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How Christopher Hitchens disagrees with Richard Carrier on the definition of a Christian

February 13, 2017

I listened to the recent Unbelievable? debate between Richard Carrier and Richard Weikart discussing the religious beliefs of Adolf Hitler in the episode, Was Hitler anti-Christian?

There is a lot of debate between Christians and atheists about what Hitler actually believed, so I enjoyed the discussion. It was a generally informative and well conducted.

Yet one serious point of disagreement between Weikart and Carrier was on the definition of what constituted a Christian. A lot of the Unbelievable? conversation revolved around this point because this is a crucial point in the debate. Its crucial because a definition of a Christian is necessary to determine if Hitler satisfied this and was indeed a true Christian.

Carrier described Hitler as being a follower of ‘positive Christianity’ a German nationalist form of Christianity. He rejects Weikart’s ‘narrow’ version of Christianity because it would exclude all sorts of other sects. Carrier acknowledges that ‘positive Christianity’ could be a perversion of the original teachings of Christianity, but because we could say that about many other Christian sects as well, means we should accept them as Christian!

Yet Carrier’s definition of Christian is so broad as Weikart rightly pointed out – even Muslims could be considered Christians, which becomes somewhat absurd (although I wasn’t entirely satisfied in Weikart’s definition of a Christian believer as accepting Jesus as divine and triune).

Hitchens to the rescue

As I listened to the debate, I wondered if Christopher Hitchens would have clarified the debate more accurately?

In an interview in 2009, Hitchens chided a more liberal ‘Christian’ Marilyn Sewell by stating:

I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

I think Hitchens nails it.

His definition of a Christian is clear, succinct, and biblical. I think it’s clearer than Weikart’s because there is no necessary acceptance that he was divine. It’s also far more precise and less broad than than Carrier’s for a Muslim cannot accept this definition.

Given that Hitler did not believe Jesus rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, according to Christopher Hitchens, Hitler – contrary to Carrier’s proposal – was not ‘in any meaningful sense a Christian’.

From → Debates, History, Jesus

  1. I agree with your synopsis that the two Richards had very different definitions of Christianity and neither really worked.

    Though even the Hitchens quote has its issues. There was a time I would have agreed with his definition, but the obvious question from that is, what about the infamous Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins? There are Christians who take his view that the resurrection wasn’t literal.

    I find that it’s way too easy to define a Christian in such a way as to exclude those you don’t wish to be defined as Christians. I see it often when discussion of who or what is a Christian comes up. As a reader from the outside, I find it reduces the attractiveness of Christianity when Christians engage in that sort of behaviour.

  2. Jon M. Jones permalink

    Hitchens characterized Hitler as a “Catholic” in his debate with Frank Turek, and went on to say that Hitler also desired the worship of himself (and was keen on “Pagan”/Teutonic blood myths; therefore Hitler wasn’t secular, and he certainly wasn’t an atheist).

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