Would Jesus Kill Hitler? Bonhoeffer, Church, and State
38 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2012 Last revised: 1 Feb 2015
Date Written: 2013
'Would Jesus kill Hitler?' is a symbolic question about the relationship between church and state. Jesus, of course, did not have occasion to answer. But Dietrich Bonhoeffer did. Bonhoeffer was a pastor, theologian, and philosopher who, while trying to 'live the life of Jesus,' conspired to assassinate Hitler.
This will be the first law journal article to take Bonhoeffer as its primary subject. The article summarizes a long tradition of Christian political theory, the natural law/two kingdoms (“NL2K”) tradition. The NL2K tradition runs through St. Augustine, William of Ockham, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and many others. Some argue that Bonhoeffer rejected this tradition. This article’s descriptive thesis is that Bonhoeffer was part of the NL2K tradition. Also, a problem in the tradition is identified. Sometimes, the church has had too much influence on the state (theocratic Geneva and Puritan Massachusetts); sometimes, it has had too little (the antebellum South and Nazi Germany).
This article describes and assesses Bonhoeffer’s developments of and deviations from the NL2K tradition both theoretically and in the context of his opposition to Hitler and the Nazis. Using Bonhoeffer, this article also offers an answer to the problematic question 'how much influence should the church have on the state?' The normative thesis of this article is that the state must remain religiously neutral, but the church must oppose a state that acts illegitimately.
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