Breivik’s Christianity About Culture Not Piety

Early reports of the terrorist attacks in Norway described Anders Behring Breivik, as a fundamentalist Christian, and of course as bloggers and commentators repeated the description, fundamentalists Christians objected. While Brievik’s 1500+ page manifesto makes clear that the American term “fundamentalist” is inappropriate, he clearly considers himself to be a Christian. 

There are Christians who will want to argue that he is not a Christian because he is not the kind of Christian they are. Those folks are really trying to get at so-called authenticity while those of us trying to sort out the terrorist’s worldview are thinking in terms of historical, social, and cultural aspects of religion rather than piety.

Breivik does align himself with the political views of the fundamentalism of the religious right and the tea party in the U.S. He is anti-feminist, ant-gay, anti-abortion and wants to return to a 1950s patriarchal family structure. The media and academia are “the enemy” and the Marxism he claims they promote is at the root of an impending social collapse of Western Christendom. And he is vitriolic in his Islamophobia.

Breivik apparently was baptized a Protestant, and he does use the Bible, though he does not do so in the way fundamentalists do. In fact, he is explicit that sola scriptura leads to “incipient subjectivism:”

The Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura (by scripture alone) is illogical because the formation of the canon (i.e. what we recognise as Scripture) was itself a monumental act of the church. Thus, the Bible requires an infallible church…without Tradition, each man becomes his own authority and interpreter of Scripture.

Breivek seeks a return to a restored European Catholicism though he is also very critical of current Catholicism and Pope Benedict on many points, most especially what he claims is the appeasement of Islam. He envisions a militia like force named the Knights Templar with Bernard of Clairvaux, the 12th century abbot who outlined the Rule of the Knights Templar and was commissioned by the Vatican to preach a second crusade, as patron saint.

A blend of what he calls cultural Christianity and nationalism, Breivik’s Christianity is not unlike what some Americans refer to as the “Judeo-Christian Tradition.” It is rooted in the work of one of the architects of the religious right in the U.S., Paul Weyrich (a Catholic) whose Free Congress Foundation is cited on page 40 of the manifesto. Chip Berlet has detailed the connection here.

Breivek writes:

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 Christians.

But lest you think this is a veneer of Christianity over a political philosophy there is more to consider. First, the notion of a “personal relationship with Jesus” is a Protestant one and a fairly recent one at that. Breivek’s identity as a Christian is in keeping with historic Catholicism (there was a time when people became Christian because their king did). Of course many fundamentalists don’t consider Catholics to be Christians either—but that’s a story for another day.

Moreover, Breivek uses explicitly biblical justification for violence citing numerous Old Testament and New Testament passages. “These verses are specifically telling us that God can be a Man of War if He needs to be and that He can actually be stirred up to go into battle for you if He has to.”

But even as he denies a Christian piety or spirituality, in the haunting and detailed outline of his plans, he writes that there are no atheists in foxholes:

I have not yet felt the need to ask God for strength, yet… But I’m pretty sure I will pray to God as I’m rushing through my city, guns blazing, with 100 armed system protectors pursuing me with the intention to stop and/or kill. I know there is a 80%+ chance I am going to die during the operation as I have no intention to surrender to them until I have completed all three primary objectives AND the bonus mission…It is likely that I will pray to God for strength at one point during that operation, as I think most people in that situation would….I can’t possibly imagine how my state of mind will be during the time of the operation, though.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Christians are in some way (or any way) culpable for his acts, as Ross Douthat maintains people are asserting, nor am I suggesting that his violence is somehow the natural outcome of his religion. If only he and the Islamophobes who fed his hatred of Muslims could see that all religions have within them calls to transcendent goodness as well as justification for horrific violence.

jingerso@unf.edu'

Julie Ingersoll is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Florida. She is the author of Evangelical Christian Women: War Stories in the Gender Battles and is currently writing a book on the influence of Christian Reconstructionism.