David Gibson has a good article on the Religion News Service wire titled, “Is Anders Breivik a ‘Christian’ Terrorist?” Yes, simply put, he is a “Christian Terrorist,” at least as much as someone like the now-dead Osama bin Laden was a “Muslim Terrorist.” Breivik was clearly motivated by his personal religious and cultural convictions to commit one of the worst crime in Norway’s history, certainly an appalling act of terror. That Breivik is a terrorist seems to go unquestioned, it’s his self-appropriated “Christian” moniker that has, according to Gibson, some conservative pundits upset and seeking to distance themselves from the Norwegian who shares — according to his 1,000+ page manifesto and other sources — several of the same ideological views.
Stephen Prothero, the renowned professor of religious studies at Boston University who specializes in American religions, explains.
“If he did what he has alleged to have done, Anders Breivik is a Christian terrorist,” Boston University religion scholar Stephen Prothero wrote on CNN.com.
“Yes, he twisted the Christian tradition in directions most Christians would not countenance. But he rooted his hate and his terrorism in Christian thought and Christian history, particularly the history of the medieval Crusades against Muslims, and current efforts to renew that clash.”
“So Christians have a responsibility to speak out forcefully against him, and to look hard at the resources in the Christian tradition that can be used to such murderous ends.”
This “twisting of the Christian tradition” is precisely what folks like bin Laden have done with Islam. While commentators like Bill O’Reilly have claimed that Breivik is not a “Christian” because of his actions, while such distance is not afforded to so-called terrorists that claim another religious tradition. The RNS article explains:
Not surprisingly, conservative pundits who share some of Breivik’s views and also consider themselves Christians quickly sought to distance themselves from Breivik by declaring, as Bill O’Reilly did on Fox News, that “Breivik is not a Christian.”
“That’s impossible,” O’Reilly said Tuesday. “No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder. The man might have called himself a Christian on the ‘net, but he is certainly not of that faith.”
Others have suggested that such demarcation is awfully problematic given the Christian doctrine of sin and the universality of sinfulness (a reality for all humans, although sinfulness might reasonably vary by degree). Such clarity in commentary comes from the at-times controversial, yet popular blogger (who, Gibson notes, is Catholic), Andrew Sullivan.
Andrew Sullivan, the popular blogger and Catholic, also expounded on that point, writing that “it is obvious that Christians can commit murder, assault, etc. They do so every day. Because, as Christian orthodoxy tells us, we are all sinners. To say that no Christian can ever commit murder is a sophist’s piffle. … Do the countless criminals who have gone to church or believe in Jesus immediately not count as Christians the minute they commit the crime? Of course not.”
Sullivan said Bill O’Reilly’s argument “is complete heresy in terms of the most basic Christian orthodoxy.”
And Sullivan is right, though for some 2,000 years Christians have still battled fiercely over who is a “real” Christian and who is not, or who is a “good” Christian and who is a “bad” Christian.
The very sad truth is that Anders Breivik is indeed a Christian Terrorist. If people like O’Reilly find themselves ashamed to bear the same name as people like Breivik, then perhaps he might consider organizing his commentary on matters relating to crime and terrorism to the Genus of “Terrorism” and not adjudicate “Muslim” or “Christian” or “Jewish” species of the crime.
There is much wisdom in the conclusion of the RNS piece, something of which folks like O’Reilly (and all “conservative” and “liberal” commentators out there) should take note.
Yet as far back as the fourth century, Saint Ambrose spoke of the church as a “casta meretrix”—the “chaste harlot” who welcomes all comers while remaining pure herself in order to sanctify her members. That analogy still holds true.
Anders Breivik may have been a bad Christian, perhaps the worst one can imagine, as well as a confused man who cherry-picked from Scripture and history to justify his un-Christian form of Christianity.
But proof-texting the Bible and using faith to rationalize one’s favorite political and cultural views is something most believers—Jewish, Muslim and Christian—are guilty of at one time or another. So kicking Breivik out of Christianity in the end might be an ominous sign for all Christians.