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. borisjimbo

    Not so glad to see the US isn't the only country with white supremacists willing to kill for their cause.

    July 26, 2011 at 3:37 am |
  2. Benjamin

    The ol' "oh, that's not what *I* meant by Christian!" argument.

    All I know is, no one's ever killed in the name of secularism.

    July 26, 2011 at 3:33 am |
    • john

      Really? How many more people die everyday at the hands of someone who does not proclaim any religion. They kill because its selfish for them at the time. True secularism! The robber, the screwed up banker or postal worker, the distant wife or husband, the rock star, wrestler, or 17 year old kid that hammers his parents to death and throws a party after. True secularism! One thing I have found true to all people...no matter religion, or absence of...we are all human, and we all do evil/stupid things!!

      July 26, 2011 at 4:01 am |
  3. Tallgrid

    From Europe; this claim about being a " Christian knight " in the fight against islam is a product of his sick mind, his goal: to stop the tsunami from muslims into Europe is legit. During the last 40 years Europe has been over flooded by people from mostly muslim countries that have nothing to offer to a developed country. They bring with them not only a religion but a whole cultural background that doesn't recognize democratic values, its merits or its participants. Jews, Christians are to be despised are called " pigs and apes " and this culture doesn't allow its followers to integrate in any western society.
    In mine opinion there is no place for islam in any western country until the revoke the most hateful/racists parts of the Koran, islam only produces; hate, death, destruction and stupidity. Democracies have fought against Fascism, Communism and now they have to fight Islamism.

    July 26, 2011 at 3:32 am |
  4. Mirthy

    I can't even keep up with all the poor grammar and/spelling on this page. People, in an attempt to have others take you seriously when you post, make an attempt to sound somewhat educated and not so "fox newsy" as in "quickly reply before someone mistakes my opinion for one that matters"

    July 26, 2011 at 3:19 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      But "we's" black folks were told by the enlighten liberal white folks that we can speak continue to speak street, jive and even eubonics...

      Leave the number one news media out of this...

      July 26, 2011 at 3:23 am |
    • john

      Thanks for giving us such a great "CNN snobby version" of your critiqie SP?(I sorry, I much make mistake with my tiping) One thing we can always count on with liberals... they are elites, ridiculing, snobs. They talk all day of tolerance, education, and free speech...except when it differs from their "version" of life. Their god is no god, that way anything goes! Why not have a point to your bloviation!

      July 26, 2011 at 3:49 am |
  5. Hope

    If palin comes to power all black and mexicans and muslims r in trouble

    July 26, 2011 at 3:19 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Yep and if a black man is elected president then all the whites will be turned into slaves.

      Funny how you folks on the right and the left, speak the same language of hate and fear.

      July 26, 2011 at 3:21 am |
  6. Hope

    far center i know what u mean. This event was a horrible event. We Jesus loving, hard working, peace loving christians now know God loving, peace loving, honest muslims feel like. What everyone should realize that even though this man is claims to be christian extremist, he doesnt represent Jesus while Osama bin laden doesnt represent Islam.

    July 26, 2011 at 3:14 am |
  7. david

    knights templar is not christian. Jesus said the real battle is spiritual, the weapons christians use is prayer. Jesus taught to love your enemies, indeed He died on the cross for the worst of sinners, to pay the price for their sins. this is so different from any other religion where Christianity teaches about a God who cares and is loving. He is not only love but just, and He will judge right on that day. Jesus offers a way out of sin and He never called for a army to attack anyone. if you read the new testament and you will see it is not about hate deals with sin, which everyone battles with, and the love of God- some want to know the real nature of God

    July 26, 2011 at 3:13 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      "knights templar is, (ARE?) not christian."
      -- The Knights Templar WERE Christians.
      "The Knights Templar, also known as the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, were an order of Christian knights that was formed in approximately 1119 A.D., following the First Crusade. The stated responsibility of the Knights Templar was to protect Christian pilgrims who were traveling to Jerusalem. The Knights Templar were given the Temple Mount in Jerusalem as their headquarters, and there are many legends of the Templars excavating the many tunnels beneath the Temple Mount in search of biblical treasures and artifacts.
      Primarily due to a financial dispute with King Philip IV of France, the Knights Templar were ordered to be disbanded by Pope Clement V. Many of the Knights Templar were arrested, tortured until they confessed to unimaginable crimes, and then burned at the stake as heretics. Some of the Knights Templar escaped the persecution and went into hiding. There are various traditions as to what happened to the surviving Knights Templar, with the most likely legend being that they eventually formed what is now known as the Freemasons.

      "Indeed He died on the cross for the worst of sinners, to pay the price for their sins."
      -- I thought he died for ALL sinners ???
      "Christianity teaches about a God who cares and is loving."
      -- If he is so loving why did he require the death of his son to "pay the price"? Sounds pretty mean and vengeful to me, especially considering he could have just said "Oh forget it".

      July 26, 2011 at 11:21 am |




    July 26, 2011 at 3:12 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      People, what we need to be concerned over are people like this who can not just disagree with those that disagree but have the need to demonize them to the utter extreme.

      Sooner we ignore folks such as him, we will move forward.

      July 26, 2011 at 3:26 am |
    • deployedmarine

      With your yelling and crazy talk maybe we should worry about you being a future terrorist trying to stop the “tea baggers." Your rant exposes you as an anger and disturbed person.

      July 26, 2011 at 3:41 am |
  9. James

    Guy is a generic reactionary fascist crack pot- who has ceased on to religion as part of his broader complaint over the decline of his civilization, as he sees it, with modernity. In that way he is not too far from Islamic extremists, whose movements were mostly all started by non-theologian private citizens who were troubled at the state of their societies and came up with a religiously inspired crack-pot reactionary fascist solution. The only problem with the Muslims is that the difference is harder to see due to a handful of ultra-conservative "Islamic" states like Saudi Arabia; even if Islamic extremists also fight these states and seek to kill their leaders, which they do.

    July 26, 2011 at 3:09 am |
    • Mirthy

      "Ceased" or seized?

      July 26, 2011 at 3:13 am |
  10. Hope

    far center,, he was a christian extremist and he was not the first christian extremist in europe. remember spanish inqusition that took millions of innocent jew and muslim lives?

    July 26, 2011 at 3:04 am |
    • far center

      Sry I don't think you got my point I was pointing out how we use different terms for the same thing because people don't think of a crazy Christian as an extremist so they use words like fundamentalist to save face for their own religion

      July 26, 2011 at 3:08 am |
  11. Dr David Miller

    Religion has a problem. It's like a cancer, wishes to expand itself, while it should have remained a PRIVATE spiritual need (for those who need it). Since history of humanity, religions which became State's religioni, military organizations, recognized nations' "cultural" necessity etc., "peaceful" terrorist cells of all sorts of Gods appears like mushrooms all over the world. Governments ignore this, for money considerations. It's regrettable !

    July 26, 2011 at 3:02 am |
    • Alex in Bremerton, WA

      "This is the first time we've heard of Christianity/religion as a driving force behind right-wing extremism," Buck said. Buck obviously hasn't been following the anti-abortion fight in the USA where a doctor was GUNNED DOWN IN CHURCH!!! Right wing TV (Surprise! FOX!) repeatedly called Dr. Tiller the baby killer!

      July 26, 2011 at 3:09 am |
  12. far center

    Why is it when we talk about a Christian who is nuts its called fundamentalism but if they're Muslim its called extremist people need to freaking wake up and see how biased they're

    July 26, 2011 at 3:01 am |
  13. Hope

    People should come and visit canada and see how multiculturaism works

    July 26, 2011 at 2:59 am |
  14. Altee11

    Criminals acting in the name of religion will breed criminals acting in the name of even more religions.

    July 26, 2011 at 2:54 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      What will breed is fear. The next move is with the people of Norway. Which route do they go? If they go after all Christians for the act of this lone guy, then that would breed even more and from his jail cell he will be smiling as it all comes burning down.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:58 am |
  15. DavidH3

    He's not a Christian fundamentalist. He's a Tea Partier.

    July 26, 2011 at 2:52 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Naaah.... No Tea Party member would cause that much damage to Government office buildings.....

      .... a Tea Party member would know that the only people who would have to pay, in higher taxes, to replace it would be the American workers. So I would leave them out of it.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:55 am |
  16. Don Brown

    Religious Fundamentalists and mad dogs are equals as menaces to civilized society.

    (Fortuneatly, the solution is the same for both.)

    July 26, 2011 at 2:45 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Hmm.... Hitler said the same about Jews and anyone else that was not the master race.

      So you will be promoting the "Final Solution" as well?

      July 26, 2011 at 2:49 am |
  17. Holly

    It's okay for Islamic fundamentalists to exist, but not Christian ones? Ridiculous.

    July 26, 2011 at 2:42 am |
    • Mirthy

      When did anyone say it's "okay" for Islamic fundamentalists to exist??

      July 26, 2011 at 3:11 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Careful. The cease to exist is a very dangerous thing. Soon as it is ok to say that due to someones views they should cease to exist then you are speaking the language of your enemies.

      July 26, 2011 at 3:34 am |
  18. r da

    clearly this guy is not a christian at all, and is using the example of the crusaders to back up his psychotic rampage and rationale. the equating of the label christian fundamentalist to this guy and muslim terrorist to groups like al qaida is absurd and so far off the reality spectrum that only the far left press in america could trot it out there without a second thought. the muslim terrorists of al qaida, hezbollah, etc etc are devout muslims that are DIRECTLY guided by their extremist imam's using their faith to incite violent acts of hate – while this guy simply likes the insane idea that he's a crusader for killing young people that may have liberal ideas, while never actually interfacing with the bible or the truth of God personally. the press is a danger to us all because they refuse to encounter any question while reporting from a genuine and reality based analytic perspective, instead using their own highly liberal biases to continue the charade that they've created with only ONE ANOTHER and not shared by the majority of americans or other people's in the world. the american press, and the western press in general are so willing to continue and intensify this type of indoctrinal writing and reporting that it's a real serious danger to us all.

    July 26, 2011 at 2:39 am |
  19. LokHupBaFa

    "But he doesn't seem to have any insight into Christian theology or any ideas of how the Christian faith should play any role" - most Christians don't either - the "Prince of Peace" thing completely escapes them, and they send most of their time quoting old testament - that new testament stuff is to liberal – don't you know!

    July 26, 2011 at 2:31 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Dude or Duddette..I believe you have Christians and Jewish mixed up.....

      .. Don't YOU know 😀

      July 26, 2011 at 2:39 am |
  20. Brian

    It's interesting how religious "experts" can twist things to fit their own agenda. As Mark Twain said "there are 324 'True' religions."

    July 26, 2011 at 2:21 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Brian my friend. It is not just experts of the Faithful. It is pretty much anyone for any cause.

      We honor the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Grant, and JFK while we vilify the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Castro. On to this heap we place, GW Bush, Hugo Chaves and even Obama.

      In the end we champion those that can twist and manipulate ... as long as they are doing it towards our views or our benefit. If Twain said that there were that many True Religions... I, a simple person, would challenge him that in life and societies there are many ... millions of what folks would call "truths".... few are universal but there are not few that each of us would not bash in another's skull for disrespecting or not following.

      What you did was make a true claim but since I figure you have an ax to grind with those of Faith your hate or whatever caused you to make pretend or hope that others would focus in only on those of Faith.

      Until you drop this part of you, your hate, your argument falls dead on arrival.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:37 am |
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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.