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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. mare

    no muslims would denounce other muslim..unless you were a shia muslim

    July 26, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • Muneef

      Mare.
      If you meant my post then kindly read it again and tell me where did I do that?

      July 26, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • peace

      That is problem lies in internal muslim. They always kill each other that don't synchronize with their cleric interpretation. The Christian too kill each other but it is because material wordly word. But Islam kill each other because driven by quran. So Jahiliyah ancient barbaric times.

      July 27, 2011 at 3:43 am |
  2. Muneef

    Anders Behring Breivik,Norway,Oslo 93 innocent life wasted in a "One Man Show"operation ....
    This example is the example of Western and Muslim Tentions that mark a start of violence against the Westren Systems,against Muslims and colored communities or individuals....
    Muslims are unwanted in the west...they are being pushed out until now only by the mention of words,by the imposing of laws that dismay the Muslims such as to the shape of Mosques in Switzland,The Niqab&Borqo in France, The Islamic Slaughter Rituals in Holland....
    Really just do not understand if you did not need all those Muslims or non Muslims immigrants into your countries from the first place....!!! What has changed that now ? 
    If you do not want other nations out number you in your land,it is either you should not allow immigration or make new laws as to Divorce and Marriages beside taking into consideration allowing polygamy if permited by the first female partner whether she is well giving birth or sick unable to give birth... You cannot go on wiping reducing nations every time they exceed your populations ??!

    Muslims is a General word that includes every Muslim from every continent on the Globe?? That is way you should take Muslims bases their race origin and not by the bases of their Religious beliefs, what ever their acts were criminal or religious extremes...but it is not fair to generalize since may there be Muslims from your own skins or race origins...   

    So what are you saying Anders Behring Breivik  being is ;

    -A Christian Crusader...?
    -A Zionists Crusader...?
    -A Nazist Crusader....?  
    -A Atheist Crusader....?
    Well he has to be some thing out of those if not all in one....!!?

    July 26, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • Reality

      Muneef,

      Listen up as the following condemnation is echoing across the globe from all good and gracious agnnostics, atheists, secularists, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Pagans: (the koran eliminates Muslims as being good and gracious)

      Another Timothy McVeigh !!! Hopefully this "nut job" meets the same fate. The sooner the better!!! If Norway does not have a death penalty, then there is always the justified "oops" accident. "While transporting Breivik to prison via an aircraft, the cabin door suddenly opened and he fell 30,000 ft. He did not survive the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. "

      Next topic !!!!!

      July 26, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  3. Bonnie

    America should worry a lot over what its de-christianized, amoral population would do to each other.

    July 26, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • Los

      We'd live in a peaceful progressive society, that's what we'd do.

      July 26, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • Dude

      The essay's not saying not to be a christian. Furthermore, not being christian does not mean being amoral.

      July 26, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  4. allfaith

    Maybe Mr. Brevick is a sign that our society requires a drastic change in the way we organize ourselves. Our units of organization, be they churches, businesses, or states are much too big. Too many people fall through the cracks and become alienated, or end up following belief systems based on power and status. Change at the community level is the place to start. Membership must be all-inclusive. People need to be accepted as equals before they can see the advantages of treating others with the same respect.

    July 26, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
  5. Bonnie

    He should not call this monster "Christian terrorist" as if there are other Christians who'd ever support him. Secular Americans cannot define religious terrorism after all these years. Why not suggest all Christian churches in USA to be monitored if he really believes this guy is a Christian.

    July 26, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • Trindy

      It's very clear to me that you don't understand what was written. This man claimed to be a christian just as any christian would. However his indoctrination was a twisted amalgamation of hate. If you want proof of other Christians that have committed seriously depraved acts in recent time, I implore you to look at the Srebrenica Massacre, where 8,000 people were killed by others who defined themselves as Christians. Historically, people have been killing in the name of their gods and religions for just as long as their religions have existed. Every religion has it's most cruel and brutal followers, no one religion is void of this aspect. This man was a christian, just as much as any other. He was a flawed man, who believed that Christ was the only way to heaven. After that his views, and my own, and clearly yours all differ. There is nothing wrong with having black sheep in a religion, it helps us see how human we really are.

      July 26, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  6. Libertarian Conservative

    I disagree, Stephen. But at least you're consistent.

    I've listened to a lot of hypocrites over the past few days; including the people condemning Mr. Brevik as a "Christian terrorist" and those denying he was one. If you hold this ideologically-motivated killing to the same standard as all ideologically-motivated killings, at least you have a consistent message.

    July 26, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  7. Hawhat?

    Not that I don't fully agree, but isn't that the beauty of the information age? You can share your ideas? Even if your ideas are terrible, you still get to share them. People will always be stupid enough to buy into stupid ideas. It's not the people writing it who we should be mad at, but the people dumb enough to believe them....

    July 26, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  8. Kala

    This guy wasn't a "Christian" he was a nut. I have no need to denounce someone elses insanity because I am a Christian. This whole article is based on false premises andis pure sophostry. Where did you find the kook that wrote it. I don't hear any solcialists/Communists apologizing for Stalin's MASS MURDERS,no they continue to try to push it as a philosophy. Shame on you and Shame on CNN for promugating this trash.

    July 26, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Jessie

      Re Stalin analogy: have you apologized for the Crusades lately? The Inquisition? The Salem witch trials? Apparently not, since you continue to push Christianity as a philosophy!

      Your implication that it's impossible for a Christian to commit atrocities because anyone who does isn't a "true Christian", is an example of the "no true Scotsman" fallacy. It's a logical error so famous it has a name.

      July 26, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • Jessie

      Also, calling anyone who does something terrible "crazy" or a "nut" is insulting to people with mental illnesses, who are statistically much more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.

      July 26, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  9. Bonnie

    What Christians did not denounce this Norwegian killer? Pathetic.

    July 26, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  10. Hello

    Hello, CNN, why do you delete Christian comments here?

    July 26, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • Fred Ferdinander

      Please do not become another one of the conspiracy theorist dingbats that think CNN is actively targetting them. If your comment did not post immediately, there is a naughty word in it – "consti-tution" has a "ti-t" in it. "Circu-mstance" has c-um in it. If you see "awaiting moderation", forget it – no moderator ever comes to check it. Just find the naughty word and do what I did and add a hyphen.

      If it was there and got removed, it was because someone reported it as abusive – a bit strange because this forum thrives on abuse.

      Your post did not vanish because of your viewpoint. Don't think CNN is out to get you and censoring and all that other nonsense.

      July 26, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  11. Richard Dudekins

    I'm not sure which Christians would not condemn these attacks (short of the Westboro Baptist Church perhaps). Can you point out how orthodox Christian beliefs can reasonably be associated or seen as any sort of inspiration for what has happened here?

    July 26, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  12. pael

    Just because you call yourself a Christian doesn't make you one. He has said he wasn't religious:

    Q: Do I have to believe in God or Jesus in order to become a Justiciar Knight?

    no, you don’t need to have a personal relationship with God or Jesus to fight for our Christian cultural heritage. It is enough that you are a Christian-agnostic or a Christian-atheist (an atheist who wants to preserve at least the basics of the European Christian cultural legacy

    Breivik did call himself a Christian, but meant that in a cultural sense, rather than a theological one. He emphasized that he was not seeking a theocracy, but a secular society. His idea of a Christian Europe had nothing to do with religion. "

    The media is trying to link extermist islam to christianity, and it is patently false.

    July 26, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  13. David Johnson

    From the article:
    "Christians should denounce Norway's Christian terrorist"

    Why, I go one step further. I denounce all Christians everywhere!

    Cheers!

    July 26, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • #...#

      That's because you are an idiot.

      July 26, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • eatinfetus

      Lol hear hear

      July 26, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  14. starsnbars

    While we're at it, your last paragraph reads:

    "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."

    A google search of your writings reveals no history of a thesis such as:

    "So Muslims have a responsibility to speak out forcefully against [insert muslim terrorist of your choice, I prefer Yassir Arafat] and to look hard at the resources in the Islamic tradition that can be used to such murderous ends."

    July 26, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • starsnbars

      I apologize, I neglected to read the following before commenting:

      "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."

      Now if I could just get a link to any prominent muslim, hell any muslim who has"[spoken] out forcefully against Bin Laden and to look hard at the resources in their tradition that work to promote such evil" I" really feel stupid.

      July 26, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  15. starsnbars

    "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."

    So if some deranged idiot goes to a well-to-do country club and opens up on a few people making more than $250k/yr, can we blame it on Obama?

    July 26, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  16. Frankly Speaking..

    If the christians do not feel obliged to say so why should the muslims defend themselves everytime ? Getting a taste of your own poison eh ?

    July 26, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • doctore0

      Nothing separates humanity like religions

      July 26, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  17. nacholibre

    I'm pretty sure no Christians are standing up and cheering for this guy.

    July 26, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • Zero

      Seems to me that Glenn Beck is pretty close to doing so. http://www.salon.com/wires/entertainment/2011/07/26/D9ONJME00_us_norway_massacre_beck/

      July 26, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  18. John Richardson

    Here's an idea: EVERYONE should denounce this murderous jerk.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Rotter

      NEWS FLASH!! It has already been done. Prothero didn't get the memo before he wrote this article.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @Rotter Indeed

      July 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  19. John Richardson

    Hey, no kidding, Prothero! While I'm sure you can dredge up a few nutjobs who refuse to denounce this bit of mass murder, it's not as though this guy is getting a whole lot of accolades from ANY quarter.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  20. Syed

    I agree with the auhtor (Mr. Prothero). As a member of a community one can not shirk the responsibility for what happens at large whether it is anti semtism among Muslims or anti muslim racism in Europe. Muslims have to stand up to their own terroists, purge their socities of injustice and violence and read Quran which teaches justice, fairnes, and compassion for all. The same goes for Hindus and Christains.

    An individual like Brevick or a group like Al Qaida may find justification in the reading of a religious text for their perverted acts, but it is the responsibility of all others including teachers, religious scholars and parents at home to show a different side of religion which teaches love, compassion and justice. Choice is ours, we can choose to see love and accomodation in our religious texts or hate and violence.

    Syed

    July 26, 2011 at 5:37 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.