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Is Anders Breivik a Christian Terrorist?

Is Anders Breivik a Christian Terrorist?

Mark Juergensmeyer, writing for Religion Dispatches, discusses Christian terrorism and wonders about all terrorism in the name of faith:

The similarities between suspected mass killer Anders Behring Breivik and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh are striking.

Both were good-looking young Caucasians, self-enlisted soldiers in an imagined cosmic war to save Christendom. Both thought their acts of mass destruction would trigger a great battle to rescue society from the liberal forces of multiculturalism that allowed non-Christians and non-Whites positions of acceptability. Both regretted the loss of life but thought their actions were “necessary.” For that they were staunchly unapologetic. And both were Christian terrorists.

Like McVeigh, he thought that this horrible dramatic action would bring a hidden war into the open. Like many modern terrorists, his violent act was a form of performance violence, a symbolic attempt at empowerment to show the world that for the moment he was in charge. The terrorist act was a wake-up call, and a signal that the war had begun.

Behind the earthly conflict was a cosmic war, a battle for Christendom. As the title of Breivik’s manifesto indicates, he thought he was recreating that historical moment in which Christianity was defended against the hordes, and Islam was purged from what he imagined to be the purity of European society.

If bin Laden is a Muslim terrorist, Breivik and McVeigh are surely Christian ones. Breivik was fascinated with the Crusades and imagined himself to be a member of the Knights Templar, the crusader army of a thousand years ago. But in an imagined cosmic warfare time is suspended, and history is transcended as the activists imagine themselves to be acting out timeless roles in a sacred drama. The tragedy is that these religious fantasies are played out in real time, with real and cruel consequences.

The blog Friends of Jake raises alarm over the growth of “eliminationist rhetoric and action.

Daily Beast:

… let’s ask that question about the real Breivik attack: Could an anti-Muslim bigot commit a large-scale terrorist attack in the U.S.? The answer is, Absolutely, because the same anti-Muslim bigotry that influenced Breivik in Europe is widespread here.

Susan Brooks Thislethwaite, professor at Chicago Theological Seminary writing at the The Washington Post discusses “When Christianity becomes lethal”:

Christians are often reluctant to see these connections between their religion and extreme violence. They will dismiss it as “madness” rather than confront the Christian element directly. As a woman interviewed in Oslo observed, “If Islamic people do something bad, you think, ‘Oh, it’s Muslims,’ ” she said. “But if a white Protestant does something bad, you just think he’s mad. That’s something we need to think about.”

Exactly right. Christians do need to think about that, both in Europe and in the United States. Examining your own religion in its historic as well as contemporary connection to lethal violence is something Christians tend to shun. [In God is Not One] Stephen Prothero describes this dynamic in his students: “When I was a professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta, I required my students to read Nazi theology. I wanted them to understand how some Christian bent the words of the Bible into weapons aimed at Jews and how these weapons found their mark at Auschwitz and Dachau. My Christian students responded to these disturbing readings with one disturbing voice: the Nazis were not real Christians, they informed me, since real Christians would never kill Jews in crematories.” Prothero confesses he found their response “terrifying.”

To get past this Christian tendency to excuse Christianity from complicity in mass violence, I think it is important to understand this is a theological issue, not an indictment of the whole Christian faith, and at bottom a form of temptation. I believe that certain theological constructions of Christianity “tempt” individuals and groups to violence; combined with right-wing political ideologies, these views can give a divine justification to the use of lethal force.


It is absolutely critical that Christians not turn away from the Christian theological elements in such religiously inspired terrorism. We must acknowledge these elements in Christianity and forthrightly reject these extremist interpretations of our religion. How can we ask Muslims to do the same with Islam, if we won’t confront extremists distorting Christianity?

Added at 12:15 PM. Stephen Prothero, 7/26/2011 – Christians should denounce Norway’s Christian terrorist

Breivik does not just deny Islam. He affirms Christianity. He describes himself as “100% Christian” in his apparent manifesto. That work says he’s a member of the “Knights Templar,” which the document refers to as “a Christian ‘culturalist’ military order.”

The manifesto refers repeatedly to martyrdom, calls Breivik the “savior . . . of European Christendom,” discusses Quranic views of Jesus and quotes extensively from the Bible. In fact, in an extended section justifying violence in the name of self-defense (plagiarized, like much in the manifesto, from other websites), it quotes from Exodus, Samuel, Judges, Psalms, Luke, Matthew, Isaiah, Daniel, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians and other biblical books. “God will anoint you with his power to go into battle,” the manifesto reads. “God can be a Man of War if He wants to be.” Finally, key dates in the manifesto, including the date for the rampage itself (July 22), are linked to key dates in the history of the Christian crusades. …

Osama bin Laden was a Muslim terrorist. Yes, he twisted the Quran and the Islamic tradition in directions most Muslims would not countenance. But he rooted his hate and his terrorism in that text and that tradition. So Muslims, as I have long argued, have a responsibility to speak out forcefully against Bin Laden and to look hard at the resources in their tradition that work to promote such evil.

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.


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There’s really no reason he shouldn’t be executed for his crimes

Excuse me? Christian “70 x 7” morality?

JC Fisher

FYI, Dave:

Dave Paisley

To me there’s a great distinction between acting alone and forming an organization to commit mass murder.

Individuals can be/go crazy and there’s really very little you can do about it – before or after the fact. Breivik was caught – indeed expected to be caught. There’s really no reason he shouldn’t be executed for his crimes, but instead he’ll get, what, twenty years with time off for good behavior?

When it’s an organization and conspiracy to commit acts like these, the terror really comes into play when people fear the next act (and the one after that, etc.)

The dynamic is quite different, and the ongoing terror factor much higher when dealing with an organization.


So what distinguishes a “cultural Christian” from any other kind? Where they are on Sunday morning?

If someone calls themself a “Christian” (regardless of other qualifiers *), as far as I’m concerned, they are [Otherwise, we start splitting hairs re being a communicant, whether they’re Born Again, do they Have a Friend in Jesus, etc etc etc]

We can’t run away from Anders Breivik (anymore than Muslims can run away from, um, Zawahari or murderous Army Major Hassan). They’re one of Us. What do we do about them?

JC Fisher

* Yes, yes: there’s the qualifier of “clinical insanity”. If I start seeing all Christian terrorists labeled “insane”, whereas all Muslim terrorists are labelled “Quran-believing evil-doers”, I’m very suspicious of the diagnosis though…


See The Norway Massacre: Born of Ideology or Belief? for a lot of quotes from Breivik, e.g.

As a cultural Christian, I believe Christendom is essential for cultural reasons. After all, Christianity is the ONLY cultural platform that can unite all Europeans, which will be needed in the coming period during the third expulsion of the Muslims.

Glenn David

Father Matt Tucker

Can you be a “Christian terrorist” without the general support of Christians? I don’t see any Christians dancing in the streets. Breivik is a madman from a nominally Christian country. That said, there’s no bad time to take an accounting of those errors which creep into the Faith.

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