Is the Killer a Christian?

The mass violence in Norway is terribly tragic and evil. Beyond the shocking news it captured my attention via the mix of religion and politics that apparently motivated the alleged perpetrator, Anders Behring Breivik. As is being revealed, he published a massive manifesto arguing, in part, "that 'Political Correctness' should be called 'Cultural Marxism' and is the reason for political leaders allowing mass Muslim migration into Europe." As is becoming well known, he tweeted a quote from John Stuart Mill that "one person with a belief is equal to the force of 100 000 who have only interests." Clearly he cared about ideas. And some of his motivating ideas are occasionally echoed in Christian circles—even on this site.

Although pundits will try to marginalize his mind, in fact, Breivik's many blog comments and other writings reveal a very thoughtful conservative opposed to Marxism, particularly as expressed in the Frankfurt School. He, like many on the right, sees this debilitating expression in multiculturalism, homosexuality, liberal Jews, the loss of chivalry, and Islam. He repeatedly defined himself as a "cultural conservative" and drew his fundamental views from Fjordman, an "influential European anti-Jihad/anti-multicult[uralist]/anti-Marxist intellectual/blogger." Additionally, he referred to his faith as "Conservative Christian," and in a blog post, he was particularly dismissive of liberal Protestantism, writing:

Today's Protestant church is a joke. Priests in jeans who march for Palestine and churches that look like the minimalist shopping centers. . . . In the meantime, I vote for the most conservative candidates in church elections.

Commenting on the horrible news, Andreas Bochmann, senior lecturer in pastoral studies at Newbold College wrote:

Don't call him Christian! Murder and violence cannot be defended by Christian faith.  Even the qualifier "fundamentalist" does not justify the term Christian. The discussion of fundamentalism in this context is not all that helpful, as this term often simply is used to describe people with a conviction we do not share.

I understand that Bochmann is trying to make a larger point: that true Christianity is essentially not violent. I agree. But we Christians dismiss some serious ethical questions if we turn away from the religious thinking of this mass killer—the same applies to Islamic terrorism as well. In this case, the terrorist thought of himself as a Christian and that identity fundamentally fed his politics.

Connecting religion and politics, Breivik repeatedly alludes to the crusades, but one does not have to go back that far. This weekend I listened to a New Yorker podcast interview with Calvin Trillin who began his distinguished journalism career on the Freedom Rides in the South. He mentioned living in Atlanta when conservative Christians would bomb African-American churches about once a month in the early sixties. Each time I hear someone of a certain age complain about terrorism today, I wonder what they were saying during the Civil Rights movement.

Breivik is a Christian. He did not say that he was an atheist or a Muslim. Granted, he seems more interested in the old empire of Christendom rather than Christianity's theology or clearly the peacemaking ethics of its Founder. And while this terrorist doesn't deserve much thought, before we slip onto the next bit of overheated summer news, if we care about the power of Christianity, we best not dismiss this tragedy. Blowing up government building and killing young liberals is about power.

Saying that he's not a Christian doesn't obviate the fact that his understanding of Christianity is not uncommon. Although it is uncomfortable, his fundamental frame of fear toward others—Muslims, those who critique capitalism or homosexuals is not rare. That mix of religion and politics is common. We hear it in some leaders in America, on cable news, in our churches, and even on this site.

While, thank God, the expressed violence is rare, the true belief is not. I agree that Breivik is not a fundamentalist in the theological sense. But beyond the difference of source texts—in this case William S. Lind—there is a fundamental similarity: he, like many on the right, fear the loss of power. One sees this phobia expressed in the rhetoric opposing gay marriage, women ministers, or the scientific pedagogy of origins. And while those who wish to conserve a more capitalist, closeted, male dominant, creationist past are not responsible for this violence; fundamentally, Breivik is us.

We learn nothing by looking away from a faith or a politics that mirrors our own. As scary as it is—by reflecting a little deeper in the abyss, we might see a future for ourselves with less to fundamentally fear.



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