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. Beatrice

    CNN wants to paint all religions bad except for the filthy immoral secularism. Dirty business of humans.

    July 25, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  2. jon

    He was not religious nor did he shoot muslims. He killed members of the labour party and their family members because they had sided with Palestine and because of poltical correctness. Nothing at all to do with religion

    July 25, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
  3. Brett

    Christians sure didn't mind blaming Islam, which also doesn't teach violence, for the terrorism in the U.S. But now that the show is on the other foot, they think it's wrong. Hypocrisy, as usual.

    July 25, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  4. Bob

    Christians = terrorists.

    July 25, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  5. Beatrice

    Europe and America lost its long-standing Christian values. A farewell to blessings and well-being.

    July 25, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • Alverant

      What "christian" values are you talking about? Treating women as property? Religious intolerance? Suppression of non-christians? Ignorance of science? Censorship? Divine right of kings? Special treatment for churches? Good riddance to those values.

      July 25, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  6. Beatrice

    Practically, any nation or region with multiple cultures or peoples without a dominant, centralized force should expect unhappiness or decline at any time.

    July 25, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  7. Beatrice

    It's incorrect, since Christianity never teaches violence.

    July 25, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • johnborg

      A Muslim could easily argue that Islam never advocates violence either. Some Christians rely on the OT to legitimize wars and violence, but typically they go to Christ's statement: "I have not come to bring peace, but I have come to bring the sword." Granted, I would agree that this is not a call to violence. However, many Muslims will say the same thing about their holy text. It is a matter of social location and perspective. Religion can justify anything, whether good or bad.

      July 25, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • Alverant

      Have you actually read the bible? It demands the execution for working on a Sunday, being gay, not being chirstian, etc. Then there's christian history itself where it repeatedly slaughtered thousands, sometimes millions, in the name of that religion. Make no mistake, christianity does teach violence. It teaches that anything goes because God forgives everything.

      July 25, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  8. lester Jones

    Your dumb fictional Jesus has once again caused immense suffering. How many more lives need to be lost due to fools who pray to some limp and flaccid faux-god, dangling between crossed sticks? Save your crowns of thorns and virgin births for make-believe night. The rest of us are moving on without you.

    July 25, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Rick Sutter

      Just curious to know if you have ever led a post with "dumb fictional Allah", or if your immature hate is reserved solely for Christianity.

      July 25, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • wwsd

      LJ is most likely a very immature teenage troll. No respect for other people's beliefs. I may not agree with someone but I will show respect which most likely he never received from his parents.

      July 25, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  9. king theodore

    time with the love and democracy the Norwegian leaders still defend will smoke out the kleptocrat class terrorists eventually, the enemy is corporate terrorism, defunding education so boys like this guy never get the whole story, and can flip out.. so liberal vs conservative is a false choice, revolutionary or counter revolutionary are the historical choices, Jesus was a communist and revolutionary, ironically, this guy uses the christian mythology, old testament to defile all that christianity stands for , but never has lived up to anyway, slave philosophy, . The image of the three children holding each other on the shore in death, while the boat man came to save them, is one that will always make any human weep.

    July 25, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  10. Saint

    Your dumb fictional Jesus has once again caused immense suffering. How many more lives need to be lost due to fools who pray to some limp and flaccid faux-god, dangling between crossed sticks? Save your crowns of thorns and virgin births for make-believe night. The rest of us are moving on without you.

    July 25, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Rick Sutter

      Sound like your Dad let you on his account again.

      July 25, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  11. Shezzy

    The return of the Christian crusaders
    Breivik declares Christian jihad to defend Europe from yet another Muslim invasion.

    July 25, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  12. lmxt13

    Yes, "Christian Fundamentalist" is as good a label as anyone could have possibly given this guy. If you stop and remember the facts (not the beliefs) of what Christianity has inflicted on those very ones who Christ would have held dearest: the poor and the infirm, the disenfranchised and the sick, anyone who happens to be "different" ... you realize the appropriateness of the label!

    July 25, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  13. Jim

    Unfortunately a lot of something like devout christians here in the US are against Islam and fewer, but still a significant number, what they perceive of as 'cultural Marxism.' They think their way is the only way and that Islam is a threat to their way. Additionally, albiet I think in fewer numbers, they think our population is being diluted "culturally" althought I think they primarily care about religiously.

    July 25, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  14. Yumi

    I don't think Islamic fundamentalists are true islamics either.. they distort the religion and take what they want to perpetuate their hatred of western culture.. pretty much the same thing.. I think the label Christian Fundamentalist is accurate.

    July 25, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  15. Gregson1

    This is really scary. I know this guy was a crackpot acting alone, but seemingly "progressive" Europe has once again shown itself to be vulnerable to the same kind of xenophobic and racist sentiment that we see exhibited in other parts of the globe (including here in the USA against Mexicans). And, as native populations in most European countries continue to age while Muslim populations continue to grow during the next several decades, this could get even worse. (God forbid.) It's like France 2005 all over again.

    July 25, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  16. Viswam

    If his name had been Abdul Whatever, he would have been a muslim fundamentalist – no questions asked. Now the shoe is on the other foot – quit asking inane questions. IF you want a serious question, then ask it EVERYTIME a label is applied.

    July 25, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  17. george

    As far as those angry at Christian Conservatives, conservative means to love the word of God and the word of God says, "Love your enemy and your neighbor." I am sorry you guys are so angry at Christians, maybe you can hear the words of Jesus.

    July 25, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  18. Here is a label for ya, CNN = POTSTIRRIR

    Wow the CNN Pot-stirring worked! LOL When did this guy proclaim himself a Christian? What church does he attend? Who is his pastor? Where is the rest of his congregation? What denomination? hmmm nothing but CNN wanting to put the Christian label on him to stir the pot.. oh... nevermind. The dude is a loner lunatic like the Una Bomber, not part of any larger movement.

    July 25, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  19. Marie

    I'll use the same rhetoric the right has used against Muslims: this man is a christian conservative TERRORIST. A blond, blue eyed terrorist. A christian conservative terrorist. How does it feel to be the terrorists now?

    July 25, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • John

      Look who's spewing the hate now – the liberal left. You should watch your rhetoric Marie, your words are highly inflammatory. This guy had no ties whatsoever to Christians – he hates Muslims which doesn't put him in any belief system. People need to start to just use the word "extremist" because that's what these people are. It doesn't matter what your belief system is – if you murder people, it's wrong. Christianity doesn't teach people to murder others, so you should get your story straight.

      July 25, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Rick Sutter

      You and other idiots fail to note that the so called "Christian" terrorists have all been lone wolves. There is no Christian organization remotely similar to Al Queda and other Islam militant groups. Grow up.

      July 25, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • Lightenup

      You are a flaming racist Marie, why else base your hate on his skin and eye color. He is in no way a Christian because he killed out of hate whereas Christ died for the love of many. True Christians are willing to follow his example.

      July 25, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Oh me lady

      But has Nato, and the U.S. in particular, not demonstrated terrorism on a much mass level? This one "blonde/blue" Norwegian massacred about the same number of people as one "drone" or "air strike" initiated by the U.S. in Afghanistan on multiple instances. The terrorism/massacre/genocide/war crimes/call it what you will, are always justified by the evil doers (U.S./Nato) under the guise of "eliminating terrorists" where assumed terrorists' bodies dug up from rubble of said drone/air strikes are often pregnant women, infants, young children, elders, and ordinary villagers...

      July 25, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Wicked Lies

      sutter, you evil demon.. What do you call the u.s. military and nato, peaceful organizations? However you'd like to label em', they've massacred much much more innocents, including women and children, than Al Qaeda ever has. All you need look at is the numbers.. A few thousand vs. millions maimed and massacred.

      July 25, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • Alverant

      You never actually read the bible did you? Neither, it would appear, have you studied christian history.

      Maybe you should read Marie's note a little more carefully. It was about using the same words as christians have used. I suggest looking up the word "ironic" in the dictionary.

      @Lightenup Jesus gave us a phony sacrifice. It had no meaning since whatever he gave up he gained back. If it was a real sacrifice, he would have stayed dead and spared humanity the violent religion his actions spawned.

      And to those who claim there are no violent christian organizations, what about the Huntree militia, the KKK, Army of God, American Family Association, Heritage Foundation, etc?

      July 25, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • Mohamad

      Marie, I get your point. However, I'll say that just like we, Muslims, have been saying over and over, a terrorist should be called a terrorist (and not be assosiated with the religion), in this case, this terrorist should be called a terrorist, and not be assosiated with Christianity, even if he claims to have done his terrible acts to defend Christianity (same goes for all the terrorists who claimed to be defending Islam. Nothing justifies such acts.
      In the end, there is but one religion to which all terriorists belong, and it is Terrorism.

      July 25, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  20. dean

    http://godwaslove.com/?p=44 An interesting take on this issue.

    July 25, 2011 at 8:22 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.