Labeling the Norwegian Killer

Within a few hours of Breivik’s horrendous, despicable acts of murder someone assigned him to the Muslim terrorist fringe, and when it was clear that he wasn’t that, someone assigned him to the Christian fundamentalist right wing fringe. Labeling and classifying are how we make sense of things, and so such assignments are understandable and predictable. But these assignments miss something colossally important about Breivik. Proving he’s neither Muslim nor Christian also misses the point.

The problem here is not Breivik’s supposed Christian orientation, for his own writing makes it abundantly clear he has no idea what Christianity really means. He has convinced himself he’s a medieval crusader, and that’s just not normal. So I’d like to suggest we learn to assign such terrorists, and Loughner belongs in this same group, neither to the right nor to the left, and that we also avoid connecting them to a religion. Breivik fits no such box.

These sorts of folks, and their numbers are minuscule in the world, can’t be explained by normal categories because they do not live in the normal world. They are deeply disturbed, anti-social, racially-charged, hate-filled, paranoid, delusional human beings who gravitate toward groups where they can find the emotional sensation of like-minded hate-filled folks and where they can find ideas that feed their hatred and morbid paranoia about the world. They almost always discover there is no one quite like them or, if there are, so few that they know they are all alone in their delusional perceptions of what the world is like, what color it ought to be, and what it most needs.

These anti-social delusional humans dwell in a world of their own making and they write things up in order to gather their hate-filled racist theories into some kind of bundle of meaning, and their writings never make sense to normal people. No matter what they say, they don’t make sense.

Making sense of people like Breivik is precisely the wrong thing to do.  Posting a picture of him is what makes this so obvious: he looks normal. He isn’t normal, and assigning into normal categories fails every time.

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  • saladyears

    Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who think like Breivik, though they are not homicidal. The “counter-Jihad” people like Robert Spencer and Pamela Gellar he quoted extensively in his manifesto have popular sites on the Internet, filled with like-minded people who completely agree that Europe and America are in dire threat from a Muslim demographic invasion and that there is no such thing as a “moderate Muslim”.

    Breivik is undoubtedly a sociopath, but his ideas came from fertile ground that has inroads throughout the USA. For an obvious example, see the odious Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, an organization heavily courted for its endorsement by conservative politicians:

  • It’s a lesson to us that both extremes can lead to the same end. It’s ironic that, being motivated by his anti-Muslim sympathies (among others), he copies their worst extreme.

  • Preach it, Brother!

  • Tim

    I agree, and I wonder: Should we look at all terrorists like this? Including those of other faith/ideological backgrounds?

  • chris

    i dunno…sounds like half the people i met in church, to me!

  • Richard

    We might not like that this guy self-dentifies as a Christian but there are plenty of so-called Christians that agree with his perceptions of the world, liberals, and muslims for us to be offended when the media allows that label to persist. He’s the lunatic fringe that acts on the rhetoric of the semi-lunatic fringe and unfortunately both wrap themselves in their respective national flags and many do hold up a cross while they do so. Far better imho to disinguish and renounce than to be angry that the media would dare categorize him the way most observers would.

  • phil_style

    It’s very likely that this person is not sane. There is no amount of rational discussion with such persons that can convince them that their interpretation of an ideology is unreasonable.

  • Diane

    I think of Hitler, who although anti-social, was able to take mainstream German values–love of country, love of tradition, love of the outdoors and adherence to cultural Christianity and twist all these to his own ends. Expecting evil or deranged people to be simply “other” can make it difficult for us to discern who is deceiving us.

  • dopderbeck

    Amen. This guy was not acting as a “Christian” of any sort but rather as a lunatic.

    Yet, it also is worth noting, I think, as saladyears (#1) said, that religious (Christian / Muslim / whatever) political extremists who are not insane feed the delusions of such insane people. Listen to some of the “Islamist” rhetoric of some folks in the political / religious right — it is only a few clicks away from the call to take up arms. (The same could probably be said of some on the extreme Marxist left, say in South America).

  • Rchard

    “These anti-social delusional humans dwell in a world of their own making and they write things up in order to gather their hate-filled racist theories into some kind of bundle of meaning, and their writings never make sense to normal people. No matter what they say, they don’t make sense.”

    Scot, are you suggesting all terrorists are like the description you posted or is this a subset of terrorist we’re discussing here. I see major difficulties and soul-searching if its the former.

  • Zachary

    I read your blog often. Unfortunately, I’m greatly disappointed by this posting. Attempting to keep from labeling Breivik a Christian is silly. Yes, we can say that he clearly didn’t understand what Christianity was. But we can’t say he wasn’t a believer. We can’t say his Christian fundamentalist leanings didn’t contribute in a crucial, central way to his own insane murderous rampage. People never do things quite so cheerfully when they do them in the name of God, and Breivik is merely another example.

    Instead of distancing ourselves from Breivik, or trying to “keep from labeling”–which is really a slipshod attempt to deflect (just) criticism of fundamentalist worldviews–we need to acknowledge that Christianity fueled the fire of Breivik’s insanity rather than quenching the same. Rather than judging that he “wasn’t a true Christian”, we should instead examine our own rhetoric to see if there are ways in which we ourselves are encouraging or allowing God to be co-opted into our own insanities. Breivik was crazy. But he was a Christian. He was a believer. Yes, he didn’t know what any of that meant, and he didn’t act like it in any way. But aren’t there many, many Christians like Breivik for whom God becomes little more than a miniature defender and justifier of their own insane beliefs?

    I think this is a wonderful opportunity for the Church to reflect back on itself and question its own motives and its own insanities. As dopderbeck said above, the “Islamist” rhetoric of many of the religious right isn’t that far off from Breivik. Blogs like yours trying to distance him from Christianity are the equivalent to us getting around singing, “We didn’t start the fire…”

  • Matt

    This reveals to us that we are still unable to cope and handle when a tragedy like this happens. We want labels so we can point fingers. We want labels so we can direct our hate towards a person or group. And yet after all these years we haven’t realized that this method of coping only continues the cycle of hate, pain, and killing. Responding with hate, responding with fear, responding with an agenda to see which group is to blame will not stop these tragedies from happening. Labeling creates as many problems as it seeks to solve.

  • DLS

    Well said, Scot. I think NPR worked “right wing” (with glee) into their story this morning at a rate of almost 3 references per minute. 🙂

  • Tim Webb

    I’m surprised by this post… one of the first responses I read to it was Frank Schaeffer’s in which he said that he’s long predicted terrorism from the Christian right, which was his label for this tragedy (although it it can be hard to read the comments between his advertising for his book:

  • Although the Anders Breiviks and the Timothy Mcveys can certainly be placed into a category of their own, these fringe groups are not too far from their more “moderate” comrades. Sadly, I know of many “normal” Christians who think we should save Israel, build up our military, take out Iran, and erase every vestige of Islam from American soil. These same “normal” Christians claim Obama is a Muslim and Islam is taking over the world, including the US. Much of this propaganda emanates from these “normal” Christians through online media sources like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, World Net Daily, The Drudge Report, and individual blogs. Their “moderate” heroes include folks like: Glenn Beck, Mark Steyn, John Hagee, Laura Ingram, and many others like them. Their main source of strength is to instill fear among the American people and fellow Christians.

    There are several idols in our midst. Nationalism, patriotism, and exceptionalism. When, we can recognize these idols, demolish them, and live like true kingdom Christians that Christ emulated for us, only then will the world see us for who we truly are: radically transformed believers of Jesus out to love and serve the world around us.

  • Scott W

    In my mind this post, however well the intention,leads to a type of distancing of a person such as this as an “anomaly,” and hence we can psychologically, spiritually and theologically comfort ourselves that we aren’t like him or any of his ilk. This is wrong on every account.

    That seed of corruption which can lead to delusion is in all of us. It may not find “good soil” in our hearts but it is there nonetheless. Lest we forget, America has a long and storied history of terrorism. In the post-Reconstruction era to the 1960s and beyond terrorist groups like the KKK, which advocated a particular Christian religio-political and social ideology, intimidated,lynched, shot, hung and brutalized men, women and children, even resorting to bombings of churches. And we must remember that the KKK was a major political force in the 1920s, not some fringe group, which targeted mainstream Protestant Christian pastors to make carry their message.(It was only scandals by leaders of this movement during this period which soured the popular political appeal of this movement.)

    In today’s socio-political discourse,religion (Islam) has basically taken over the space that race once held, even though there are still undertones of this in the toxic mix of “blood and soil” nationalist ideology merged with religion.This is a reality which all who are attracted to aspects of this heady mix must wrestle with so as not to be corrupted in ways that can make on susceptible to nihilistic, destructive impulses. This goes for all manner of religio-political ideologies which can lead people ultimately to chaos and mayhem.

  • I find it very telling that your call for us all not to apply religious labels to terrorists follows the terrorist attacks of a blond haired, blue eyed Christian. Why wasn’t a blog post like this written after a deranged Muslim’s attack? Why are there only now so many calls for us not to blame religion after a white Christian’s attack? Do you not think Islamic terrorists see themselves as martyrs defending against Christian crusaders? They’re all deranged, but for some reason, we only cry out “Don’t fault religion” after a Christian attack makes the greater Christian population look bad. We should afford the same benefit to Muslims as well, with the same frequency and vigor. -bc

  • I understand wanting to distance ourselves from Breivik and how the label ‘Christian’ has been applied to Breivik.

    I think however the larger question is whether or not the most conservative of Christians will repent for equating Muslims with terrorism. My guess is probably not…

  • DLS

    I like how post #16 laments generalizing about a group of people by generalizing about a group of people.

  • @Zachary #11 I agree to a degree.

    Prior to WW2 the National Socialists used a superficial connection with the church to justify their extreme nationalistic policies. Rather than distancing himself from the church that had lent it’s hand Bonhoeffer willingly took on the guilt of that association, specifically so he could denounce the actions of a church unable to see or even admit its fallen state as a tool of the nationalists.

    Certainly Breivik did not understand or follow Christianity as we follow it, but so do many other ‘Christian Nationalists’. There are times to chastise and distance ourselves from those who are not honoring their Christian allegiance. However there are times where we must also offer a deep and heartfelt apology to the world for the church’s many sins.

  • AHH

    I, too, wondered about the stories labeling him a “Christian fundamentalist” when there was no indication of Christianity on his part except in a vague cultural sense.

    I wonder if the US situation has so poisoned things that the default assumption in the media is that anybody who is politically right-wing and anti-Muslim MUST be a Christian.

    And agree with those (#1, #9) who point out that some who are non-insane, some of whom can reasonably be called Christians, nourish homicidal insanity like Breivik’s by their rhetoric.

  • @DLS #17

    Sometimes generalizations are true… There is an element of specificity involved in my statement though: All Muslims vs. The most conservative of Christians (of which I used to be one).

    I was able to change, so I know others can; but in general people do not change apart from a crisis in their lives.

  • DLS

    “Sometimes generalizations are true…

    – Which is exactly the argument that some make about Islamists. See how that works?

  • Joe Canner

    Picking up on what saladyears (#1) and Richard (#6) have said, one way that Christian community should respond to things like this is to vociferously condemn the non-lunatic hatred that gives rise to lunatic violence.

    This applies not just to anti-immigrant sentiment but to things like pro-life rhetoric that leads to abortion clinic violence and anti-gay rhetoric that leads to bullying and violence against gays. We cannot simply stand by and pride ourselves that we are not engaging in violence; we need to speak out, against both the violence itself and against the rhetoric that spawned it.

  • DLS

    #22 is exactly what Scot’s post speaks to. We’ve reached the point of insanity if we’re now using the Norway incident to indict “pro-life rhetoric”, et al.

    The fact that you’re using Breivik to score points on the immigration debate is sad beyond description.

  • Christian Terrorist?

    Is this a religious vision, and am I right in calling Breivik a Christian terrorist? It is true that Breivik—and McVeigh, for that matter—were much more concerned about politics, race and history than about scripture and religious belief, with Breivik even going so far as to write that “It is enough that you are a Christian-agnostic or a Christian atheist (an atheist who wants to preserve at least the basics of the European Christian cultural legacy (Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter)).”

    But much the same can be said about Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and many other Islamist activists. Bin Laden was a businessman and engineer, and Zawahiri was a medical doctor; neither were theologians or clergy. Their writings show that they were much more interested in Islamic history than theology or scripture, and imagined themselves as recreating glorious moments in Islamic history in their own imagined wars. Tellingly, Breivik writes of al Qaeda with admiration, as if he would love to create a Christian version of their religious cadre.

    If bin Laden is a Muslim terrorist, Breivik and McVeigh are surely Christian ones. Breivik was fascinated with the Crusades and imagined himself to be a member of the Knights Templar, the crusader army of a thousand years ago. But in an imagined cosmic warfare time is suspended, and history is transcended as the activists imagine themselves to be acting out timeless roles in a sacred drama. The tragedy is that these religious fantasies are played out in real time, with real and cruel consequences.

  • steve_sherwood

    #11 Zachary largely speaks my mind here. I think he has been labeled a Christian because he does so himself. Scot, I agree that he doesn’t understand what Christianity is, but I find that to also be true when I hear lots of public figures base their opinions or actions on their “Christian values.” I don’t think the media has been unfair to Christianity here. They’ve just reported what he himself claims to be.

  • @DLS #23

    I get your point DLS. You seem to be pushing towards a moral equivalency that doesn’t fit the complexity of real world ethics though. I am not opining all generalizations, I am opining false generalizations. We all generalize. My generalization is that given our current culture those who lump Muslims into one category will continue to do so. If you can show me data that this trend is changing and that the stereo-typing of Muslims is abating I would happily learn from it.

    Also I didn’t say Islamists, you did, I said Muslims. Again we are dealing with degrees of specificity.

    Perhaps I am picking up a condescending tone that I shouldn’t, if so I apologize.

  • John W Frye

    The way these comments are unfolding, we can conclude that we *all* are as nuts as Breivik was. Christian = insane. This is a sad thread.

  • P.

    Those who truly understand Christianity know that you can’t be a true believer in Christ and commit these acts. Note I said a true believer – one who believes in Christ and has the Holy Spirit in him or her. That said, I do this the term Christian is misapplied to Breivik. Many in the media are backing off on that term, and even the Guardian has an article stating that the term Christian is not accurate here. Ultimately, Breivik is an insane person who latched on to extremist ideas.

  • DLS

    David @28,

    I understand that you’re opining on false generalizations. The problem is that people disagree on what constitutes correct and incorrect generalizations. In my view, there is a far closer link between Bin Laden and Islam than there is between Breivik and American Conservative Christianity. You apparently disagree. Ultimately, the point of the article is that the guy is nuts, and it’s ridiculous to extrapolate his nuttiness out to other groups. The Giffords shooting was another example. To use either to score political points on the immigration or abortion debates, for example, is beyond silly.

    An no, there is no evidence that there is a rash of American Conservative Evangelicals equating Islam with terrorism. There is anecdotal evidence, sure, but I’d suggest that there’s a possibility that you’re not looking at that impartially, based on your posts. In addition, no matter how you look at it, that evidence is far less powerful than the evidence one could use to tie terrorism generally to extremist Islam. That was my point above.

  • Joe Canner

    DLS #25,#31: I’m not sure what you read in my post that made you think I was trying to “score points” in immigration or abortion debates. My point here is that there is a recurring theme in which Christians (and others) take legitimate issues, juice them up with inflammatory rhetoric, and then wonder why lunatics turned that rhetoric into violence. Yes, the bullies and murderers are responsible for their own crimes, but we also need to look at whether our words (or our silence) cause us to share some of the responsibility.

  • @DLS #31

    I think we are close to agreement though…

    I don’t believe that those from within Christianity that stereotype Muslims are large in number, just very vocal. However I don’t see that number shrinking. And yes, some of my evidence is anecdotal, for instance the racially charged language that came from a group of nice Christian elderly ladies that were playing bridge at the particular Panera I was having lunch at last week.

    I think we also agree with Scot’s observation that Breivik is clearly an outlying variable.

    I also believe that Islamists are as much of an outlier within Islam when it comes to theology. Your are right though that due to, from my understanding, socio-economic factors Islamists have a greater ability to influence Muslims as a whole. That influence however isn’t manifested as support for the Islamist cause as much as it is fear of the Islamist’s harsh rule.

    Also, I didn’t link this to immigration or abortion (that was someone else).

  • Scot McKnight

    I played golf and am now just getting to these ….

    This post is a response as much to those who mis-labeled him as those who want to distance him from Christianity. I am suggesting both are missing the point.

    #4, I agree.

    Dopderbeck #9, I like your point: they do find something in the groups they associate with, in this case Breivik got connected to radical right wing anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism. They fed him what he was looking for.

    Zachary, I think you are missing my point, so this is not really about distancing him from Christianity so much as explaining him in another way.

    Watchman, but there is a huge, huge difference between militarism and one person taking on the world in a delusional world war.

    Robert Cargill #17, many said just what you say was not said. Many said bin Laden et al was not really Islam but terrorists plain and simple.

  • DLS

    David @33,

    I don’t agree with your 4th paragraph, for various reasons which would only sidetrack us here (but notably one will not find any Christian community, anywhere, and especially not in evangelical american circles celebrating or tacitly endorsing Breivik’s actions – not so with Islamic terrorism, which has the support of a not insignificant number of adherents as well as governments), but you make some fair points in a respectful way. We can agree to disagree on some points.

    I also agree that was someone else on tying this to the immigration/abortion issue, but, like you, I’ve seen that much too frequently in my anecdotal experiences, and a few others seemed to support it here, so I’m sensitive to it.

    You sound like a rational guy, and I appreciate your views.

  • Rchard

    @ 34

    Scot, you said, “Watchman, but there is a huge, huge difference between militarism and one person taking on the world in a delusional world war.”

    Is there when it comes to the Gospel of the Prince of Peace? Aren’t both insane approaches to reality when contrasted with the sanity of the Kingdom of God beating swords into plowshares?

    Good luck on the back 9.

  • Scot #34/Rchard #36 –

    “Can it be lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that ‘he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword’?” (Tertullian)

    “When God forbids us to kill, he not only prohibits the violence that is condemned by public laws, but he also forbids the violence that is deemed lawful by men.” (Lacantius)

  • Tad

    Thanks for your thoughts Scot! Still, I tend to agree with Zach (#11).

    However nominal Breivik’s faith may have been, our choosing to separate him from the term “christian” has a way of bypassing the need to see the things in our faith and rhetoric that allow for violence.

    In 1925, a religious survey found Germany was 95% christian. But we don’t like to think of our enemies as Christian, so we bypass the discussion. Breivik may have been nominal, but lets be honest: the average christian will justify violence when the terms are right for them.

  • Fish

    The guy was a Christian. Period. You can say he didn’t act as a Christian should, but isn’t that true of us all?

    Growing up in an environment where I’d read letters from the KKK in the paper quoting the Bible, I don’t find it incredible at all that scripture and Christ could be used as a basis for terrorism. America had lots of Bible-based arguments for slavery and Native American genocide.

    I worry more about right-wing terrorism in this country than I do about our debt. And for better or for worse, many of the far right wing see themselves as Christians.

  • SteveL

    Just like Jared Lee Loughner, Breivik is mentally ill — completely out of his mind. To frame the discussion as a battle of ideologies plays into what his sick mind wants.

    Call it what it is; name it, correctly: Breivik suffers from a mental illness like schizophrenia. Anything else is category confusion.

  • Scot McKnight

    We’re talking past one another a bit here. I’m not arguing that he’s not a Christian, though he is totally clueless and colossally mistaken about what it is. The issue for me is that trying to explain Breivik with the expression “right wing” or “Christian fundamentalist” simply doesn’t explain him. Other categories are needed.

    Nor am I one bit afraid of saying the violent aspects of the Bible can be used; nor am I afraid of owning up to crusader atrocities. That’s just not the issue here for me. The crusaders were grossly mistaken Christians; Breivik is delusional.

  • Joe Canner

    SteveL #40: I don’t see too many people here arguing that Breivik is not mentally ill. If he were a lone wolf acting entirely upon the voices in his head, then there wouldn’t be much to worry about. However, Breivik was being influenced by others and was trying to influence others to join him. This, then, leads some of us to wonder what can be done to cut off the fuel that feeds these fires.

  • MattK

    To Fish: “The guy was a Christian. Period.”

    I suppose it depends on what your definition of “Christian” is. Breivik has this to say about his Christianity in his big manifesto:

    “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.”

    I know this is not where Scot was going with this post, but at least we can know how Breivik identifies himself as it relates to his faith in Jesus before we attempt to make authoritative statements regarding his Christianity.

  • From Breivik’s own manifesto, page 1309 (HT, he explains that his “Christianity” is a cultural identification, not a statement of faith. Quoting:

    “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.”

    In this respect, it seems to me that Breivik is no different from Hitler and others who co-opted the name “Christian” and perverted it with their own socio-political meaning.

  • #39 Fish (and several above)

    “The guy was a Christian. Period.”

    Okay then. Most Amercians identify as Christians. To follow the logic, it seems you all are supportive of the right wing idea that America is a Christian nation. Yet when right-wingers make that claim, the same people who are so adamant that America is not a Christian nation (i.e., because it does not comport with the teachings of Christ) are the ones most vocally insisting the Breivik and McVeigh are Christians.

    What the above discussion illustrates for me is the deeply embedded template that so many liberals/progressives have of conservatives. They are nut jobs, just a push or two away from becoming Breivik. Conservatives are mean evil people just looking for and excuse to go ballistic. Any event that remotely reinforces this template is embraced while information clearly indicating the delusional and explicitly anti-Christian rantings of perpetrators, or similar delusional acts done by leftists, are ignored. How about environmentalist James Lee’s assault on the Discovery Channel last September? Wasn’t he a Christian in Christian America? Maybe Christian activism on behalf of stopping climate change needs to be reconsidered. This is where this thinking leads if we are going to be consistent.

    There is hand-wringing about inflammatory rhetoric by the right, yet Gov. Walker protesters carry signs of Walker with cross-hairs over his face (sometimes with Hitler touch-up to his face), a Democratic congress woman says Republicans want to kill women (referring to abortion legislation), and the president talks about Republicans as terrorists holding America hostage and holding a gun to the head of the American people. And may I remind folks that it was Paul who wrote:

    “Gal 5:11-12
    11 But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves! NRSV

    Hyperbole has been, and always will be, part of argumentation. This business of going apoplectic about every violent metaphor of opponents while ignoring one’s own rhetoric is duplicity. And straining to make guilt-by-association links between your opponents and clearly disturbed individuals is demonization.

    As Christians, we certainly do have a responsibility to be cognizant of our speech and our posture toward others. And maybe the first place to begin is to examine our own willingness to engage in the guilt-by-association game.

  • Dana Ames

    Interestingly, I understand that B. Photoshopped his head onto other’s figures in several of the pictures in his manifesto; I think the one Scot chose for this post is one of those.


  • JMorrow

    This is a sticky conversation. I’m sympathetic to the view that Breivik is sick, deranged and mentally ill. After all, these don’t seem to be the actions of a rational individual. But if I were to apply that logic more broadly then there are quite alot of mentally ill people walking around. There isn’t alot that separates Breivik from the run of the mill killer. As well, I take him at his own word: his rhetoric is pretty far right wing, with the important addition of violence.

    I’m still searching for the specific connection Scot is trying to make. When he says, “The crusaders were grossly mistaken Christians; Breivik is delusional.” (#41) I fail to see much of a difference. How does one define delusional here? Are we talking some clinical diagnosis of mental illness? If so, who has made that determination, and does it in fact make him less culpable for his actions? I’m sure that’s what his defense team would like to say.

    Like I said, I’m not unsympathetic to the mentally illness argument, but how do we make that call and what does that call either way tell us about moral culpability for one’s actions and responsibility for one’s baptism – for it appears he has indeed been baptized.

  • DLS

    Excellent post, Michael.

  • Tim

    What is the difference between the killing of human beings in war versus the insanity of this lone wolf murderer? Or, how sane is humanity in general?

  • Thank you, Michael W. Kruse, #45. I agree.

  • …what’s really amazing is, you know, every time there’s an act of violence undertaken by someone who’s Muslim, the commentary across the spectrum links his Muslim religion or political beliefs to the violence and tries to draw meaning from it, broader meaning. And yet, the minute that it turned out that the perpetrator wasn’t Muslim, but instead was this right-wing figure, the exact opposite view arose, which is, “Oh, his views and associations aren’t relevant. It’s not fair to attribute or to blame people who share his views or who inspired him with these acts.” And it got depicted as being this sort of individual crazy person with no broader political meaning, and media interest disappeared. It’s exactly the opposite of how it’s treated when violence is undertaken by someone who’s Muslim. ~Glenn Greenwald

  • Joe Canner

    Michael #45: I don’t know if you were responding partly to me or not, but I will respond anyway.

    While the examples I cited were primarily right-wing extremist issues, I never said that such things were not possible on the left (nor did anyone else, I don’t think). While the most prominent examples are on the right (at the moment), I am under no illusions that the left is immune to such things or deserves a free pass. I will say, however, that using metaphors like “holding a gun to our head” is in a different class from discussing, plotting, and carrying out violent action against your opponents.

    Further, I would suggest that what is going on here is not “guilt-by-association”; it is just plain guilt. Speaking ill of another is wrong (Matt 5:22 and elsewhere) regardless of whether our speech contributes to someone carrying out violent acts or not. The violent acts simply highlight the consequences of our words; they do not make them any more guilty than they already were.

    So, yes, let’s clean up our own houses. But let’s not avoid calling out hate speech in the meantime, especially among Christians, when it occurs.

  • Scot McKnight

    Naum, please hear me out on this. I’m saying that the argument to distance him from Christianity is of the same species of those who want to call him a Christian fundamentalist. I’m saying neither of those is the point: the point is the man is a madman.

  • Scot McKnight

    Naum, and by “madman” I mean a hate-filled man filled with an ideology on steroids.

  • Daniel S

    The killer’s use of the term “Christian-agnostic” (#26, #44) really reminds me of Michael Totten’s journalism from Lebanon. He’s written how most Lebanese have strong loyalty to their confessional community whether or not they especially believe in the creed; for example, it’s acceptable to be a “Catholic atheist” or a “Sunni agnostic” but to betray your community is nearly unthinkable.
    Further to that, some of the new atheists have expressed strong hostility to islamization in Europe–notably Pat Condell ( and Christopher Hitchens (

  • Scot, I don’t agree — and I think the term “fundamentalist” is an apt label — while he may not fit your (and many other Christians, certainly) definition of a “Christian”, he certainly self-identifies as such and what spurred and motivated him was that cultural identity, in part based on his “Christian” tribe. He percolated after brewing on a stew of fear based racist/xenophobic propaganda about “the other” — and that it is a battle of light v. darkness, and some take it as a fatalistic spark to act violently now.

    And this type of fundamentalism also applies to the new atheists too — Dawkins and Harris and others of their ilk. No, they’re not snapping and blowing up buildings, but the philosophy of us v. them, war-on-them, etc.… prevails…

    Even in the aftermath of the shooting, right wing voices like Pat Buchanan (who still gets to hurl racist invective on national television) pronounce that this Norway shooter was correct about those dirty immigrants spoiling western culture.

    Chris Hedges nails it, and if economic fortunes continue to decline for many, there will be more outbursts like this one. With all due respect, I think some of you ensconced in academic circles have no clue — how many could be in the grasp of probability to snap, especially in lieu of the scapegoating and scorn for “the other” that is identified as “the problem” that goes on 24/7 in their media intake (fanned by talk radio, internet, etc.…)

  • Patrick

    If you read his comments about the faith, it is unclear if he is a believer or not.

    He stated himself he has no “personal relationship with Christ”, that he is a “cultural Christian” and in Europe the term is used to socially differentiate between Jews,Muslims,etc. That doesn’t preclude he is a believer, though.

    The idea propounded here that he is not a Christian because he doesn’t understand the faith is wrongheaded.

    Understanding God is not the threshold, understanding who Jesus of Nazareth is is the threshold. I doubt that poor fellow next to Jesus who asked Him to “remember me when you come into your kingdom” was very knowledgable about Jesus or The Father, he was a career criminal.

    Bill O’Reilly allowed last night how a Christian “doesn’t do this”. Good grief.

    We are the best and we are the worst humans on earth. The Bible is so clear on this it is hard to ignore.

    Once we make consistent decisions for evil, even great men of God can be murderers. Lots of Biblical examples, King’s Saul and David come to mind. Elijah murdered a lot of pagans.

    The key to incidents like this is IF this man is a believer, the Church universal condemns this act in unison as we would a KKK Hanging and expects justice to be served on this man. It is not God’s will we murder our way to success or murder or hate those whom we disagree with and in fact it harms our cause.

    Having said all this, I pray for justice, for the surviving family members and for Anders that God uses even this incident to advance His kingdom with all of them.

  • scotmcknight

    Naum, I do agree he’s a fundamentalist, but I’m not sure that is the defining problem here. It’s a bit brash to say academics have no clue for it is often academics who study such folks, and in fact universities often do have deeply troubled students who could become a Breivik. Frankly, Naum, and you might agree with me here, some of this is shaped by the intolerance of academics who themselves hurl invective after invective at people with whom they disagree. Some of the anger of our culture is aimed at university life and the political culture created in such institutions. There is a long line of scholarship, like Dineesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education that castigates the intolerance of supposedly liberal education. Whether one agrees or not, this conversation is a routine dimension of higher education.

  • DRT

    Naum#56, His type of fundamentalism is not like the atheists

    Soct, as much as I want to agree, I think you are out of line in approach, not substance. He resembles the attitude and internal conversation of the radical kooks here in rural VA. Certainly you only get the stray corn cob pipe type person in your classes, but my gun toting to church brothers would have fully supported this guys pursuit, sans the actual follow through.

  • R Hampton

    Some conservative Christians use “Christianity” as a political term in contradictory ways.

    On the one hand, they will claim that ours is a Christian nation with something like 90% of our citizens belonging to the Judeo-Christian tradition — a very broad use of the term “Christian” to suit cultural conservative arguments.

    On the other hand, they will claim particular individuals and/or groups are not Christian because they fail to meet some stringent theological requirements — a very narrow use of the term “Christian” often made to exclude culturally moderate or liberal groups from blurring or muting the cultural conservative’s political use of Christianity.

    You can’t have it both ways.

    So if you are going to argue that nominal Christians aren’t really Christian, then as a matter of principle, that standard must be applied consistently.

  • A man who claims to be a “cultural” Christian but not a “religious” Christian, who denies that he has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ or that he is a very religious person — this does not sound like any kind of fundamentalist Christian I’ve ever heard of.

  • I think there is a difference between people who are comfortable around Christian culture and accoutrements and people who confess that Jesus is God and King and have committed themselves to follow Him. The former are usually called “nominal” which usually means that they are Christian in name only. Be a true Christian is not about being conservative or liberal, but faith in Jesus the Messiah. If 90% of Americans share Judeo-Christian values, that does not mean that they are all Christians, and I know of no one who argues that they are.

  • Patrick, I think you and others here are using Christian in two ways that (unintentionally) leaves you talking out both sides of your mouth.

    Two possible definitions:

    Def 1 = Anyone who has been baptized and claims the label.

    Def 2 = A professed believer in Jesus Christ who adheres to his teachings.

    When someone says “Christians don’t do that,” of course they are talking about Def 2. They are simply saying that the action is antithetical to being a Christian (Def 2) and people who do it aren’t behaving as Christians (Def 2). That in no way remotely suggests that people who have been baptized or call themselves “Christian” don’t do unChristian deeds.

    And this points back to my observation that despite the fact that most Americans are baptized or claim to be Christian (Def 1) some insist America is not a Christian nation because it does not live up to Jesus’ standards (Def 2).

    Yet when this guy kills and I say he is not a Christian (Def 2), howls go up from the “not a Christian nation” crowd that I’m weaseling because he is a Christian (Def 1). The definitional goal posts move based on ideological points to be scored.

    Clearly he is a Christian (Def 1) and not a Christian (Def 2). But the bottom line is that this has little to do with religion and everything to do xenophobia in the mind of a sick or evil man.

  • R Hampton

    And as I just wrote above, if you are going to say that America is not a Christian nation because, despite the great majority claiming to be Christians, we don’t behave as Christians should then neither was this killer a Christian because he did not behave as Christian should. Why are people here insisting that he be given central Christian identity? You can’t have it both ways either.

  • @Michael W. Kruse, you’re conflating what “he believes” with what “they often think”… …while a set might believe that a nation of Christians does not comprise a “Christian nation”, it still does not preclude recognizing that a deluded individual casts himself as a holy warrior, locked in an eternal struggle as light v. darkness, to reclaim his “Christian nation”… …it’s as if you’ve locked on goggles that refract selected colors. Furthermore, those who argue against the “Christian nation” thesis do not make a case on the basis of “behaving as Christians”, just that the founding fathers (i.e., Madison, Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, etc.…) were more motivated by enlightenment ideas/reason (and also, against the wind of the rabble masses, whose democratic power (and in the clutches of intolerant ministers and pastors) they deemed dangerous to proper government.

    @Scot, agree totally about invective hurled at academics, “culture war” and “war on smartypants” is part and parcel part of the propaganda campaign of not only fundamentalists (i.e., SCIENTISTS ARE TEACHING OUR KIDS WE CAME FROM ROCKS!, as I hear on “Christian” radio), but tea party loyalists and media moguls like Murdoch and the oil sheiks that deliberately program their news to get “angry white men to throw things at their TV” (in the words of Roger Ailes). Scapegoat the educated elites — look that way, while the corporatists and oligarchs reign further increases. Yes, no doubt, some will sneer at this — but just tune in to Glenn Beck or Michael Savage for awhile — scapegoat media.

    And while, true, universities will see this type of individual (Loughner, other school shootings), and might be the object of research & study, it’s still in a vacuum, and remote from academic professional day to day experience. Perhaps my perspective is tainted from living in Arizona, but I hear a lot of sentiment in tune (but stop short of advocating violence against civilians, but not the government or “smartypants” intellectuals) with this fundamentalist “holy war” vein.

  • I find it very relevant that religious conservatives are offended when a killer like Breivik is called a ‘Christian fundamentalist’, but are themselves very eager to label terrorists in the Middle East as ‘Muslim fundamentalists’.

    Now, admittedly, Breivik was a ‘Christian in name only’, but most of the terrorists in the Muslim world are also ‘Muslin in name only’.

    So, in all fairness, we, Christians get in this false labeling what we deserve. We should apply to oursevles first the measures we apply to others. ‘What goes around, comes around.’

  • Aaron

    If you want a category, I think the category of evil will do. His acts were evil and bad trees don’t produce fruit. Calling him a Christian or fundamentalist serves no purpose at all.

    Calling him hateful, evil, twisted, delusional works for me. Also, I am not sure how anyone could refer to him as a fundamentalist. What does that mean? Maybe a fundmentalist for his views whatever they are/were.

    One more thing, Elijah did not murder any pagans. Fire came from heaven and consumed the false prophets. Right? I think God is responsible. Now that’s interesting.

  • DanutM #66,

    Muslim terrorists usually shout “Allahu akbar!” Allah is greatest! as they commit their atrocities. So, though they may represent a minority Muslim faction, I don’t think would be accurate to say that they are “Muslim in name only.”

    Did Brievik shout out, “Praise Jesus!” or “Glory to God!” as he shot all those innocents? I have seen no reports to that effect.

    So I do not think your comparison turns out to be very strong.

  • Aaron #67,

    I think “evil” is a good category for Breivik’s acts.

  • phil_style

    Jeff “Muslim terrorists usually shout “Allahu akbar!” Allah is greatest! as they commit their atrocities”

    But that’s just the point I think. Many Muslims (and others) would re-phrase your paragraph thus “extremists who misinterpret Islam shout “Allahu Akbar!” as they commit their atrocities”

    If we’re going to argue that Brevik’s use of Christianity as a mechanism to enact evil is mistaken, then we should give Muslim commentators the same opportunity to show how those who do this in the name of Allah are also mistaken.

  • R.K. Ulrich

    Good analysis of Breivik! As a Norwegian living in America, I had the opportunity to go onto the net shortly after the bombing in Oslo and download all of Breivik’s blogs posted on from 2008-2010 and I read them in the original language. I have also read excerpts of his Manifesto. I can assure you all – there is not a single shred of evidence that he is a Christian being defined as: a follower of Jesus Christ and adhering to Biblical truth!! He states that he was baptized and confirmed, which in Norwegian context says nothing about one’s personal faith. Since we have a State-sponsored Lutheran church, everybody in Norway is born into the church, i.e. they are by default baptized and confirmed, unless they specifically cancel their church membership. Breivik favors Darwinism, hails our old Nordic pagan religion, wants our State church dismantled in favor of a Catholic system. He rather likens himself to the medieval crusaders who charged out with sword in hand and murdered their opponents – Breivik’s purpose is to use their same methods and rid Norway and Europe of multiculturalism and preserve the CULTURAL aspects of Christianity, only! Another man tried the very same… just on a much broader scale – Adolph Hitler, he wasn’t successful, either! We would hardly call Hitler a Christian!!! Placing Christianity and Islam on the same level as far as a call to terrorism and violence is ridiculous, and demonstrates complete ignorance of both faiths on part of those who do so! The Christian faith calls for love, forgiveness, and restoration (please read Jesus’ directly quoted words in the four Gospels of the New Testament), whereas at the very core of the Koran (Quran) there is a written call to Jihad… which means physically ridding the world by the sword of the Infidels (those who do not adhere to the faith of Islam). Therein lies the fundamental difference between the two faiths… and that is a huge difference!!!

  • Jeremy

    The religious label seems to me to be one of centrality. How much did religion figure into this guy’s actions? For the Islamist and “actual” Christian extremists, it is the very center of their rhetoric and motivation. The war they wage is holy and ordained by God, at least in their language. For this guy, it seems tangential and more of a cultural milieu than any actual divinely commanded act.

    And as one poster noted – Ok, Christian, sure. But “Fundamentalist”? How so exactly? The only fundamental he seems to have is “the OT has violence so that makes it all ok” and I’ve never actually met a fundamentalist who would agree with that.

  • My point, phil_style, is that the Muslim terrorists who do understand Islam and the Koran in the way they do (whether correctly or incorrectly is another discussion) commit their acts not as “cultural” Muslims (i.e., “Muslim in name only”) but as religious ones. For them it is a religious act, however skewed their understanding of Islam may be. Others Muslims may disagree with them about what the religion teaches, but the terrorists believe that is what the religion teaches them to do. They may be misguided Muslims, but they are not MINOs.

    OTOH, Breivik perpetrated his evil acts as a “cultural” Christian not a religious one (he denies being a religious Christian). It was a cultural act performed for cultural ends, not a a religious one performed for religious goals.

  • Tim Webb

    I know it may be tantamount to heresy to post something from Michael Horton, but he makes a fascinating & convincing argument that Breivik is an “Enlightenment Fundamentalist” at

  • steve_sherwood

    This thread has likely played itself out, but interestingly, the Daily Show did a bit on exactly this same issue last night. There take, obviously, is decidedly more sarcastic than the take here.

  • steve_sherwood

    “Their” not “there.”