The Face of a Terrorist? Anders Behring Breivik and Christian Fundamentalism

Is this the face of a terrorist? It is perhaps too soon to say, if one takes the approach that one is innocent until proven guilty. But it is a photo of a suspected terroristAnders Behring Breivik, who Norwegian police have arrested in connection with the bombing and shooting that took place yesterday.

His isn’t the face of someone likely to be singled out for close inspection at an airport, or to inspire a reaction of fear, suspicion and prejudice from most Americans.

But it appears his is the face of a right wing conservative/fundamentalist Christian nationalist. And if he is also responsible for the recent terrorist acts in Oslo and Utoya Island, then there are things that need to be said in relation to that.

Many Christians will respond to these recent tragic events by emphasizing that Breivik’s actions are in fact at odds with core Christian teachings and principles. I am perfectly fine with that – provided those who make that claim in relation to Christianity also accept it from Muslims who make the same point about their faith and its core teachings that are at odds with terrorism.

But hopefully this will also lead to Christians who say that such acts are despicable and incompatible with Christianity to distance themselves from the culture of right wing nationalist religiosity and rhetoric which finds natural, if extreme, expression in acts of violence and terror.

A culture that uses the rhetoric of war and places targets on their opponents provides a context that encourages extremism. And so if anyone wishes to denounce the act, I hope they will also distance themselves from the worldview that inspired it.

Because Christianity is indeed at its core at odds with not only violence, but also nationalism as well.

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  • Gordon Tisher
  • James F. McGrath

    @Gordon Tisher, I assume you posted that link to illustrate the lamentable way they have chosen to render that sura, or to raise the way that it can be misconstrued when taken out of context? It is surely, even if taken at face value, no harsher than the commands in Deuteronomy and Joshua in the Bible to kill polytheists. But it is arguably more lenient even if taken at face value, since it allows the pagans to make peace.

    But in context, it is easy to make the case that the meaning of that sura is not exactly what it initially appears to be.

  • Michael Wilson

    While a couple of Islamic grouped had claimed responsibility for the attack (one presumes whenever tragedy strikes there sending out a press release, Japanese earthquake, mass shooting, Amy Winehouse, whatever) I don’t like the finger point that those guys do it to. We know they do. This case, odd as it might be must be taken into consideration on its own peculiarities. Since they have him alive, this should be of tremendous help, as otherwise their seems to be no conspiracy here, only a heavily armed man with a sever persecution complex. More Columbine than Mumbi.

    James, on your ads on this page. i think they are automated to respond to the content of your post. This post has ads for paramilitary supplies.

    On violence in sacred text, i have always thought that they are less important than the living articulation of the religion. Judaism had to drop it’s doctrines of ethnic cleansing after 2500 years of not being able to implement them. Christianity reintroduced it when the the the question arose of what to do with the outsider in our midst. Islam has proven just as flexible in interpreting their martial philosophies, they are proving inspirational though to an entire culture going though a persecution complex just as “do not suffer a witch to live” inspired an earlier generation of Christian reactionaries.

  • Gary Bebop

    I appreciate the attempt to warn about weaving nationalism with Christian faith, but it’s a fault the Christian right shares with its antithesis, the self-labeled Christian progressives.  In fact, there is a disturbing liberal-sect elitism to the progressive Christian vision for America, in its codes, its glosses, its tactics.

    • Nan

      What do you see as the codes, the glosses, the tactics?
      Also…”tactics”?? That implies a considerable unity and pre-planning.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    “Because Christianity is indeed at its core at odds with not only violence, but also nationalism as well.”

    I totally agree with that statement, and as such, should we continue to use the words “Christian” and “Christianity” as  blanket terms to identify anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ no matter how at odds their beliefs and actions are to the teachings of its founder? If someone claims to be a pilot, but he doesn’t know how to fly a plane, he is actually a liar, not a pilot. Now if he had a specific agenda to gain something that could only be accomplished by claiming he was a pilot, this would make him not only a liar, but an imposter. A true pilot needs to have specific knowledge about planes and to be able to put that knowledge into practice. The same applies to a true Christian. If the core values are so easily recognized, then anyone straying from these is not a Christian. Yes, it is true people have many different interpretations of the Bible. But the extremist views are easily recognized by the fact that they depart significantly from the overall message of the New Testament. In my opinion, there are many people who claim to be Christians, but their actions show they do not possess the specific knowledge needed to be a Christian. I don’t know what they are, but they are not Christians, they are merely posing as Christians because they think it will help them achieve some goal.

  • James F. McGrath

    @Howard, I do not have a problem with that stance, as long as the person who holds it allows that the same may be true of other religious traditions in the same way.

    @Michael, I dread to think what will happen to the ads if I start blogging more regularly about creationism…

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      @James, you are absolutely correct. Although I am not familiar with every major religion out there, I think I can safely assume that the core values of these religions were meant to teach good things. After all, no human needs a book to teach him how to be hateful and violent. It is just a fact of human nature, that there are good and bad people in all religions and every other organized group. So in my opinion, bad people and bad actions should not reflect on the religious texts, but on the individual’s or a group’s interpretation of the texts. For example, there are many Christian groups that see forced proselytization and violent behavior in the Bible, I see none of that in my Bible. And the important part here is that in many cases, this interpretation will come from the person’s or group’s own preconceived ideas forced into the text. I believe people are pretty much already conditioned to be good or bad before they can even read their religious texts to make an unbiased decision. Their minds have already been corrupted. Then there are some who only turn violent later in life, this is probably not from someone just picking up a religious texts and reading it for themselves, but after years of conditioning by being exposed to the propaganda from others, or some mental illness.

  • Anonymous

    Christianity was a myth-believing sectarian Jewish cult of lower class society…historically….certainly Chrstianity was not in line with the Roman Empire, as a national relgion, but it was in Constantine’s time….

  • fj1200

    Given the past, I’m betting that the cops and media have this story screwed up.  Watch and see……

  • James F. McGrath

    The news this evening reported that Breivik has agreed to appear in court tomorrow to explain why he did it, saying that it was “atrocious but necessary.” The police don’t seem to have it wrong at all, if that news report is accurate.

  • Anonymous

    Dr. McGrath, would you say there is evidence to suggest that Jesus was involved in armed resistance against the Roman Empire?

  • Just Sayin’

    If the USA is a “Christian nation” then are all US murderers “Christian” murderers? 

  • Gary

    @ beallen0417…James can answer for himself…but I would say it is obvious, Luke 20:25, He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

  • JSA

    Dan Phillips had a good post today on comparisons between Islam and Christianity regarding the Oslo terrorism.

  • Eric Thurman

    For a brief bit of background on right-wing Christian nationalism in Norway, and its emulation of right-wing Christian nationalism in American politics, see this post from Nov. 2010:

  • Beau Quilter

    Our tendency is to fear extremist Muslims far more than extremist Christians – perhaps with good reason, even weighing in this latest from Norway. 

    However, there are other reasons to fear Christian extremism. A little over a year ago, June 22, 2010, the Pew Research Center announced the results of a poll in which Americans were asked about their predictions for our future:

    “By the year 2050, 41% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ definitely (23%) or probably (18%) will have returned to earth.”

    Here is the source for the report:

    To me, these are frightening statistics. If this large a percentage of voting Americans believes that in less than 40 years we will see “the end of the world as we know it,” how will this sway our public policy on issues such as …

    Global warming (or if you don’t “buy” the science, simply protecting our environment)

    Our nation’s debt

    The threat of war

    … just to name a few. To complicate the matter, most Christians who believe that end times are nigh, also believe that war and natural disaster are merely signs of the times. How can our nation build for a strong, secure future for our children and their children, when this large a percentage of the public don’t even think such a future exists?

  • Beau Quilter

    Or as Steven Weinberg has said:

    “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.”

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      That’s because statements like that have a vary shallow view of what a religion is really about.

  • Ed Rawls

    There were extremists in Jesus time.  We seem to forget that Jesus lived in an occupied nation that felt they were God’s people. Those extremists were called zealots not Christians.  Barrabbas was a good example. When Jesus was faced with violence, he tells his followers he could call down legions of angels. But he refuses and shows by example that the way of Christ is the way of non-violence.

  • Jayhawk66

    You should have read his manifesto before writing this blog. Anders makes it clear that he is anything but a Christian, instead using the term Christian to refer primarily to non-Muslim. He references “Christian Atheists” and “Christian Agnostics” plainly revealing his lack of understanding of the meaning of Christian. This man has no faith, no belief in God, and no acceptance of Jesus Christ. Your comments are way off base!

  • James F. McGrath

    I have not read all 1500 pages of his manifesto, and I suspect that neither have you. My impression from what others have shared from it is that Breivik’s relationship to Christianity is, shall we say, “complex.” But there can be no doubt that some of his ideas in the manifesto mirror, and in some instances were cut and pasted, from U.S. conservative Christian sources on the web. Such “Christians,” rather than distancing themselves from Breivik, should instead distance themselves from the ideas and rhetoric which, when carried to their logical extreme, end in murder and terrorism. Because, despite your focus on what one believes as determining Christian identity, Jesus seems to have placed much focus on what one does – as per the actual story about the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7, rather than the song sung in Sunday school, which gives a different impression about its meaning.

  • Katherine Harms

    Howard said,”In my opinion, there are many people who claim to be Christians, but their actions show they do not possess the specific knowledge needed to be a Christian. I don’t know what they are, but they are not Christians, they are merely posing as Christians because they think it will help them achieve some goal.”

    So, when does the Inquisition start? And who gets to run it? This statement invites us to insist that Christians are only the saints without sin, and I don’t personally know any. It’s my observation that we are all sinful, although most of us are not mass murderers. I reject the idea that we can say someone is not a Christian because we happen to find his behavior inconsistent with his statement of faith. We are all guilty of inconsistency; hence our ongoing need for forgiveness.

    I deplore what Anders Breivik did. I don’t doubt he did it, and I don’t doubt that he claims to be Christian. I do doubt that I am qualified to judge whether he is a Christian or not. If he and I had a conversation about the way we live out our faith, I am positive we would disagree, but that disagreement does not give me or anyone the right to announce that he is no Christian. The worst failings of our community of faith are expressed in those moments when we start punishing people for not following the “true faith.” We are all sinful, and we all have our saintly moments. This was not a saintly moment for Anders, and he is rightly being called to account in earthly court for his behavior. None of us, however, has the right to speak for the God who sits on the final judgment seat.

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      Katherine, I think you are reading more into what I actually said. Jesus himself said that not all who claim to be Christians were really Christians. Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” In fact the whole surrounding context is about identifying false prophets and people who falsely claim to follow him. So there must be a way to identify them. And Jesus shows how to do that, he says by their fruits or actions, you will recognize them. There is a big difference between committing a sin once in a while out of bad judgment or weakness, and practicing sin on a regular basis. Your words about not judging Christians, runs counter to the Bible’s words.

      1 Corinthians 5:9-12   “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters; for then you would have to go out of the world.  But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler– not even to eat with such a one.  For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?”

      Paul first explains that when he says not to associate with immoral people, he was not talking about the non-Christians of the world, but with those who claimed to be Christians, but were acting like people of the world. So Paul is in fact telling us not to associate or even eat with someone who claims to be a Christian, but is not acting like one. So yes, we are to judge those who claim to be Christians, just as Paul says. But the difference is not to punish them in some way, or have an inquisition, but to label them as outsiders and have nothing to do with them any longer. As Paul goes on to say, it is God who will Judge those on the outside. A Christian is never to force his beliefs on anyone, or to punish anyone who does not believe the same things as he does.

  • Jhkira

    Obama should be killed  because he kills everyday. Topple any one of the elites, and the rest will fall. 

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      You can not force others to be peaceful, The only thing you can do is to be a peaceful person, and hope that your actions inspire others to come to that same realization.

  • James F. McGrath

    @Jhkira, you cannot be serious. You would advocate killing a president for what reason? Keeping soldiers in wars that he did not start? What would that solve? Why would your comment on a post about a tragic act of terrorism be to advocate terrorism? I can’t fathom why someone would leave such a comment.

  • Jhkira

    You cannot force others to be violent, you can only be a violent person and hope your actions inspire others to come to that same realization. This indeed is how Obama inspires everyday Americans and Westerners to send troops all over the world in the name of corporate profits through war, violence, oppression, and now eugenics. Most men are not men anymore, they are either gay, or they think they are a woman, and should be listening to their wife, who thinks she is a man. The world can’t be run by a bunch of girls, and it is time to pull out the rocks. If you aren’t realizing what I am saying, then surely we will be coming after you too, for being such homos. John F. Kennedy warned of this day, you better wake up, or you will be getting yours, guaranteed.