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. Julius

    Answer: YES

    July 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  2. rr

    This man is NOT A CHRISTIAN! CHRISTIANS DON'T COMMIT MASS MURDER! This individual committed a crime. To call him a Christian is an insult to Christians. THE MEDIA NEEDS TO STOP STEREOTYPING CHRISTIANS!

    July 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Renee

      And it is the same as all the people who fit all Muslims into a terrorist/fundamentalist label...now you know how it feels so maybe you 'Christians' can actaully act so

      July 25, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Scott

      The muslim thing is a straw man. No genuine Christian would commit the acts this dirtbag committed because it would go against what Jesus taught in the Bible. Anyone who does something like this and claims Christianity is a self-conflicted liar. The Quaran contains commands to kill the infidel. Not all muslims believe this, but then they aren't being true to the Quaran.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • Gumby

      By "stereotyping" Christians, you mean "Describing them as they really are", right?

      You kooks get no free pass just because you think you're holier than everyone else.

      July 29, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  3. Buddy R

    Anyone who calls the man a Christian is a 100% moronic imbecile who could not have more than a brain cell in their head. That or an anti-theists who just enjoys lying about Christianity. Course those Dawkinites are quite vocal in spewing their falsehoods these days.

    The Bible states that anyone who hates or murders is not a Christian. Jesus said his followers (Christians) keep his commandments. Jesus said to love, do good to, and pray for even one's enemies.

    John 14:21 King James Version (KJV)
    21He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.

    1 John 4:20 King James Version (KJV)
    20If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

    1 John 3:15 King James Version (KJV)
    15Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

    Matthew 5:44 King James Version (KJV)
    44But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

    Luke 6:46 King James Version (KJV)
    46And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?

    July 25, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      As I understand it, all that is required to be a Christian is to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour.

      Who are you to say that he didn't have a psychically give himself over to the ghost of a zombified middle-eastern carpenter?

      July 25, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • i wonder

      Buddy R,

      Delusions often start out small, but can balloon out of proportion in vulnerable, unstable people.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Doc Vestibule: Actually you don't even need that. You just have to do whatever you think a Christian needs to do to be considered one. If that means going to church twice a year, putting up a Christmas tree, and checking off the "Christian" box on religious surveys, then that's all it takes. After all, for a lot of Christians, that is all they really ever do but would deny vehemently that they are anything but Christian.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • grey, atlanta

      I must be a moronic imbecile with one cell in my brain. Look at what Christianity has done since its inception. Mass murder is a hallmark of Christianity. Just consider crusades or Inquisition. I am starting to think that you are the moronic imbecile with one cell left in your brain if you fail to acknowledge that the entire history of Christianity is violence and intolerance. Only the Christianity of the second half of the 20th century would fall under YOUR definition of true Christianity.

      July 25, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  4. Thor

    A Mason?... and a Knight Templar? What?

    July 25, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  5. Chris

    He was NOT a religious person and has said so himself. Before I read any "news" here, I KNEW the spin CNN would have. Continue to work your flock CNN.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • BG

      Yep – as soon as the shooter's identi ty was confirmed they had balloons and cake in the Belief Blog break room...

      Now, who brought the Whoopee cushion, Dan, Eric or Prothero?

      July 25, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Frogist

      Did you two actually read the article? It spends most of the time trying to distance Breivik from Christianity.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • BG

      I wouldn't say that, Frogist. This is basically a multi-faceted opinion piece, but it's interesting that they closed it with ""This is the first time we've heard of Christianity/religion as a driving force behind right-wing extremism."

      Two hours later the next piece is a muslim-authored editorial on "how we can't blame the muslims..."

      I bet Prothero ate most of the cake....

      July 25, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • Frogist

      @BG: The fact that the piece questions the entire idea that he is a fundamentalist christian, isn't good enough? The conclusion being that it wasn't necessarily motivated by religion is too nuanced? Does that mean you would prefer a complete exhoneration of Breivik as a Christian? And then you pick on the article that comes right after that rightly says muslims had nothing to do with these murders so we shouldn't always jump to the prejudiced conclusion that every act of murder is motivated by Islam like many did in the press. Yeah. I see where you're coming from now.

      July 26, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  6. cleareye1

    This guy is not a Christian at all. Neither is he an intelligent counter-culture figure. He is an ignorant loser who will spend the rest of hi life doing what he is told to do. He has retarded the movement he claims to support and has actually made it easier for Muslims to immigrate to Europe. His concern for the purity of European culture has been shown to be false. European culture has moved far past simple violent atcs like his. He may never understand why his life ended so pitifully.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Geoffrey

      The same logic applies to the 9/11 attackers who violated many principles of Islam which 99.99% of all Muslims follow. However, it all begs the question which is that with hate speech people such as this and the 9/11 attackers find a path that seems moral to them, however false it is. It's time for people to stop spreading hate. Even though people who spread hate don't pull the trigger, they have some responsibility.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  7. David

    This article is baloney. First it tries to downplay his Christian leanings, then it offers up several quotes which sound pretty darned Christian to me!

    July 25, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Hubba

      Kind of takes away your opportunity to bash Christians, huh?

      July 25, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  8. Tansar

    Hell with the experts and those who are trying to coverup this. He is a christian terroris and extrimist. Live with it.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Quick E Mart Clerk

      His passion for maintaining Norwegian culture and bloodlines, though, have more to do with Nietszhe's "Superman" than anything Christian. This terrorists ideals have more atheistic threads than anything Christian.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      I just LOVE how a this man's vehement identification as a Christian is being interpreted as atheism.
      Would you accuse a yarmulke wearing Jew of really being an Imam?

      July 25, 2011 at 1:44 pm |

    How did he determine "which kids" on the Island were Islamic OR didn't he really care !

    July 25, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Geoffrey

      He made that determination no more than the 9/11 terrorists concerned themselves with how many Muslims were in the area they attacked. There were quite a few. He probably, like most fundamentalists, considered himself "more holy than thou" and thus that the people he attacked were "insufficiently Christian". Those who spread hate provide a kind of twisted platform for terrorists and, even if they don't pull the trigger, they bear responsibility.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Frogist

      @RICKFROMPA: He didn't have to determine anything of the kind. He blamed the Labour Party in his country for letting the muslims in. So apparently he went to a camp for young people who wanted to be involved in the Labour Party and let fly. If that's not a condemnation of what partisan politics and villifying the other side can do, I don't know what is.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  10. Call4Peace

    Watch out people, somebody associated with Florida Quran burning church could be planning similar act.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  11. Chiming in

    It was reported in today's New York Times that he was a Mason (they have denounced him); profession of belief in God (not a Christian, Muslim or Hebrew God-just God. Therefore one finds Masons all over the world who are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, etc.) is a requirement in order to become a Mason. So he professed belief in God and professes he was Christian. And he was an imperfect Christian,ignorant in many respects, but a Christian nontheless. And he therefore is like many Muslims who have committed heinous acts- professed Muslims, but ignorant and wrongheaded. If all Christians cannot be held accountable for this Norwegian Christian's actions, then all Muslims cannot be held accountable for the heinous acts of some of their fellow believers. Let all search their souls and find more compassion for ALL humankind and strive hard to reconcile humans rather than divide.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Hubba

      Gosh!! Was he also a Boy Scout????

      July 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  12. nik green

    What is odd, is that the media are even discussing this. This event is so far "off message", as regards US foreign policy, ie terrorists are Muslim, and Muslims are terrorists, that one would expect any analysis to consist of either damage control or marginalizing of the event as "anomalous". There is more to this story than meets the eye.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  13. keeth

    "I would say they are more anti-Islam than pro-Christian." Sounds just like America's GOP and Tea Party.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  14. Dana

    Sorry Christians, if people get to call Muslim terrorists Muslim, they also get to call Christian terrorists Christian. You can try the "no true Scotsman" argument all you like... Breivik is still a Christian.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Big Bob

      In his manifesto, he states that he's more of a "Darwinian" and that to say he believes in G-d would be a lie.
      He further states that science trumps religion everytime. But keep on spinning...

      July 25, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Except that not all ppl call those terrorists true Muslims.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Big Bob
      Where did you get a copy of his Manifesto?
      I would be helpful if everybody engaged in this debate could read it for themselves.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • Scott

      I'm calling your true scotsman and raising you a red herring. That dog doesn't hunt in this one. The fact is, a TRUE Christian would NOT commit these heinous acts, because they go against the very teaching of Jesus, the founder of Christianity. I can call myself a vegan all I want, but the second I go to a steakhouse and eat me some filet mingion, I cease to be vegan. I can't go to packers games wearing a bears hat and my face painted blue and orange, and call myself a cheesehead. Sorry, but this man is deranged, and needs to be permently removed from society. Jesus doesn't even enter in to it.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  15. Mike

    I agree with the post that this whack job does not represent mainstream Christians anymore than the 9/11 attack represented mainstream Muslims. That being said, it proves that it is important to track terrorists of all religious/cultural backgrounds. The politics of fear practiced by some on the right can easily push a whack job like this guy into action. Maybe if more money was spent on education, we'd realize both sides worship the same God (both worship the God of Abraham/Ibrahim). We'd also see that terrorists are terrorists and stop only looking for muslims in the USA since greater number of deaths from terrorism have been caused by "Christian" groups such as the KKK and independent religious nuts.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  16. hamtanos

    McBAain: As a Muslim, I think your Bacon comment about the difference between Muslim and Christian terrorist was AWESOME! Made my day! 😀

    July 25, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  17. someon

    CHRISTIANS... are not supposed to kill. 'THOU SHALT NOT KILL.'

    July 25, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • Geoffrey

      Neither are Muslims ... in fact, they follow the Commandment that you quote. Never the less, preachers of hate find a home in sociopaths and those who preach hate also bear responsibility. The other commandment is "Not bearing false witness" and right wingers who violate that against Muslims and Jews are responsible for this attack.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • shaundavid

      Hey Geoff, hate to break this to you, but no they don't. Muslim's don't ascribe to the Tora and Ten Commandments anymore than they believe Jesus to be the Messiah. And, if you actually read the Qu'ran, or even the Haddith, you would know differently about what extremist Muslim's, such as Al-Qaida and their ilk, adhere to. Take a basic religion course or something, anything to get yourself more informed.

      July 25, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  18. Chicka

    I do believe that when Mr. Brevik runs around calling himself a Templar and other such nonsense, he is directly tying himself to the old Crusades, where other so-called "Christians" took up the sword and slaughtered their way through Europe – including other Christians, before getting to the Holy Land and deciding it had very nice weather and perhaps they didn't want to go back so soon. I sincerely doubt some sword swinging clod from Normandy had any more sophisticated religious ideology in his thinking than this fool. Most people back then wanted nothing to do with Holy War, just like most people today want nothing to do with it. We never hear from the peacemakers, only the bombmakers.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • stormsun

      The "so-called Christians" of the Crusades took up arms at the behest of the leader of the Church. The Church regularly slaughtered nonbelievers, in foreign lands and in their own countries. Please do not impute purity and nonviolence to this religion. Dehumanizing non-Christians and encouraging hatred against them is common among Christians even today.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  19. amy

    When was the last time secular humanists committed acts of terrorism?

    July 25, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • Colin

      I give it a few minutes, at most, before you get the whole Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot response from some theist.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Papa Smurf

      How about several of the enviro wacko groups.... but then again that enviromentalism has pretty much become a religion itself!!!

      July 25, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Geoffrey

      I agree with you in principle but I should point out that most of the scientists who worked on the Atom Bombs in WWII were secular humanists. Jewish but belonging to the Reform tradition which is essentially one of secular humanism.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Aaron

      Take a long hard look at the history of communism. Besides there are about 1.6 million people murdered world wide every year or 1 person every 60 seconds. There are a lot of different motives for killing. Murder for religious motivations probably comprise a very small fraction of the overall. I think it is generally motivated by greed or power or just plain disregard for the lives of other people.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  20. Reality

    Another Timothy McVeigh !!! Hopefully this "nut job" meets the same fate. The sooner the better!!!


    July 25, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Geoffrey

      Norway has no death penalty. In fact the maximum he will be in prison under norwegian law is 42 years.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Leisha Camden

      No, he never will. We don't have capital punishment in Norway. The severest punishment we have is 21 years in prison. There's the potential for so-called extended custody after that, which can theoretically be extended indefinitely in five year increments (new trial every five years) if he can be proven to be a danger to society *at that time*. So he may be a free man again at the age of 53. Here's hoping they can get extended custody ... but I'm not convinced, because he's clearly not insane, and I very much doubt whether there's any chance of a repeat offense. Tragically, he's already achieved what he set out to do.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:36 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.