Tuesday, July 26, 2011

No True Christian?

Not all religions are violent and not all violence is perpetrated or stoked by religion. We know this because the Earth has, as of yet, not been eradicated. However, all religions have the potential to spawn violence. As do all political systems and nearly any belief. This is recognized by almost everyone paying attention and being honest. The perception that Christianity enjoys in the Western world is that it is largely immune from this extremist violence and constantly gets a pass. The idea that a religion, and one that has been awash in blood for centuries, is suddenly immune from violent supporters, is dishonest, disconcerting, and the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting. In Anders Behring Breivik’s video manifesto there is a cartoon of the “West” sticking its head in the sand and what I presume to be Mohammad cutting the head off at the neck. This cartoon is actually apt in the sense that any group could use it and supplant the two characters for their own society, group, religion, etc. and the other as the threat. The one group that gets a pass in popular culture and the mass media...Christianity.

As I wrote the day after the attacks regarding the labels used to describe perpetrators of violence “the media's language changed from ‘Jihadist,’ ‘Islamist’ or ‘terrorist’ to ‘right-wing extremist’ or ‘madman.’ Very few mentions of ‘Fundamentalist Christian’ or, Zeus forbid, ‘Christian Terrorist.’”

But that is what he is. A Christian Terrorist. He is also a bigot and a political zealot, but Christianity is the basis of his worldview and a Christian Theocracy is his goal. Religion is the grand justification. The media and Christians can call it the work of a “lunatic” all they want, but he seems rather in control and lucid in his faculties. His extreme nationalist and religious worldviews have most definitely warped his thinking, but that is not the same thing as being clinically insane. Why are the media and Christian apologists so quick to dismiss him as unhinged? Any Jihadist that commits the same act is not afforded that assumption. With good reason. It’s not true.

From watching his video manifesto, reading parts of his 15,000 page written manifesto, and reading what others have written I think that his, at times, muted claims of being Christian are telling. To him, Christianity is the default belief. There is no debate. Only the civilized are Christian. Those “others” are “less than.” Savage. Foolish. Weak. Ignorant of the Truth. Dangerous. This is the fundamental belief of extremist religion. This fundamentalist belief set is tempered by the exact things Breivik wished to destroy.
  • Multiculturalism: when you get to know people from other religions and cultures you see them as human and tend to not want to blow them up/kill them.  
  • Secularism: where rational and objective views temper blind faith and the subjective religious mindset. Also, one religion is not held up over others to preserve a balance.
  • Progressive religion: where other views are accepted, maybe not as truth, but as a part of the truth. At the very least there is a lack of hate and fear. I don’t agree with it, but hey, it’s better than the alternative.
Breivik, while having political targets, is still a religious terrorist. The bomb was placed to target the secular government. The children were horrifically targeted to either send a message to their secular, left-leaning parents or eradicate their “bloodline.” He did this to send a message to those he held responsible for allowing Muslims into his country and Europe at large. He wants to establish a Nationalist Theocracy with Christians supplanting every level. Americans are more familiar with the term “Dominionism.”  Let’s be clear: that worldview/theology is the same thing.

For the Christians that automatically claim “well that is not ‘true’ Christianity” I have some news for you. I know that his is not reflective of (most of) what you believe to be Christ's teachings (thankfully for the rest of us), but at this point the confluence of the teachings of Christ and the actions of many of his "followers" is irrelevant. Also, whether or not you agree with their theology is irrelevant. They would just as quickly dismiss yours. It is all too easy to dismiss him/them as "not true Christians," and they you. That is called a "No True Scotsman" fallacy.

In one breath he says this:

“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.”

Then in another excerpt from his manifesto:

"The Bible tells us that we are now all good soldiers of Jesus Christ. Whether we want to face up to it or not, we are all living in a war zone as a result of the curse of Adam and Eve that is still in full operation on this earth. Anyone of us at anytime can come under human or demonic attack. The daily news will prove that to you without any shadow of a doubt."

Regardless of the muted statement in the former, the latter is a wholly Christian statement and there are many more like it. He may be inconsistent, but we know religion and the religious aren't always consistent. His lack of a personal relationship with Jesus can mean a lot of things. Being a “good soldier of Jesus Christ” is pretty specific.

Breivik and his Dominionist brethren have no regard for anything other than their objective and they are much more organized and driven than any group of peaceful, Progressive Christians. That is the problem. It doesn't matter if they follow the "true" teachings of Christ from a mainstream Christian perspective. They are all still a threat and the Dominionists are an even more powerful one here in the US.

The right-wing extremist Christians, Dominionists, Christian Nationalists, Reconstructionalists, etc.— whatever you want to call them—are using this “pass” to their advantage.” They have been infiltrating our schools, business, media and government for 30 years. They have been actively trying to get politicians from their ranks elected and they have succeeded. Now they are trying to get a President (*cough* Bachmann, Palin, Gingrich, Huckabee, Pawlenty (?), etc.) elected. Imagine if that happened...

UPDATE 7/27/11:
I thought I should clarify something in my post in light of Jack's great post, The Mad Norwegian. I do not think that Christianity is wholly to blame for Breivik. It's never that simple. That still does not exclude him from Christian Terrorism. Jihadists have political reasons that influence their motives and assist in warping their religion. They too, have their apologists, but they are still labeled Islamic Terrorists. 



RR said...

The problem with your conclusion (which you argue persuasively) is that you can also read parts of his manefesto that deny his affiliation with Christianity as is understood by most of the populace. In fact, some of the quotes you use can be argued from that point of view.

I read thru your post quickly -- so I likely didn't digest the full weight of the argument... But check out Sam Harris' take... Also a good one:


Steve said...

Thank you for your input.

I purposely included the quote that can be described as denying or muting his Christianity for honesty. If I didn't quote that then I could be taken to task for ommission.

However, as I allude to in the post, I think his lack of a personal relationship with Jesus is somewhat irrelevant. Many people that consider themselves Christian are not of the Evangelical kind where they "know" Christ. I am not trying to put words in Breivik's mouth, but I do not think this automatically dismisses him as Christian. His claims of Christianity and the worldview he espouses are clearly Christian, in my opinion. He believes in Original Sin, He believes that Christ exists and that he is the Messiah. He thinks he is a soldier in Christs army and that being a martyr for God is glorious. The fact that he says he doesnt have a personal relationship is inconsequential when you read these statements. A lot of this thinking parallels Jihadist Islam. Is that not Islam? However "corrupted" the mainstream adherents of a religion claim the violent ones are that does not make them "not X."

I did read Harris's take on it yesterday and while I like some of his points I disagree with the immediate assertion that the man is insane. As of yet, there is no evidence to make that claim. Just the simple fact that what he did is so abhorrent that people can't imagine anyone doimng that unless they are completely mad. That is in no way evidence of insanity. Additonally, along the same line, I don't see how you can label him a lunatic if this was a multi-year plan where he went about his life and did not arouse suspicions (that we know of).

krissthesexyatheist said...

You guys are killin' the past couple of days. At Religion Dispatches there is some good point counterpoint stuffs, but I think you guys are whomping all over them. Awesome work gents.


RR said...

Thx ...

And thx for the response Steve. However, I still disagree with your main point: while his rambling manifesto (of which I've only read excerpts) is disjoint and almost incoherent, I think his world-view isn't "much" more Christian than your average European. While its definitely laced with christian references, etc ... we have to realize that much of western thought is rooted in christian mores. And without a belief in the central tenant of christianity: i.e. - that christ IS god, that faith in him is the only 'way' -- I find it hard to call him a christian.

Note that I'm by no means defending christianity. I think it, and religion in general, is complete, iron & bronze age nonsense. However, I think that the actions and belief system of this nut are clearly the raving of an insane mind. I know you take exception to that, but when an individual believes that the killing of innocents (e.g. - children) will further the purposes he exposes its clear evidence that his mind is not functioning rationally -- even in the remotest sense. As Sam H says: if this isn't evidence of mental illness, I really don't know what such evidence would look like.

Good discussion.

Steve said...

I get what you are saying and he very well may end being diagnosed with something, but I don't buy the logic of "he has to be crazy because how else could he do what he did?"

My problem with that logic is that humans can rationalize all kinds of horrific ideas and actions. Do you consider Islamic terrorists mentally ill? What about German soldiers in death camps? The KKK? American soldiers in Vietnam or even earlier against Native Americans? It goes on and on. Rriding into a Sioux camp and scalping children or hanging entire families of African-Americans is horrific, disgusting and so beyond inhumane that the word loses meaning and seems inadequate. I still don't define it as "insane." These people probably went That is all my point really is, I guess.

Now, even IF he is crazy, how does that negate the label "Terrorist?" Even in a warped mind he had stated goals and actions to achieve them. It wasn't a "mindless" shooting spree. He bombed the government building to 1) strike at the government he held repsonsible and 2) to distract from the larger target of shooting kids.

The media, and especially Christians, are so quick to dismiss this as the work of an insane man because no one wants to ask or answer questions about how someone can do that without being insane. I think it is entirely possible to commit those acts and be sane. And that is sad.

RR said...

Yea -- I won't argue against the label "terrorist" in this case... and you make good points regarding the ability of conditioning/dehumanization-of-enemies: i.e. - such conditioning can turn regularly functioning brains into murderous machines.

In that light, I would concede that right wing propaganda (including christian nonsense) likely influenced his behavior/thinking to such a degree that it may be the impetus that pushed him over the edge.