It's important to emphasize that some Christians followed Hitler's regime or were active Nazi Party members themselves. Many Christians were simply Germans, and Hitler or no Hitler, would fight to protect the Fatherland. Some Christians, especially some Catholic priests, resisted Hitler and helped Jews and political prisoners to find safe harbor or to escape. Yet others were Christian in name only, and made no attempt to reconcile the obvious differences between Nazi ideology and the fundamental tenets of Christianity.
Anti-Jewish sentiment had been growing stronger in the years leading up to Hitler's takeover, so many Germans probably shared his sentiments concerning their place in society. Nationalism and a sense of pride of their homeland probably blinded many Germans initially, and few probably had the courage to stand up to him once his true intentions became evident.
I've often wondered why people do such things, irrespective of whether its the Christians under Hitler, the Muslims under the Mullahs or Bin Laden, or even a general soldier in the armed forces.
I was watching the Bourne Trilogy last week and I found the conversation Matt Damon has at the end of the Bourne Ultimatum thoughtful in many ways. Why do CIA agents or members of the military agree to doing what they are told?
They haven't been brain washed. Do they all think that the instructions they receive are morally right. Do soldiers who return home ever think why they shot an enemy soldier or why they were sitting in the Humvee in the first place.
If people were to keep things like patriotism, the nation, etc. aside would there actually be as many conflicts as there are today? Doesn't it all start in the minds of a few hundred who sit in comfortable chambers while millions are out on the fields carrying out their instructions and killing each other.
But then, on the other hand unless they did it that way, no nation would be able to win a war, even if their cause was justified, could they?
I guess this discussion should rather be in the Psychology section than here.
Hitler was a very charismatic speaker and was able to appeal to the Nationalism of the German people. He convinced them that he could help take them back to where they were before the end of WWI and the awful punishments placed on them by the Treaty of Versailles. I don't think anyone really had any idea what his real plan was.
Why did anyone follow Hitler? You have some excellent reasons presented by my colleagues, and I would add one more: incrementalism. Hitler did do many positive things for his country, and because of that people were willing--even eager--to listen to and follow. The move to extermination was so incremental that most people--Christians and others--did not really feel the need to object. One observation Elie Wiesel makes about this process is quite disturbing. In his book Night he notes that even the Jews, the target of Hitler's actions, were not concerned at the small infringements on their lives and even saw some of them as protection. If they did not see it, it should not be too surprising that others did not.
On a personal note, when I was last in Germany and visited a concentration camp, I was amazed at how close people lived to these camps without, apparently, doing anything to help or change things. Literally, there was only a sidewalk between the camp's fence and the front yards of houses that had to have been there at the time. I am struck with how susceptible we all are to desensitization and evil.
It is hard to underestimate the sense of peer pressure that would have accompanied Hitler's rise to power. Equally, all Christians belong to a nationality that has great importance to them. Hitler's work in revitalising a crippled Germany and creating a sense of national spirit was something that was admired by all Germans and supported. Thus it is that having such a popular following it would be very hard for any individuals or groups to overtly oppose someone that had done so much good for Germany. Of course, the other side of this is that there were a minority of Christians who did oppose Hitler, such as Dietrich Bonhoffer, who was executed for his involvement in an assassination plot to kill Hitler.
I’m not sure that it matters what religion a person belonged to in following Hitler. Some believe that the German people are more responsive to authority figures than other people and that is why they followed Hitler and the Nazis. It seems that most people, regardless of religion or nationality, will follow an authority figure. A man named Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment to see if this was true. He found that most people, no matter their nationality or ethnic background, will almost blindly obey authority figures. In his experiment, Milgram was able to convince ordinary Americans to push a button to deliver an electric shock to an innocent person in the next room. The authority figure in this experiment was the experimenter dressed in a lab coat. At the direction of the experimenter, two–thirds of these people continued to give these shocks, at higher and higher voltage, even when they could hear the screams and shouts coming from the other room. Of course, in reality, no one was actually being shocked, but the test subjects administering the shocks did not know this. What Milgram showed in his experiment is that most people will follow authority figures and do what these authority figures tell them to do, even if what they are doing seems unconscionable. Perhaps this explains why normal Germans, Christian or not, followed Hitler and the Nazis.