A quote attributed to Francis Xavier is often used to describe the molding of a child into the type of adult desired: “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” Small children are very vulnerable. Children are disposed to trust and believe everything their parents, or other adults placed in charge of them, tell them. This has been bred into them by evolution. Children who do not listen to and do not obey their parents usually meet dark fates. As a result, evolution has selected for trusting, obedient children. It is not only that. Children resist anyone who tells them anything that contradicts information given to them by the authority figures in their lives, even if that information is overwhelming.
This trust in the information that their parents have told them stays with them into adulthood. All in all, most information provided by the parents is useful to retain. Some parents, however, think that their young should believe in their God and so proceed to instill that belief. Unfortunately, where God is concerned, the trust placed in parents is eventually transferred to an invisible being whose desires are unknown and unknowable. The vulnerability of childhood is in that way perpetuated. God, the father, is always there. Adult responsibility is forgone and placed in the realm of the God.
Dictators have found this trait useful in the population. If the dictator appeals to them by using their belief system then that dictator can persuade the masses to do his bidding. Hitler expressed the belief that he was doing the work of God by oppressing the Jewish people. He referenced his faith in many speeches. “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” –Mein Kampf.
The fact that Germany was facing economic hardships eased Hitler’s job in persuading the people to his cause, but without appealing to faith and enlisting the power of the church behind him, his cause may never have been supported by the German people. Of course, once he had taken over the government, suppressing dissent was more easily managed.
The point is that faith in an invisible uncommunicative deity leaves one vulnerable to manipulation. No one can know what that God wants, so you have to accept the authority of someone that claims to know. The fact that one is acting on one’s beliefs, however, does not release one’s responsibility for one’s actions. Also, despite the German people having been misled, they are still responsible. They cannot dismiss their culpability by expressing the sentiment that they were merely following orders, just as Christianity cannot dismiss its responsibility for the Inquisition and other miseries it has inspired over the centuries.