Hitler, and why? Was Hitler born evil? Was Stalin born evil, for that matter? Was what Hitler carried out, the Final Solution, an aberration, something never seen before, or has such evil and unimaginable atrocity been committed before? Did Hitler have an evil gene?
To answer any of these questions, I suppose we need to know what we believe; whether we believe in a God who created everything, or that life is an accident, a glorious accident no less, but an accident involving evolution. I believe in creation myself.
I don’t believe Hitler, or Stalin, were born evil. What sort of chance would any of us have if our lives were dictated by something we had no control over? By their actions, they were evil that’s for certain. Hitler’s hatred for Jews went beyond anything that might be considered ‘normal’, whatever normal means, but I mean that he was blinded by his hatred to a very great degree, quite obviously. I’m not saying anything new here. What could have caused that? What made his hatred go beyond the norm? If we say he was born evil, then in some way we are saying that he wasn’t, even partly, culpable for his actions. If we say he had an ‘evil gene’ then likewise. I don’t believe in any kind of gene reproducing certain kinds of ordained behaviour; it doesn’t make sense to a Christian outlook.
So what are we talking about then? Hitler’s Final Solution, his idea of getting rid of all the Jews from Europe, was really the twentieth century’s most terrible point. It let humans being know, if we didn’t already, that humans can do some dreadfully awful things to one another. But was this an aberration, something which hadn’t happened before? I don’t believe it was. If we look throughout history, perhaps over the last fifteen hundred years or so, there has been to my mind innumerable acts of destruction, total savagery and even genocide now and again. What happened under Genghis Khan, in his quest to create a vast empire, was nothing short of genocide, and in many places. Millions are reputed to have died, slaughtered for the machinations of the Mongol Empire. Then there is the British Empire, that seemingly benign empire created as once written in a fit of absent-mindedness. Surely the Empire was a good thing? Well, if we really take a look at it without rose-tinted glasses, I think it can be said that the British Empire was good for some white British people, but very bad for those exploited or chased off land, or in other ways marginalized so that rich people could get basically richer. Millions of people around the world suffered at the hands of the British Empire, in many ways and for many reasons; some by willful destruction or murder, others through slavery of one kind or another, and others, like in Ireland and India, through famine and starvation, whilst the British effectively had control over these countries. This is just a small list of calumnies the British Empire presided over. Then we come to the Armenian Holocaust, which was perpetrated under the auspices of the Ottoman Empire. This claimed perhaps one and a half million lives during the First World War and a little after. Other populations were also treated in this way, including the Greeks. I could go on and on; I am trying to point out that human evil, atrocities carried out by humans on other humans, is no new thing. That doesn’t lessen the evil that Hitler committed, but I think it puts it in some proper perspective.
If you’re a Christian, you might very well believe that evil has been around for thousands and thousands of years. And the first sin, that which was really disobeying God, was when Eve took the forbidden fruit from the tree of good and evil. Whether you believe this as a literal truth, or whether you believe it is a folktale containing a universal truth, or whether you just think it’s a load of cobblers, is really beside the point. Evil entered the world when humans decided to disobey God; that’s my take on it as a Christian. If you’re an Atheist, you might find that hard to take, and if you’re on the margins of faith, you might need that clarified or explained a bit better.
We think of evil as being terrible acts committed against, usually, human beings against other people. And as a definition of evil, that is pretty easy to understand. Evil could also be said to be acts which the perpetrator knows full well are wrong, but chooses to do them anyway. So, knowing comes into the equation. If you’re a Christian, part of discipleship is to obey God, period. There’s no pussyfooting with God, there is no ‘let me have just this one sin God, and I’ll obey you in everything else!’; we are either wholeheartedly serving God, or we are not serving Him at all. Hard for some people, even for some Christians, to take, but I believe it to be the truth. So, all the sin and therefore all the evil in the world, has its roots in disobedience to God in the end.
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil represents human beings deciding for themselves what is good or what is evil, and ignoring God’s point of view. They wanted to decide for themselves, and when everyone else does the same, chaos ensues. To some people, one thing is good even if it isn’t, and to someone else, one thing is bad even if it isn’t. There is no standard with humans, so we need a set standard, and God’s standard is the only one that works for all of us. When people choose to do what they want without regard to God, even if their actions may appear correct and with the right motive, sin and evil can enter the world.