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July 26th, 2011
10:15 AM ET

My Take: Christians should denounce Norway's Christian terrorist

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Ideas matter; thoughts have force. This is an obvious truth. It is why pastors preach, why professors profess, and why pundits do whatever they do.

Yet whenever ideas do things we do not want them to do, as they did in Oslo , Norway on Friday, we try to pretend that ideas are powerless.

For the last two decades, Christian students have told me that Christianity had nothing to do with the Holocaust. After 9/11, many Muslims said that the men who flew those planes into those buildings had nothing to do with Islam. When Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot, we were told that the crime had nothing to do with our current climate of political hatred.

Unpacking the 'Christian fundamentalist' label for Norway terror suspect?

Now in the wake of the Oslo massacre bloggers and pundits are reassuring us that the crimes of the alleged perpetrator Anders Behring Breivik can be understood simply as the product of a deranged mind. They had nothing to do with his Christian faith or his anti-Islamic ideology. This is wishful thinking of the most dangerous sort.

According to Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, "Breivik is not a Christian." According Ross Douthat, the conservative Catholic columnist at the New York Times, “it’s fair to call Breivik a right-winger” but not a Christian  fundamentalist.

Meanwhile, Andrew Brown at the Guardian is reassuring his readers that “Anders Breivik is not Christian but anti-Islam.”

My Take: Norway attacks show why you can't #blamethemuslims

Brown goes on to describe the various anti-Islam bloggers Breivik read and apparently quoted in a manifesto, only to conclude, “Obviously these people cannot be held responsible for the use to which their ideas were put.”

I don’t find that obvious at all.

I think all of us who place ideas into books or blogs or lectures or sermons should be acutely aware of the use to which our ideas might be put. What is obvious is that those who read or listen to us will take our ideas in directions different from what we intended. But that fact does not absolve us of responsibility when they do.

If you devote your life to spewing anti-Islamic hatred, you should not be surprised if someone comes along and kills in the name of that hatred. In fact, you should expect it.  If you insist as a matter of revelation or dogma that the Jews killed Christ then you should not be surprised if Christians come along and kills Jews in the name of Christ. In fact, you should be surprised if that does not happen.

We live in an age of anger. That anger is fueled by ideas. And the most incendiary ideas are those that call down the force of God or nation (or both) in the service of denouncing those who follow other gods or belong to other nations.

Anders Breivik was obviously politically motivated. The 1,500-page manifesto that has been attributed to him draws on contemporary European and American conservatism in its attacks on Marxism, multiculturalism, secularism, academia and feminism.

But Breivik's motivations were equally, and obviously, religious. His manifesto cites the Atlas Shrugs blog of Pamela Geller, who has made a name for herself in the United States by opposing the Islamic community center near Ground Zero. According to the New York Times this manifesto also quotes Robert Spencer of another anti-Islamic web site, Jihad Watch, 64 times.

But Breivik does not just deny Islam. He affirms Christianity. He describes himself as "100% Christian" in his apparent manifesto. That work says he's a member of the “Knights Templar," which the document refers to as “a Christian ‘culturalist’ military order.”

The manifesto refers repeatedly to martyrdom, calls Breivik the "savior . . . of European Christendom," discusses Quranic views of Jesus and quotes extensively from the Bible.

In fact, in an extended section justifying violence in the name of self-defense (plagiarized, like much in the manifesto, from other websites), it quotes from Exodus, Samuel, Judges, Psalms, Luke, Matthew, Isaiah, Daniel, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians and other biblical books. "God will anoint you with his power to go into battle," the manifesto reads. "God can be a Man of War if He wants to be."

Finally, key dates in the manifesto, including the date for the rampage itself (July 22), are linked to key dates in the history of the Christian crusades. "Celebrate us, the martyrs of the conservative revolution," a video attributed to Breivik reads, "for we will soon dine in the Kingdom of Heaven."

Osama bin Laden was a Muslim terrorist. Yes, he twisted the Quran and the Islamic tradition in directions most Muslims would not countenance. But he rooted his hate and his terrorism in that text and that tradition. So Muslims, as I have long argued, have a responsibility to speak out forcefully against Bin Laden and to look hard at the resources in their tradition that work to promote such evil.

If he did what he has alleged to have done, Anders Breivik is a Christian terrorist.

Yes, he twisted the Christian tradition in directions most Christians would not countenance. But he rooted his hate and his terrorism in Christian thought and Christian history, particularly the history of the medieval Crusades against Muslims, and current efforts to renew that clash.

So Christians have a responsibility to speak out forcefully against him, and to look hard at the resources in the Christian tradition that can be used to such murderous ends.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Christianity • Crime • Europe • Politics • Violence

soundoff (619 Responses)
  1. Dogger

    The aspect of this massacre that no one mentions is that Breivik did not target Muslims. Perhaps his motivation was to kill Christians and reinforce the notion that groups other than Muslims are capable of horrendous acts.

    July 26, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban

      Maybe....the Devil made him do it?????????? 😮

      July 26, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  2. Manumission

    This author is absolutely correct. This nut case steeped himself in the Christian religion, and then went out and executed people. The Nut Jobs in the Right Wing, many Christian, are just as dangerous as the Muslim fanactics. Chrisitians are just blind to the danger in many of their teachings, especially how it relates to politics. This is pathetic, especially in the Western world, which is supposed to be "educated".

    July 26, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • Chris

      Their blind because they surround themselves with their own kind. They dont see what it looks like on the outside. I've seen people bullied for not believing or having a different view. Anytime you invest your entire life around something that cant be proven, you have already lost.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • timmy

      You are complete ignorant of the teachings of Jesus Christ. If someone warps the teaching of Jesus they are no longer Christians, regardless of what they call themselves.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • pfeffernusse

      Hate to tell you, but if you think Jesus is the Son of God, sent to Earth to repent for all of mankind’s sins, and that he walked this Earth preaching, teaching, praying and healing, then you are a Christian. Just because this particular one acting in an abhorrent way doesn’t change that.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  3. S~

    Where is the evidance that he is a christian?
    Just becuase someone said so?

    July 26, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • Manumission

      Did you even bother to read the article? Try reading it. There are multiple quotations where this guy professed to be a Christian. Or do you just chose to remain stupid?

      July 26, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • cdimarco

      exactly... a good tree will bear good fruit, but a bad tree will bear bad fruit.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • cdimarco

      Someone can say all they want to, but it doesn't make it true. There are plenty of people who profess to be war veterans, but have never served in the armed forces....Does that make them military?

      July 26, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Mike

      But wait a second, even if this guy himself said so, does that make him a Christain? It's just a label. Ideology and labels don't seem to match up in today's world.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • malasangre

      no because HE says so and explains himself in his manifesto. please return to your reading comprehension class.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • cdimarco

      I don't care how he tries to justify it in his manifesto, he's doing what's right in his own eyes. Even over little things, we always try to back up the things we do wrong with excuses or justifications to make ourselves feel better... How much moreso will we do that when we do something TERRIBLY wrong?

      July 26, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • timmy

      What he calls himself is immaterial.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • d rufus onfyre

      So many Christians are refusing to accept that Breivik considers himself a Christian because that would open the possibility that most Muslims are not violent extremists. People need to accept that extreme passion for ideologies can become dangerous, no matter what the ideology/religion may be.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Rotter

      He is not a Christian. In his Manifesto he questions the existence of God. He doesn't go to Church, he doesn't have a Christian Lifestyle.

      Prothero is just a Biggot against Christians and wants to attack Christianity so he labels the terrorist as a Christian and makes him out as a crusader even though the terrorist never called himself one.

      July 26, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  4. WEBSPY

    Why is it that humanity advances science, our understanding of construction buildings, our child rearing and man in society, all advances in medicine, the universe, but not religion, it is to remain that god is thus, no change or compromise, The Creator made the universe and everything in it a constant change but religion remains the same to dare think god is not that what is written??? I would venture to say alot of Christians worship is so small minded that the book it self is now more worshiped then God!

    July 26, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • cdimarco

      I don't think that's true; I think we have more bible knowledge now more widely distributed than ever before, and God is constantly revealing Himself in new ways to people every day. That, and we're seeing biblical prophecy unveiling itself more and more as time goes on. God and His Word are the same, but our knowledge of it is increasing.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • WEBSPY

      Good because this concept that if I don't believe in a Deity, that I should burn forever is stupid,,,I like to joke if god is all knowing then he knows were we all end up so why waste time just put us there,,,I get the free will thing a lot but its not that at all its saying that kind maker kinda stupid if he knows the end game but likes to watch any how,,,time for a reality check!

      July 26, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • cdimarco

      Even if God knows what you're going to choose, I don't think WE know what we or anyone else is going to choose. Why would you choose hell over eternal fellowship with God without truly examining it to make absolutely sure that it's not real. I chose to disregard it for a very very long time, same as you, and it wasn't until 2 years ago when I examined the bible to prove it wrong that God proved Himself right to me.

      God isn't the one who makes us sin or fall away from Him, it's us that makes that choice. Eternity is kind of a big thing to disregard, I'd make absolutely certain you're right if I were you.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • timmy

      God did evolve, read the Old Testament and then the New. God sending his only begotten Son, Jesus to teach us and then to die for our sins is a dramatic evolution from the Old Testament. Even after destroying the entire world in the time of Noah God realized he probably went a little too far and promised not to do that again. Also, just because the current iteration of God's word is 2,000 years old in our time frame doesn't mean that there is no change. The problem with your argument is the assumption that God's time frame reference is the same as ours. The next great change will be when Jesus returns. There are many theories of what that will be like, but none of us really know. The real question is: When Jesus returns who's side do YOU want to be on?? There are only two teams, you get to pick, but you have to be on one of them. There are no spectators at this game!

      July 26, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  5. timmy

    Breivik is no more a Christian than Richard Ramirez or David Berkowitz. There is nothing in the teachings of Jesus Christ that would ever lead someone to commit this act. He may call himself a “Fundamentalist Christian” but his actions are the complete opposite of Christianity.

    July 26, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • WEBSPY

      As I mention to people ,,,What is Jared's Religion ?????it was not broadcast as far as I know...I figure not to many people know Jared's religion!!!!!! He was mental but this guy says hes christian, what if he had got away we all would be looking for the Muslim connection...America has killed a million Muslims in the past 2 decades,,, but its a few terrorist that is the problem? I don't think so as the CIA said its blow back Bush and Laden both scabs on humanity!!!!

      July 26, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • pfeffernusse

      If someone thinks Jesus is the Son of God, sent to Earth to repent for all of mankind’s sins, and that he walked this Earth preaching, teaching, praying and healing, then they are a Christian. Just because this particular one acting in an abhorrent way doesn’t change that.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  6. Philip L

    This one nut does not christian terrorist make. By comparison EVERY day Islamic terrorists are killing scores of people some where in the world.

    July 26, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  7. Rainer Braendlein

    OMG!

    Historical truth:

    For a long time the civilized world was the Roman Empire or Byzantium. Up to emperor Constantin the Roman empire was pagan and persecuted the Christian Church. Constantin converted to Christianity and started to protect the Christian Church.
    Since that time the Roman Empire became more and more Christian. After a while it was right to call it Christian Empire.

    Seemingly, the Arabs never belonged to the Roman Christian Empire, but the single Arabic tribes had different beliefs.

    According to the Koran, Muhammad could not accept Jews and Christians as true believers (I don't know the reason). He invented an anti-Jewish and anti-Christian religion, called Islam (maybe he was indeed convinced that God had spoken to him or he was just a very cunning politican, who invented a religion, to unite the Arabic tribes).

    The Bible is a divine revelation of the Triune God. Essence of the Bible: Jesus, the eternal Son of God, wants to deliver sinners. Aggressive war can never be reasoned by the Holy Bible. The Bible is The Book of Love!

    The Koran is a book of hate and murder (read it!): Either you convert to Islam or you will be killed, ready!

    It is a heave crime to see Christianity and Islam as equivalent religions.

    The Truth: Islam is a war-religion. War is the central thought of Islam. Look at history and get shocked!

    July 26, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Allocer

      why are you distorting history?

      July 26, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • malasangre

      soooo this guy is really a secret Muslim who says he is a Christian? are you the guy who started that OBama rumor?

      July 26, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • WEBSPY

      Constantin gave the book to a rich man that had the means to make many copies 80 were produced,,,and the man took many things out and put many things in,,, I know because I was there I'm MAX the mouse

      July 26, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Constantine used Christianity to unify the empire. He did not really "convert", and said /did whatever he thought was convenient to the political "winds". http://omarcarter.com/2010/06/30/the-early-church-chapter-3-pagan-christianity/

      July 26, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  8. DS

    Great Article. It is always tough when one of your own does something wrong. It is but natural to deny that he is a Christian and his thinkings are influenced by some of his religious readings; very similar to a large majority of muslims find it difficult to understand why some with the same religious beliefs as their go and commit such crimes against humanity. It is therefore important to acknowledge it and help stem it before it becomes wide spread. People of reason need to be more vocal and condemn such actions – be it by Muslims, Christians or any other faith.

    July 26, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  9. Equisrider

    As a Christian I thoroughly condemn anyone who uses Christianity to justify killing innocent people.

    July 26, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  10. Mike

    Please define "Christian". Anyone can call themselves Christian or go to church. Jesus taught about a spritual revolution, not a physical one. He told the apostles to preach the gospel, but they'll be killed when they do. He never said anything about forcing beliefs or trying to control the physical world. He did say: "love others as yourself, feed the poor, show kindness to strangers, etc." If this terrorist did exactly the opposite of what Christ taught, then what makes him a Christian besides what he himself has claimed? If I said I was Hindu but didn't act at all as the religion taught and went out and killed people, would it even make sense to talk about the rise of Hindu Terrorism? I'm assuming Hindu's would say that I was not a Hindu, no matter what I claimed, because my actions did not reflect thier core beliefs...which is perfectly logical and absolutely correct...please quit discussing this now.

    July 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  11. dougo

    I'll be surprised if one of the parents doesn't blow his brains out BEFORE the trial even starts

    July 26, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  12. d rufus onfyre

    It is no surprise that Christians can't own the fact that Breivik is one of their own; a more fanatic, violent aberration of Christianity. They need to believe that all Muslims are terrorists and can't understand that not all of them are dangerous extremists. Right wingers aren't comfortable when things aren't either black or white, perhaps due to a lack of gray matter in their heads.

    July 26, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • Rotter

      Since when was Right Wing = Christian? Since when was Anders a Christian? Have you read his Manifesto? He didn't live a Christian Lifestyle. He doesn't go to Church. He questions the belief of God, yet you are quick to label him Christian?

      July 26, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Haime52

      Spot on, and I consider myself a fundamentalist Christian. He wasn't a person with Christ truly in his heart, but he would be indentified as a Christian by man. We cannot see the heart and we tend to judge by outward appearance.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • GodPot

      I'm pretty sure they prefer to keep things white...

      July 26, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • pfeffernusse

      @Rotter – "Since when was Right Wing = Christian?"

      Well, in the US, it happened about 40 years ago when Evangelicals infiltrated and overtook the Republican Party.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  13. Straightalk1

    The author of this artical is a judgmental minded idiot. Doesn't it seem that he has an axe to grind? As for the criminal, you know a persons heart by their actions...this murderer is no Christian, except perhaps in word only. Don't let news people muddy the water, it only obscures the truth.

    July 26, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Haime52

      Then you agree that Bin Laden was not a Muslim terrorist, as he was not practicing true Islam?

      July 26, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Rotter

      But doesn't Osama do it in the name of Islam or Allah? Doesn't he justify it through the texts of the Koran?

      July 26, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  14. alvaret

    Even if he is a 'Christian Fundamentalist", I do not see celebrations on the street by Christians or Christian Leaders praising his actions. I only see the condemnation and disgust from Christians for the actions of this terrorist (murderer). Trying to label the actions of one man on a whole religion is just insane, especially when his actions are OPENLY denounced and repudiated by Christians EVERYWHERE.

    July 26, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • GodPot

      Would what you say be true of the terrorist action of Scott Roeder? I don't think I saw any dancing in the street's but there were more than a few smug smirks and tacit approval from the Christian right and Fox pundit's.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  15. B

    When Christianity is under fire, and someone is making a poor example of it, why don't real Christians simply cite passages direct from the bible that will plainly paint the offensive force in question as hypocritical? No need for an argument. No need for long-winded opinions. No need for finger pointing. It's as easy as someone copy and pasting a phrase, preferably something written in red from the new testament, and let the judgement take care of the rest.

    “Do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

    Matthew 5:39

    “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

    Matthew 5:44

    “Do not repay evil with evil.”

    1 Peter 3:9

    He can claim to be a Christian all he wants, but clearly he has some sort of special interpretation. Why do you think the media would use hypocrites as a vehicle to disgrace the Christianity, yet they won't open a book a broadcast that the hypocrite can't even practice their own creed correctly? Perhaps the media understands Christianity better than they want us to think.

    "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28 KJV)

    July 26, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Truth

      Are you kidding? Don't cherry pick your verses... the Bible is a book of violence persecution and brutality. I am sure this freak could easily justify his actions in the fabled words of the ancient sand dwellers that became the bible.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Truth

      Are you kidding? Don't cherry pick your verses... the Bible is a book of violence persecution and brutality. I am sure this freak could easily justify his actions in the fabled words of the ancient sand dwellers that became the bible. ..

      July 26, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  16. jerry

    Come on CNN. I'm an atheist and this guy has no ties to christianity.

    July 26, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • GodPot

      So how do you think this blog would react if this guy had posted an Atheism Manifesto that claimed he was an "atheist warrior" attempting to wipe the smile off the face of organized religion? Do you think there would be many Christians saying "Well, he has no real ties to atheism, i mean he didn't even attend Richard Dawkins symposium..." and "He's just a crazy person, his ideology has nothing to do with his violence, you can't blame the bunch just because theres one bad apple..."

      July 26, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • d rufus onfyre

      @godpot, as an atheist, I would say "that's one angry, messed up atheist!" It doesn't mean we are the same person even though we can be loosely placed in the same category or religion (non-religion).

      July 26, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • antioch

      GodPot – an atheist, by definition, is not a member of an organized belief system.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  17. Mel

    There are those that say they are Christian, but their hearts are not. A true Christian is usually very apparent by their actions and not their words, because it is the love of christ that abides in their hearts. To denounce someone that I think was not really a Christian would be silly really. I do denounce his actions, however someone that could do what he did could not possibly have Christ in their heart.

    July 26, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • powerwrm

      onward christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of jesus going on before

      July 26, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  18. Altee11

    So far, Brevik's actions have been very universally condemned. I do not see anyone throwing roses at him or calling him a hero as happens too often in other places around the world, such as Pakistan.

    July 26, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  19. neptonomist sentry

    NAZI's weren't Christian, so why is this unenlightened blogger using them as an example in his poorly researched blog?

    July 26, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Haime52

      Because many Nazis claim Luther as their inspiration. He made some very, very anti-semetic statements.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  20. hm

    Introducing ‘Christian terrorist,’ Norway mass murderer.
    if you label any Muslim extremist as Muslim terrorist because they are using Islam why you don't say this Norway mass murderer.as Christian terrorist or you have double standard

    July 26, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.