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Norway attacks: Was Breivik a Christian terrorist?

Anders Behring Breivik's Norway attacks have instigated a discussion about a double standard in the way people react to 'Christian terrorists' vs. 'Muslim terrorists.'

By Staff writer / August 1, 2011

In this July 25 photo, Norway's terror attacks suspect Anders Behring Breivik (l.) sits in an armored police vehicle after leaving the courthouse following a hearing in Oslo, Norway.

Jon-Are Berg-Jacobsen/Aftenposten/AP

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In the wake of mass murder in Norway by a young man who hearkened to the Christian crusades and calls himself a cultural Christian – many ordinary people of faith were horrified to find Anders Behring Breivik described as a “Christian terrorist.”

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Whether that title applies to Mr. Breivik is a suddenly awkward issue – partly because it raises the question about a fast and loose use of “Muslim” or “Islamic” to name those who commit violence in the name of their faith.

While European media seem disinterested in Breivik’s Christian self-definition or the terminology used to describe him, in the US and Muslim media worlds it is a sprawling debate. It was hyped by Bill O’Reilly on Fox News who found it an “outrage” to call Breivik a Christian terrorist; Mr. O’Reilly responded to some reports that early on took Breivik’s statements about his Christianity at face value.

But the Fox talk show host and some others have denied that Muslims who commit violence should be treated by the same rules.

Breivik, who systematically shot more than 60 fellow Norwegians with “a smile on his face,” as survivors from Utoya island described, says he is “100 percent Christian.” His use of the term is not based on faith but out of collective identification with a notion of “Christian Europe.”

"Regarding my personal relationship with God, I guess I'm not an excessively religious man," he says in his 1,500-page manifesto. "I am first and foremost a man of logic. However, I am a supporter of a monocultural Christian Europe."

Breivik’s video, in which he blames “cultural Marxists” for supporting a multicultural Europe, is replete with imagery of various sword-wielding and carnage-provoking crusaders and defenders, many of whom sport crosses.

Ironically, anyone who has recently checked the state of deep and abiding faith, or “piety,” in Europe, will find the place is decidedly, and more than ever, secular. In this sense at least Breivik is honest about his brand of Christianity. God-talk hasn’t occupied much of northern Europe for years, and not because bearded jihadists have blocked the entrance to the church.

“It’s complicated … but the majority of people [in northern Europe including Great Britain] are not committed, practicing Christians,” says Elizabeth Hunter, director of the Theos think tank on religion and society in London. Ms. Hunter says Breivik should not be called a Christian terrorist since his actions were “in no way prompted by any commonly held understanding of the teachings of Jesus.”

To be sure, among those who identify Christianity with the teachings, behavior, codes, and life of the early church, sometimes called “primitive Christianity,” the acts of Breivik have less than nothing to do with the Acts of the Gospels. His logic is seen as a deep distortion, of, say, the spirit of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek … blessed are the peacemakers … blessed are the poor in spirit…”

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