Today, May 8, is V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day). On this day in 1945, the Nazis surrendered to the Allied Powers who had been systematically demolishing Hitler’s stranglehold on mainland Europe since June 6 of the previous year. We simply can’t understand this day’s significance without resorting to speculation. As important as this day is for our daily lives, I want to consider something else: Was Hitler a Christian?

Now it doesn’t take much acumen to realize that Christians don’t want to be saddled with Hitler any more than atheists want to be saddled with Stalin or Muslims with suicide bombers. Unfortunately, it’s a common claim in college history classes, from internet trolls to the local atheist, that Hitler was a Christian. This claim often serves as ammunition against the Christian as the nonbeliever implies that Christianity is somehow responsible for the horrors of the Holocaust. So was Hitler a Christian? Is Christianity culpable for the sins of Nazi Germany?

The claim that Hitler was a Christian initially seems to have a few things going for it. Often the person making this claim will trot out a few choice quotes from Hitler, who came from a Catholic family, and assert that he was a Christian. Or, they’ll declare that Hitler maintained a working relationship with the Catholic Church throughout his time in power.[1] Now, these claims have all been disputed,[2] and I am not in a position to adjudicate between the two positions. So let’s assume, ad argumentum, that the non-Christian is correct. Let’s assume that Hitler did respect the Catholic faith, that he did have a multitude of positive things to say about Christianity, and that he even maintained a close working relationship with the Vatican throughout his time in power. What would this prove? Well, not much actually.

One simple question will show why the non-Christian’s argument is an abject failure from the outset: What does it take to be a Christian? When making this argument, the non-Christian makes a few important assumptions. She assumes that that if someone makes statements in favor of Christianity, grows up in a Christian setting, and has a nominal relationship with the Church, then they must be a Christian. But is this a biblical definition of what Christian faith is? Obviously not!

Consider what just one among a litany of passages from the Bible, the one book which has the right to provide an authoritative definition for what Christian faith is, has to say about what it takes to be a Christian. In Jesus’s famous Sermon on the Mount, he says:

“By their fruit you will know them. 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 who is heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”[3]

What Jesus means by this is that what makes a person a Christian is not what they say. According to Jesus, the litmus test for being a Christian is whether or not a person does the will of the Father. Thus, according to Jesus, it really doesn’t matter what Hitler had to say about Christianity or if Hitler had a working relationship with the Roman Church. According to Jesus, whether or not Hitler lived a life committed to doing the will of the Father is what matters. So, the question is not whether Hitler made pro-Christian comments, the Christian can concede that he did without fear; the real question is whether or not Hitler did the will of God.

To answer this final question, we must consider what God’s will is. We see God’s will most clearly in the Bible and the teachings of Christ. Thus, if Hitler was truly a Christian, when we look at his actions, they will line up with biblical ethics. When we read the Bible, we see a great disparity between Hitler’s actions and the actions which God prescribes. Since Hitler’s actions do not line up with Christian ethics, we cannot honestly call him a Christian.

Since the test for being a Christian is ultimately doing God’s will, the person who claims that Hitler was a Christian on the basis of quotes or ties to the Vatican is showing that they have fundamentally misunderstood Christianity. If a few choice quotes from Hitler qualifies him for being a Christian, then swimming in the ocean qualifies me for being a shark.

[1] These claims, and many others, can be found at: “Hitler Was A Christian,” Church and State, accessed May 1, 2018, http://churchandstate.org.uk/2016/04/hitler-was-a-christian/.

[2] “Was Hitler a Christian?,” Got Questions?, accessed May 1, 2018, https://www.gotquestions.org/was-Hitler-a-Christian.html.

[3] Matthew 7.20-23, NIV.

Picture credit: Bundesarchiv