Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Is Anders Behring Breivik a Christian?

My simple and uneducated reflections on the Oslo bombing and shooting at Utøya, the terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, his manifest, his religion, and Christianity.

When I first heard about the Oslo bombing last Friday, I was afraid. I was afraid it was some sort of fundamentalist Muslim who had done it. I genuinely hoped it was not by Muslims. I was afraid that the Norwegian society would become paranoid and hateful if it was. So in some sense, I was relived as the Muslim theory became less and less likely, and eventually culminated when a friend posted his name and profile on Facebook: Anders Behring Breivik
I have long suspected that ultra-conservative Christianity is of equal concern to public safety as Muslim fundamentalism is. Though not surprised, I was outraged and deeply saddened. Maybe even more than I would have been had it been Muslims.

Of course, I told myself, this man cannot truly be a Christian. That was the reaction of some of my pastor friends on Facebook as well. "The atrocity in Norway is not the action of someone who has a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ," said one, another said, "I do not acknowledge him as a brother, because his actions clearly shows that he is not a Christian, that is, a follower of Jesus Christ." A third pastor stated, "He was as much a Christian as he was a policeman," referring to his costume during the massacre.

I decided I could not conclude with any of that yet, though I of course appreciated the idea. Well, it could actually be that Breivik was a man of serious faith, such as the Christian fundamentalist Scott Roeder who killed an abortion doctor on 30 May 2009. His victim was only one of eight people killed over the abortion issue in the US in the last two decades. We thus have enough examples of people of devote faith that are being violent in deed, heart or word by today's standards. Not to mention the many screwed up ideas that Christianity, including popes, "church fathers," and devotees, has had over the last millennia and a half. I could not be certain.

At some point I decided to find out what Breivik said about the matter himself. I started by watching his 12-minute video introduction to his manifesto. About ten minutes into the video, I found signs of what I was looking for, where Breivik is distinguishing his organisation "Knights Templar" from other Christian organizations:

  KT is a “cultural Christian” (Christian Identity) military order and NOT a “religious Christian” (Christian fundamentalist) organization. Logic and reason will always take precedence over biblical texts. KT is open for members from all denominations of Christendom, even agnostic and atheist Christians. Our Christian profile does not mean that we oppose Odinism or Odinistic principles. KT believe Odinism make out a central and important part of Northern European culture and traditions.

We thus start to see that maybe my pastors were right in their immediate analyze of Breivik. Reading in the manifesto, the culturality/secularity of Breivik's Christendom is repeated, and he is also citing entire articles in which the nationalist blogger Fjordman is discussing whether Christianity is supporting or opposing "the issue." Fjordman is underlining his non-religious standpoint in the discussion many times, and in sum I think it is pretty safe to assume that also Breivik embraced this position. It is clear that Fjordman is less concerned with the actual truth-value to a religion, and far more interested in its practical effects. These are excerpts of what Fjordman is writing:

  Although not a religious person myself, I am usually in favor of a revitalisation of Christianity in Europe. However, I sometimes have my doubts when I see how many, too many, church leaders consistently end up on the wrong side of issues related to Islam and Muslim immigration.
Fjordman, The Church – Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

  As long as there is separation between religion and state, those of us who don't have any religious belief should prefer religions which tend to create reasonable and prosperous communities. Our traditional Judeo-Christian religions have proven this capability. Islam never has, and probably never will.
Fjordman, Thou Shalt Hate Christianity and Judaism

(I would like to pause for a moment and consider the role of Fjordman and other unaware contributors to Breivik's manifesto. Remember how sometimes it feels embarrassing if someone of your friends or one in your family does something inappropriate, like, your little sister refusing to eat the food in a fine dinner? Remember how I felt angrier with Breivik than I would have felt with Muslim terrorists? Now consider how angry Fjordman must be about Breivik killing his own people and thus bringing great disgrace to their names and reputation. So even when we strongly disagree with him, let us not blame him for an act of violence he probably hates and condemns.)

In Breivik's manifesto, he himself makes a point out of the difference between cultural Christendom and religious Christendom. In the words of Breivik himself:

  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.
(p. 1309)

Thus, I can conclude with pretty high certainty that this man is not a Christian in my and most people's sense of the word. As it turns out, I am even the worst kind of Christian this guy can imagine:

  The pacifist/suicidal Christians must never be allowed to dominate the church again which one of the reasons why I personally believe that the protestant Church in Europe should once again should reform to become Catholic.

(I think by suicidal we can assume someone who is willing to give up his own life and rights and rather turns the other cheek :-)

Despite that Brevik underlines his unreligious Christianity, he does include an extensive theological defence for the use of force and sword, primarily based on the Old Testament (with a few weak supporting verses from the New Testament). He goes on to discuss how he planned to become religious in time of fear, somewhat as the rational thing to do.

  If praying will act as an additional mental boost/soothing it is the pragmatical thing to do. I guess I will find out... If there is a God I will be allowed to enter heaven as all other martyrs for the Church in the past.
  I am pursuing religion for this very reason and everyone else should as well, providing it will give you a mental boost. There is no shame in praying minutes before your death. (...) Sure, many deny God now. But when they're looking death in the face, when they're sick or in an accident or staring down the barrel of a gun, they'll change their mind. They'll beg for God then. There are no atheists in foxholes.
(p. 1346)

Even though it is clear that Breivik was no current follower of Jesus Christ, he were still using the label Christian, and in some sense he used violent theology to justify his actions. The church certainly got some new challenges in regards to liberal hostility. However, I find it comforting to see how an entire population still have been seeking to the church in this difficult time. I am also proud of my government for propagating the true Christian ideals when faced with such horrendous evil.

  Tonight, the streets are filled with love.
  We have chosen to answer cruelty with intimacy.
  We have chosen to answer hatred with brotherhood.
  We have chosen to show what we stand for.
Crown Prince Haakon

  Hatred is an evident feeling. A wish for revenge is a natural reaction.
  But we, Norway, shall not hate. And we shall not seek vengeance.
  We shall stand united. In sorrow, in hope and in faith in what the youth at Utøya fought for: A better society
  The Norwegian people have met hatred with love.
Eskil Pedersen

Warrior of Agape: Why Breivik may still win