From Arne Fjeldstad: Belief? Ideology? Faith?

EDITOR’S NOTE: GetReligion readers may not know the byline of Arne H. Fjeldstad, unless they have clicked through to the Media Project website on our left sidebar.

Suffice it to say, the leader of the Media Project is in an interesting position to offer information and commentary on the massacre in Norway.

The main things that you need to know is that Fjeldstad has about 30 years experience in the mainstream Norwegian press — best known as an editor at the influential Aftenposten — and he is an ordained Lutheran minister in the mainstream Church of Norway. He wrote in Fuller Theological Seminary doctoral dissertation on Lutheran churches and virtual churches on the Internet. He has also served as a magazine publisher in Egypt and in the Middle East.

Fjeldstad’s full essay has now been posted at The Media Project site. Read it all.

Meanwhile, here is a key chunk of the text as a place to start:

By Arne H. Fjeldstad

… The major questions people in Norway and around the globe have been asking is: Why? What has made a young conservative guy become a terrorist? What kind of ideology or belief can justify such atrocities?

Christian and fundamentalist?

The first explanation by Deputy Police Chief Roger Andresen in Oslo has been quoted by many media: “He confirmed that Mr. Breivik belongs to a Christian, fundamentalist, extreme-right environment in Norway.” (Source in Norwegian: from the newspaper Aftenposten.)

However, this description may have been largely misunderstood and misinterpreted, if not simply mistaken and false.

Unbelievably enough, the 32-year-old Anders B. Breivik has used several years to prepare for the massacre and bomb explosion on Friday 22 July, according to himself. Just a few minutes before heading downtown Oslo to detonate the bomb he finished a more than 1500+ pages compendium, “2083 — A European Declaration of Independence.” In the compendium he (and maybe others?) writes in detail about his ideological theories as well as personal values and faith. On page 1309 he says:

“If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God then you are a religious Christian. Myself and many more like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God. We do however believe in Christianity as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform. This makes us Christian. … European Christendom and the cross will be the symbol in which every cultural conservative can unite under in our common defense. It should serve as the uniting symbol for all Europeans whether they are agnostic or atheists.”

National-conservative, not fundamentalist

One person from the radical left who for some time used to debate with Breivik and others with the same conviction online at is post doctor Lars Gule. In an interview with Norway’s largest newspaper Aftenposten he says he does not consider Breivik as a neo-Nazi (my translation:)

“He is national-conservative. One cannot say right wing extremism and the Nazi ideology are the same. He has a conservative, Christian ideology but I do not think it is right to call him a Christian fundamentalist. He has wanted the (Lutheran) Church of Norway to collectively convert to Catholicism and has supported the most conservative (candidates) at church elections. But this Christian conservatism is only one element in his national conservatism”, says Gule.

Breivik also distances himself from the Nazi ideology in his writings online. At he writes he thinks it is very hypocritical to treat Muslims, Nazis and Marxists different. “They are all adherents to hate-ideologies.” Source (in Norwegian). …

Breivik tells quite a bit in the compendium he assembled or mostly wrote (under psevdonym Andrew Berwick.) On page 1405 he writes: “Regarding my personal relationship with God, I guess I’m not an excessively religious man. I am first and foremost a man of logic. However, I am a supporter of a monocultural Christian Europe.” On page 1562 he reiterates this position: “As a cultural Christian, I believe Christendom is essential for cultural reasons. After all, Christianity is the ONLY cultural platform that can unite all Europeans, which will be needed in the coming period during the third expulsion of the Muslims.”

In other words: a typical nominal Norwegian Christian.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Julia

    [he]has supported the most conservative ((candidates) at church elections.

    I’ve seen that before. Do all citizens have the power of the ballot in Norway church elections since it’s an established church? How does that work?

  • Arne H. Fjeldstad


    Yes, all members of the church of Norway can vote – but very few does. The last election in 2009 had around 13 percent participation – not many, but more than the number of people regularly visisting the pews on a normal Sunday. They can participate in two elections: local church council and the diocesan church board. Ca 80 percent of the 4,8 mill inhabitants of Norway are member of Church of Norway.

  • Jerry

    Thanks for the perspective on the word fundamentalist.

  • kjs

    Has Mr. Fjeldstad’s article been edited since you’ve quoted it? I don’t see where he actually writes “In other words: a typical nominal Norwegian Christian.”

  • tmatt


    I know that he revised it a bit.

    But that phrase is in the copy that I have.

    I think Arne made that same point in an early comment, too.

  • Julia

    Mr Fjeldstatd:

    Thanks for the response. I didn’t know that.

    My Norwegian ancestor, Severt Severtson, left Kongsberg in the 1830s & ended up in Kansas in time to be in the posse that chased Quantril’s gang after they torched Lawrence.

  • Arne H. Fjeldstad


    Yes, I did edit my article a bit, and the quote you refer to is a sub-title in the final version at,0

    On the use of “nominal Christian” – it is a very common expression both in Norway and elsewhere in Europe. It is used as the adversary/opposite of being a “personal Christian.” Nominal Christian is exactly what Anders B Breivik says he is: a “cultural Christian” (page 1309, page 1362). Or, as his final description about his spiritual voyage: “: “I went from moderately to agnostic to moderately religious.”

    Personal Christian (“personlig kristen,in Norwegian) means you have a personal, faith commitment to Jesus Christ and God. In Mr Breiviks terminology also used as a “religious Christian.”

    Others who say they are cultural, nominal,moderate or – as Anders B Breivik says there are many names:: “Christian agnostic, Christian ateist.”) In the public discourse anyone not having a personal faith commitment is very often referred to as a “nominal Christian.” And, as the writing of Anders B Breivik clearly points out, he belongs to the non-religious, nominal Christian group.

  • Arne H. Fjeldstad

    A little PS to kjs:

    The term “nominal Christian” is not used in a defamatory way in Norway – as most people would agree they are “nominal Christians.” It simply describes people who are not involved with Christianity to or religion in a personal, faith-related way. They may well join the rest of the family on a Christmas eve church service, wedding, funeral or attend the church at a family baptism of an infant child. But they choose not to get personally involved.

    A good example we experienced in the early 1990s that I told a journalist friend from AP Radio who called me last night: Quite a few (old) churches were set on fire and it later turned out it was a small group of youngsters calling themselves Satanists who did this. As this was happening, we suddenly experienced that many people got involved in going man guard during the nights at local churches. No organizational efforts from the church, simply local people who said: I was baptized, confirmed and married in this church. I will be buried from this church. It is my church. No crazy youngsters will burn it down!

  • kjs

    Thank you Mr. Mattingly & Dr. Fjeldstad for the clarification. I had noticed the “Typical Norwegian: Nominal Christian?” subtitle but this wasn’t quite the same as the conclusion, “In other words: a typical nominal Norwegian Christian”, which was included in Mr. Mattingly’s selection above. I especially appreciate your explanation of the distinction in Norwegian usage, Dr. Feldstad.

  • Philip

    The term “nominal Christian” may have a parallel with “observant Jew” vs. a “cultural Jew.” Nominal vs. personal seems confusing.”Personal” sounds as if it should be balanced with “impersonal,” but that makes no sense. “Personal Christian” is a horribly descriptive term.

  • tmatt


    Of course, the term originated in ANOTHER LANGUAGE, so it’s hard to precisely the connotations for the term there in Norway. It may make more sense there. Fjeldstad is, after all, Norwegian.