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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. Kevin

    Everything they are saying about this guy with regards to religion could be said about the average 'al qaeda' member.
    Why is it that when a Christian nutjob fanatic commits an atrocity everyone shouts that he doesn't actually represent the Christian faith, but when a Muslim nutjob fanatic commits an atrocity the same people shout that we must blame all Muslims everywhere for it?
    Textbook example of a "double standard".

    July 25, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • the way

      very very true.

      July 25, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • Kerygma

      Ahhh! Maybe that's because there's vast differences between the peacfull teachings of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the rabid followers of Islam you nitwit....try it out, maybe you'll learn what those differences are and how they MAY relate to this article.

      July 25, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Kevin

      ah, I see...So what you are saying is that you've chosen to completely ignore two thousand years of blood, death and carnage caused by Christians forcing their beliefs on others because it doesn't match up with your currently held self-image. (and that you've chosen to completely ignore the bloody and horrific parts of the bible because it tells an inconvenient truth about your so-called "religion of peace"...)
      Like I said- a Textbook example of a "Double Standard"

      July 25, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • Muneef

      Kevin.

      You are an Angel.
      The acts of a muslim individual is terror while the same for any non Muslim it is "Pure Ignorance or insanity".

      July 25, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  2. John

    Wow, quick change of tune CNN. I am impressed with this article. I sure hope you fire the staff that suggested that Christians and right-wingers are potential terrorists. There are over 200 million people using the word "Christian" ( even though they are really just using the term in name only ) in the US. I only worry about them, when they try and push congress to make laws promoting or regarding an establishment of Religion. For instance. The Amish pay no taxes, they are excempt. That was not right, I don't think.

    July 25, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • Kevin

      Actually, the Amish *do* pay all taxes except for social security- which they have completely withdrawn from for religious reasons. (i.e they don' receive social security either....their own community support for the elderly and infirm is deemed an "acceptable alternative")

      July 25, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  3. Tyrone Palmer

    In no way, shape, or form was this man a Disciple of Jesus, and Christian means follower of Christ. Fundamentalist, Conservative, Evangelical etc... are all man-made labels, you will not find one of them in the New Testament scriptures.

    July 25, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  4. rh

    "he doesn't have any insight into Christian theology" as if Muslim extremists have an "insight into Muslim theology". Funny how soon we judge others, then try to protect what we know.

    July 25, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Jason

      2 words: sharia law.

      July 25, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • Kerygma

      There is a VAST difference between the teachings of Jesus Christ and the teachings of Islam....learn the differences. Its clear as day what Jesus Christ taught those who would believe on HIM.

      Rather than criticize Christianity go to the source and learn what HE taught HIS followers and there you will learn what true religion is.

      July 25, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  5. Jeanne

    perhaps fundermentalist is the wrong word...extremist would fit better.....anything taken to an extreme point such that the person can no longer accept or tolerate alternative viewpoints is dangerous, be it religious based, political, racial, whatever! What we all need to start doing is thinking less and less in terms of extremes and defending these extremes and lean toward acceptance of alternate views as possible and working toward the greater good in spite of these differing opinions. This guy was a member of Fremskrittspartiet...which is a political party kind of like the Tea Party movement here.....very intolerant and anti-foreigner (immigration wise ...ie. Norway for Norwegians etc).

    July 25, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  6. Amyrica

    A terrorist cannot be a Christian. Christians by definiiion follow the ways of Christ and his teachings. So, if someone's a terrorist, he cannot be a Christian.

    July 25, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  7. David Stone

    Face it Christian haters....1: This guy was not part of any organized Christian group, and was in fact a lone nut. Claiming that you committed a crime in the name of a faith you have no connection to is a spurious indictment. 2: There is no Christian equivalent of Al Queda, and there is no comparison between the problem islamic radicals pose world wide and what Christians pose.

    July 25, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Ron

      David,
      you really have issues with denial.

      July 25, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  8. COUNTRYCOOK

    Friends

    While the left wing media continue to marginalize peaceful dissent concerning the threat from the Islamist s; the latest is to attribute Walid, Robert Spencer, Pamella Geller and others to the nutjob in Norway who chose evil and violence with what we all speak against. For Judeo Christian culture to act the same as the Islamist s make us no better than them.

    The media ignores the Islamic fundamentalist growth and how it is already the majority thinking in many Muslim countries and on the verge of also being the majority in the whole of the Muslim world. In this propaganda video the evidence is apparent that fundamentalist Islam is a massive force that we are ignoring at our own peril. That the view we are dealing with a tiny minority of extremists is grossly perverse and self delusional.

    We the few are speaking out to warn the West yet we are marginalized for speaking the truth and the real threat of terror and tyranny is being ignored by the same people that marginalize us.

    More evidence of the Islamic threat on this video made by the Islamist s themselves:

    please watch and then share

    http://shoebat.com/videos/kalifah2world.php

    July 25, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  9. Scott A

    Okay, maybe not Christian fundamentalist. How about radical Christian terrorist? Fact is, the man was a practicing Christian and he was a zealot focusing on the worst parts of Christianity (kind of what conservatives in the U.S. do). What exactly are you supposed to call people who take their religion to ultra-extremes that cause them to hate people? Is it okay to call somebody an Islamic fundamentalist, but Christians aren't allowed to be called such things? You don't have to be of a certain religious group to be labeled a terrorist. Atheists have their bad eggs too, but religious bad guys are 50 times worse because they believe God is telling them to hurt people.

    July 25, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Roger

      Pol Pot, Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Hitler. Atheists have killed more people in the name of atheism in the last 100 years than religious folks of all persuasions have killed in all of history.

      July 25, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • Kevin

      Except for the fact that none of them were atheists, and saw themselves as the supreme power of their people.

      Try again.

      Oh, and Hitler was a practicing Catholic, and Stalin was educated at an Orthodox seminary.

      July 25, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  10. luz mella

    anybody can say he's a christian but not everybody acts like one. true Christianity is of the heart not of the mouth. you can test a christian when he does things like Jesus did. we should be reading the new testament more to find out what Christianity is all about.

    July 25, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Greg

      Anybody can say he's a Muslim but not everybody acts like one. true Islam is of the heart not of the mouth. you can test a Muslim when he does things like Mohammed did. we should be reading the Koran more to find out what Islam is all about.

      How does that work for you when a Muslim is accused of terrorism.

      July 25, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  11. TeeMann

    Finally!!!!!! Do you all now understand that 9/11 terrorists have nothing to do with Islam and that they are practicing a misguided ideology of eradicating all non-muslims to earn a fantasy prize of 70 virgins? Would anyone now doubt the true faith of Christian Knights Templar for example? This Norwegian lunatic was carrying out what the knights did hundreds of years ago. Keep in mind that he confessed to being part of an organized group.......so, could there be any more similarities to the terrorists who carried out 9/11 ? If you are a Christian denying this man's religious motive.....then you have comitted the first diservice to Christianity by your denial.

    July 25, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • David Stone

      Horrible comparison. The 911 guys were part of a world wide islamic terror organization with milliions of dollars, training camps, schools, and support all over the globe. This guy was a lone nut claiming to be a Christian, part of no organization, no group, with no supporters, followers, or leadership. DUMB comparison.

      July 25, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Greg

      David, keep up with the news, he had contacts.

      July 25, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  12. David

    IF he was a fundamentalist, then the racial overtones would not be in his manifesto. There would be some serious New Testament biblical verses to support his notions... oh wait MY mistake, there aren't any since nothing in the New Testament supports his actions!

    July 25, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  13. Mike

    Religion is constantly being misused as a political tool by evil people. Anybody of any stripe who labels themselves a Fundamentalist is telling you that they are not about any message of peace or understanding, they are all about "their way or die." The real battle is against them and not to kill them, just to marginalize them. It is time for decent Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and all the rest to reclaim their religion and denounce all hate mongers. It is time to stand up to the terror, to help the police whenever and where ever hate groups form. The learning point from the Norwegian tragedy is no place is immune. For immigrants I'd say "Learn the ways of the place you move to. Embrace their ways and seek acceptance. You left your land because things were not good, so leave all that behind and begin again in peace."

    July 25, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  14. David

    If "Christian" MUST be in the label then at least get the description correct

    Christian Heretic
    Christian Blasphemer
    Christian Cultist

    July 25, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • Kerygma

      A one kind idiot...for real!

      July 25, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  15. God

    Right-wing Xtians = Islamic Fascists

    Same p0op, different flavor

    July 25, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  16. John

    Nice how when it's a terrorist with anything other than a muslim background, all of a sudden – he's not a true Christian. *sigh* Let's just agree that no one's made up god is better than the other and worry about stuff that actually affects day to day life, like treatment of the poor, basic human rights, feeding the hungry and letting people keep the money they earn.

    July 25, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  17. Mork

    Islamics and Christians wont really matter when China takes over, we'll be over run by Shintoism and Buddhism!

    July 25, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • mickey1313

      the zips will never take over. PS budistism is a philosphy, not a religon as budists dont worship anything.

      July 25, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  18. james

    What's the defeniton of christian? Just someone believing in god? satan believes in god does that make him a christian? Their are bad apples in every group. Atheist have mass murders as well, BUT the headline doesn't say "MAN WHO BELIEVED IN NOTHING" kills 20 today. It just says crazy man kills 20. Quit trying to identify people by what they believe.

    July 25, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Mork

      I beleive in God but I cant stand christians, muslims, israeli jewish fundametalists, etc

      July 25, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • mickey1313

      You fool, christian meens that they believe that jesus was the Crist (son and imbodyment of god). Satin, if real, would know weather or not that was true, and thus shold be believed. But he is just another sad christian mytth.

      July 25, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  19. Grant

    I gotta admit, it's nice to see the shoe on the other foot. After years of hearing christians speak about how all muslims are terrorists, it's funny to hear them go on the defensive when one of 'theirs' does it. The real terrorists in the world have finally been outed and now they're mad about it. LOL!

    July 25, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • mickey1313

      Well It is a fact that all thiests are terrorists. If they do not commit the terror directly, absolutly the money they tythe to there church is used for terrorism. All followers of the abrahamic triditions are evil vile murders who, in comeing decaides will be remembered for there evil and there hate. Only athistism or agnosticism acn lead to peace.

      July 25, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  20. Buford Davis

    He's a loner. I'd be very surprised if he had assistance from any organized "cell" and even more so if that cell held the same fundamentist Christian supports for their activities. Anders Romarheim's statement that religion, in this case Christianity, was used to unjustly assign some moral weight to his political views could also be said of Islamic terrorists. The major difference, of course, is that they have a large religious base behind them that is far removed from mainstram Islam (saying mainstream is not meant to diminish the size of the extremist movements. Clearly it is not small.) I don't believe there are fundamentalist Christian groups out there advocating these acts, but dangerous individuals are influenced by what the do advocate (Erik Robert Rudolph, Scott Roeder, maybe Jarod Laughner...maybe). To me, that is the extent of fundamentalist Christianity's culpability here. No more, but no less either. If the phrase "Christian terrorist" sticks in the craw of Christians who find Breivik's diatribe revolting, it should. Maybe it helps us get the idea how a billion or so Muslims feel.

    July 25, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • David Stone

      I would say there is just a WEEE bit more of a leg to stand on when it comes to saying islam has a serious terrorism problem than there would be to say the same about Christianity. Ya think?

      July 25, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • mickey1313

      david, maybe now, but for hundreds of years, (like untill the 20th century) christians have made it a habit to exicuting anyone who had scientific proof of the falacy of religon. While christians were persacuting capernacus and galaleo, the muslems were far far beyond europe. But then something happened and islam took on the same evil dogmas as the christians.

      July 25, 2011 at 7:55 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.