July 25th, 2011
11:13 AM ET

Is 'Christian fundamentalist' label correct for Norway terror suspect?

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - Given initial suspicions that Friday's bombing and mass shooting in Norway were carried out by Islamic militants linked to al Qaeda, the way police ended up describing the suspect behind the attacks came as a big surprise even to many security experts: The alleged attacker was called a "Christian fundamentalist."

But experts on European politics and religion say that the Christian fundamentalist label could overstate the extent to which the suspect, Anders Behring Breivik - who has told authorities that he carried out the attacks - was motivated by religion, and the extent to which he is tied to a broader religious movement.

"It is true that he sees himself as a crusader and some sort of Templar knight," said Marcus Buck, a political science professor at Norway's University of Tromso, referring to an online manifesto that Breivik appears to have authored and which draws inspiration from medieval Christian crusaders.

My Take: Norway attacks shows terrorism isn't just Islamic

"But he doesn't seem to have any insight into Christian theology or any ideas of how the Christian faith should play any role in Norwegian or European society," Buck wrote in an email message. "His links to Christianity are much more based on being against Islam and what he perceives of as 'cultural Marxism.'"

From what the 1,500-page manifesto says, Breivik appears to have been motivated more by an extreme loathing of European multiculturalism that has accompanied rapid immigration from the developing world, and of the European Union's growing powers, than by Christianity.

"My impression is that Christianity is used more as a vehicle to unjustly assign some religious moral weight," to his political views, said Anders Romarheim, a fellow at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies. "It is a signifier of Western culture and values, which is what they pretend to defend."

"I would say they are more anti-Islam than pro-Christian," Romarheim said in reference to what appear to be Breivik's views.

The manifesto is religion-obsessed in that it rants for long stretches against Muslims and their growing presence in Europe.

Who is Anders Behring Breivik?

It calls for a European civil war to overthrow governments, end multiculturalism and execute "cultural Marxists." The manifesto includes a link to a video asserting that the majority of Europe's population will be Muslim by 2050 "unless we manage to defeat the ruling Multiculturalist Alliance."

The author of the document identifies himself as Breivik, but CNN could not independently verify that he wrote the document, and Norwegian authorities would not confirm that the man in their custody wrote the manifesto, saying it was part of their investigation

Opposition to booming Muslim immigration to Europe, exacerbated by high birth rates in the Muslim community, has become a mainstay of Europe's burgeoning far-right, helping right-wing parties gain seats in parliaments across the continent.

But those right-wing movements are mostly secular. Europe's hard right does not have deep ties to Christianity in the way that the United States' conservative movement is entwined with evangelical Christianity and other theologically conservative religious movements.

A far-right comeback in Europe

Recently adopted European laws aimed at curbing Islam's public visibility, including France's new burqa ban and Switzerland ban on minarets - towers that a part of mosques - were secular causes, not ones championed by Christian interests. Many Christian groups oppose such bans.

"The bulk of the anti-Muslim sentiment is not against Muslims as such, but is a secular rejection of how some Muslims allegedly want to place Islam at the center of society," Buck said. "It is more anti-religious than anti-Muslim."

Breivik's apparent manifesto, by contrast, cites biblical verses to justify violence for political ends.

"Clearly, this is not a pacifist God we serve," it says. "It's God who teaches our hands to war and our fingers to fight. Over and over again throughout the Old Testament, His people are commanded to fight with the best weapons available to them at that time."

"The biggest threat to Europe is the cultural Marxist/multiculturalist political doctrine of 'extreme egalitarian emotionalism,'" the manifesto goes on. "This type of political stance involves destroying Christendom, the Church, our European cultures and identities and opening up our borders to Islamic colonization."

The video that's linked to in the manifesto also includes some religious language: "Celebrate us, the martyrs of the conservative revolution, for we will soon dine in the Kingdom of Heaven."

Experts on religion in Europe said those faith-infused views are likely peculiar to the suspected gunman and do not appear reflect wider religious movements, even as they echoes grievances of Europe's right-wing political groups.

"He was a flaky extremist who might as well have claimed to be fighting for the honor of Hogwarts as for the cause of Christ," said Philip Jenkins, a Pennsylvania State University professor who studies global religion and politics, describing the suspected Norway attacker. "He did not represent a religious movement. ... People should not follow that Christian fundamentalist red herring."

At the same time, Breivik told investigators during interviews that he belongs to an international order, The Knights Templar, according to Norwegian newspaper VG, which cited unnamed sources.

He described the organization as an armed Christian order, fighting to rid the West of Islamic suppression, the newspaper said. He also told investigators he had been in contact with like-minded individuals and said he counts himself as a representative of this order, it said.

For many in Norway, the potential implications of the suspected killer's religion are still settling in.

"This is the first time we've heard of Christianity/religion as a driving force behind right-wing extremism," Buck said. "The mainstream right-wing movements in the Nordic countries (very small and disorganized groups in Norway) would generally point to the Old Norse beliefs, if anything."

"Norwegian, Nordic and European society," he said, "were totally unprepared for a violent attack from someone who calls himself Christian."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Islam • Norway • Terrorism

soundoff (1,640 Responses)
  1. Wrenn

    Bizguy said 'if they do (kill( they aren't really christians'

    No. They are. They are just very BAD christians. Being Christian doesn't automagically make a person good. If you think that, you're living in a fantasy land.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  2. geckopelli

    What is the difference between this rationalization and the one's the Muslims make when one of their's commits murder?
    Let Christianity apologies for this man's actions the way they would have Islam do when one of theirs runs amok.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  3. brako

    mossad job.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  4. sparknut

    Fundamentalists of all sorts – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu... are all dangerous people. They are extremists = dangerous.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  5. dima

    Very much more difficult to condemn an entire religion based on a mad man's act when we share his religion and the mad man looks so much like us? Maybe it is time for the western media to stop demonizing Muslims, also.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Carla hurst-Chandler

      So true.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  6. Joe N

    To The One True God: Yes we will find out at the end who is right or wrong. However, I will live my life free from the shackles of guilt and free from the belief that there is a vengeful deity who will punish me for not believing in him/it. I live a moral life without believing I must go to church twice a week and recite certain prayers, hoping to be "blessed" (whatever that means). I don't need to follow the teachings of middle eastern nomadic sheep herders of long ago. I don't believe in fairies, Thor, Poseiden, Jesus or devils.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  7. Justin Observation

    There is no such thing as a "real" Christian so this guy is just as much a Christian as the pope or Mitt Romney or Mother Teresa. Since there exist no authority on what the writers of the bible meant or intended to mean, and obeying half the stuff in it would be illegal today, there is no such thing as an official real Christian. Same goes for Muslims. People just pick and choose, obey or disobey, and intemperate it in whatever they please, and call themselves a Christian or Muslim.

    They bigger question would be, why are so many people still getting their social skills and cultural advice from books written by people who wiped their butts with their hands, sacrificed goats and sheep to their gods, and stoned their children to death for disobeying them? There are some good wisdom in them but there's a lot of silly primitive crap in there too. I believe most religions were made to try and convince people to act nice to each other.

    Paraphrasing an old rabbi from back then describing the religious texts.... "Treat others the way you wish to be treated, all the rest is commentary."


    July 25, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  8. Sam

    I think Dennis Miller said it best in one of his rants. Jesus is sort of like Sheriff Andy Taylor and Christian fundamentalists are sort of like Deputy Barney Fife. I think you can figure out what he was trying to say.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  9. Dave

    A fundamentilist is the same no matter if Christan or Muslim. All of them they think have a devine right to kill anyone who doesn't believe exacly like themselves. Fundamentilist = terrorist.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Altairius

      Fact, or personal opinion? Data to back it up? Would this also include Buddhist fundamentalist?

      July 25, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  10. Bizguy

    He is not a Christian anything, plain and simple.
    'Though shalt not kill" or plan Evil. End of story.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • IamGOD

      lol.. Christians kill, wake up..

      July 25, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Bizguy

      you wake up...If they do then they aren't really christians..

      July 25, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Gromit801

      Every so called christians says that. When one of their own goes on a rampage, or the past atrocities are pointed out to them, the same song :"They're not a christian."

      Guess that's the new christian mantra, instead of praying for their own, throw them under the bus.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • AreYouSerious

      Um... there are tens of thousands of "Christian" warriors in our military who have no compuncton wtih killing.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • timber

      Same goes for muslims. If they do, they aren't really muslims. Why the double-standards? Why are we so quick to claim that a muslim who kills innocent people is a muslim extremist and a terrorist, but we have to write a freaking article debating whether to tie this man's actions to christianity or not. I believe they're both misinterpreting their religion, and are both driven by hatred towards people who are different from them, and most of all, they are both terrorists.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Bizguy

      Killing is something that isn't in any religion. If it is then they are deceived....

      July 25, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  11. Chris

    Did you read his "manifest"? Here is one quote from page 692:

    "As a non-religious person, but still one that acknowledges and respects the impact of Judeo-Christian thinking on Western culture, ..."

    I would say that anyone who describes himself as "non-religious" probably is not a Christian fundamentalist.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Devon

      Exactly Chris but the disgusting Left is trying to tar this guy as a Christian so they can tar all Christians as terrorists and thus morally relativise us with radical islam...it is laughable...this Norway scoundrel said himself he is not religious .....

      July 25, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  12. Leslie Oden

    No one who is truly a follower of Christ, no matter how he labels himself, would commit such heinous acts. Just as the twisted Westboro Baptist Church (which also calls itself "fundamentalist") does not represent true Christianity, neither does the criminal who perpetrated this horrific crime against the people of Norway. Praying God will comfort those who mourn in this time of unimaginable grief....

    July 25, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • IamGOD

      oh please... except those who fought in crusades, countless Christians in jails, countless liars, cheaters, etc.. right? EVERYONE is guilty of something, that's how life is... Even god is guilty of crimes on humanity, should I remind you of the story of Noah's ark?

      July 25, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  13. Eric West

    It's just easier to lump Christians and Muslims in the same boat when citing any kind of organized terror plot. They both seem to complement each other in idealogy and this recent mass killing is proof that monotheism breeds dirty people. I just wish they would collectively end each others lives so we can get back to peaceful civilization.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Altairius

      Would you be referring to the peace of such notable humanitarians such as Pol Pot, Stalin and similar? Regardless of personal religious beliefs or lack there of, all humans have the capacity for great harm. Understanding this, and accepting that just because a disturbed individual claims a given belief system does not make that person a true believer is a giant step towards the peace you describe. This man like many others used a belief system for his own purposes, which are directly opposed to Christianity. Is Christianity perfect, no, but no belief system or the lack of a belief system, (which is a actually a belief system at the end) is perfect or immune to hijacking by others.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  14. Babs Wheel

    BREAKING! Norway Shooter Is an EVOLUTIONIST/PAGAN – his own words! Not a Christian! MSM Humiliated!‏ http://t.co/wA6Ar8P

    July 25, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  15. pithymcgee

    "But he doesn't seem to have any insight into Christian theology or any ideas of how the Christian faith should play any role in Norwegian or European society... His links to Christianity are much more based on being against Islam and what he perceives of as 'cultural Marxism."

    Sounds like a LOT of "Christian" conservatives here in the States.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  16. boyamidumb

    I find it strange that a religion created by a Jew in the middle east can become something so evil, not that this is new for christianity. Their Jesus didn't rise from the dead, he was just trying to get away from these fanatics and how they have perverted what he apparently taught – love, peace, caring for each other and all arounds us.

    But then perverting a religion that started with a sound philosophy is certainly not exclusive to these "bumblementalist fools." They all godt dem – the jews, the so called cristians, the muslims, all the isms crawling with their crazies.

    God bless em all. What would the media do without them.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  17. jellylee2020

    The label is correct. Just like how Americans label all Muslims, or even people remotely mid-Eastern looking, Al Quaedas. There are many Christian fundamentalists in the USA trying to say this guy is different from them. The truth is if you have hatred and intolerance inside you then you are no different from him.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  18. litemakr

    I find it very amusing they way people are suddenly falling all over themselves to say this guy isn't a "real christian". Yet when muslim terrrorists strike, you hear the same people falling all over themselves to say how evil muslims are, not defending them by saying the terrorists weren't "real muslims". You can't have it both ways, sorry. Religious fanaticism is dangerous, no matter what the flavor. The fact that he is using the same language and arguments as the current crop of extreme right wingers in the country should be a loud and clear wake up call.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Bill

      I was just about to post essentially the same thing.

      I wonder if the same "Christians" who have been spouting all the anti-Muslim rhetoric now know how the bulk of Muslims feel?

      July 25, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Rohan

      Well said, fundamentalists whether they are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or even Atheists are all dangerous.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  19. CM

    In Europe, including Norway, most people do not go to church, read the Bible, etc. I don't know about this particular individual, whether he practiced Christianity; I suspect that if he did, he wouldn't have done what he did!

    July 25, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • jellylee2020

      O please! That's the weakest argument if there ever is one. Where do you get the idea that "most people don't go to church in Europe" Where's the data to back that up? There are plenty of "Christians" committing murders and atrocity everywhere. The fact is if you have hatred and intolerance inside you then you are exactly like him. Do you say members of Westboro Church are not "Christians" then what is "Christian"? Seems like Christianity has fallen to the level where you can define it however you want.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • bob bob

      Jellylee2020: I haven't been to church in 40 years. I consider the whole concept of a hgiher power–by ANY name–to be laughable. But I don't have a gun or a grudge. Your point is silly.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  20. Sam

    The modern Protestant Christianity has nothing to do with true Christianity......All of them are teaching heresies and using the bible to suit their beliefs instead of holding on to the teachings that were passed on by Christ himself......The bible does NOT change with time...Humans do....So please dont change the true meaning of Christianity and call yourselves Christians

    July 25, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
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About this blog

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.