• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Was Breivik a Christian? If So, of What Sort? Better Still, Who Cares?

Margaret Mitchell, Dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School, writes a piece on all the nonsense (and worse) surrounding the so-called attempts to identify the political views and particularly the religious identity of Norwegian mass murderer A. B. Breivik. She nails it when she observes that the criteria most religious and political commentators use to label him say more about the analyst than the subject.

Indeed, every attempt I have seen to place Breivik in this or that ideology or community has struck me as an obviously selfish exercise in either self-exculpation (“He’s not one of us!”) or attack (“He’s one of them–or you!”). No one is seriously saying, “On the evidence, I guess he’s kinda like us.”

My mentor, Martin E. Marty, comes closest to that in his previous “Sightings” piece as he, a Lutheran, identifies Breivik as also a Lutheran. But, true to form, Marty does so only ironically and hortatorily–and brilliantly.

Really: Is anyone going to be advantaged, is the world going to somehow be a better place, by careful, dispassionate study of  precisely what kind of a Christian Breivik is–in terms of public safety, or education, or multiculturalist policy, or any other general concern? Nope. The only people who care about whether he is a Catholic or a Protestant, a true believer or a false one, an evangelical or a fundamentalist, a conservative or a “right-wing nut” are those who are in the business of scoring points in front of their biased (home field) judges.

And that business is propaganda. All this “analysis” isn’t analysis of Breivik at all. It’s about longstanding enmities of one sort or another being promoted by what happens to be today’s news hook. And that’s why so many pundits can write about it so quickly: They already know what they think, they’re already entrenched with their targets selected, and they simply scan the Breivik case for ammunition.

It’s amazing, really: Here’s how to take a shocking event and render it boring, just another volley over the net of interminable ideological games. Mass murder of innocents: ah, something I can use!

Horror upon horror.