Character Assassination


59 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60 But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward 61 and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’” Matthew 26:59-61 NIV


Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” Acts 6:11 NIV


Dear Church Family,


In 1990, attorney Mike Godwin proposed “Godwin’s Law” relating to online discussions. It states, “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler becomes more likely.” Similar expressions include: reductio ad Hitlerum (reducing your opponent to Hitler) and “playing the Nazi card.” In logic, this is a version of the “association fallacy,” “guilt by association,” and ad hominem (attacking the person rather than the argument.) One final expression I think applies is, “character assassination.”


Surely, you’ve seen this. People in an argument become increasingly desperate to win, so eventually someone tosses reason and objectivity aside and drops what amounts to a logical nuclear bomb by accusing the other of being just like Hitler. There are probably other versions of this guilt-by-association tactic, such as, oh, I don’t know, saying this or that is “a return to Jim Crow.” You be the judge.


Moves like this are nothing new, of course; they didn’t just start after WWII. A “nuclear option,” of sorts, existed in Jesus’ day, and the Jewish religious leaders were not above using it. In the first passage cited above, the “chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin” paid some witnesses to say that Jesus threatened to destroy the temple. The Jews, in case you didn’t know, were very proud of their temple, and they had suffered the trauma of it being destroyed before. If you wanted to get the crowds riled up, accusing someone of threatening the temple was a pretty good tactic.


The second passage also includes bearing false witness, this time saying that Stephen (soon to be stoned) had blasphemed Moses and God. How ironic the Jews showed no hesitation to bear false witness in this accusation—something about which Moses and God had been pretty clear.


There are abundant lessons in these two passages, but today I simply want to leave you with this: people who are secure in their arguments do not have to assassinate the character of an opponent with ridiculous and exaggerated comparisons. Hitler and his Nazi regime were responsible for systematically and deliberately exterminating approximately six million Jews. Their actions do, of course, supply a negative example from which we should learn. People should be on guard against walking down the path they trod. Very few, however, and really almost no one, deserves to be labeled a “Hitler.” That seems to me to be, almost always, against God’s law of bearing false witness.


God bless,


Pastor Kevin