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.

0 Responses to “Was Breivik a Christian? If So, of What Sort? Better Still, Who Cares?”

  1. Keith Shields

    Thank you for the reminder to look inside myself at my own motivations. This is truly a helpful commentary.

  2. Ryan

    Thanks for this, John. It’s good to hold up a mirror and show us how foolish and insensitive (or worse) it is to use events like these to score ideological points.

  3. Mel

    Brother John….I do appreciate your blog. Unfortunately I don’t always have the time to respond … especially when you are saying something I agree with. In this case, you do make a valid point, of course. But I fear you are missing the big picture. Yes, both sides are using Brevik’s terrorism to gain propaganda points. Brevik, in his own manifesto, describes himself in many ways…..none of which are truly Christian by any definition….even though he refers to himself as “cultural” Christian. He lauds “reason” over “faith”; describes himself as a Darwinian, and a freemason (Knights Templar no less) and admits he has no personal relationship with God. Hardly the Christian “fundamentalist” the media have declared him to be. But this is all academic. What is not so obvious, and what is so dangerous is that Brevik appears to have discovered what the medieval Catholic church discovered centuries ago……that the political and military strategy of radical Islam does in fact work. It may appear to the Western mind as counter-intuitive, but terrorism, when combined with stealth jihad, is effective in furthering political ends. The Catholic church in medieval times saw how quickly Muslims conquered almost the entire known world using Mohammed’s “tried and true” terror, deception, and cold cruelty. And it applied these same “jihadi” principles in its conquest of the New World and the Inquisition. Brevik….regardless of whether he is “Christian” or not.. has seen that the Muslims redeployment of those fundamental jihad strategies are working so well in conquering Europe, and he simply decided to use the same methodology against those who he believed were facilitating Islam’s objectives. That is what is so scary. Without clear Scriptural understanding, pragmatism too often trumps morality.

    And this is why it is important for true Christians of all stripes to demonstrate rationally and publically — with as loud a voice as we can — why Brevik’s actions were diametrically opposed to the teachings of Christ.

    • John Stackhouse

      Brother Mel, It’s hard to see this comment as responding to the point I’m making. It’s easy to see it as using my post as a springboard for you to say something quite different, on a quite different subject, namely, the effectiveness of terrorism in prosecuting a political agenda.

      Whether or not I agree with you on the major point, that terrorism has sometimes been politically useful (and I do), and whether or not I agree with you that Muslims are using it successfully to dominate Europe (and I don’t), it just isn’t germane to what I’m talking about here, is it?

      Indeed, your comment seems, albeit unawares, to make the point I’m making, namely, that people are using the Breivik massacre to score points on other subjects.

      So I’ve let your comment stand and readers can make of it what they will, but I’m not talking about your subject here and perhaps we can agree to leave it at that for now, okay? Thanks.

      • robert plante

        I really don’t like ‘tone’ of this discussion at all. I know a lot Islamic people who are humiliated by the fact that their belief (in the same god by the way YOU believe in) is most of the time and ‘target’ subject in the whole terrorist discussion. And that’s the majority of the Islamic World who feels that way!
        The holy pope and the Roman Catholic church is responsible of so much bloodshed , death and humiliation. Up to this day. Dudes like Robertson are nothing more than Ku Kux Clan like sects and leaders. They should be put in jail just like the LDS men, Taliban or David Koresh followers.
        Breivik is a freak and a murderer. He did not act because he was a christian, a free mason or a norwegian. He killed for the same reasons as the Knights Templar. Just because…And in a way the muslim World is right when they refer to dark period in their history. As Diderot mentioned in 18th century…no philosophers killed monks for a reason. But thousands of monks killed thousands philosophers… And as Dawkins mentioned…no atheist flew in a building to make a statement.They did because they were brainwashed. Emotionally, regionally or socially…just like Breivik did.

        • Mel

          No atheist????? Really? Do the names Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Mengistu, Samora Machel, (I could go on for a long time) mean anything?

          We are all aware of the carnage of the medieval Catholic church. How could we not be, it is dished out by the media, hollywood and your kind every day ad infinitum. That is why there was a Protestant Reformation. That is why hundreds of thousands of our ancestors became martyrs — for the sake of Christ.

          But Catholicism strayed far far far away from the teachings of Christ. So far, in fact, that I would say categorically that it became a non Christian institution. And I don’t even wear orange.

          But really, how many people have been killed, maimed or abused by Mennonites? or any other of the so-called “Anabaptist” tradition — men and women who piously sought to follow the true teachings of Christ as recorded in Scriptures? Can you name one? at any time in history?

          Incidentally, “Allah” is not the same God as the One Christians worship. I know the original translators of the Arabic Bible did use that word, but more recent research has shown that this is not the case. Allah is derived from the pre-Muslim era “moon god” Lillah.

  4. Mel

    Brother John, ,my comment is in direct response to the point you are making: especially the part of the title that asks “Who cares”? We should all care because if we say it doesn’t matter, some people, no doubt, will infer that it “doesn’t matter”; that Brevik’s actions may possibly be a legitimate “Christian” response to Islamization.

  5. Corey

    I’m not sure I agree. If anyone were to say, “he’s kind of like us,” that would subject them to investigation and scrutiny, and rightly so.

  6. Mel

    Some Nazi SS members and collaborators claimed to be members in good standing with the Lutheran and Catholic churches. Were they? Who cares?

    Since I’m neither Catholic or Lutheran, I can’t answer the first question. But on the second, we all should care.

    Had those denominations’ leaders made it crystal clear to the SS and German public that one could not be a Lutheran, Catholic, or “kind of like us” while at the same time exterminating the Jews of Europe, would that not have helped to prevent the holocaust? At the very least, it would have lessened the damning post holocaust charges of Christian “complicity” in genocide. How many brilliant minds have forever turned off from Christianity because the insitutional church in Nazi Germany failed to take a strong enough Christian stand against terror and evil.

    “Contending for the faith”, and taking every opportunity to explain the nature of “true Christianity” is not about “scoring PR points”, it is a very important component of spiritual warfare.

  7. robert plante

    Mel, maybe you can explain me what true Christianity means. Because to my opinion there is no definition for it. And you can’t pick anything you like, or what’s suits you, from the bible to support a statement in that matter. And that’s exactly the point. What’s islam? What’s an islamist? Are they cruel in general because they follow their leaders who demand them to follow the Koran? Off course. Otherwise christians should still stone people to death who collect branches of wood on a sunday morning. So the bible is not the solution to my answer…what’s true christianity?

    • Mel

      Robert, surely you aren’t seriously trying to convince anyone with those tired lines.

      But in the off chance you aren’t joking, my definition of a Christian is someone who follows the teachings of Christ, as recorded in Scriptures. And a Muslim is someone who follows the teachings of Mohammed, as recorded in the Qur’an.

      If you follow Christ’s teachings, you do not — indeed can not — follow Nazi style tyranny, nor would you be stoning people for gathering wood.

      Most of the churches in Nazi Germany failed the test. They did not act in a Christian way. Some Christians, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer did, and they paid the ultimate price. Today, churches in North America are failing the test in the same way as the mainline German churches did in the 1930’s. They, like us today, were more concerned about peripheral issues, (mainly money and their own security)rather than true Christian discipleship.

  8. robert plante

    Nazi germany was a christian based nation. Christian symbols, growing amount of churches and christian days off. At least more than an agnostic one…In signs of the wehrmacht was always mentiond…”Gott mit uns”…That’s why the pope in those days supported the regime. By the way, in Holland (were I come from) were very little amounts of Reformed church followers in the resistance against the germans. Why? Because they learned , in the church, that they should obey there leaders! The resistance was over 50% ‘manned’ by communists. A stream that rejected religion in any form. So what does that say about true christianity?

  9. Mel

    Germany may have been called a “Christian” nation, but certainly the Nazi party was not. And when Germans turned to Nazism, (a godless ideology hatched in hell), Germany became decidedly non Christian, regardless of what anything that was inscribed on any uniform. It became the antithesis of Christianity — in truth desplaying the very spirit of anti-Christ.

    It is no accident that millions of Christians were victims of the Nazi holocaust (a fact which is seldom mentioned in the history books), along with the millions of Jews who Hitler wanted to eradicate.

    It would be an interesting and worthwhile discussion to look at what the proper response of the Christian church should have been during the rise of the Third Reich. (For we and much of the world are either going to be facing a similar situation, or are already facing such today). But I think we can all agree that the appeasement and accommodation response of the mainstream German churches to Nazi’s totalitarianism was not the right one.

    But hind sight is easy. The question is: “how are we in North America today any different”? And that’s where it gets a bit scary.


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