Was Hitler an Atheist, Christian, or True Scotsman?

(This post is largely taken from a presentation by John Ferrer. No doubt his statements were much better than my summary, so I attribute any successes to him and any failures to me.)

Adolph Hitler is often presented as an icon of evil, and no side wants him on their team. How do we determine which banner to place him under?

Most religions have a way to determine what is a true follower of that religion, even if there is room for disagreement. For example, some Muslims disagree over who is a true Muslim. they can do this because Muslims have a body of teaching around which they can have a discussion. Our case here is that atheists have a significant problem surrounding what is compatible with atheism.

To explain their non-belief in God, atheists can say:

1.  There is no good evidence to demonstrate there is a God.
2.  There is good reason to demonstrate there is no God.

Many atheists stop at 1 and do not assert 2, holding 1 sufficient. Atheists make the claims of 1 in an attempt to put the burden of proof on the theist without having to prove anything themselves. They claim their position is then of not having a belief, nothing more. (Of course, this is a fallacy….see here). But as a matter of fact, most atheists would agree with 1 as being the only necessary criteria to define atheism. They go to great lengths to tell us that the burden of proof is on the theist, for the atheist is not making a claim to having any belief. They tell us repeatedly that they are a-theists, simply without God. Therefore regardless of whether the atheist agrees with only 1, or 2 also, the definition of atheism can stop at 1. Atheism’s definition can be summarized as non-god as a sufficient condition. They are quick to tell us this, and remind us often that this is atheism.

Response

In Christianity, it is possible for someone to make a claim to be Christian, but not truly be one. This is supported by several passages in the New Testament:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)

For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation . . . (Jude 4)

These passages, and others like them, demonstrate that some people can claim to be Christian, but are not really.  The New Testament gives us instructions to mark these people out as false Christians, even though they claim to be one. So just because someone says they are Christian, we have grounds for disputing this and declaring them non-Christian.

What is the criteria for being a Christian? We do not have space to exhaust the topic here, nor is this our main purpose at this time. But I think we would all agree that there are things that define what it means to be Christian: teachings on sin, salvation, Jesus, heaven, hell, and humans. While some of the details might be in discussion, it is the case that there are Christian teachings and non-Christian teachings, and we can tell the difference. This is true because we have a body of teachings, the New Testament, that define for us what it means to be Christian.

Atheism, on the other hand, is only defined by non-god, a lack of belief in something. Therefore atheism is compatible with a wide range of positions, teachings, and views. The criteria to determine whether someone is or is not an atheist is reduced to agreement with non-god.

If someone were to claim to be Christian, but upon further investigation we learn that their behavior and beliefs were incompatible with the New Testament, we can objectively determine that they are not. If Gandhi claims to be Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian all at the same time, we can declare that he is not truly Christian, for no Christian would say such a thing. We have a body to teaching to compare Gandhi’s statements to.

However, in atheism, all we have is non-god. When Stalin claimed to be atheist and did the things he did because of his views (see here), atheism has no tools to separate atheism from Stalin, for Stalin’s views and actions are compatible with atheism. In fact, the worst and best things we can think of are compatible with atheism, as long as they include non-god.

Current atheist rock star Richard Dawkins has stated that there is, at bottom, no good or evil, only blind pitiless indifference. With such a view, someone could stand up and declare that the most heinous actions are not truly evil but completely amoral, and no atheist could deny this on the basis of atheism. In fact, as long as atheism stays within the bounds of atheism, it has no grounds for separating itself from any teaching, whether good, bad, or indifferent, for the only criteria available is non-god.

If we examine Hitler, we can determine objectively that his beliefs, statements, and actions were not compatible with Christianity, for they do not align with the teachings of the New Testament. Such a person as Hitler was not Christian, no matter what he claimed in public or private (see here). Even the Muslim, when faced with the accusation of terrorism, has some room within Islam for a conversation. But when we present to the atheist a topic for discussion, as long as it includes non-god the atheist has no grounds for dispute without bringing in something from outside atheism. From within atheism, no one can lay claim to supporting good morals or denying evil ones. It’s only criteria is non-god.

Lest anyone claim we are using the No True Scotsman fallacy, let us remind you that this is an informal fallacy, and informal fallacies only apply when they apply. It is actually the case that no true Scotsman is a non-Scotsman, and no true Christian is non-Christian. The atheist has much thinner ice to stand on when claiming something to be non-atheist.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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10 Responses to Was Hitler an Atheist, Christian, or True Scotsman?

  1. Pingback: Was Hitler an Atheist, Christian, or True Scotsman? | A disciple's study

  2. First of all, let’s start be assuming, for the sake of this argument, that Hitler was a really hardcore atheist with not only no belief in a deity, but even with explicit non-belief in such a thing. Every evening he went to bed, saying loudly three times “I don’t believe in god!”.

    Would this make him an atheist? Absolutely. Would I have a problem with it? Nope. Would a football player have a problem with Hitler being a great football fan? Honestly, no. Why should he? It’s technically impossible to justify what Hitler did from atheism itself. If Hitler was atheist, then atheism would still not be the reason why he did what he did.

    The only thing we could conclude, would be, that atheism doesn’t automatically make you a good person, Hitler would be the perfect counterexample. But honestly, the only answer to that is: “No Shit, Sherlock. You really need Hitler to see that?”

    Yes, it’s really easy to find out if someone is an atheist or not. And even better, there is no “good atheist” or “bad atheist”. You cannot be a little atheist or follow only 50% of the atheist “rules” – simply because there is only one. Either you are atheist or not.

    With Christianity it’s not that simple, because there are thousands of rules. You can argue that you can discuss if these rules still apply or how to interpret them, but you cannot deny that they are there. Thou shall not suffer the witch to live. Perhaps not applicable to the lady in TV who does card reading, perhaps you don’t have to kill here – but the rule itself IS part of Christianity. Some Christians claim it’s not valid anymore, because Old Testament and all that, others claim the Old Testament is still perfectly valid, so this rule is too.

    And here is the problem: Hitler was a bad Christian for YOU. But other Christians can argue otherwise. Have you ever asked where Hitler got the whole antisemitism thing from? 2000 years of hate for jews is one of the heritages of the Christian belief. Jews were persecuted, hated, discriminated and killed by Christians long before Hitler. Again and Again. And not just by minorities. All these people considered themselves good Christians. Enough Nazis considered themselves good Christians. Enough Christians considered the Nazis “good”.

    That’s the problem with Christianity. It’s not a set of well-defined rules. It’s unclear. It’s a huge mess of texts that contradict each other. You can justify almost everything from the bible, depending on how you interpret it. You may not like one interpretation – but that doesn’t make your interpretation automatically better.

    • humblesmith says:

      I’ll grant the point that from within atheism we cannot confidently find grounds for evil. Thank you for making this observation.

      However, the point of the post is that there is also no grounds for denying evil. Atheism is fundamentally different than, say, a linebacker. There is nothing within football that would lend one to think it had implications for good or evil. Atheism, however, has plenty. Leaders such as Richard Dawkins speak at atheist conferences and tell us that there is fundamentally no such thing as good or evil. Honestly, which is worse: to examine ourselves and admit to the evil, or to say that evil is not really there, only “blind pitiless indifference” as Dawkins is fond of saying?

      Within Christianity, there is a body of inspired teachings that we can go to so we can determine questions such as how we relate to Jewish people. We admit some Christians were very wrong about plenty of subjects, this one included. But if you are saying that that since some Christians taught some incorrect things, then we cannot tell Christianity from non-Christianity, then you are making a very illogical statement. It does not follow that since there has been some error in teaching, then all teaching is in error or that we cannot determine the essentials of the faith. The truth is that regarding the essentials of the faith, all Christians have held the same teachings for 2000 years. All Christians believe the same things regarding the essentials of God, sin, salvation, Jesus, and humans. In fact, we have routinely separated from those who deny the essentials that were taught from the very beginning. Sure there are plenty of disagreements, but the peripheral ones are tolerated and the essential ones are clearly separated.

      The point of the post was that Christians have a body of teaching to discuss the true view of issues (for Jewish questions, start with Romans 9-11). But try as you might, you have nothing within atheism to separate yourself from the teachings of men like Dawkins and Stalin. To deny these mens’ teachings, atheists have to reach outside of atheism for some ground to stand on.

      Respectfully, I submit that if you think Christianity is made of “thousands of rules” then you fundamentally misunderstand the core teaching of the Christian faith. The main point of Christianity, the good news, is the exact opposite: keeping rules gets us nowhere with God, for no one can keep enough rules to make themselves holy. That’s the reason God reached down to us and offered a free gift (Romans 6:23, 10:9-10).

      • First of all, I agree with the first part: Atheism itself has no basis for evil. But atheism is not a complex philosophy, it’s not a something that’s designed to fill all the holes Christianity leaves when rejecting it. Atheism is the opposite of a very basic “There is a god” Deism, not the opposite of Christianity. This deism also has no basis for good and evil, as the god might be totally indifferent.

        For an atheist, there is absolute good and evil, true. But that only shifts responsibility to the people, to find an ethic system that serves to define these words in a meaningful way. It will not be an absolute meaning, but it will have meaning for humanity. As you said, we have to reach outside basic atheism to do so. But at least we can’t close our eyes and lean back.
        Don’t forget the simple fact, that, for an atheists, Christians do the exactly same thing, they define good and evil – but they only do so by pointing to their holy book, which is, for an atheist, even more random and subjective than trying to search for a better system.

        Unfortunately, “We admit some Christians were very wrong about plenty of subjects” is wrong. They weren’t. They had another opinion about the religion. There opinion differed from your current interpretation. But you cannot show for sure that they were wrong. Their interpretation of the bible differed from yours, that’s all. I agree that they did horrible things, from my personal point of view, but by trying to pretend that you were absolutely wrong you are implying a biblical accuracy that is simply not there.

        Honestly, I think, if you searched for these “essentials” that all Christians believe(d), then you would end up with basic Deism. “God exists”. Perhaps they could agree to” …and Jesus was a pretty good guy.”.

        And for the last paragraph: As long as you can’t even agree with your fellow Christians about that one, how do you expect ME to agree? You can’t deny that there are Christians who disagree on this, who think that the rules must all be kept (and fail at doing so, of course). Again, their interpretation differs – but it’s not wrong.

        • humblesmith says:

          In Christianity, there were seven ecumenical councils that had representatives from every location in the church. They came to agreements on the essentials of the faith. Every Christian church agrees with these essentials, and this body of teaching defines the faith. There is continued disagreement on peripheral issues, but all Christians agree on the essentials.

          As for the basis of good and evil, search for “morality” in the search box to my blog and you’ll see many posts on this subject.

          But we are getting a bit astray from the topic, so I’ll leave it there.

          • From every location in every church? Come on. We both know that there are more groups of Christians than that. And of course, ironically, this makes church doctrine, and thus, your precious “absolute morality” into a democratic decision, or, to put it differently, a choice.

          • humblesmith says:

            The best description of the details of the councils (that I’ve found) can be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia. It’s free online if you are interested in what happened. Believe me, if the church knows anything, it’s how to argue from authority, for it’s all we actually care about.

          • Christianity is NOT the catholic church. There are many other Christians and some churches started ignoring the councils as early as 431. So no, you cannot point to them to tell me that this is Christianity. Some Christians believe otherwise.

          • humblesmith says:

            We’ve now left the topic and are on to a repetitive history lesson. You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, but as I’ve already stated, if you do some homework you can find out what actually happened. So we’ll stop here.

  3. Grundy says:

    It’s hard to say what any politician believes because it could be very different from what they say–especially if they speak differently to different groups.

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