Was Hitler a Christian?

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Randall Hardman interviews Eric Metaxas on the question, was Adolf Hitler a Christian?

Many atheists today, while denouncing the atheism of Stalin and Mao as being anything significant in their tyrannies, hold Hitler’s “Christian” heritage up like a flaming torch. It’s an example of how religion, especially Christianity, can lead to death, evil, and terror.

[From Adolf Hitler: A Christian?]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZqycNUvHYo]

75 Responses

  1. Rob Eaton says:

    Thanks for bringing this forward. Helps me decide to read Eric Metaxas’ work.

  2. If Hitler was a Christian then I am an space alien.

    And there are more than likely a lot of good “church people”, who are not Christians either.

    But, of course, it really isn’t our call.

  3. Sault says:

    Hitler was a Christian, at least until he definitely wasn’t. How’s that for nuance?

    To sum :

    In public the Nazis called themselves Christian. They told everyone else that they were Christian, over 90% of their country professed either Protestantism or Catholicism, and they associated themselves with leaders of the Christian church (you can find pictures of Hitler shaking hands with the Pope).

    Hitler remained a Roman Catholic throughout his life, wrote about God and Jesus (including in Mein Kampf), promoted a form of Christianity, and frequently referenced Christian imagery and doctrine in his writings and speeches. He was also outspoken in his opposition to Marxism, atheism, etc.

    That said,

    Hitler’s personal comments are recorded as disparaging Christianity. By the end of the 1930’s the Nazis were oppressing Christians and promoting rather non-Christian beliefs and practices.

    And of course, Hitler was a psychopath – he killed millions. I think that probably demonstrates a rather un-Christian attitude.

    So… Hitler at one point was probably Christian, then became disillusioned with and/or abandoned it when it no longer fit his personal agenda.

    Does any of it matter? Not really, except to illustrate that religion, ideology, and philosophy can be co-opted to further one’s own interests.

    (We already knew that, though – look at politics!)

    It is tragic that so many people were willing to believe the best about him simply because he called himself a Christian… the German people, the Catholic church, major religious leaders – all fooled until it was too late.

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    That’s not nuance, Sault. That’s ignorance. Hitler was never a Christian.

  5. Sault says:

    @ Steve Martin –

    We are all star-stuff; we came from outer space. The elements that we are composed of were created in and blasted out of distant supernovae billions and billions of years ago.

    We are all space aliens.

    Well, that’s one way to look at it, at least… *grin*

  6. Sault says:

    @ Tom

    I think that it’s likely that at one point both he and the Nazi party to some degree were, but began to see Christianity as a means to an end rather than a belief itself.

    “They sometimes claimed to be Christians…” (0:23)

    An incredible understatement, if not downright deceptive.

    One, the German population, which was over 90% Christian (a 50/40 Protestant/Catholic, IIRC), would not follow a group who called themselves non-Christian.

    Two, they wore clothing that proclaimed themselves Christian.

    Three, their propaganda used Christian imagery (See #5, Hitler sowing seeds with an angel in the background).

    “They presented themselves as being moral, upstanding and Christian in this basic sense.” (1:00)

    Exactly. Good job contradicting yourself from earlier, dude.

    Hitler, and the Nazis, advocated a form of Christianity called positive Christianity which portrayed Christ as a warrior against the Jews.

    As I said earlier, by the late 1930’s they were persecuting Christians, so it’s pretty reasonable to say that at some point they definitely weren’t Christian. However, it is far more difficult to make the case that they were *never* Christian, and it’s an argument that I haven’t seen made convincingly.

    “many people were totally fooled” (1:12)

    And that’s the tragic part that I spoke about earlier.

    “they had a basically atheistic and pagan worldview” (1:25)

    Except, of course, that Hitler railed against atheism. As I mentioned earlier. Need I dig up the quotes? God and Jesus were referenced constantly throughout the Nazi culture, some examples of which I’ve already shown. You can’t be both “pagan” (theistic by definition) and “atheist” at the same time!

    Whether its just how he chose to present himself or not, I don’t have a very high opinion of this particular man because of statements like this. He comes off to me as more of an apologist attempting to distance Christianity as much as possible from Nazi Germany rather than a historian portraying the rather complicated truth.

    Is it a blow against Christianity that Hitler and the Nazis seem to at one point have been Christians? Not to me. People get used, and that’s a sad part of life. If there is a blow against Christians here its how so few of them saw it coming.

  7. Charlie says:

    Harvard historian, Steven Ozment’s A Mighty Fortress: A New History Of The German People.

    In the New Age envisioned by National Socialism, biblical Christianity was politically subversive, even a “rebellion … against nature”91 . It’s perceived absurdity had been impressed on Hitler during his Austrian schooldays, when, as he mockingly recalled, students attended a catechism class at ten A.M. to hear the biblical story of Creation, only then to listen, at eleven A.M., to Darwin’s version of it in a natural science class – the latter winning hands down. 92
    During the war years Hitler recommended a slow “natural death” for Christianity by exposing its dogmas to the light of science.

    page93

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    Sault, how do you define “Christian”?

  9. Doug says:

    In support of Sault, when there is perceived power in any word (“Christianity” in this case), that word inevitably spins off multiple senses.

    In Europe (the heart of “Christendom”) one of those spin-off senses has been “the cultural reality of a Christian history” (in contrast with “the spiritual reality of Christ’s presence”). And according to this quite-legitimate word-sense, Hitler (and Anders Breivik, fwiw) quite accurately described themselves as “Christian”.

    However, anyone (typically atheists) wishing to leverage this fact as a stick to beat their Christian adversaries should be aware that this word-sense only exists in transitional forms in immigrant communities in North America. That is, we simply don’t use the word that way over here. As a result, the “Hitler was a Christian” gambit is simply an exercise in equivocation (i.e., mixing up word-senses to forward an agenda).

    But let’s face it: when Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christian Scientists [sicX2] all “call themselves Christian” it becomes clear that taking “claims to be Christian” at face value is sometimes unwise.

  10. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Sault:

    – Hitler’s party was called the NSDAP which stands for Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei. The Nationalsozialistische means national socialist, and the party members often designated themselves by Nationalsozialisten, national socialists (Nazi was a term used by the political opposition, usually as an insult).

    – Hitler’s writings, the writings of the most prominent Nazi ideologues like Bormann, Rosenberg, Frick, etc., even the NSDAP program itself (e.g. the original 25 point program), are filled with socialist policies and ideas. The evidence is too abundant to even need to quote any piece of it.

    – These policies were carried out when Hitler rose to power.

    – Hitler made a pact with Soviet Union. Shortly afterwards, Stalin and his regime were highly praised (just read the speeches after the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact was signed).

    Ergo, damn History and all historians, but Hitler was a commie socialist.

  11. Sault says:

    @ Tom

    Sault, how do you define “Christian”?

    An excellent question, probably one that everyone should ask themselves.

    I grew up Christian. I believed that Jesus was my savior, in God, my Heavenly Father, in sin, about repentance, Jesus’ resurrection, and how important it was to read the scriptures (which we did, a lot).

    It wasn’t until after I stopped being one, though, that I realized that other people didn’t think that Mormons were Christian. It was a very odd feeling.

    It wasn’t until I started really getting into my religious research that I was able to understand why. Apparently Christians have been fighting for years about what it means to be Christian – so really, nothing new… and this is partly because Christians have always held (sometimes radically) different beliefs.

    So in a world where people have held so many disparate views about what it means to be a Christian, I figured that the best practice is to go to the earliest records. In the same way that older documents tend to carry more weight than recent ones historically, I think that the same holds true with professions of faith.

    The early Christian community was just as diverse as it is today, a fact that I am fascinated by. Accordingly, the creeds are inclusive and generous, rather than the exclusive and dogmatic that they became after orthodoxy set in.

    The earliest professions of Christian belief are the Pauline declaration in 1 Corinthians 15, the Old Roman Creed, and the Nicene Creed.

    I don’t use the Nicene Creed because not every Christian believes that Jesus descended to hell for three days. Besides, by the 300’s a lot of the initial diversity had been replaced by said dogma and had been shaped by political force. The further you get from the original, the less authentic it may be.

    The original Pauline profession is incredibly vague – in part, it says

    “3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
    4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
    5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve.”
    1 Corinthians 3:3-5

    That means that Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and even the Nazis were/are all Christian.

    @ Doug

    As a result, the “Hitler was a Christian” gambit is simply an exercise in equivocation

    I try not to. Just as it is unjust for Christians to equivocate psychopathic mass-murderers like Pol Pot or Stalin (or whomever they’re using these days) against atheism, it is wrong for atheists to blame Christianity for the atrocities committed by Hitler. Not wanting to oversimplify or understate, but you can’t blame the tree for a few bad apples.

    I’ll repeat what I said earlier – if there is a slight against Christians here, it is how easily they were fooled.

    @ Charlie

    “students attended a catechism class at ten A.M. to hear the biblical story of Creation, only then to listen, at eleven A.M., to Darwin’s version of it in a natural science class – the latter winning hands down.”

    So because students rejected the “well, God did it” Creation story then Hitler must not have been Christian? Oh, please.

    @ G Rodriguez

    – Hitler made a pact with Soviet Union. Shortly afterwards, Stalin and his regime were highly praised (just read the speeches after the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact was signed).

    Okay. So by that reasoning Hitler was definitely Christian at one point, because he consulted and consorted with the Catholic church.

    Well, actually, I wouldn’t see any reason why Hitler and the Nazis wouldn’t be socialists – Jesus was very much a socialist.

  12. Tom Gilson says:

    Sault,

    Have you ever heard of the fallacy, non sequitur?

    The original Pauline profession is incredibly vague – in part, it says

    “3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
    4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
    5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve.”
    1 Corinthians 3:3-5

    That means that Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and even the Nazis were/are all Christian.

    How on earth did you come to the conclusion that this creedal statement represented a complete and adequate definition of “Christian”? Other than convenience for your own point of view, that is.

    How on earth did you conclude that the Council of Nicaea knew less about what it means to be a Christian than you do?

    How on earth do you conclude that “diversity replaced by dogma” means a departure from a definition?

    How?

    I shake my head in astonishment.

  13. Sault says:

    I don’t see a creed as necessarily a complete definition of what it means to be “Christian”, nor do I think it needs to. In this context, to honor the diversity of belief that has always been present in the Christian community, I favor the earlier historical record and therefore a more inclusive creed rather than later, more exclusive ones.

    I don’t argue that the Council of Nicea knew *less* about what it means to be a Christian then I do. I do believe that it was a political process as much or more than it was a theological one, and that political processes are more Man than God, if you know what I mean.

    What are the most basic and fundamental tenets of what it means to be a Christian? That you believe that in some way God intersected Man in the form of Jesus Christ, that he died for our sins, and that to some degree the Bible is a source of truth that attests to these things. That is a restatement of the Pauline creed in 1 Corinthians.

    Everything else is details. Does it matter if Jesus was “like” God or “same” as God? Does it matter if Mary was a virgin? Does it matter if the transubstantiation actually occurs? Does it matter if there are saints who intercede for us on our behalf? Does it even matter who or what Satan is?

    I think that every point that I’ve listed is up for debate, a matter of personal conscience, and an agreement that has to be reached between the believer and what they understand to be God.

    From the outside, you’re all Christian. None of you agree on everything except these basic facts that I’ve listed. Either I treat you all as Christians, or I start taking sides and judging some of you as “real” Christians and some of you as “fake” Christians, or perhaps Christians of opportunity, even! How am I supposed to do that? I’m a non-believer, how can you possibly expect me to understand the intricacies of your theology, or be informed spiritually about which denomination or sect has it right? I’m moderately well-educated about Christianity, but I sure don’t understand Thomism or what the different strains of Calvinism are!

    From the non-believer’s perspective, the cynical side of me notes that you all believe different things (who exactly goes to hell, anyways?), that many of you spend an awful lot of time fighting over who the “real” Christians are, and concludes that at least some of you (and perhaps none of you) have the complete truth.

    I don’t see Christianity as “one group is right and the rest are wrong”. I don’t think you can summarize what it means to be a Christian, even a “real” Christian, with a word, a phrase, a sentence, a creed… or even a book.

    For that reason, I don’t hold one man’s beliefs and actions against the rest of you, or against your fascinating, fractured, multi-faceted faith.

  14. Charlie says:

    Oh mercy, I walked straight into the argument from “oh please”.
    So, the Hitler was a Christian thesis … okay …

    http://www.bedfordgaol.com/part3-2.html

    Significantly, in all of the quotes attempting to link Hitler to Christianity, put together after diligent search by the enemies of Jesus Christ, there is nothing about forgiveness for sin through the blood of Christ shed on the cross; nothing about eternal life in heaven or eternal punishment in hell; nothing about the Trinity or the virgin birth; nothing about the bible as the divinely inspired and infallible word of God, or about any other of the most basic doctrines of Christianity.

    From Bormann’s Circular on God and Christianity:
    When we National Socialists speak of a belief in God, we do not understand by God, like naive Christians and their spiritual opportunists, a human-type being, who sits around somewhere in space…The force of natural law, with which all these innumerable planets move in the universe, we call Almighty or God. The claim that this world force is concerned about the fate of every single being, of every smallest earth bacillus, or can be influenced by so-called prayers or other astonishing things, is based on a proper dose of naivety or alternatively on a commercial shamelessness.

    http://answers.org/history/hitquote.html“I shall never come personally to terms with the Christian lie. Our epoch Uin the next 200 yearse will certainly see the end of the disease of Christianity…. My regret will have been that I couldn’t… behold .” Hitler (p 278)

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler
    You see, its been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been more compatible to us than Christianity. why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness? (Quoted by Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich, pg. 115)

    Had Charles Martel not been victorious at Poitiers – already, you see, the world had fallen into the hands of the Jews – so gutless a thing was Christianity! – then we should in all probability have been converted to mohammedanism, that cult which glorifies heroism and which opens the seventh Heaven to the bold warrior alone. Then the Germanic races would have conquered the world. Christianity alone prevented them from doing so. (Table Talk, 28th August, 1942)

    But Christianity is an invention of sick brains: one could imagine nothing more senseless — A negro with his taboos is crushingly superior to the human being who seriously believes in transubstantiation. (Table Talk, 13th December 1941)

    As soon as the idea was introduced that all men were equal before God, that world was bound to collapse. (Table Talk, 26th February, 1942)

    It is Christianity that is the liar. It’s in perpetual conflict with itself.(Table Talk, 14th October 1941)

    It is not opportune to hurl ourselves now into a struggle with the churches. The best thing is to let Christianity die a natural death. A slow death has something comforting about it. The dogma of Christianity gets worn away before the advances of science. Religion will have to make more and more concessions. Gradually the myths crumble. All that is left is to prove that in nature there is no frontier between the organic and the inorganic. When understanding of the universe has become widespread, when the majority of men know that the stars are not sources of light but worlds, perhaps inhabited worlds like ours, then the Christian doctrine will be convicted of absurdity. (Table Talk, 14th October, 1941)

    Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature. Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of human failure. (Table Talk, 10th October, 1941)

    “[Hitler] stressed and singled out the idea of biological evolution as the most forceful weapon against traditional religion and he repeatedly condemned Christianity for its opposition to the teaching of evolution . For Hitler, evolution was the hallmark of modern science and culture, and he defended its veracity as tenaciously as Haeckel.”—*Daniel Gasman, Scientific Origins of Modern Socialism: Social Darwinism in Ernst Haeckel and the German Monist League (1971), p. 188.

  15. Charlie says:

    Sometimes we would have interesting discussions about the church and the development of the human race.
    …He was not a member of any church and thought the Christian religions were outdated, hypocritical institutions that lured people into them. The laws of nature were his religion. He could reconcile his dogma of violence better with nature than with the Christian doctrine of loving your neighbor and your enemy.

    Traudl Junge, Hitler’s secretary, Until The Final Hour, page 108

  16. Charlie says:

    In Hitler’s eyes Christianity was a religion fit only for slaves; he detested its ethics in particular. Its teaching, he declared, was a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle and the survival of the fittest.

    From political considerations he restrained his anti-clericalism, seeing clearly the dangers of strengthening the Church by persecution. For this reason he was more circumspect than some of his followers like Rosenberg or Bormann, in attacking the Church publicly. But once the war was over, he promised himself, he would root out and destroy the influence of the Christian Churches.

    The truth is that, in matters of religion, at least, Hitler was a rationalist and a materialist.

    Alan Bullock, Hitler , page 389

  17. Doug says:

    I try not to. Just as it is unjust for Christians to equivocate psychopathic mass-murderers like Pol Pot or Stalin (or whomever they’re using these days) against atheism, it is wrong for atheists to blame Christianity for the atrocities committed by Hitler.

    Sorry Sault, this won’t fly.
    The reason that using Hitler as anti-Christian propaganda is equivocation is that the sense in which Hitler was a “Christian” is not the sense in which the propagandist’s targets are “Christian”.
    Unless you can demonstrate that there are multiple senses of “atheist”, Pol Pot, Stalin and Mao are still unequivocally(!) atheistic in the same sense as Nietzsche, Russell, Dawkins, or Doofus.

  18. Doug says:

    @Sault,

    Please compare 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (what you call the Pauline profession – “PP” below) with the following passages:

    Luke 18:31-34 (that is, the disciples were given the content of the PP in advance, but scripture makes it clear that they didn’t “get” it)

    Matthew 16:21-23 (same story, but here Peter is actually called “Satan” for his fundamental misunderstanding of the PP)

    Note that (as you say) the content of the PP is relatively simple. As a result, it cannot be misunderstood on a superficial level. But the gospels are telling us that there is a deeper level of understanding that is required.

    The disciples clearly understood that to be a “Christian” involved this deeper understanding: it is fundamentally a transforming apprehension of this PP (and not just superficial assent to it) that represented what the word “Christian” originally meant.

    You can use whatever definition of “Christian” you want. But please appreciate that folks who have experienced this transformation will react to inferior definitions with bewilderment.

    🙂

  19. Sault says:

    You can use whatever definition of “Christian” you want. But please appreciate that folks who have experienced this transformation will react to inferior definitions with bewilderment.

    PP comes 20-something years *after* the events you’ve listed. If I was in the disciples’ position, I’d have reacted rather negatively to the idea that my teacher should have to die, too. However, this isn’t about them, it’s about those who came after – like Paul, the church, and us. It’s one thing to believe in something that *will* happen vs something that *has* happened – two different articles of faith, two different “creeds” if you will.

    What makes you a Christian and me not a Christian? You believe that Jesus is Lord/Savior/God/etc, and I don’t. Is a Protestant any less a Christian than a Catholic? Is a Baptist any less a Christian than an Evangelical? They believe different things, but they all share a fundamental, core belief.

    So… where do I, as a non-believer, draw the line? How inclusive should I be, when you all believe many different things, but at the very least have something in common – that Jesus is your Lord and Savior?

    Unless you can demonstrate that there are multiple senses of “atheist”, Pol Pot, Stalin and Mao are still unequivocally(!) atheistic in the same sense as Nietzsche, Russell, Dawkins, or Doofus.

    And you’re “theistic” in exactly the same sense as Joseph Smith, Anton LaVey, Jim Jones, Mother Theresa, the Pope, and Kirk Cameron.

    I forgive you for your ignorance, partly because atheism isn’t as strictly codified and dogmatic the way theism is, and partly because the Christian culture isn’t well known for how much they know about other religions (and sometimes even their own, apparently).

    It’s a good question – should you (both you and the general Christian population) learn as much about the different flavors of atheism as atheists know about the different flavors of Christianity? For that matter, should Christians know as much about their own religion as atheists do?

  20. Victoria says:

    @Sault:

    What makes you a Christian and me not a Christian? You believe that Jesus is Lord/Savior/God/etc, and I don’t. Is a Protestant any less a Christian than a Catholic? Is a Baptist any less a Christian than an Evangelical? They believe different things, but they all share a fundamental, core belief.

    You just answered your own question…you don’t believe the core Christian truths, you have not acted on the implications of those truths by repenting of your rebellion and acknowledging Jesus as LORD and Saviour, and you have not the seal of the Holy Spirit as a pledge of inheritance in God’s eternal kingdom…if you did have all this, then you would not be in this situation … 2 Corinthians 4:1-6. Doesn’t take a PhD to figure that out

    What makes a person a genuine Christian goes a lot deeper than just intellectual assent to a set of beliefs….without the indwelling of the Spirit of God, without that relationship, one is simply not a member of the family.

  21. Doug says:

    learn as much about the different flavors of atheism as atheists

    I’ve been assured by many atheists that atheism is simply a lack of belief… you mean that isn’t true??? 😀

  22. Victoria says:

    @Sault
    I suggest you get a copy of James W Sire’s book The Universe Next Door – it is all about worldviews, and their core beliefs

  23. Sault says:

    @ Doug –

    I’ve been assured by many atheists that atheism is simply a lack of belief… you mean that isn’t true???

    Atheism (noun) : The theory or belief that God does not exist.

    @ Victoria –

    You just answered your own question…you don’t believe the core Christian truths, you have not acted on the implications of those truths by repenting of your rebellion and acknowledging Jesus as LORD and Saviour

    *several guffaws later*

    I’ll spell it out slowly for you.

    How. Does. A. Non. Believer. Know. Who. Is. A. Christian. And. Who. Isn’t. In. Terms. Even. A. 6th. Grader. Could. Understand.

    I suggest you get a copy of James W Sire’s book The Universe Next Door – it is all about worldviews, and their core beliefs

    And perhaps you should be reading material that isn’t so heavily biased. No thank you, I’ve seen enough of the Christian disdain for other belief systems – the disdain and arrogance that you’re actually displaying right now, come to think of it.

    “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
    …Stephen F Roberts

  24. Doug says:

    @Sault: so if atheists can’t even get their act together and decide what atheism is 😉 , and in their moments of honesty (thanks for those), they agree that the spectrum of what it is to be a “Christian” is sufficient to render the label “not-particularly helpful”, then why do atheists persist in the relatively meaningless claim that “Hitler was a Christian”? It is not particularly accurate (relying, as it does, on equivocation and historical revisionism). It is not intellectually honest (relying, as it does, on suppressing evidence against the proposition). Why persist?

    A fair and reasonable answer could be “enough people have claimed that Hitler was an atheist (which has less evidence than the claim that he was a Christian)”. But I’ve never once heard an atheist propose this as their reason for the “Hitler was a Christian” claim.

    Unfortunately (for you), the answer “Hitler was a Christian in the same sense that Stalin was an atheist” is neither fair nor reasonable 😉

  25. Victoria says:

    @Sault
    Thanks for clearing that up for me 🙂

    As for the other thing…same goes

  26. Sault says:

    @ Doug

    so if atheists can’t even get their act together and decide what atheism is

    Atheism (noun) : The theory or belief that God does not exist.

    they agree that the spectrum of what it is to be a “Christian” is sufficient to render the label “not-particularly helpful”,

    Please do not misquote me, for I have not said anything of the sort.

    why do atheists persist in the relatively meaningless claim that “Hitler was a Christian”?

    Tell me, as a non-believer, how I can determine who is a Christian and who isn’t, and then we can proceed to discuss whether Hitler was a Christian at any point in time. I don’t think that he was at the end, I think that’s pretty well established, but what about earlier?

    We need a definition before we can move forward. I suggested the PP from 1 Corinthians… do you have a better one?

    @ Victoria –

    Not even going to try, hmm?

  27. Charlie says:

    I don’t think that he was at the end, I think that’s pretty well established, but what about earlier?

    When, earlier? What evidence do you have that he was ever a Christian, that his propaganda actually reflected his true beliefs, or that his later, non-Christian, views represented a change or were caused by some post-Mein Kampf event?

    You’ve said he remained a Catholic all his life, but when he killed himself he had been holed up in a bunker, was not reading a Bible, was not seeing a priest, did not have last rites, etc. His death seems particularly not Catholic.

  28. Doug says:

    @Sault:
    the “quote” was not of you, and it was not intended to misrepresent you (it was an attempt to find common ground, and I honestly thought that it represented what you have been saying).
    But you missed the question: instead of “how can we determine how/which/when Hitler was a Christian?” — the question was “why pursue such an unhelpful question?”

  29. Sault says:

    @ Charlie –

    What evidence do you have that he was ever a Christian, that his propaganda actually reflected his true beliefs,

    Why would someone who hated Christianity promote a form of it? A bit of a rhetorical question, but that’s the question that I have in my head as I look for evidence. For a certain period of time I can’t help but question whether he had a form of faith, whether he actually believed what he said and wrote about in those early years.

    You’ve said he remained a Catholic all his life

    It’s my understanding that he never formally withdrew his name/recanted from the church. I think it’s pretty reasonable to say that by then that he wasn’t Christian, though.

    @ Doug –

    the “quote” was not of you, and it was not intended to misrepresent you

    Okay. I apologize for being a little testy about it. No harm, no foul.

    If I can get a definition of what it means to be a Christian, from the perspective of a non-believer, then I can apply that definition to discover if it fits Hitler at any point in his life.

    What are the uniting beliefs of Christians, rather than the dividing ones? Orthodox Catholics don’t believe what Evangelicals believe, but surely they’re both Christian, right? So how do you explain *how* they’re both Christian? Is it possible?

    “why pursue such an unhelpful question?”

    If you’ve never heard an atheist say it, allow me to be the first – I am annoyed that Christians say that Hitler was an atheist, enough that I’m interested in learning more about him.

    If he was Christian at one point, that would be interesting to me, and would help me understand him as a person (to the extent that one can understand someone like him).

    The pursuit of knowledge is not “unhelpful”… it is worth learning.

    I do my best to discourage people who want to blame Christianity for Hitler’s actions. No philosophy or religion is going to stop someone from using it to justify doing whatever they want.

    To blame the religion (or philosophy, or worldview, whatever) for the actions of a single person is to deny that person their accountability, to deny that person’s ability to make a moral decision, to deny their free will.

    On the other hand, if its a pattern we’re talking about, then that’s a whole ‘nother story, isn’t it? If there were thousands of Christian Hitlers, then I would have to start questioning what intrinsic quality about that religion could be causing it.

    Thankfully that’s not the case.

  30. Victoria says:

    @Sault
    Sorry, I was at the office, and didn’t really have time to formulate a reasonable response….I was reading the blog while waiting for software builds…pretty frenetic pace around here, with a major release coming up and lots of issues to deal with (and all the easy ones have already been fixed).

    BTW – what was in the link to Conservapedia that I was supposed to look at? What did that have to do with Sire’s book?

  31. Sault says:

    Sorry, I was at the office, and didn’t really have time to formulate a reasonable response….

    Oh, certainly, of course, no harm done. I feel for you, software can be problematic. My projects have all been relatively small (no more than a few hundred lines of code), but even at that scale it can be a real bear to debug.

    BTW – what was in the link to Conservapedia that I was supposed to look at? What did that have to do with Sire’s book?

    Sire is biased, although to be fair it was a somewhat unjust hyperbole to compare him to Conservapedia since I don’t see him as distorting, misrepresenting, or simply lying about the subjects that he covers.

    Please take your time responding, I may not be able to reply for a day or two anyways.

  32. Doug says:

    what it means to be a Christian, from the perspective of a non-believer

    Sorry, I can’t help you there. Being a Christian simply isn’t a “check this box” kinda thing. And you can’t put it in a test-tube either.

    I am annoyed that Christians say that Hitler was an atheist

    f-i-n-a-l-l-y :-D. Ok: I’ll apologize for ignorant Christians claiming that Hitler was an atheist (although what they usually mean by it is “he certainly didn’t believe in the only God that counts” — and there is room for those meanings in the language, too). And I thank you for not tarring all of Christianity with the dubious “Hitler was a Christian” brush.

    The point I was attempting to make earlier, however, was that Hitler was only ever a Christian in the sense that he was born into a country with Christian traditions (yes, that’s what the word can mean in Europe, and there is still a “Catholic” usage of the word that is similar). The only reason that the question is “unhelpful” is that impossibility of defining what the question means.

    I’m betting that most thoughtful Evangelicals and Orthodox would agree that:
    1. There are many of both groups who are Christian.
    2. There are many of both groups who are not Christian.
    3. There are going to be surprises in heaven for many of both groups.
    4. The common “how” is that the Christians in both groups have “met” Jesus. And. He. Rocks. — wish I could introduce you to him.

  33. Charlie says:

    Thanks for your very decent responses, Sault.

    Why would someone who hated Christianity promote a form of it? A bit of a rhetorical question, but that’s the question that I have in my head as I look for evidence. For a certain period of time I can’t help but question whether he had a form of faith, whether he actually believed what he said and wrote about in those early years.

    Why would he? I think that’s obvious and you’ve likely alluded to it yourself; to curry favour, gain power, control his subjects, etc.

    Did he have some kind of faith at some time? Maybe. The one comment we have from his youth is that he thought the Biblical Creation account was a joke. He felt it failed in comparison to the scientific one. This is exactly the kind of sentiment he expressed in the years in which you allow that he was not a Christian. There doesn’t appear to be any change in his allegiance or his perceptions. At that time he laughed at Creation and felt man had evolved hundreds of thousands of years ago from a baboon-like creature (Darwin’s hypothesis).

    The wikipedia entry on him says he was pressured into his Confirmation, against his will, and never took Mass once he left home.

    The biography I referenced about (Hitler) gives a lot of detail about his days in Vienna, his writings, acquaintances, endeavours, prejudices, ambitions,etc. Christianity and worship are not mentioned whatsoever.
    When he failed to win his first election he wrote a second book detailing his foreign policy plans and making much mention of his evolutionary theories. There is no mention there, in the book he thought too open and forthright to release, of God, Jesus, his Lord, etc.

    And what kind of faith would you expect of a man who self-consciously reinvented Jesus as an Aryan, and warrior, ignoring the Biblical accounts, discounted the Jewish Bible and prophecy, and dismissed miracles?
    The “god” he believed was the law of nature. This is not the Lord Jesus Christ nor is it His Father.

    If Hitler was ever a Christian of some sort, I see no evidence and he certainly was not during his political career.

  34. Charlie says:

    Sorry for the blockquote fail. My comments start 8 lines into that quote.

  35. Sault says:

    I appreciate the responses.

    The common “how” is that the Christians in both groups have “met” Jesus. And. He. Rocks. — wish I could introduce you to him.

    This is the only definition that I’ve seen so far that I, as a non-believer, could be able to use to distinguish Christians from non-Christians. Interestingly enough, it correlates with the 1st Corinthians PP I’ve alluded to.

    Can anyone take a better swing at it? I’ve been assured multiple times that I can’t *really* know what it means to be Christian unless I am one, but I can also say the same thing about being bipolar – unless you are, you can’t possibly understand. The difference, though, is that I can explain to a 6th grader in general terms what it means to be bipolar, even if they won’t *really* get it.

    So, what about Christianity?

  36. Charlie says:

    This is the only definition that I’ve seen so far that I, as a non-believer, could be able to use to distinguish Christians from non-Christians.

    Sometimes it’s a little easier, of course.
    You’ve allowed above that you can tell a non-Christian, at least in some cases …
    One who says it is a sickness, and wants it destroyed, and all that?

  37. Sault says:

    You’ve allowed above that you can tell a non-Christian, at least in some cases …

    I think so. But what if the personal definition I’ve developed isn’t accurate or fair? Could it be possible that someone can decry and denounce Christianity and still be a Christian? Without a definition of what it means to be Christian, who’s to say?

    One who says it is a sickness, and wants it destroyed, and all that?

    No. Faith is useful, even if it isn’t an indicator of truth. As a social control, as a method of personal motivation – I can definitely say that faith is useful in many areas. I have a hard time wanting to destroy something that can help an addict in their recovery.

  38. Doug says:

    Crazy analogy#1: You go down to the local high school where the guys are shooting hoops. They ask you to join them. You could ask, “What are the teams?” but even if you didn’t, it wouldn’t take you too long to figure out who is playing on your team.

    Crazy analogy#2: Someone tells a joke at a party while your head is in the fridge. You almost choke on the hors-d’oeuvres it is so funny. As you walk into the living room, nobody is laughing. You can’t imagine it offended anyone, so you make a point of comparing notes with the joke-teller later on.

    Crazy analogy#3: A public speaker makes an embarrassing gaff. Nobody seems to notice. Your eyes grow wide, and you look at the audience to see if anyone else noticed. You see someone mirroring your expression. Your eyes meet. You smile.

    Being a Christian is when these analogies work between someone and… Christ. That is, he recognizes those who are his.

  39. Sault says:

    So…

    1. Intuition
    2. Being in on the joke
    3. Seeing something that no one else does
    4. Jesus knows

    So I, as a non-believer, can know who is Christian and who isn’t because I’ll “just know”, they’ll know and see things that I don’t, and I can rest assured that their God knows, even if I don’t?

    Please tell me that you’re not being serious. The name of this site is “Thinking Christian”, not “Whatever-Feels-Warm-and-Fuzzy Christian”.

  40. Doug says:

    Actually, part of the point was that “Jesus gets to say who is a Christian and who isn’t; I don’t”. But don’t take it personally, Jesus makes it clear that it isn’t just non-believers who will be surprised about who is granted entrance…

  41. Sault says:

    That’s nice, I guess.

    I suppose you have no objections to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons being Christian too, right?

  42. Doug says:

    ya know — Jesus can accept whoever he wants to… and there is enough “stealing from orthodoxy” in each of those camps that I would never tell him that he can’t have followers there, too. But the theological teachings of both of those groups are nonsense, so they have a bit of a disadvantage.

    (Oh, and there are likely theological teachings in “orthodox” churches that are also nonsense. But not the founded-on-deceit, let’s-be-different-for-the-sake-of-it nonsense of LDS or JW)

  43. SteveK says:

    Sault,
    Christ has a particular identity. If someone claims to be following a god who does not fit that identity, then we can safely say that they are not followers of Christ – and thus are not Christian.

    In Mormon theology, the identity of Christ is very different than it is in Christian theology. Same with JW. Same with Islam. You wouldn’t say Muslims are Christian, would you? Why ,then, Mormons?

  44. Charlie says:

    Thanks for your response, Sault.
    I was not very clear there, unfortunately. I was not asking if you wanted to destroy Christianity; I was pointing to the person who did, who we both agree was not a Christian (at least at some period in his life). Namely, Hitler.

  45. Sault says:

    You wouldn’t say Muslims are Christian, would you? Why ,then, Mormons?

    Let’s go back to the PP. Do Mormons believe that Jesus died for their sins, rose on the third day, and appeared to a bunch of people? Why yes, yes they do. Ergo, they must be Christian.

    Do Muslims believe this? No. Therefore they must not be Christian.

  46. Doug says:

    There’s another way to look at the PP and “what it means to be a Christian” — would Mormons agree that the PP is a good representation of “what it means to belong to their group”? No. Therefore they must not be Christian.

  47. Sault says:

    I’m not claiming to offer a comprehensive overview of what it means to be Christian. I’m looking for a simple way for a non-believer to tell who is Christian and who isn’t.

    I think that we would be hard-pressed to find a Mormon who didn’t agree with the PP, even if they felt that it didn’t summarize all of their theology.

    I’m pointing to different groups of Christians and saying, “As a non-believer, how can I tell who is and who isn’t Christian?”

    For instance – some Christians believe in salvation only through faith, some believe that it comes from some combination of faith and works. Go back in history, and you’ve got a wide, wide variety on this doctrinal issue alone.

    So, should a theological position on faith vs works be a fundamental statement of who is and who isn’t Christian?

    How about the existence of divine intervention by saints? Catholics believe it, others don’t. Should a determination of who is Christian and who isn’t include a statement about saints?

    How about angels? How about Satan? How about whether Jesus went to hell for those three days that he was dead? How about transubstantiation?

    Each of these are doctrinal issues that place Christians in different denominations. Should any statement about what separates a Christian from a non-Christian include positions on these doctrinal issues?

    What is the least that you need to say about Christians that distinguishes them from non-Christians?

    I must be having some communication issues here, because this really does seem like a simple question. “How do you tell a non-believer who is a Christian and who isn’t?” <- shouldn't this be an easy question???

  48. Doug says:

    shouldn’t this be an easy question

    no. it’s gotta be at least as difficult as identifying someone who is “rational” (and Tom’s recent posts contain good examples of the landmines there)

  49. SteveK says:

    Sault,
    Satan is aware of who God is and would agree with the PP, however Satan is not a Christian. There’s more to being a Christian than agreeing with the PP.

  50. SteveK says:

    As a non-believer, how can I tell who is and who isn’t Christian?

    Believers ask the same question, Sault. You can’t really know definitively. For the most part that question is between God and the individual. However, as outsiders we can see telltale signs that give us some indication. The bible refers to that as fruit of the Spirit. God will change the heart of a believer, guaranteed.

  51. SteveK says:

    Adding to the above, it’s not enough to just show fruit. That fruit has to be of a certain type. That type is always in the context of worshiping God for who he is and in relationship to who you are.

    Non-believers can show some of what appears to be the same fruit, but they do not worship God or recognize God for who he is, therefore it’s not “of the Spirit”. Rather, it is “of the self”, which God does not bless or count as righteous. It’s different fruit. It’s apples and oranges (had to get that in there).

    Mormon’s do not recognize God for who he is and who he is in relationship to themselves so how could anything that looks like fruit be “of the Spirit”? It’s different fruit. Rotten fruit.

    There’s a lot to say on this subject obviously.

  52. Victoria says:

    @Sault

    Each of these are doctrinal issues that place Christians in different denominations. Should any statement about what separates a Christian from a non-Christian include positions on these doctrinal issues?

    These secondary doctrinal issues only place Christians in different denominations; as long as a secondary doctrinal issue does not contradict a primary (read, clear Biblically-based, teaching, where the interpretation is both allowed by the text/context and the larger context of the Bible as a whole ) then it is possible for people to hold different views on them and still both be Christians. Core Christianity is a package deal, and to be Christian certainly involves a commitment to that. This is more than just intellectual assent, but a commitment of the heart and will, to be a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, who is both Saviour/Redeemer and LORD. One cannot be a Christian and deny the core content and one cannot be a Christian without having made that commitment to Jesus Christ..

    I’ve been giving your question some thought, Sault – not quite ready to give a comprehensive answer, because, as others have already stated, it is not as simple as you seem to think.

    More later, though

  53. Victoria says:

    @SteveK
    Also, the fruit of the Spirit is a long term growth process. Christians are very much a work in progress, and one can’t expect a new Christian to exhibit the same levels of growth and maturity as a Christian who has walked with God for years and years. Also, we are none of us perfect, so we can still have lapses of faith and walk (in which case it would be better to say we are bad Christians rather than not Christian).

  54. SteveK says:

    Agreed, Victoria. As I said, there is a lot to say on this subject. Sault needs to do his homework.

  55. Victoria says:

    @Sault
    There is also the issue of sola Scriptura as most Protestant Christians hold, versus the Roman Catholic position that allows the Church to ‘extend’ Christian doctrine beyond what is taught in Scripture.

    The intersession of the ‘Saints’ is a purely Catholic doctrine with little or no Biblical basis ( for one, all believers are saints, as the word means ‘set apart’; also Biblically, only the LORD Jesus Christ is given the role of interceding on our behalf – see the book of Hebrews for example), but I would be loathe to tell my Catholic friends that they are not Christians when they clearly have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ and their lives show the fruit of that commitment. They believe all of the core Christian doctrine (as in the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, etc ), and as far as I am aware, Catholic teaching does not deny any of that.

    I think we would have to lay out core Christianity side by side with the teachings of other religions and compare them.

  56. Victoria says:

    Ah, just to clarify, at least what I was thinking when I referred to ‘intercession of the saints’ was the practice of praying to a ‘canonized’ individual as in ‘Saint ‘ for something. There is also the idea that believers who have died in Christ and are currently in heaven with the Lord can pray for their earthly bretheren – I think there is teaching in Scripture that can be interpreted in that manner. Guys, help me out here 🙂

  57. Charlie says:

    I don’t think so, Victoria.
    (edit: of course, I don’t mean to say that one can’t interpret in such a manner.)
    For all Paul’s exhortations that others pray for him and his ministry, and reminders that he is praying for them, he never asks anyone to pray to or for the dead.
    In 1 Corinthians he remarks about baptism for the dead, but the point of this is in question.

  58. Victoria says:

    @Charlie – yeah, as a Protestant Christian, I would agree with you. The point I was after is that there is room for legitimate interpretational differences on secondary issues, as long as there is agreement on the primary, core Christian teachings. The problem is that those secondary issues can be blown out of proportion to the point where Christians in both camps lose sight of the fact that they are still both Christian.
    Some issues are relatively minor and have more to do with church government and the conduct of a worship service rather than the ontent of the service.

    Scripture does not come to us as a encyclopedia of doctrine, all nicely organized and categorized – we have to work hard to figure it out.

  59. Charlie says:

    Agreed, Victoria.
    And something I’d like to add as an aside, is that such doctrines and practices were not merely invented, and certainly not by stupid men or for nefarious purpose; they have very logical connections to Scripture.

  60. Sault says:

    I appreciate the responses, I really do. That’s all I wanted – a discussion. I’ve done a certain degree of “homework”, and think that I have a basic way to separate Christians from non-, but remember – I grew up Mormon, and there is no doubt in my mind that Mormons are Christian.

    My mother will be the first to say that she places her faith in her Lord and Savior first and foremost, before anything else, and that it’s that faith that makes her the person that she is today. My father led a life that none could describe as other than humble and Christ-like… but they both believed that we are all spiritual brothers and sisters, that Jesus is literally our older brother, and that Jesus and God are real men who exist in a human form with perfected flesh, and to some degree call a planet named Kolob at the center of the universe “home”.

    I don’t think that these beliefs are true… however, I don’t see them as overtly and egregiously irreconcilable with Biblical teachings, either… they just go a few steps beyond.

    I guess it’s not an easy question. Hell, I thought the question about what it means to be rational was pretty straightforward, but turns out that I wasn’t exactly correct there, either….

  61. Melissa says:

    Sault,

    that Jesus is literally our older brother, and that Jesus and God are real men who exist in a human form with perfected flesh, and to some degree call a planet named Kolob at the center of the universe “home”.

    I don’t think that these beliefs are true… however, I don’t see them as overtly and egregiously irreconcilable with Biblical teachings, either… they just go a few steps beyond.

    I’m sure you can see from what you wrote above that Mormons do not worship the God of the bible. The God of the bible is the creator (Being Itself) what you describe are just beings among beings albeit more powerful ones. Mormons are not Christians not matter what designation they might give themselves.

  62. Doug says:

    While I agree that the content of Mormon theology is bogus, I’m afraid that this does not mean that Jesus will bar all Mormons from the resurrection.

    However, on the flip side, neither does Christ-like humility mean that Jesus will welcome someone.

    The fact is that too many people with the “correct” theology are too full of themselves to hear Jesus’ voice. But this suggests that folks with the “wrong” theology might very well meet him in spite of it.

    C.S.Lewis handled it well in The Last Battle: Aslan’s mercy extends to those who see him in spite of an environment of “incorrect theology” that would appear to preclude such recognition.

    But it’s Jesus’ call. He can play it any way he wants.

  63. Doug says:

    Thinking over Sault’s (good) question, I’m inclined to say: to estimate 😉 a Christian, the PP is as good a “first approximation” as one can get. However, the PP was built upon a very deep context of Jewish theology. It is likely inappropriate to “transplant” the PP to a different context and expect to get the same result.

    After all, as the church expanded into pagan territory, it became clear that a “creed” making some of the original context explicit was necessary, viz:

    I believe in God,
    the Father almighty,
    Creator of heaven and earth,
    and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
    who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
    born of the Virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, died and was buried;
    he descended into hell;
    on the third day he rose again from the dead;
    he ascended into heaven,
    and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
    from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
    I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the holy catholic Church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body,
    and life everlasting. Amen.

  64. Sault says:

    However, the PP was built upon a very deep context of Jewish theology. It is likely inappropriate to “transplant” the PP to a different context and expect to get the same result.

    That is an extremely good point, one that I had not considered.

    When I have thought of creeds, I think of political processes and that makes me think of compromise and “give and take”, and that doesn’t seem likely to reflect theological truth at all, merely to develop dogma. Can you give me your viewpoint on this?

    I ask this because of my perception, so maybe I should ask the question – do all Christians believe that Jesus went to hell for the three days that he was dead? Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that is found in the Bible.

  65. Victoria says:

    @Sault

    I ask this because of my perception, so maybe I should ask the question – do all Christians believe that Jesus went to hell for the three days that he was dead? Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that is found in the Bible

    Try 1 Peter 3:18-20, and the surrounding context, as well as 1 Peter 4:1ff as well as this article: http://bible.org/question/where-did-christ-go-after-he-died-and-he-rose-dead
    or this one
    http://bible.org/question/what-does-bible-mean-when-it-says-christ-descended-hell

  66. Victoria says:

    @Sault
    arghh, my edit got lost….
    you can also look at the commentary on
    http://net.bible.org/?ref=nbt#!bible/Ephesians+4 and http://net.bible.org/?ref=nbt#!bible/1+Peter+3:15

    All Bible-believing Christians ( a non-Bible-believing Christian is an oxymoron ) would accept that Jesus did ‘something’ in the time period between His death and physical resurrection, as there are passages that teach that – as you can see from the articles and commentaries, there are differing interpretations of what He did and why He went

  67. Victoria says:

    @Sault
    If you get yourself a good Bible dictionary or reference work on the Core Doctrines of the Bible, you’ll find support for all the creedal statements (and how and why Christians inferred and developed them).

  68. Melissa says:

    Doug,

    While I agree that the content of Mormon theology is bogus, I’m afraid that this does not mean that Jesus will bar all Mormons from the resurrection.

    We are in agreement, the problem is if the adherence to the Morman faith is motivated by a rejection of who God really is. God does not force love,

  69. Victoria says:

    @Sault

    I don’t think that these beliefs are true… however, I don’t see them as overtly and egregiously irreconcilable with Biblical teachings, either… they just go a few steps beyond.

    I think the burden of proof is with you to show how distinctively Mormon doctrine can be reconciled with Biblical teachings.
    You’d first have to establish why anyone should accept any extra-biblical ‘revelations’ as carrying the same (or more) authority as the Biblical revelation. After all, we only have Joseph Smith’s word for it that he received a revelation from God, whereas the NT revelation was done in public, open for all to see, especially by those who were eyewitnesses of the events in Jesus’ life, death and subsequent appearances alive and well. Even Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus and his conversion needed apostolic approval.

  70. Victoria says:

    FYI
    A detailed analysis of the ‘three days between Jesus’ death and resurrection’ theories

    http://bible.org/article/where-was-jesus-spirit-when-his-body-was-tomb

  71. Charlie says:

    Thanks for that last link, Victoria. I saved me a lot of typing. 🙂

  72. Victoria says:

    Most of the creeds can be found here:
    http://www.creeds.net

    The specific statement ‘he descended into hell’, from the Apostles’ Creed….comments here
    http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/history/creed.apostles.txt

    and here

    http://www.creeds.net/ancient/descendit.htm

  73. Doug says:

    When I have thought of creeds, I think of political processes and that makes me think of compromise and “give and take”, and that doesn’t seem likely to reflect theological truth at all, merely to develop dogma. Can you give me your viewpoint on this?

    This is an excellent question, and an inclination congruent with history and human nature. However, even the creed references the Holy Spirit, by which we can be more (as individuals, certainly, but particularly as community) than we would be inclined to be.

    The “business” meetings at my church (for example), while never perfect, always amaze me by the (high) level of civility and (low) level of self-serving budget-manipulation. I’ve known and attended churches whose business meetings resemble corporate ones (with politics and empire-building), but it doesn’t have to be that way.

  74. Doug says:

    @Sault,
    Lots of good reading in the links above, but the quick answer to “Jesus went to hell?” is that the Greek word rendered “hell” here is “Hades” – which is simply the “place of the dead”. As you likely know, this is similar to the Hebrew “Sheol” which was the destination of every soul post-mortem.