Was Anders Breivik Really a Christian?

Was Anders Breivik Really a Christian? July 25, 2011

What do we do with the fact that Anders Behring Breivik — the perpetrator of a terrorist attack in downtown Oslo and the mass murder of children on the nearby island of Utoya — identifies himself as a Christian?  How do we make sense of the fact that he refers three times in his “European Declaration of Independence” to the “Lord Jesus Christ”?

1.  First, before we say anything else, absolutely the first response of every Christian without exception must be unqualified condemnation of the horrific, disturbing, and profoundly sinful actions Breivik took last Friday.  As I’ve written before, on occasion I’ve been frustrated when moderate Muslims fail to condemn acts of terrorism as loudly and unequivocally as possible; yet I understand how Muslims resent that the American public associates them with terrorism and looks to them for a response.  The implication is that the moderates are somehow accountable for the actions of the fringe, and it’s incumbent upon them to distance themselves from the madmen who detonate school buses and attack summer camps.

I too resent the implication that I have to offer some sort of account for Breivik’s action.  It should be abundantly clear that I have nothing to do with him.  And yet – and yet – I do need to condemn his actions.  Every Christian does.  Every person of good will does.  An act of such extraordinary moral monstrosity must, before anything else, be buried beneath an avalanche of condemnation.  Christians should always be humbly willing to examine whether a cancer might be growing within their midst, a cancer that is hidden within the body because Christians assume that everyone in their community shares their best intentions.  Extremists arise everywhere, and we ought not assume that our ranks are free of them.  So let us respond with the moral clarity to call evil evil, and the humility to examine the record and consider whether our actions or inactions, the things we’ve said or left unsaid, could have contributed to the worldview of the madman.

2.  Second, we should clarify precisely what kind of “Christian” Anders Breivik is.  Because, as it turns out, he’s not much of a Christian at all, at least by ordinary definitions of the term.

Anders Breivik

Raised in a secular household, Breivik went from “moderately agnostic” to “moderately religious” and was baptized and confirmed in the Norwegian State Church at the age of 15.  He is consistently critical of the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church (which he thinks has served its purpose and should reassimilate into the Catholic Church, in order to give a united front against Islam), as he believes both have abdicated their responsibility to defend Christian subjects against an Islamic invasion.

Then, square in the middle of his sprawling 1500-page manifesto, in a section (3.139) entitled “Distinguishing between cultural Christendom and religious Christendom,” Breivik himself tells us what kind of Christian he is.  He argues that the inheritors of western Christendom are all, whether they like it or not, cultural Christians.  Some are liberal cultural Christians, engaged in a massive act of cultural suicide by facilitating Islam’s demographic conquest of Europe.  Others are conservative cultural Christians, such as himself, who have recognized the threat of Islamicization and the infection of a weak and accommodationist “cultural Marxist multi-culturalism” in the elite sphere of European society.  Conservative cultural “Christians” should arm themselves for the new Crusade to reassert Christian cultural hegemony and drive the Islamic threat from European lands.  As for religious Christians:

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.

Well, no, actually it doesn’t make you a Christian.  Most believers – liberal and conservative alike – decry the notion of “cultural Christendom,” or the theory that a person could be Christian by participating in the outward forms of Christianity while abandoning its inward beliefs, values and relationships.  Breivik several times asserts the superior authority of logic and science, and clarifies his commitment to “Christendom” as a monoculture, not “Christianity” as a life of personal devotion to Jesus Christ.  Breivik does not see himself as a follower of Jesus Christ, but as a Crusader defending Christendom from Islamicization.  He does not defend Christianity as a system of beliefs, stories and existential commitments; he defends Christendom as his own side in the clash of civilizations.

Breivik demonstrates no belief in the deity of Christ, in part because he’s not really sure that there is any God at all.  Although he says that those who live “under full surrender with God the Father” will receive his “anointing” for battle, he also says that belief in God is a crutch in the face of death.  He writes:

I’m not going to pretend I’m a very religious person as that would be a lie. I’ve always been very pragmatic and influenced by my secular surroundings and environment…Religion is a crutch for many weak people and many embrace religion for self serving reasons as a source for drawing mental strength…Since I am not a hypocrite, I’ll say directly that this is my agenda as well.  However, I have not yet felt the need to ask God for strength, yet…But I’m pretty sure I will pray to God as I’m rushing through my city, guns blazing…

Breivik describes how he will be on a steroid rush in the midst of the attack, listening to his iPod (perhaps Clint Mansell’s Lux Aeterna, he says), in order to ward off fear.  He explains that he chooses to pray and believe in God in order to overcome the fear of death.  He recommends other martyr-crusaders do the same, as religion is “ESSENTIAL in martyrdom operations.”

So, while it was obviously wrong for some commentators to rush to the assumption that this attack in Norway was perpetrated by a Muslim, it is a dramatic mischaracterization to say that it was perpetrated by a “Christian fundamentalist.”  He might have been a “cultural Christian” by some definition, and a political fundamentalist, but he was certainly no “fundamentalist Christian.”  It’s important to be clear: by almost every definition, Anders Behring Breivik was no Christian at all.

3.  Finally, Christians should consider how they can build relationships of mutual respect and understanding across religious boundaries, and should understand the distinction between cultural and religious differences.  Breivik is critical of George W. Bush, among others, for saying that our war is not with Islam.  Yet Breivik’s atrocity illustrates the wisdom and the importance of this approach.  As a matter of fact, there may be a sort of implicit, long-term struggle underway between different cultures and different civilizations, in the way that cultures and civilizations evolve and grow or else fade into obscurity.  Yet this is not remotely the same thing as a religious war, and what is emerging may minimize cultural differences and let the truly religious and spiritual differences come through more clearly.

Christianity is not a cultural system.  In fact, in those cases where it has become so intertwined with a culture that the two cannot be separated, this is inevitably to the detriment of Christianity.  Christianity is fundamentally a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, a community and a way of life, all wrapped up in historical, moral and theological beliefs, values and commitments.  These things are not culture and civilization.  They shape culture and civilization.  They ground and judge culture and civilization, and they can be expressed in a variety of cultures and civilizations.  But if we grow committed to the culture and civilization, while the faith and spirituality are hollowed out of them, then we worship empty idols.

All of the western monotheistic traditions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – have violent elements in their sacred texts and histories, bloodstained threads that run through the tapestries of their stories.  Christianity and Judaism had largely excised or decisively reinterpreted those elements by the time of the Enlightenment.  It’s telling that Breivik had to look back to a medieval order (the Knights Templar) to find a version of Christianity that would arm and equip him for a battle with Islam.  But even as we encourage those remaining pockets of extremists within contemporary Islam to reassess and reinterpret the violent threads in its scriptures and stories, we need to make sure that no one else, like Breivik, draws those violent threads out of Christianity and leaves the rest behind.  If Breivik had been a “religious Christian,” and not merely a “cultural Christian” who chose to honor the most violent strains of Christendom’s cultural history, it almost certainly would have prevented him from taking the actions he took.

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  • Adrian in NZ

    Thank you for this very clear clarification, Tim. That’s really helpful.

  • Ted Olsen

    “Absolutely the first response of every Christian without exception must be unqualified condemnation.”

    Why? Especially: Why so many superlatives (“Absolutely … first … every … without exception … unqualified”)?

    Are you saying that my mother is derelict in her Christian duties by not finding some blog or call-in radio show or Facebook wall so that she can register her “unqualified condemnation”?

    You can’t possibly mean this. And you can’t possibly mean that any Christian who rushed to help the wounded was wrong because their “first response” was not condemnation.

    So what do you mean?

    And does it hold true for every bad act that someone does? For every bad act that person does who claims some kind of connection to Christianity, however un-Christian or anti-Christian their religious beliefs are?

    In such a case, wouldn’t we just be walking around condemning things all day? Evil is all around us.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Ted, I hate to speak so frankly to a senior person in my business, but this is absurd. *Of course* I’m not saying (a) that your grandmother must call a radio show, (b) that first responders should have paused to condemn the act, or (c) that Christians must condemn every bad act. You know full well that’s not what was meant. Can’t we have conversations without taking things to extremes like this? Do I really have to fill my writing with qualifications like “Bear in mind: I don’t mean first responders?” or can I just assume that readers will be, you know, reasonable?

      A reasonable construal of my comments would be: I am encouraging the audience to whom I speak, largely an American Christian audience, writing three days after the fact, that when the question of Breivik’s actions comes up, they should first condemn those actions before they go on to contextualize them. I think it’s important first, especially since Christians often ask this of Muslims, to condemn the act clearly and unanimously, and then to be open about where the evidence leads. Was this guy really a Christian? What if there is something sinister in Christian culture that needs to be removed? Those are empirical questions and we should be open to the answers. But it’s only after condemning the act and making ourselves open to the evidence that we can, after looking at the evidence, authentically show that he is not a Christian. Otherwise, if we go straight to the “Yes what he did was bad but…” or “What he did should be seen in context,” then it’s going to come across as inauthentic.

      I do think it’s incumbent upon those of us who have a public Christian platform – like you – to condemn an act of this magnitude carried out in the name of “our Lord Jesus Christ,” assess it, and respond. It will be used by those with anti-Christian agendas to tarnish the Christian faith. It already is being used in that way. But if we respond with moral clarity, but also humility, and then with evidence reasonably presented, we’ll get a lot further than refusing to answer or weaseling out of the question.

      • Ted Olsen

        Meh. I’m not so senior. At least, I hope, not yet! Besides, please do be frank. It’s your party I’ve entered here!

        As you say, “this is absurd,” and I knew you agreed (see my comment that “You can’t possibly mean this.”) You may find my questions extreme, but they are too real: the language in your initial post is along the lines I hear all the time about how it is incumbent upon every Christian to speak against the evil of X (fill in whatever issue the speaker cares deeply about: homophobia, sexual trafficking, the prosperity gospel, etc.) A week doesn’t go by that I don’t see someone claiming that every pastor or every church needs to address some specific social ill. Likewise, I regularly hear how Christians must apologize for the sins of their fellows, however distant relatives or strangers they may be.

        Now, hearing you explain your comments, I understand that you’re taking more of the brunt of this criticism than you probably deserve. But I still reject the notion that we can’t say anything in the context of evil without first spending a significant amount of time condemning the evil.

        I just don’t see anything in Scripture requiring us to condemn every evil (nor do I think it’s a rhetorical necessity, but that’s a separate issue). Different people are going to be called to different issues. And different people are going to have different important points to make as issues arise.

        Look for a moment at Jesus’ response when he heard about the Galileans slain by Pilate (Luke 13). He does not condemn Pilate at that moment. He does not even address the evil. He has a different point to make: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

        It is not the answer that those coming to Jesus were expecting. It is not the answer they were hoping for. He did not worry about how the answer would affect his reputation. He had a point to make, and he made it: Repent or perish.

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          Ted, I apologize. I would not have been irritated if your opinion did not matter to me.

          I don’t know whether it’s necessary to spend a significant amount of time condemning the evil, but I do think it’s the right starting point. In my view, it’s not so much a matter of right and wrong (as though it’s sinful to do anything other than condemn the evil first) as a matter of wisdom. I believe it is wise to speak with moral clarity and wise for Christians to make clear that we do not excuse or diminish or mitigate he did just because he claims to be a Christian.

          Another point of clarification: I didn’t say that we’re required to condemn every evil. But I do think we should condemn this evil. This is one of those “I know it when I see it” situations. I may not have the perfect definition to describe the boundaries between pornography and art, in marginal cases. But some cases are clear. This, to my mind, is one of those clear cases. When a person kills 92 innocents, the great majority of them children, in the name of “our Lord Jesus Christ,” Christians and Christian leaders in particular should make clear that they will have no truck with this sort of person. Your comparison to the slaughter of the Galileans in Luke 13 is interesting, but Pilate made no claim to be acting in Jesus’ name.

          Anyway, reasonable people can differ on these things (and so can we). But I get your frustration. You’re probably told frequently that Christianity Today ought to condemn X, Y and Z. I’m told those things, and I’m not at the helm of American Christendom’s flagship publication. I feel the same irritation when I’m told that I should condemn all sorts of preachers and politicians for the wrong things they’ve done, or else I’m complicit or cowardly or etc. I don’t know where the lines are between “what you should condemn” and “what you should not.” But I’m pretty sure this one lands squarely in the “what you should condemn” camp.

          Thanks for the conversation.


    • Ted, I enjoyed the article, but had the same reaction to the opening line of point 1. Nothing in my life would indicate that I have anything in common with this guy except that we both refer to ourselves by ordering some letters in the same way to identify ourselves.

    • John Copenhaver

      Muslim leaders have been swift and strong in their condemnation of terrorists who claim Muslim faith. The media simply does not report them.

      • Timothy Dalrymple

        I think it’s a little bit of both, John. I think the extreme voices get the most attention, but I also think that there are Muslim constituencies that support what the terrorists are doing, and other constituencies are more interested initially in explaining the reason for their anger than condemning their actions.

  • “Christianity and Judaism had largely excised or decisively reinterpreted those elements by the time of the Enlightenment?”

    I strongly disagree. Many (probably most) of my Christian friends have fused their religion and their patriotism which, they will be quick to tell you, may just require you to kill your enemy instead of loving them.

    Few things make Christians angrier than a discussion over Jesus’ instruction to love your enemies. They hate it. Far from excising the idea of violence from their theology, American Christians celebrate it for the sake of patriotism and ethnocentrism.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Wyatt, I would like you to produce those Christians who hate discussing love for enemies and who believe their religion and patriotism require them to kill their enemies instead of love them. If you could have them introduce themselves, that would be great.

      • I’ll be happy to do that, Tim, although I’ll have to dig up a facebook post I made a few months back. Two comments I specifically remember were: 1) “I say ‘kill ‘em all, and let God sort ‘em out” (from a lady with whom I attend church), and 2) “I’m more of an ‘eye-for-an-eye; person myself.” Something to that effect, two different people. As I recall, both were made in the context of a discussion on Islam, so it’s very apropos. I must say, I’m surprised you don’t seem to believe these people exist. In academia, maybe not so much…

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          Thanks, Wyatt. I expect these people to explain why they believe their faith requires them to kill your enemy instead of loving them. And…only two? And people over Facebook? People say just about anything on Facebook. But I’m sure they’ll agree with what you said. And if “2” constitutes “many” (or even “most”) of the Christians you know, then you have a pretty small sample pool.


      • Susan

        I definitely remember facebook entries regarding who should take credit for Osama bin Laden’s death. I was astonished that any Christian would revel in any human death, and I said so. Posts were removed however.

    • “Few things make Christians angrier than a discussion over Jesus’ instruction to love your enemies. They hate it.”

      No, they reject your interpretation of it, especially insofar as it just so happens to accord with your political view.

      • And what is my political view, Kevin?

        • On war? You are a pacifist, or something close. Either way, you synopsis is not remotely fair, and so I’d question your motivation for creating a straw man.

          • If, by pacifist, you mean someone who doesn’t believe in killing people, then yeah, I am one of those.

            But this is no “straw man” argument; I disagree with Tim’s statement about Christians having “excised” violent OT passages from their theology. I’m pretty sure most American Christians believe Jesus is gonna come back with a sword and a whole lot of Christians to wage physical warfare on the enemies of God. Ergo, violence is still very much a part of the theology of many, if not most, American Christians.

    • stergeye

      You draw a false distinction. Like most Christians, I find the command to love my enemies to be very hard.

      But the command is to LOVE my enemies, not make excuses for them, or pretend that they’re not odious or hateful when they very plainly are.

      The history of the Christian West is replete with numerous examples of the failure to live up to this, or any of the commandments. You can point to all the examples of individual failures of Christians to live up to the demands of Charity that you like, but can you name a Christian martyr or saint who is celebrated for killing people?
      Can you find a single individual on any Christian website anywhere who offers anything except condemnation for Breivik? I can find you hundreds of Islamic sites which call the murderers of 9/11 as heroes.

      • What is your point about Islamic sites and 9/11? It’s true that Christians have condemned Breivik, but so have the leaders of most Islamic countries.

  • Jeremy

    I agree with a lot of this article which is well-judged and insightful, except that I think imposing such a sharp distinction between ‘cultural’ and ‘religious’ Christians can cause those of us with affiliation to the latter to feel somewhat superior. ‘Cultural’ Christians could act like this, but not a TRUE Christian, etc.

    ‘Religious’ Christians have at times been among the worst offenders in the bloodstained history, to the church’s shame. Many Knights Templar may have been mere mercenaries flying the Christian flag; I suspect others will have been deeply motivated by their religious impulses. The madness of the Inquisition is not far from the faith-filled. I wholeheartedly agree that a living faith is one of the best motivators to the kind of peace-making this article aspires to; I’m just less confident that being the right side of the line will guarantee that we do what’s right.

  • I read your excellent article on Crosswalk.com. One important matter I would like to add: Leaders from true Christian churches world-wide must rise up and speak with a united voice, “This wicked man is NOT a Christian. He is without Christ and lost and destined for hell! Yet he could still be saved if he were to repent and believe the TRUE Gospel instead of his blasphemous false one.” I have often wished that moderate Muslims would clearly declare, “Islamist terrorists are NOT Muslims. They are hypocrites.” Now the tables are turned on us. For the honor of name of Christ, the world Church must publicly excommunicate this Norwegian mass murderer. See Matt 18:17-18; 1 Cor 5:4-5).

    • kmad

      I may have to disagree with the assertion that “Islamist terrorists are NOT Muslims”. While we can be thankful that many more ‘moderate’, especially Western Muslims condemn terrorism (as they should), the Koran encourages and even commands in many cases the kind of violence we see in terrorism of recent times. So those who commit those acts are actually in some ugly ways, being more faithful to their holy text. They certainly could not be called non-Muslims because of those acts. On the other hand, though there are very specific God-commanded “Holy Wars” in the Bible, most are not. Even men like King David got in trouble with God when they moved without God specifically giving them the word to do so (such as Joshua being commanded by God to kill everyone/ everything when they first came in possession of the ‘promised land’). This is why Christians must apologize for things like the Crusades––we have guilt because it is not something God called us to do. Not to say that Muslims had any innocence in that same conflict. It was an ugly time for both of us.

      The point I am making is this: For the most part, excepting the biblical examples noted above, when Christians do these violent acts, they are in violation of God’s law and their own principles. When Muslims do those same acts, they are not in violation of Koran law.

  • Paul

    Of course he isn’t a real Christian, but neither are most of the fundamentalist “Christians” in the United States, including fellas like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and George W.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      George W. was a pretty run-of-the-mill evangelical Methodist, not a fundamentalist.


      • Susan

        Are you really stooping to defend George W. by aligning/maligning him with a denomination?

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          I’ll defend anyone when they are falsely accused, or I’ll right the record when they’re wrongly characterized. Bush’s beliefs are well within the mainstream of a major, and fairly centrist, Protestant denomination. Bush is not a fundamentalist.

  • Nic

    I would caution you that not every church-attending person is actually a believer in Christ. Attending church doesn’t make you a Christian. Just as being a Templar Knight doesn’t make you a Christian. Having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and acknowledging/accepting what he did on the cross for us, does.

    • Quayle

      “Having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and acknowledging/accepting what he did on the cross for us, does.”

      As a Mormon I’m glad to read this because under these terms I clearly qualify a Christian.

      I fully except Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God, as my personal savior, and I declare that he died for me and my sins on the cross.

      Now if somebody would inform the Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas that I’m a Christian, we can all be straight on this matter.

      • Timothy Dalrymple

        Well, I have no influence over the First Baptist Church in Dallas, alas. But I applaud your confession of faith. God bless,


  • stergeye

    Thank you Timothy, for delving into the fever swamp of Breivik’s manifesto deep enough to uncover the nature of his “Christian” self-identification. I gave up after viewing about 10 minutes of his video post.

    For true Christians, the very fact that he planted bombs and murdered mass numbers of young people sufficiently tells us that his religious beliefs are heterodox. One will search the long list of Christian martyrs in vain to find one whose life is celebrated for all the infidels he killed.

    Those who try to draw equivalence with Islamic terror overlook such critical distinctions such as the fact that there are no Christian spokesmen of ANY denomination ANYWHERE who are celebrating his actions, or even offering the slightest shade of justification for them. Nobody passed out candy to strangers, as Palestinians did in celebration after the murder of Jewish infants and children in Israel last April. There’s no chance of streets, schools, or housing projects being named after him.

    You are right that all Christians must condemn Breivik’s actions. They are not the actions of someone remotely Christian. We must also pray for the victims and their families, and that Breivik comes to comprehend the awful nature of his crime. Given that the maximum sentence he’s facing in Norway will put him back on the street by age 53 at the latest, we’d better pray for the last one with particular fervency.

  • Gallimaufry

    thanks…a sober look at the situation. I admit my first thoughts were some radical element of Islam. Radical Islam is as unsettling as is this which is a swing toward violence rather than seek other means to ease things. I hardly cheer the Nazi like roots of this man. As far as “Thou Shall Not Kill” it meant murder. I am afraid Gandhi hardly did a bang up job of moving the world toward peace. The Beatles “All You Need Is Love” accomplished nothing but sell records. I have spent a large part of my disability helping others but i keep weapons at my home and often with me.

  • John Haas

    “All of the western monotheistic traditions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – have violent elements in their sacred texts and histories, bloodstained threads that run through the tapestries of their stories. Christianity and Judaism had largely excised or decisively reinterpreted those elements by the time of the Enlightenment.”

    This is true as far as it goes, but it leaves out a huge part of the story: the entwining of (much of) Christianity since the 1600s with the nation state by way of civil religion (with a parallel development between certain branches of Judaism and the state of Israel).

    While it is true that neither the churches nor the state embark on “Holy Wars” in their medieval form anymore, some/most American Christians have fused a sense of providential destiny to the nation, speak of it as sacred, and regard its wars inherently spiritual contests that God oversees and wills.

    In this, as you say, theology plays a less important role than politics. While Jerry Falwell might publish an op-ed titled “God is Pro-War” in the run-up to the Iraq War, it seems clear that what was driving Falwell–like most American Christians–was his allegiance to the state–or perhaps only to a particular political party–and went on a proof-texting hunt after the fact.

    Still, was not Falwell’s “Americanism” an essential part of his religion (and is not the same true for the large majority of American Christians)? And is it not this civil religion which moves to center stage (at least for awhile), determining what to support and what do oppose, during war-time?

    It can be very hard–even impossible–to determine quite where “real” Christianity stops and civil religion begins in any individual or church. And so, while civil religion acts through the instrumentation of the largely secular state (unlike Islam in its more conservative iterations), its practical, real-time entwining with Christianity (or Judaism) means that, while important things have changed since the Enlightenment, a lot of equally important things have not.

    • I tried to make this same point before. Very well put, sir.

      • John Haas

        Thanks, man. I certainly know what you’re speaking of. But I think Christianity can look very different depending on where you are situated: what church you go to, who you read, who you take seriously and who you dismiss as an irresponsible fringe. And times change. In a lot of churches where you’d have had a real harsh time pushing the “love your enemies” thing and associated themes back in fall 2001 or spring 2003, you’d have no problem now.

    • Well, it might “seem” that way, but do you have any evidence that “most” Christians that most American Christians were driven by allegiance to a political party?

      Naturally, people tend to support or oppose wars depending on the party managing them. The pacifist left was pretty darn quiet about Libya. Same goes for deficit spending, parliamentary tactics etc… That’s what political bias is.

      When we trust the party in charge, we trust what they tell us.

      To accuse “most” Christians of disregarding Christ’s admonition to love our neighbor on this basis is obtuse at best. To accuse them of doing so on the basis of a smattering of random internet comments is just silly.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Personally, I don’t think that “Americanism” is an essential part of their religion for a large majority of American Christians. I think your perspective is skewed on that, John, honestly. But a couple definitions could be helpful.

      First, in what sense are you using the “civil religion” phrase? It does not seem exactly to be the original definition from Rousseau, or the more recent version from Bellah and his ilk. And second, how do you define “Americanism”? Is “Americanism” just “civil religion” in its American form?

      I’d still like to find those “many” or “most” Christians who believe that we’re supposed to kill and not love our enemies. They may not think that “love your enemies” is a guiding principle for the state, but I strongly doubt you’ll find many who view this as a guiding principle for individuals.

      John, in your view, in what ways are love for country acceptable and even laudable, and when does the good patriotism (if there such a thing) pass over into “Americanism”? It’s hard for me to engage your view thoughtfully when I’m not sure of the terms. Thanks.


      • John Haas

        1. “Personally, I don’t think that “Americanism” is an essential part of their religion for a large majority of American Christians.”

        Wow. Really? I thought that was hardly controversial–it’s been a pretty standard observation regarding American Christianity for a century or so, at least since the great missionary movement at the turn of the century went out to simultaneously “Christianize” and “civilize/Americanize” (there was no sense of any contradiction between those aims) the world.

        One might similarly cite Will Herberg’s “Protestant-Catholic-Jew” and barrels of similar sociological scholarship, especially comparative studies that compare the attitudes of American believers (especially evangelicals) to those in Europe or elsewhere.

        Or, perhaps you will recognize this quote: “He began the interview by turning to the audience and asking, “How many of you believe that America was founded as a Christian nation?” Nearly every hand in the room went up.”

        As for this, “I think your perspective is skewed on that,” I will merely note that, besides bordering on being rude, it begs the question.

        2. “in what sense are you using the “civil religion” phrase?”

        Yes, well, it’s a slippery term. Historians of American religion look more for behaviors and symbols to identify it, rather than elaborated theological statements (Americans not being peculiarly theological in their faith-habits).

        So, one looks for symbolic gestures of allegiance to the state (US flags in sanctuaries eg), the singing of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in church around the 4th of July (or one might simply ruminate on the very fact that we have a “battle hymn”!), or iconography that merges images of Jesus or the cross with the flag.

        We aren’t however entirely lacking articulations of the idea. Here’s Noemie Emery writing in the neo-conservative flagship journal THE WEEKLY STANDARD (June 22, 2009): “But the whole point of God, at least in the viewpoint of us human beings, is that He does not stand above or apart from the world. He inspires men to fight when attacked and for justice and freedom, sustains them in trouble, and consoles them in days of defeat. Indeed, the God of Our Fathers took sides and played favorites. He wiped out the Egyptians pursuing the Hebrews, to give just one example. He made a covenant with the Children of Israel; then He made a covenant with the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which turned in 1776 into a covenant with the entire United States of America, as it expanded across the continent, and even to places beyond.”

        Or, here’s Herman Melville, articulating the attitude on behalf of less eloquent devotees: “And we Americans are the peculiar, chosen people–the Israel of our time . . . Long enough have we been sceptics with regard to ourselves, and doubted whether, indeed, the political Messiah had come. But he has come, in us . . .”

        And here’s Robert Bellah (in AMERICAN CHARACTER & FOREIGN POLICY, 1986), describing American civil religion as having “two elements,” the conviction that America is to serve as an example to the world, and the belief in “America as a bringer of order through military might, and both as ordained by God.”

        3. “I’d still like to find those “many” or “most” Christians who believe that we’re supposed to kill and not love our enemies.”

        I didn’t make that argument, and I’m not sure I’d want to put those terms in stark opposition (recall that CS Lewis, for one, argued that it was the duty of the Christian to love his enemies WHILE killing them).

        But here’s an example of the kind of attitudes that make the question an interesting one:


        CHRISTIANITY TODAY summarizes the findings: “According to a survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 18 percent of white evangelicals said use of torture against suspected terrorists can often be justified and 44 percent said it can sometimes be justified. That adds up to 62 percent. . . . the survey is probably accurate. Other studies have shown similar results.”

        4. “They may not think that “love your enemies” is a guiding principle for the state, but I strongly doubt you’ll find many who view this as a guiding principle for individuals.”

        Agreed. And that’s my point. How the relation between believers and the state is understood by respective groups–in this case, American Christians and, say, Muslims in the Middle East or Central Asia–is precisely what needs to be attended to. American Christians do not organize as believers to attack and kill their enemies, but they do support the state in such endeavors and their faith is not disconnected from that support.

        5. “. . . in what ways are love for country acceptable and even laudable, and when does the good patriotism (if there such a thing) pass over into “Americanism”?”

        I wouldn’t necessarily put “good patriotism” in opposition to”Americanism.”

        • The idea that Christians subscribe to Americanism isn’t controversial in some circles. If you don’t run in those circles, its plenty controversial. The idea of a “Christian Nation” stems from the fact that many came here seeking freedom from religious oppression and were, in fact, protestants.

          As far as the Pew survey goes, a slightly greater percentage of evangelicals believe torture is sometimes justified in general. Given the context of the debate, namely the way the torture issue was politicized, isn’t it more likely that many were using this question as a proxy for their support (or lack thereof) for George W. Bush? The 20% who would describe themselves as ideologically liberal would certainly oppose torture in all forms.

          If you asked the less political, and more personal, question of whether people whether it would be okay to torture Osama Bin Laden in order to get information necessary to save your family, that figure would skyrocket across the board.

          Aside from selected anecdotes and assumptions, I see very little evidence of the Americanism you allege. More likely, evangelicals tend to be conservative, and (just as Christians on the left, including Jim Wallis and Brian McLaren) they have very strong opinions about politics.

          • John Haas

            “I see very little evidence of the Americanism you allege.”

            kevin s., meet the Reverend Billy Graham: “I shouldn’t have identified America and the American way of life so closely with the Kingdom of God …”


        • Timothy Dalrymple

          Yes, John, really. I don’t dispute that many Americans Christians confuse Christianity with certain American cultural norms (giving, say, individualism and the free market a Christian glow), as people in every culture find it difficult to abstract from their culture and see Christianity from an a-cultural or supra-cultural perspective, in order to separate out the ways in which their understanding of their faith has been shaped by and merged with the culture in which they reside. This is nothing new, and unavoidable, and it’s important for believers, wherever they reside, to seek out the ways in which they’ve confused their faith with their culture and to seek the ways in which their faith would critique their culture. I’m taking all this for granted as understood.

          The question is whether “Americanism” (whatever that is) is “essential” (whatever you might mean by that) for the majority of American Christians. Is a faith-infused patriotism present for most American Christians? Yes, I would grant that — and I would not see that as an entirely bad thing, but a mixture of good and bad. But until you define “Americanism” and explain what you mean by “essential,” I’m left with little to go on. To note that American believers’ beliefs are (compared with Europeans, e.g.) shaped by their culture is beside the point, unless that’s all you mean by Americanism.

          Suggesting your perspective is skewed is not rude. I was echoing your comment to another commenter that your views on such things largely depends on the communities of faith that exist around you (or in your imagination). The conservative Christians among whom I have lived and worked have what seems to me to be a healthy patriotism, but they don’t worship America or believe that America is infallible, and they’re certainly plenty critical of American culture, history and government.

          As for (3), yes, I was referring to the original commenter’s statement, and I was not the one who asserted the opposition. Actually, I agree with Lewis on this. As individuals we are called to love one another, but sometimes the lesser evil may be for one state to war with another. In those circumstances, if I am on the front lines, I may have to kill the enemy, and yet I should love the enemy in minimizing killing and suffering, etc. As for torture, now you’re getting all over the map. I’ll leave that for now, and just say that I think American Christians are perfectly correct in believing that the state is ordained for certain things, such as punishment of criminals and the power of war, that are not entrusted to individuals. There’s no contradiction here, and in fact I think American Christians have the greater part of the Christian theological tradition on their side here.

          As for (5), I’d still like a definition of Americanism. I don’t doubt that you can produce one, I just don’t know what it is yet.

          • John Haas

            OK gotcha, I think.

            Let me say to begin that, as kevin s. observed, assumptions are in play here, and among mine is that folk will have their Niebuhr, their Herberg, and their Bellah down–not agreeing with every assertion, of course, but simply familiar with the main lines of argument.

            Moving on from those discussions, we encounter the actual term “Americanism” as the name of a controversy (and movement) within Catholicism in the very late 19th c.

            This episode was multi-faceted and ambiguous, involving a cluster of assertions about what “America” represented and how the Church would need to respond (or not, if you were the Pope), but a core belief was that America represented a deliberate and exceptional movement of the Holy Spirit uniquely and authoritatively embodying universal values that were relevant for all people everywhere.

            Several implications followed. One was that America offered lessons for how the Church should operate. (This was what most upset Leo XIII, and elicited his condemnation of the movement. Later many of the Americanists’ assumptions found their way into Vatican II.)

            More relevant for this discussion was another implication, which involved what attitude Christians should hold regarding America as a geo-political entity operating in history.

            This entailed more than mere “patriotism” (understood as respect and affection for one’s nation along with a commitment to work–even sacrifice–for its well-being), but went further, involving a belief–sometimes articulated quite explicitly, sometimes not–that the United States occupied a unique place in history as a result of its being in a special covenant relationship with God and the Holy Spirit’s direction of its doings.

            Catholics, of course, hadn’t come up with these notions on their own; they were rather accommodating themselves to an American creed that was well-developed already by the time of the Civil War (on that, see Mark Noll’s AMERICA’S GOD).

            As you’ve intuited, “Americanism” carries connotations that relate it and distinguish it from “patriotism,” as well as from “exceptionalism.” It involves a religious confidence in America as not only a providential entity but as authoritative and normative. It doesn’t mean a belief in America’s absolute perfection, of course, but in contests with other powers on the world stage, it does entail a belief, as Emery says above, that God has taken sides, and that He is using America to effect His will in the world (say, to remove Saddam Hussein and establish democracy in Iraq).

            What that means is that America’s military–which is its instrument for effecting its will in the world–can now be seen as in some sense a tool being providentially wielded by God to effect His will.

            And that was my original point: that while American Christians have jettisoned the unmediated use of violence to effect religious ends, they have at the same time endowed the nation’s geo-strategic ends with religious significance, and they concurrently embrace America’s military–and the violence that military prosecutes–as an essential part of what God is doing in the world.

            It is not correct, on this reading, to say American Christians have rejected religious violence. They have, rather, acquiesced to what they believe is a providential delegation of that violence to the nation-state and its military.

          • John Haas

            I had forgotten about David Gelernter’s book, “Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion” (Doubleday, 2007), which is relevant to this discussion and might be of interest to you. He’s fiercely neoconservative, and believes “Americanism” is not a form of idolatry, but a separate outgrowth of Biblical religion (analogous to Islam or Mormonism). It’s not exactly how I was using the term, but his sense bears some points of contact.

          • Timothy Dalrymple

            Thanks, John. I’ve been interested in reading more Gelernter.

          • John Haas

            Also, I’m not sure if you ever get over to Front Porch Republic, but they’re reprinting a two-part essay by Walter McDougall, where he reflects on the travails of American conservatism from his insider-outsider perspective. Along the way he makes this observation: “. . . . it now seems to me that our real culture wars are not being waged between “God and country” conservatism on the one side and multicultural secular liberalism on the other. It now seems to me that our real culture wars are waged between Civil Religion on the one side and Christian orthodoxy on the other.”

  • John

    Anti-theists (and more specifically, anti-Christians) wish to leverage incidents like this by quickly stealing a base or two and establishing in the court of public opinion a sense of moral equivalency between Christianity and radical Islam. This way, every time violence is committed in the name of Islam, they can pop up and say, “see – we have shown that Christianity is no better than radical Islam, so in the shadow of [insert latest Islamic violence here], we condemn all religion as morally reprehensible – it causes all the violence in our world, you pathetic believers”. I have five questions for anyone who wishes to establish moral equivalency between Christianity and radical Islam:

    * Do those who tout Breivik as a “Christian fundamentalist” believe that he killed 91 people on behalf of Jesus Christ or the Bible?

    * If so, in which specific passage or passages of the Bible was he acting in accordance?

    * Did he shout “Christ is great!” as he killed people the way that Islamicists typically shout “Allahu Akbar” when they kill people?

    * Where were the crowds of American Christians dancing in the streets in celebration of his attack the same way that Muslims danced in the streets in celebration of 9/11?

    * The Quran has plenty of calls to kill for the advancement of Islam. Where, in the Bible, is murder in the advancement of Christianity called for?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Thanks, John.

  • This a fantastic post. Very clear and well argued. Those who hate our faith will keep howling that we are to blame for the radicals who take up the mantle but not the cross; they will try to redefine what it means to be Christian in order to continue condemning us. This is why we need to arm ourselves with facts such as those you’ve presented, so that we can argue with our interlocutors, always in love, from a place of truth, and towards the final Word of truth. Thank you.
    (I came here from a comment on my post on this same issue here: http://ricochet.com/member-feed/Oslo-Terrorist-Was-He-a-Christian-Conservative)

  • Laurie

    Thank you Tim,

    Good information! Thank you for calling evil for what it is! If this man is sick enough to do what he did, I don’t put much stock in how clearly he was thinking or how self-aware he is. Regardless of what this man thinks about politics or religion, evil is evil. I pray he will repent and come into relationship with the Lord. My heart breaks for all the families that are experiencing so much pain and suffering because of Anders. All these people need our prayers. And for the record most of the Christians that I know absolutely believe we should “love our enemies” even when it is difficult to do so.

    I once knew a man that considered himself a “real” Christian, “called by God to preach”. He also thought Timothy McVeigh was a hero and that George Bush orchestrated 911. He also regularly would venomously attack groups of Christians that had different opinions than he did. He claimed to be a pacifist, but cheered violence when it aligned with his particular brand of theology and politics. He often made public professions the evils of abusive men, all the while abusing his own wife. He committed adultery, all the while claiming entire sanctification. He often spoke about love, while he completely neglected his own daughter in every way. All this to say… sometimes it is very difficult, even impossible for us to know who the “Real” Christians are! Sometimes the people that claim a personal relationship with Christ publicly are monsters in private. IMHO!

  • Howard

    “But even as we encourage those remaining pockets of extremists within contemporary Islam to reassess and reinterpret the violent threads in its scriptures and stories, we need to make sure that no one else, like Breivik, draws those violent threads out of Christianity and leaves the rest behind”

    What is your basis for the phrase “those remaining pockets of extremists” in the quote above?
    10 years of post-9/11 reading about Islam past and present have persuaded me that no school of Islamic jurisprudence has “reassessed” or “reinterpreted” the call to violent jihad explicit in Islam’s holiest scriptures. The fact that many Muslims do not answer the call actively also doesn’t change the reality disclosed in recent reputible polling in the middle east, which shows large majorities completely unwilling to accept the existence of Israel.

    Thank you.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I doubt this will be a fruitful line of discussion, but it’s worth a try. There are plenty of Muslims today who have left behind those strands of Muslim scripture and history that encourage violent conquest of infidels. You can see this sometimes in those who speak of “Jihad” as a personal struggle for righteousness. The fact is, there are bases for viewing “Jihad” as inward and spiritual, and there are bases for viewing “Jihad” as outward and violent. Those who say that Jihad is supposed to be understood as a peaceful process of striving toward holiness and justice are engaged in the act of reinterpreting their tradition. Most of the Muslims I met in academia, for instance, were engaged in this kind of act. And I think people show by their actions as well that they are leaving behind the notion that Islam should spread by the sword.

      The case of Israel is a bit of a special case, since the roots of the hatred there are not only religious but political and historical. So, even those who support war against Israel (as you note, many do) do not necessarily believe in the general notion of violent conquest for Islam, in the same way that Americans who supported the war against Japan (say) do not necessarily believe that America should take over the world.

      Those are my thoughts. I think Patheos is actually a good place to see a modern, thoughtful variety of Islam ( http://muslim.patheos.com ). Thanks,

  • Stephen E. Birch

    I think it is such a complex “thing” – being an American Christian (which I am). So many of my Christian values find expression in my patriotism as an American – which is a huge part of my identity – that it becomes confusing at times what values I should really take to heart. Since I am admonished by the Bible to remember I am IN the world, but NOT a part OF the world, when my worldly emotions react to things that are an existential threat to my American home, I cannot help but blur the emotions and hence my response. Obviously, no one who has Christ in his heart is capable of such evil as the acts by this Norwegian person – truly a lost soul. The fact that this person who propagated such evil claims to be a Christian of any sort means nothing. When American Christians speak in terms that make non-Christians point and say, “See!” it is their flesh that is speaking – the same flesh that is sinful, unrepentant and the very reason Christ had to die for us in the first place. It is not easy for anyone who has many roles to fulfill in life to keep the boundaries clear. To ascribe any violent tendencies to any Christian is not to place the motivations in their proper place. We all fail everyday – Christians and non-Christians alike – to live up to our best intentions. When a Christian speaks from his flesh, do not confuse his (my) weakness for a flaw in the tenants of Christianity. True Christianity is that relationship we aspire to with Jesus Himself. The fact that we constantly fail is no reflection on Him or what He requires of us. It is purely our own weaknesses.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Excellent thoughts, Stephen. Thank you.

    • phil_style

      this is quite lovely to hear an american christian acknowledging the complexity and difficulty of practically living with patriotic love and a faith that superceeds nationalism.
      For all the debate on these issues, the best, honest responses are those that simply say “i find balancing this really hard”.

  • 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.

    • Susan

      Watchman, I agree….there are many who see themselves as ‘normal Christians’ but have views very close to those stated by extremists. The right wing Christian community lacks the discernment to see this in themselves and they will not recognize that dark side when others try to bring awareness to them. Their hateful rhetoric fuels the unbalanced such as Breiviks, but their spiritual blindness prevents them from seeing that connection.

    • “we should save Israel,”

      Why shouldn’t we? Should we allow it to be destroyed?

      “take out Iran,”

      Given our nation’s official position for the last 60 years has been “quarantine Iran”, it hardly seems unreasonable to simply advocate an invasion. It’s inevitable that we will invade that country. You know this, right?

      “Their “moderate” heroes include folks like: Glenn Beck, Mark Steyn, John Hagee, Laura Ingram, and many others like them”

      I regard all of the above as conservative, and not moderate. What point are you making, other than to name names? Is it inherently offensive to simply be conservative? Is that your position?

      “Their main source of strength is to instill fear among the American people and fellow Christians.”

      What is wrong with instilling fear? Every prophet instilled fear. Politicians on the left, and their Christian proxies certainly work to instill fear. It all depends on what you are afraid of.

      Nothing here gets you to a meaningful association between Breivik’s beliefs and American Christians, so this is essentially a fruitless exercise.

      • You only solidify my thoughts. Thank you.

  • BB

    Kevin, your reply to Watchman goes a long way in proving what he was saying. You ask why shouldn’t we save Israel. I ask you, which other country actively engaged in ethnic cleansing, would you support? Can you honestly justify what Israel is doing in the West Bank and Gaza? Do you even really know what is going on in Palestine, or do you simply accept the views of people like Beck and Hagee? America should not be engaged in the business of saving Israel, We should encourage Israel to save itself by making peace with it’s neighbors, Instead of constantly Justifying the expropriation of more and more land in the West Bank and creating virtual concentration camps for the Palestinians, with IDF forces serving as prison guards at checkpoints located at the entrances and exits of each camp.

    As to the Iran thing, Former Mossad Chief, Meir Dagan said it more succinctly than I would, He said, “attacking Iran is a stupid idea”. I agree, as an attack on Iran would surely bring about WW3. However, If it dose not seem unreasonable to you to start WW3, then your views are certainly closer to those of Anders Breiviks, than you may be willing to admit.

    Lastly you ask, “what is wrong with instilling fear? Every Prophet instilled fear”. Are you a prophet Kevin? If you recall, the scripture states that, “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”. That means it is only a starting place of wisdom. The Gospel of John 4:18 states, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love”.
    So, should we be instilling fear in our brothers and sisters or should we be instilling love that cast out fear and removes torment?
    These are all issues that are not simple to reason through. there is no easy answers.and unless we are diligent we can easily end up in a situation such as Isiah spoke of.In Isiah 1:15-20 He said, “And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
    Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
    Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
    Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
    If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:
    But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

    • Ethnic cleansing? That’s absurd. Israel allows Muslims to hold elected office, for crying out loud. Think that will ever happen in Palestine?

      And no, I don’t get my information from Beck or Hagee. Yeesh.

      “However, If it dose not seem unreasonable to you to start WW3, then your views are certainly closer to those of Anders Breiviks, than you may be willing to admit.”

      Iran is actively engaging us on the battlefield. If war on Iran is WW3, they’ve already declared it. If it takes a world war to keep nukes out of the hands of Iran’s insane leadership, then world war it is. That has nothing to do with a guy randomly shooting schoolchildren, and if you cannot delineate between the two, you are unhinged.

      “Lastly you ask, “what is wrong with instilling fear? Every Prophet instilled fear”. Are you a prophet Kevin?”

      I believe we should emulate the prophets, don’t you? It certainly isn’t sin to do so.

      • BB

        Kevin,I will only respond to your last statement, “I believe we should emulate the prophets, don’t you? “. No Kevin, I do not believe we should emulate the prophets. We should be about emulating our Lord, Jesus Christ, who because of his great “Love” for us, purchesed our salvation by allowing himself to be nailed to a cross. To us he said, “Take up your cross and follow me”
        I wish you well in your walk Kevin.

        • Mike

          BB, I’m not on the same page as Kevin, but it’s a bit dishonest of you to use a false dichotomy to try to make your point.

          Emulating a biblical prophet does not preclude emulating Jesus Christ. Emulating Jesus Christ does not preclude emulating a biblical prophet.

          The two are not mutually exclusive. Your point is based on a false premise.

          Second the action Kevin mentions “instilling fear” is an action both the biblical prophets and Jesus performed.

          Jesus explicitly commends fear in Luke 12:5 (NASB) “But I will warn you whom to fear : fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell ; yes, I tell you, fear Him!”

          So even if your premise were true your conclusion is also false.

          If we heed Jesus’ instructions to “take up your cross and follow me” then that will necessarily include the action of properly instilling a proper fear.

          • Mike,

            Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets, so why should we emulate that which is already fulfilled through Christ. No, as BB stated, as Christians we should ONLY emulate Jesus Christ.

            It is also worth noting that the ONLY people Jesus instilled fear upon were the self-righteous religious men of his day (i.e. Pharisees and Sadduccees). It would behoove the Religious Right to take heed of Christ’s words.

        • The Lord was not reflected in the words and actions of the prophets? How, then, were they prophets?

    • Thank you, BB. You responded almost exactly the way I would have… word for word.

      I would also add: As Christians we should not concern ourselves with only saving one country/people, but in the Spirit of Christ, we should concern ourselves with saving all of humanity. For Christ died for all of them.

  • Douglas Pierce

    Ultimately for Brevik and many of our homegrown extreme right. It is a about a fear of loss of power and cultural control. When we see the world changing around us in ways that we see disadvantage us we tend to forget the particulars of our faith and susbstitute a misguided pragmatism that says that whatever I do is acceptable to prevent a greater harm.

  • Debra Barry

    Maybe, instead of thinking Christians (us) and Muslims (them) we can start thinking in terms of a more global community. There are fanatics and there are moderates. People who choose to hurt themselves and others and people who live to help and love their communities. No matter one’s professed religion or philosophy, there are dangerous people and loving people in all of them. Labelling the crinals by Religion, nation, colour or language is absurd. Brevick’s “Christianity” cultural or not, had no greater influence on his actions than did the brand of socks he wore. It was a crutch, an excuse to act on his impulses.

  • Debra Barry

    Maybe, instead of thinking Christians (us) and Muslims (them) we can start thinking in terms of a more global community. There are fanatics and there are moderates. People who choose to hurt themselves and others and people who live to help and love their communities. No matter one’s professed religion or philosophy, there are dangerous people and loving people in all of them. Labelling the criminals by Religion, nation, colour or language is absurd. Brevick’s “Christianity” cultural or not, had no greater influence on his actions than did the brand of socks he wore. It was a crutch, an excuse to act on his impulses.

  • I suppose this defensive debate is interesting to some. But it’s good to hear an acknowledgment that there are “violent elements in [the] sacred texts and histories.” A major understatement. When I was a Christian it was so convenient to divide the world into Us (God’s People) and Them, easy to distinguish who was really one of Us. The problem is many faceted but need I say that the argument that this man’s violence and divisive rhetoric exclude him could be quite easily applied to George Bush or any other “leaders” who claim to be people of faith and yet cause massive loss of life. Were all those who slaughtered in God’s name during the crusades and inquisition definitely not Christians? Are people who support capital punishment or champion current wars merely (conveniently) excluded from “true christianity?” I find the reasoning suspect to say the least. If anything, this tragedy in Norway (alongside all other ongoing tragedies of war and injustice) ought to cause people of faith to do more intense soul searching, create more balanced education, and seek ways of working with others (even non-theists) to confront the real issues of this world today, reasonably and non-violently.

    • Kelly Paul Graham

      The problems are: What did the founders of our faiths REALLY say? And, do we listen to them, now? Or, someone standing in their place, but giving us their OWN opinion?

  • Kelly Paul Graham

    A “Crhistian” who does not believe in The Christ? How sad.. and how indicative of many “Christians”, today, I am afraid!
    How many of us are sure of our relationship with The Christ (Messiah), and with Our Father who sent him? It alsdo speaksd desparingly of and “State Church”! How many are the sins, and how black are they, that can be hidden under an Official Religion?

  • raoul

    The 9-11 hijackers went drinking at a strip club before parting ways and flying to meet their destiny. This OBVIOUSLY was un-Islamic behavior. And yet, all conservative commentators speak with one voice in attributing their actions to ISLAMIC TERRORISM. Methinks thou protest too much.
    Still, a multitude of conservative commentators are performing semantic gymnastics to declaim their association with Brevik’s manifesto while still spouting the same ethnic prejudices.
    I’m so glad I gave up Christianity.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I didn’t refer to his behavior when I made the argument that Breivik is not a Christian. I referred to his beliefs, his fundamental way of viewing the world, his deep existential commitments. My point is not to say that Christians don’t do awful things. But I do think it’s false to assert moral equivalency here.

      Mollie Hemingway has a nice piece on this today: http://www.getreligion.org/2011/08/breivik-bin-laden-and-moral-equivalency/