Tragedy in Norway

In the following post, our friend Ben Stevens of Greater Europe Mission sheds light on the religious significance of the Norway tragedy.

As an evangelical pastor about to take a job in Berlin, I was horrified to hear that the man responsible for the tragedy in Norway last week, Anders Behring Breivik, is a "Christian fundamentalist." I do not self-identify as a "fundamentalist," but I believe Jesus was the Son of God, and that belief is enough to win one such a label in some circles. For obvious reasons, I was curious to learn what on earth he did actually believe.

I hurried to get my hands on his bloated, 1,500-page "manifesto" and found, no doubt, lots of references to Christianity and several mentions of the Bible. More important to me, however, were the passages which involved the intersection of his fundamentalism and his blend of Christianity.

On page 1,307, Breivik makes a distinction which reveals the nature of his fundamentalism:

A majority of so called agnostics and atheists in Europe are cultural conservative Christians without even knowing it. So what is the difference between cultural Christians and religious Christians? If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God then you are a religious Christian. Myself and many more like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God. We do however believe in Christianity as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform. This makes us Christian.

Breivik asserts that a majority of the atheists in Europe are cultural conservative Christians. This comes as a surprise to us all, I suppose. The key to understanding his manifesto, his mania and the confusion currently dominating news headlines lies in the reality that by "Christian" he almost always means "European." In the massive introduction to his manifesto, for example, there is not a single quotation from Scripture, mention of the creeds, allusion to the Church or reference to Jesus Christ himself. And we learn, through the video he posted, that his heroes are not religious figures like Paul or Martin Luther but political figures like Charles Martel and Nicholas I.

Anders Breivik is a cultural fundamentalist. He is a European fundamentalist. But he disowns orthodox Christianity, and this makes it all the more ironic, and disgusting, that he saw himself as a kind of representative against threats to "Christendom."

It was a sad spectacle of the 19th century that some missionaries carrying crosses also felt compelled to catechize foreigners in European cultural distinctives. But it is an odder phenomenon still to see 21st century non-believers adopting the practice of carrying a cross, whose savior they reject, simply to stir up passion for a romanticized version of a culture that no longer exists.

Muslims have been justifiably outraged at immediate speculation that one of their fold was responsible for the attack. And given the man’s self-declaration that he does not have a personal relationship with Christ and does not believe in the primary doctrines of the New Testament, I believe Christians might also be legitimately disgruntled. For several days now, the headlines of otherwise reputable journalistic institutions have trumpeted the news that a Christian fundamentalist killed dozens in Norway.

Christians have done terrible, inexcusable things. When we do, bring us to account. But Anders Breivik is not a Christian fundamentalist. He’s a European fundamentalist. Here’s hoping the papers will run that in their headlines from now on.

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