Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Mad Norwegian

I suppose, in a sense, Anders Behring Breivik is a singular example of what atheists have been saying about the flawed nature of religious worldviews. How they can be used to justify anything no matter how heinous. I’ve spent a good deal of time looking through his manifesto over the last couple days though, I will say this: I think it's incorrect to put the blame squarely on Christianity for his actions, however Christianity was definitely an ideology from which he drew a great amount of inspiration. He wanted to kill and found association with a convenient ideology that in his mind justified the actions he already wanted to carry out. The ideology itself, in this case, is secondary. I don't think he's a killer because he's a religious zealot, I think he's a religious zealot because that allows him to be the killer he is without too much cognitive dissonance.

The most disturbing thing is that here we have a man who is so full of hate and disdain that he is capable of dedicating the better part of a decade to planning a single attack on innocent people in the name of God—and no one noticed.

No one noticed because he hid in plain sight. At church, in the Freemasons, he would go out with friends from time to time, appearing (at least by his accounts) to be sociable and jovial. He self-describes as "not an excessively religious man" and "laid back and quite tolerant on most issues", and there’s been little to suggest that anyone had the slightest idea that there was something terribly wrong with him, which means he must have been quite convincing. But given the depth of his obsession, it’s a bit hard to get your head around the fact that no-one noticed any red flags.

His writing is dispassionate. To hear him tell it, he doesn't hate Muslims. He ‘merely’ wants to create a nationalist-theocracy, which would ‘kindly’ help them to be displaced back to their ancestral lands, and kill them if they refused. He goes on at rather great length about his grand segregationist plan in such detail that it makes Hitler look like an under-achiever. He makes little mention of outright attacks on Muslims. Instead his targets are political as part of a culture war between Islam and Christianity as a binary. He seems to feel you are either on one side or the other. He accuses secular-humanist governments, and blames them for changes in his culture by allowing Muslim migration in the first place. By all indications he sincerely believes the only way to rectify this is to dispatch with those leaders so they can be replaced by members of the church to "ensure that a sustainable and traditional version of Christendom is propagated". His is a world divided that will never be whole.

Perhaps this black and white thinking is the most ominous and confusing part. He says on several occasions that he has no personal relationship with Jesus, but instead that he believes "in Christianity as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform", and that is why he calls himself a Christian. Clearly, however, his belief extends far beyond that invoking rhetoric not unlike that of Islamic suicide bombers: "How blessed to die a martyr! Rejoice, brave athlete, if you live and conquer in the Lord; but glory and exult even more if you die and join your Lord."

Now, many Christian commentators have already chimed in on this subject, and denounced him as a madman and ‘not a real Christian.’ All I can say about that is, much like I said about Obama, denouncing someone for their self-identification is just pointless. And further, it demonstrates a big inconsistency in current Christian dogma. If he is not a ‘real christian’ then why do they not accept that Islamic terrorists aren’t ‘real muslims’? To say that his beliefs are not in line with contemporary Christian ideology is ultimately meaningless because there are almost 40,000 different Christian denominations worldwide, and each and every one of them thinks they are the only one that’s absolutely correct. Yet, there’s absolutely no proof that any of them are correct about anything, much less that one of them is completely correct. So let’s put this ‘true christian’ nonsense aside. Christianity has been a justification for violence on many occasions in history (in fact, these are times which Breivik attempts to glorify), this is just one more time.

It's like that saying by Steven Weinburg: "With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion."

Anders Behring Breivik is a bad person, and no amount of secular culture would have changed that. He was, after all, born and raised in Norway by secular parents and taught in state schools. He found religion. It wasn't thrust upon him. It is clear that his beliefs most definitely added courage to his conviction. Religion inspired him. Religion allowed him to feel that what he was doing was right and moral. One wonders if such a religious infrastructure didn't exist if he'd have the drive, the rationale, and the single-minded sense of purpose that lead him to kill so many in cold-blood.

Yet it seems inappropriate to say that religion is at fault. If it wasn't religion it almost certainly would have been something else. But it was religion, which is far more ominous. If Anders Behring Breivik had written about orders from his dog, or that his victims were aliens in disguise we would all hasten to agree that he was a lone man plagued by delusions. Instead we are left with an horrible act which the stated justification is, at least partially, rooted in beliefs that many people share. Focus on the Family’s own Bryan Fischer went so far as to say that Breivik’s “analysis of cultural trends in Europe and the danger created by Islamic immigration and infiltration is accurate”. Which is to say he disagrees with Brevik’s methods and actions, but not necessarily with his conclusions. This might be the most frightening part of all. Breivik is delusional, yes. He is megalomaniacal. He is dangerous and his beliefs make him even more dangerous. Worst of all, with today’s over-amplified rhetoric, vitriolic commentary, and the ever more divisive cultures that surround the Abrahamic religions there is no way of knowing who will decide to share in the most wicked parts of his delusion with him.

See Steve's No True Christian? for a counter-point. 


Unknown said...

I can go for that. It seems it was more political and cultural and not so much about religion. I made that mistake and called him a Christian terrorist. Awesome buddy.


Steve said...

Hey Kris, stayed tuned for my post at Noon EST in which I do call him a Christian Terrorist!

Steve said...

I would also like to add that although we disagree somewhat this is still an awesome post and it made me think differently.

Jack said...

Actually, I'm thinking terrorism might be the wrong word all together. Guerrilla Christian Nationalist might be more accurate. He didn't just kill those kids to terrorize everyone, in his mind he was eliminating potential future leaders who would oppose his ideology. He considers their deaths to be tactical. So can it really be called terrorism?

Steve said...

I would say both are true and I am not just hedging here. If he targeted the kids for those *two* reasons then both would apply.

Did you hear that the maximum penalty for any crime in Norway is 21 years? Ummm....

Jack said...

21 years with an option for extension if he's deemed unfit to re-enter society, which can go on indefinitely. Manson comes up for probation every once and a while too ... doesn't mean he's ever getting out.

Steve said...

Well that's good. May the bastard never taste freedom again.

RR said...

Do we know anything more than what was published in his manifesto? I haven't been following this in detail. He seems to be seriously mentally ill... I don't know how else you can classify someone who believes killing young children will further a nationalistic cause. Isn't such behavior the definition of 'crazy'?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying he's "not guilty" and shouldn't be punished to the maximum extent of the law ... But Christian ideas (and far worse - Islam anyone?) have been around (in many cultures) for centuries... I'd caution everyone not to draw causal relationships when more likely cause is a mal-functioning mind that latched onto a plethora of nonsense to justify (in his mind) homicide.

ArmAGideon Knight said...

Subject: Norway v. Breivik/Berwick: Application to Chief Justice Tore Schei ITO Article 85: Treason

Application in terms of Article 85 of Norwegian Constitution, as laid down on 17 May 1814 by the Constituent Assembly at Eidsvoll and subsequently amended, most recently on 20 February 2007: Any person who obeys an order the purpose of which is to disturb the liberty and security of the Storting is thereby guilty of treason.