Breivik's Religion

Mark Juergensmeyer at Religion Dispatches wades through some of Anders Behring Breivik’s 1,500 page “manifesto,” which seems to be a disjointed document where Breivik laid out his plans for a coming war between the righteous Europeans on one side and the multiculturalists and Muslims on the other:

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.

I guess this is religion used as a cultural marker to provide a sense of identity. Breivik wasn’t really interested in the content of Christianity, just its use as a label to unite good Europeans against the invading hordes of Islam.

Spencer Ackerman also picked up on the similarities between the Breivik and the Islamic terrorists:

Anyone who’s watched and listened to a decade’s worth of bin Laden and Zawahiri communiques will notice the familiar themes.

The elites have betrayed and brainwashed the faithful
. Much like how bin Laden conceived of the decline of the Middle East, what Breivik considers the cultural rot of Europe isn’t the fault of the “authentic” Euros. It’s due to a decades-long betrayal by their rulers.

Multiculturalism and “cultural Marxism” does for Breivik what Mideast bandwagoning with the west does for bin Laden: provides each man with a galvanizing sense of victimhood and beseigement. It also writes those elites out of the realm of authenticity, providing a way for their audiences to switch their allegiances over to the “strong horse” — and also a way to justify killing their targets.

Destroy the apostate regime.
The apostate regime will collapse due to its inability to withstand attacks from the principled believers. For bin Laden, the believers are the true Muslims, the vanguard of an Islamic revival. For Breivik, it’s the “cultural Marxists” and their media sycophants who’ve been attacking (!) European nationalists since the downfall of the Third Reich.

Notice the essential point: for both the Islamic supremacist and the Islamophobe, what matters most is winning the battle with the apostates. It’s not an accident that al-Qaida kills orders of magnitude more Muslims than westerners. Nor is it an accident that Breivik targeted white Norwegians instead of the Muslim immigrants that so stir his ire. For both, the stated grievance is pretextual. “Before we can begin our Crusade,” Breivik states, “we must do our duty by decimating Cultural Marxism!”

Also in the manifesto, we find out that Breivik was a fan of the American Tea Party. According to the selection quoted at Unsettled Christianity, he took the formation of the Tea Party as a sign of the weakening grip of the Marxists. For context, you can also read Hilde Løvdal’s piece about the Norwegian Tea Party:

At a time when the more moderate Christian Democratic Party (est. 1933) struggles with massive loss of popular support and strives to find its way back to political power, right wing groups are networking heavily and taking cues from conservative American Protestantism.

Kristenfolket (The Christian People, or just The Christians), a coalition inspired by the Moral Majority, tries to encourage Norwegian Christians to vote for conservative political parties based on a nice bouquet of issues such as support for Israel, defense of traditional marriage, and Islamophobia. In 2009, Kristenfolket and other conservative Christians gathered at Moster, where the first national law based on Christianity was signed, to reclaim Norway for Christ and pray for God’s blessings over Norway. (If God really listened to their prayers, he must be a left wing social democrat.)

All the things that America could export, and we’re sending the Tea Party and Christian Rock.

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  • brgulker

    I have a thought here:

    It seems to me that most bible-believing Christians(tm) would be forced to say that this act, in and of itself, isn’t evil. Why? Because the bible is filled with acts like this one at the behest of YHWH.

    Thus, the only way to say that such an act is morally reprehensible is to argue that it was not commanded by YHWH. In other words, it’s not that what he did was wrong in and of itself; instead, it’s wrong because there was not a divine impetus behind the action to sanction its morality.

    I find this to be unavoidable for a lot of Christians, at least if they’re concerned about consistency.

    I also find it untenable and worthy of condemnation. But even as a Christian, I’m not sure how to begin the argument.

    I’d welcome thoughts.

    • John C

      ‘I’d welcome thoughts’ Great! ‘the bible is filled with acts like this one at the behest of YHWH’. No, its not. Those God-sanctioned ‘slaughters’ of the Amalekites/Philistines, etc are referring to God’s ‘war’ with the fallen, flesh nature in us, ie Exodus 17:16 ‘The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation’. The Amalekites are descendents of Esau (the flesh nature in us, ie ‘I have loved Jacob but hated Esau’) and are from ‘Edom’. As a believer you really need to understand what these things represent because when you do, you will begin to see ‘our heavenly Father’ as JC called Him in a true light.

      When we stick to the outer form of the text, meaning only the topical/literal meanings we will miss so very much and we are in the same vein as the ‘fundamentalists’. JC spoke in veiled, parabolic language so it should come as no surprise to us that much of scripture is also veiled in this way but…’it is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of kings (that’s us) to search it out’ Prov 25:2. Think hide & seek.

      This is the life of faith, to transition from mere earthly things to heavenly things, to see things in a ‘whole’, new (and true) light, ie Eph 1:17 ‘that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you (BR) a spirit of wisdom and of REVELATION in the (true) knowledge of him’. This is your ‘birthright’ as a believer, the Lord wants you to ‘take it’ by faith, believe Him, journey with Him into the high and beautiful things that He desires to reveal to you but are only apprehended by a radical (and offensive) child-like trust and faith in Him. Not in church or religious mess but in Him alone. A marvelous adventure awaits.

      Look to the inward, spiritual meaning of the text and let the Holy Spirit who reveals mysteries reveal it to you. Above all, believe God, believe in the goodness of your heavenly meaning spiritual Father, the ‘Father of our Spirits…Father’, Heb 12:9′.

      All the best BR.

      • Jerdog

        J C: Keepin’ it surreal.

      • brgulker

        But the texts themselves claim to be describing actual, literal slaughters.

        • John C

          That’s the letter (you’re reading) that ‘kills’ (brings death) but the Spirit (of the word) gives…life. (2 Cor 3:6). We don’t read scripture with the very same, academic mind(set) as we would a textbook. The Bible is not a mere ‘book’ in the same way, and so can’t be read (understood) as such.

          If you’ll start with the truth that “God is Love” (1 Jn 4:8) then you’ll begin to make progress. Otherwise (no disrespect intended BR) why would you stay a ‘Christian’ at all if you thought ‘our heavenly Father’ was such a vile and heinous Being?

          All the best.

          • Len

            Surrealer. Or should that be surunreal?

        • Yoav

          That’s because the bible is not a true christian, only john C is.

    • trj

      I think any Christian will tell you that God is 100% moral. Certainly I’ve never heard a Christian claim otherwise. That leaves two options:

      If you’re not a literalist you may dismiss all mention of God’s massacres as not really having been commanded or performed by God. The Bible cannot be true when it attributes these deeds to God, simply because a moral God would never do something like that.

      If you are a literalist there’s really only one possible defense. Whenever God commands or performs some atrocity there’s some deeper purpose, of which we’re not aware (mere humans can’t hope to comprehend the mind of God, and all that), which actually makes God’s actions moral. This is often accompanied by some contrived attempt to justify the act (“Yeah, sure genocide may appear bad, but those people were wicked and deserved to be killed, in fact the Bible says so itself, and God in his mercy sent their innocent children straight to heaven, so it was really a good thing”).

      According to the literalist/apologist, when God in the Bible commanded slaughter of infants (or performed the deed himself) we can rest assured there must’ve been a really, really good reason for it, which makes it perfectly ok. In fact, it would’ve been immoral to have gone against it. But when a mere human performs some comparable deed it’s pure evil since there’s no such hidden justification for what he has done.

      I call it the Morality of the Gaps argument. The supposed morality of God’s actions is hidden where we can’t see it. Much of what God allegedly did according to the Old Testament sure as fuck doesn’t seem moral but the apologist will keep claiming the morality is there. It’s just hidden from our uncomprehending minds. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard an apologist say “Do you claim to know the mind of God?” or “Who are we to judge God!” – which is just another way of saying they have no actual defense for God’s immorality.

      • trj

        Well, and then there’s of course the John C option: Everything in the Bible is true, but it’s all metaphors within metaphors.

        • John C

          A metaphor is merely a picture language. Its intended to provide added insight, meaning. It doesn’t mean that, just because truth is often apprehended via metaphoric language in scripture that its not ultimately true. In fact, the highest, most beautiful truths are best understood via this mind(set) which requires a re-new-ed mind altogether, ie the mind of Christ which is offered to us, to you. Its very much like the one we had in the garden before the fall. Its ‘a beautiful mind’ and its true…too!

          All the best TRJ!

          • trj

            Your use of “a beautiful mind” to support your truth claims is ironic.

            Or maybe it’s a metaphor. Who knows.

          • vasaroti

            You have several million fundamentalists to convince that the bible contains metaphors, before you get around to trying to convince atheists of anything. It’s the literalists who are driving the religion off a cliff, to use the current political metaphor.

      • Elemenope

        I think any Christian will tell you that God is 100% moral. Certainly I’ve never heard a Christian claim otherwise.

        Christian Existentialists in the vein of Kierkegaard have argued extensively that God can and does ignore or actively suspend moral precepts and ethical concerns in certain situations. For example, Kierkegaard pointed out that there can be no moral excuse for asking a guy to sacrifice his own son, hence the story of Abraham and Issac has to be understood from an extra-ethical lens, with everyone (including God) acting in an explicitly immoral or amoral manner.

        • John C

          The Abe & Isaac story depicts a beautiful thing and it doesn’t require an ‘extra-ethical’ lens although I like that term, will steal for later use if you don’t mind Elemeno, lol.

          • Yoav

            John, you should look up the definition of beautiful, last time I checked it didn’t include BBQing your son because the voices in your head tell you to.

        • Schaden Freud

          You and I do not share the same definition of “beautiful”.

        • trj

          Hm, seems I don’t get to talk to many Christian existentialists. The closest approximation I know from everyday Christians is those who claim (wittingly or not) that God is moral but may not act in an absolutely moral way, because circumstances don’t always allow it, but he will select whatever is overall the best moral choice. Which answers Euthyphro’s dilemma, I guess – God is subject to morality. And subject to the constraints of physical reality, for that matter.

          Using this explanation, God’s genocides were regrettable, but a necessary evil, since they paved the way for the Jewish nation – which was necessary for some reason – and so in the end it’s all for the good. And therefore it was more moral to commit those genocides than not to.


          Out of curiosity, have any of these existentialists hinted at the properties of this extra-ethical perspective? Is it effectively more than just a philosophical “I don’t know” shrug of the shoulders?

  • Len

    … at least if they’re concerned about consistency.

    Ah, well – you see…

  • Schaden Freud

    Breivik is a Christian and a terrorist, so I call him a Christian terrorist. My view is that with most terrorists, religion merely provides an excuse and a belief that the actions are somehow divinely sanctioned and therefore acceptable; a kind of moral get out of jail free card if you like. What it’s really all about is power and hatred, whether they’re flying planes into buildings or shooting students in Norway.

  • vasaroti

    “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)).”
    I think he meant it’s enough right now while you help us get rid of the Muslims, and we’ll see about forcing you to bend the knee to the church later.

  • Peter Johnsen

    To understand Behring Breivik’s lack of understanding about Christianity, one also can take a look at this one:

    It also sheds some light on the question of religion in Breivik’s motivations, (…) the “Christian Fundamentalist” label which was tossed around quite a lot does obviously not fit at all. Instead, the strong Judeo-Christian element of Breivik’s ideological discourse is itself motivated by identity politics..

    Much more here.

  • Katie Murphy

    szo much of Breiviks ranting sound just like the usa’s republican agenda. Hating marxism, communism etc.

    And that was true of Hitler as well, because as a catholic, he learned t o hate communism because its god was communism.

    in a strange way his hatred caused his demise – If he had kept the treaty he signed with the soviets and simply tried in the end to divvy up the spoils and the rigths to incinrate Jews, gays and others he wwould have won the war, at least in Europe.

    BTW re the pope – he UNexcommunicated a holocaust denier named Bishop Williamson, an extremist of the Opus Dei extremist – traditionalist society.

    The popes excuse = he didnt know? Give me a break – he’s been at the top of the church hierary for well over 20 years, running the church while the good John PaulII traveled widely.

    Breeding tells. Drafted or not, the pope learned his lessons well, growing up and serving in the german army. the following is about the vATICAN , not the good catgholic people, of whom about 50% suport gay civil marriage