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. Nate

    We use the term "Islamic fundamentalist" because they: 1. Attack organizations and individuals that they feel have violated some form of Islamic law or oppose Islam; 2. Cite Islamic scripture as part of their justification for these attacks; 3. Compare themselves to ancient "Holy Warriors" (Mujahadeen) and claim they are carrying out "Allah's will" for the good of Islam.

    Breivik and his ilk do all of the following: 1. Attack organizations and individuals that they feel have violated some form of Christian law or oppose Christianity; 2. Cite Christian scripture as part of their justification for these attacks; 3. Compare themselves to ancient "Holly Warriors" (Knights Templar) and claim they are carrying out "God's will" for the good of Christianity.

    The only difference between these groups of insane fundamentalists is which fairy tale they use to justify their acts of terrorism. "Christian fundamentalist" is about as accurate a description as you can get for Breivik and co.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  2. Andrew

    So what if his ties to Christianity are superficial? The SAME could be said of Muslim terrorist who pervert Islam to fit their needs. Osama Bin Laden wasn't driven by Religion, he was driven by perceived Western Influence in the Middle East (especially US troops in Saudi Arabia). This is NO DIFFERENT. You perceive a threat, and use Religion as a TOOL to attract followers and justify your cause.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  3. fadeinlight

    If he were truly a "Christian Fundamentalist," then he would operate by that most fundamental of Christian concepts: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." He would also remember that he should treat immigrants well (referred to as "aliens" in the Bible), because the Jews themselves were once aliens in a foreign land (Egypt).

    Similarly, it is unfair to label Muslim terrorists as "Muslim Fundamentalists."

    I'm glad that someone is pointing this out.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  4. Buddy R

    Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is a Christian.

    The man did not follow the teachings of Christ and therefore can't be called a Christian by any rational honest person. Of course anti-theists abound with their preaching of hate and intolerance of theistic religions on this website.

    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 2:35 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban


      Who are you to know god's will or what he might have said to this christian terrorist? Pulling tidbits out of your bible does not justify you knowing your god's will.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Scott

      Um, it's probably because the Bible is the basis for Christianity. It sure isn't carl sagan or Playboy...

      July 26, 2011 at 12:22 am |
  5. Adam

    Of course he is a Christian Fundamentalist. Christians can be terrorist too.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  6. caller



    July 25, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Jeanamire

      No he's not because in part of the manifesto he talks about doubting the existence of a god and references his own Nordic roots and Pagan faith.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  7. Laughing Vajra

    I see many comments rejecting killing as being fundamentally part of Christianity.
    Why don't we see a flood of comments from Muslims saying that killing is not fundamentally part of Islam?
    The Muslims must clean up their own religion or destroy their own doctrine, can't have both.
    If Muslims are know as terrorists then they will be rejected by God, Allah, Buddha and all righteous people. That should not include bad acts since that is just more bad acts to bring more bad results. Good acts bring good results.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  8. RobL

    There is NOTHING fundamental about the actions of terrorist. Christian or Muslim.
    Extreme - yes.. Fundamental – NO.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  9. Maya

    Interesting... Christians don't mind labeling Muslim terrorists using Islam to justify their violence as "Muslim fundamentalists", but they get all uppity if you do the same to one of their own.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Laughing Vajra

      The question or issue is why don't the Muslims defend their own religion against terrorist rejecting that terrorism is a fundamental part of Islam. That is exactly the main problem is that the super majority 80% or better support terrorism directed against Jews, Christians and other Muslims. You need to direct you comments about the lack of rejecting terrorism in the Islamic communities to your Iman not to CNN.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  10. william fitzwater

    I would call him a nut case but Christian extremist would fit just the same as Muslim extremist. The problem in any area where a new group immigrate breeds resentment and hatred. the problem is the idea of so called protecting a faith as ridiculous but it makes sense if your isolated from society no doubt this individual was. These ideas flourish during economic insatiability .
    I have heard both sides and its same if one side fell threatened they can justify muder and violence in the name of God. This is plain silly.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • Laughing Vajra

      Just because you go to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage make you a car!

      Killing other people is not a Christian thing to do! The confusion in the Koran about terrorizing the infidels means ridding the infidelity in one's own heart and mind not other people. Killing other people will never do you any good. Killing the infidelity in your own heart and mind brings Great Benefit to oneself and others.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  11. Christians refuse to take responsibility for their cult

    Damn right the label fits. I am sick of Christians copping out to "He's not a real Christian" every time something horrible or embarrassing is done by a Christian.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • Suzanne

      Well sorry but its true. Just because someone associates with the Christian faith some it does not make them a born again Christian. Christ told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. He also said that when some people who claim to be Christians get to Heaven he is going to say: I KNOW YOU NOT. This does not mean that Christians do not sin, we do. I do.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Scott

      That's a very ignorant thing to say. I could call myself a baseball fan all I want, but if all I do is watch curling events, then I'm not really a baseball fan, am I? Same applies here – applying the label of Christian to oneself does not a Christian make, hence the tendancy of Christians to label this monster for what he is – a monster.

      July 26, 2011 at 12:26 am |
  12. Lindsortorte

    Sure–when it's a Muslim person committing attacks, they're automatically called Muslim Fundamentalist. When it's a Christian, it's "oh we don't want to call him *Christian fundamentalist*.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  13. Suzanne

    I can guarantee you he is NOT a Christian, because if he was he would never have done such a thing

    July 25, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • Bruce

      If this guy is not a Christian, than Bin Laden was not a Muslim.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • Nonimus

      There is 'no true Scotsman'!

      July 25, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Scott

      Strawman – the Scotsman fallacy doesn't apply. The word Christian means fundamental change has taken place that doesn't include nine years of planning to gun down innocents. It means behavior is Christ-like, which doesn't include premediated murder of innocents. If you knew anything about Jesus, you would know that this man's actions and Jesus' teachings couldn't be farther apart. If you want to say that he was a pretend Christian, that's fine with me.

      July 26, 2011 at 12:30 am |
  14. Mr. T. Bag

    Does "Christian fundamentalist" fit?? YES! The shoe fits perfectly!! That's how he described himself!

    –Question: How many Jewish, Muslim or Catholic Ku-Klux-Klansmen do YOU know??? (that's right, the KKK is pretty much all Christian Fundamentalists.)

    July 25, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  15. Joe N

    It is interesting to see the apologists for Christianity, stating that this man could not possibly be a true Christian. They state that a "true Christian" would not think of doing this. Yet these same people point to the "muslim fundamentalists" as the root of the Al Qaeda movement. Religion as a whole is to be blamed for all of these atrocoties. As long as there is a belief that "Our God is the true God" and "Our religion is the true religion", these crimes will continue perpetually.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • Actually...

      Joe – there is a major difference between fundamental Christianity and fundamental Islam. You should do a complete study of the Bible and the Koran before posting. A true follower of Christ would never commit such a crime but would defend innocent lives. A follower of Mohammed... check it out.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Christisthereason

      If Teenagers create a problem, you dont kill them, If alcohol leads to drunkenness, you dont stop its production. If cars lead to accidents yet, one doesn't stop designing them. If religion is creating problems you put in a system to solve it, destroying it is not an option. PEOPLE who think eradicating religion is the best option are extremists themselves. We just need to educate people to stop there support to terrorism. And to work together. Simple.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Scott

      Red Herring, for two reasons. 1. Extreme Islam has numerous worldwide organizations that exist for the sole purpose of the destruction of Western Culture. Christianity does not have any worldwide organizations that exist to kill people who do not believe as they do. Lone nuts that like to label themselves "Christian" sure, but nothing widespread. 2. What this guy did and what Jesus (founded Christianity) taught couldn't be farther apart. Hence, he's not a Christian. In Islam, on the other hand, if you are going to believe what Mohammed wrote, you kill the infidel. Fortunately, many who claim Islam do not follow what their holy book teaches.

      July 26, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  16. Angelfire

    media quick to say "muslim terrorist" but for a christian they don't say "christian terrorist". double standard. i think both are useless. CRIMINAL would do it. or simply TERRORIST and then describe the motivation the person says and what experts understand the motivation to be below the surface. but media likes sound bites, not balance or being closer to accurate. how it stands now though, the anti-muslim bias is quite apparent. timothy mcvey: TERRORIST this norwegian guy TERRORIST osama bin laden: TERRORIST the US military WHINSEC: one of our training grounds for TERRORISTS, etc

    July 25, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  17. NOYB

    It is going to be a bad day for the US if we find out the KKK is taking on al-Qaeda; All we need is two groups that pervert their religions to make things worse.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • Buddy R

      The KKK was formed as the terrorist wing of the democrat party. It does not follow Christian principles. The dems were opposed to slaves being freed and then to African Americans having any rights after they were freed. The KKK carried out the campaign of intimidation on behalf of the democrat party.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • Jake

      Buddy – You are not correct. The KKK was founded as a Christian fraternal organization. At one point (maybe the 30s, I don't recall), it was the largest Christian fraternal organization in the United States. The centralized KKK basically does not exist anymore, but the local Klan organizations that exist today share that lineage. They used to sing Amazing Grace at cross burnings, don't know if they still do.

      July 25, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  18. John from Brooklyn

    Mr. Gilgoff seems to have captured the confusion between the nature of one's faith versus using one's faith to justify acts of violence or terror. "Fundamentalist" ONLY refers to the nature of the faith, while saying little or nothing about their liklihood to commit violence. "Terrorist" refers to people who commit violence in the name of a cause.

    For example, while it may or may not be appropriate to refer to specific people who commit violence in the name of Allah as "fundamentalist Muslims", it is appropriate to refer to them as "Islamic terrorists".

    Anders Breivik may or may not be a "fundamentalist Christian", a label referring to his faith. However, by virtue of having committed violence in the name of Chistianity, he does qualify as a "Christian terrorist".

    July 25, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • Actually...

      No, John, he is not a Christian terrorist. That is a contradiction of terms and it is actually using the LORD's name in vain. There are many who call themselves Christian but the scripture clearly states that there are those who will stand before the LORD, eventually, thinking they are right with God, and He will say to them, "Depart from me; I never knew you."

      July 25, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  19. Darryl Schmitz

    I'm fine with the use of "Christian/right wing radical" in the media, as long as whenever an environmentalist or other leftist organization or individual commits a violent crime the media refers to them as "left wing radical".

    July 25, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  20. Fred

    Someone here used Luke 19:27 : But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them–bring them here and kill them in front of me.

    They were pretending that this was an admonition from Jesus; but Jesus was TELLING a parable and the above are the words of the nobleman in the parable.
    So someone here was taking the nobleman’s words in the parable and trying to trick us into believing these were the words from Jesus as an admonition and advice.

    So, there are some that still believe you can take Christian texts and imply that they are somehow just as bad as Koranic texts.
    This is crazy, wrong and deceptive; The work of atheists perhaps, or other’s that refuse to accept that Jesus was the Opposite of Mohammed.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • Buddy R

      Yes, the anti-theists liars are out in force. They do not mind lying about religion. In fact it brings them joy.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • Laughing Vajra

      Fundamentalism? If killing was fundamental in a religion then those killers would be fundamentally fundamentalists but since killing is not a fundamental tenet of the major religion, the use of the term fundamentalists should be changed to SINNER.

      Terrorists are not fundamentalists they are terrorists which is a sin.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • Angelfire

      Jesus not the opposite of Muhammed. Jesus not the opposite of anyone. think bicycle wheel. Jesus one spoke, Muhammed another, the Mystery/God/Allah/etc (known by many names) the hub. find yourself in the real world or you are part of the problem.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • John from Brooklyn

      Fred, while I agree with the notion of taking quotes out of context does not accurately represent the faith, I disagree that this practice is exclusive to athiests or other people who are not supportive of Christianity. In fact, there are many faithful Christians who, whether by lack of knowedge or by intentional misinterpretation, misinterpret and claim parts of the Bible to justify their own agenda.

      Further, I would assert that your claim that misrepresenting the Bible – or, more specifically, the Gospels' directives, is the goal of Muslims who hate Christianity, is an unsupported generalization. There are many Christians – perhaps yourself – who are happy to misinterpret the Koran and, subsequently, ALSO misinterpret the Gospels to justify mistreatment or bigotry against Muslims.

      P.S. I'm a Christian married to a Jew, so keep in mind that I am not a champion of Islam per se.....just fairness.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:31 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.