July 26th, 2011
10:15 AM ET

My Take: Christians should denounce Norway's Christian terrorist

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Ideas matter; thoughts have force. This is an obvious truth. It is why pastors preach, why professors profess, and why pundits do whatever they do.

Yet whenever ideas do things we do not want them to do, as they did in Oslo , Norway on Friday, we try to pretend that ideas are powerless.

For the last two decades, Christian students have told me that Christianity had nothing to do with the Holocaust. After 9/11, many Muslims said that the men who flew those planes into those buildings had nothing to do with Islam. When Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot, we were told that the crime had nothing to do with our current climate of political hatred.

Unpacking the 'Christian fundamentalist' label for Norway terror suspect?

Now in the wake of the Oslo massacre bloggers and pundits are reassuring us that the crimes of the alleged perpetrator Anders Behring Breivik can be understood simply as the product of a deranged mind. They had nothing to do with his Christian faith or his anti-Islamic ideology. This is wishful thinking of the most dangerous sort.

According to Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, "Breivik is not a Christian." According Ross Douthat, the conservative Catholic columnist at the New York Times, “it’s fair to call Breivik a right-winger” but not a Christian  fundamentalist.

Meanwhile, Andrew Brown at the Guardian is reassuring his readers that “Anders Breivik is not Christian but anti-Islam.”

My Take: Norway attacks show why you can't #blamethemuslims

Brown goes on to describe the various anti-Islam bloggers Breivik read and apparently quoted in a manifesto, only to conclude, “Obviously these people cannot be held responsible for the use to which their ideas were put.”

I don’t find that obvious at all.

I think all of us who place ideas into books or blogs or lectures or sermons should be acutely aware of the use to which our ideas might be put. What is obvious is that those who read or listen to us will take our ideas in directions different from what we intended. But that fact does not absolve us of responsibility when they do.

If you devote your life to spewing anti-Islamic hatred, you should not be surprised if someone comes along and kills in the name of that hatred. In fact, you should expect it.  If you insist as a matter of revelation or dogma that the Jews killed Christ then you should not be surprised if Christians come along and kills Jews in the name of Christ. In fact, you should be surprised if that does not happen.

We live in an age of anger. That anger is fueled by ideas. And the most incendiary ideas are those that call down the force of God or nation (or both) in the service of denouncing those who follow other gods or belong to other nations.

Anders Breivik was obviously politically motivated. The 1,500-page manifesto that has been attributed to him draws on contemporary European and American conservatism in its attacks on Marxism, multiculturalism, secularism, academia and feminism.

But Breivik's motivations were equally, and obviously, religious. His manifesto cites the Atlas Shrugs blog of Pamela Geller, who has made a name for herself in the United States by opposing the Islamic community center near Ground Zero. According to the New York Times this manifesto also quotes Robert Spencer of another anti-Islamic web site, Jihad Watch, 64 times.

But Breivik does not just deny Islam. He affirms Christianity. He describes himself as "100% Christian" in his apparent manifesto. That work says he's a member of the “Knights Templar," which the document refers to as “a Christian ‘culturalist’ military order.”

The manifesto refers repeatedly to martyrdom, calls Breivik the "savior . . . of European Christendom," discusses Quranic views of Jesus and quotes extensively from the Bible.

In fact, in an extended section justifying violence in the name of self-defense (plagiarized, like much in the manifesto, from other websites), it quotes from Exodus, Samuel, Judges, Psalms, Luke, Matthew, Isaiah, Daniel, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians and other biblical books. "God will anoint you with his power to go into battle," the manifesto reads. "God can be a Man of War if He wants to be."

Finally, key dates in the manifesto, including the date for the rampage itself (July 22), are linked to key dates in the history of the Christian crusades. "Celebrate us, the martyrs of the conservative revolution," a video attributed to Breivik reads, "for we will soon dine in the Kingdom of Heaven."

Osama bin Laden was a Muslim terrorist. Yes, he twisted the Quran and the Islamic tradition in directions most Muslims would not countenance. But he rooted his hate and his terrorism in that text and that tradition. So Muslims, as I have long argued, have a responsibility to speak out forcefully against Bin Laden and to look hard at the resources in their tradition that work to promote such evil.

If he did what he has alleged to have done, Anders Breivik is a Christian terrorist.

Yes, he twisted the Christian tradition in directions most Christians would not countenance. But he rooted his hate and his terrorism in Christian thought and Christian history, particularly the history of the medieval Crusades against Muslims, and current efforts to renew that clash.

So Christians have a responsibility to speak out forcefully against him, and to look hard at the resources in the Christian tradition that can be used to such murderous ends.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Christianity • Crime • Europe • Politics • Violence

soundoff (619 Responses)
  1. Cory Hall

    The Pope did denounce the attacks early on

    July 28, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  2. william wallace

    An interesting film is "Agora" 2009 ..Fourth century A.D.
    Egypt under a Roman Empire. Violent religious upheavel
    in streets of Alexandria spills over into the city's famous
    library. Trapped inside its walls the brilliant astronomrer
    HYPATIA and her disciples fight / saving the wisdom of
    the ancient world. As the film was not made to the usual
    western brainwashing standards // it was not approved
    by Church Authority thus it was given an wide ban / the
    media gave it no attention /such the power of the church.

    The idea belief christianity came via love & peace / thus
    t'was embraced by western nations / being total fiction.

    Christianity was forced upon the people by the sword
    burning at the stake / with appalling methods of torture
    t'was not uncommon for an whole village raised to the
    ground // without mercy man woman child slaughtered.

    Thus followed by centuries of christian brainwashing.

    For many centuries the ability /read write was witheld
    Church Authority in fearing with education the people
    then challenge Church Authority if allowed education
    then people would have questened christian teaching.

    Thus for humanity centuries of religious brainwashing
    unto present time in having 24 / 7 media brainwashing
    where via newspapers / TV // a few control the many
    in spinning out either religious or political brainwashing.

    July 28, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  3. Alex Gessong

    My take is that those who call themselves Christians really ought to pay attention to what Christ said: "treat others as you would like to be treated," "do good to those who persecute you," "love one another," "be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves," "help the poor," "turn the other cheek." That's what Christ preached. Christ never said hate anyone whose culture is different from yours. And Christ didn't carry weapons. Christianity is a pacifist religion. Not easy to live up to the ideals that Christ preached, but to be Christian one has to try. One cannot be Christian by rejecting what Christ preached.

    July 28, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  4. Muneef

    Man O Man

    When without money,
    eats wild vegetables at home
    When has money,
    eats same wild vegetables in fine restaurant.
    When without money,
    rides bicycle;
    When has money,
    rides exercise machine.
    When without money,
    walks to earn food
    When has money,
    walks to lose the fat
    Man O Man !  never fails to deceive thyself !
    When without money,
    wishes to get married;
    When has money,
    wishes to get divorced.
    When without money,
    wife becomes secretary;
    When has money,
    secretary becomes wife.
    When without money, acts like rich man;
    When has money, acts like poor man.

    Man, O Man, never can tell the simple truth !
    Says share market is bad
    but keeps speculating;
    Says money is evil
    but keeps acc-umu-lating.
    Says high positions are lonely
    but keeps wanting them.
    Says gambling & drinking is bad
    but keeps indulging;

    Man O Man !
    Never means what he says
    never says what he means!

    July 28, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  5. william wallace

    Thankfully over the past few centuries millions worldwide
    having gained their freedom from religious organizations...

    The credit for this in main goes to the athiest whom work
    tirelessly / that huminty is free from religious persecution.

    The Lords Grace / The Mercy Of Allah Always With Them.

    July 28, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  6. Karl

    This guy is a murdering sociopath and needs to be executed for his horrible crimes. But he and those with his desire to preserve Norway's/Europe's majority Christian culture have no voice in their politics or society. If they even utter a word of discontent about the forced integration of Muslims/Islam and the dilution of traditional Norwegian society, they are immediately labeled as racists and "Nazis". The multi-culturalists have been afforded every right to speak openly and act upon their plans for the country's future, but those who merely disagree have no rights to speak at all. So he spoke with flying lead instead. There will be more of these horrible acts as there are many more like him there that are fuming/frustrated in forced silence. The elected officials are probably next on their list of targets.

    July 28, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Alex Gessong

      @Karl: Europe used to have a majority Pagan culture. Would you have wanted to preserve that? Just kidding, of course. Although, had you been a European Pagan in those days, you probably would have resisted those who were trying to bring Christianity to Europe. Europe is not going to turn Islamic simply because there are Muslims living in Europe. Muslims have lived in Europe for centuries. Bosnia, for example, is a Muslim European country. Albania's another. Why the sudden fear that European culture will vanish? It's a mindless fear.

      July 28, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      @Karl: and by the way, there are in fact cultural "purists" whose voices are heard in Norway and elsewhere. They are not silent, nor is the violence their only option. Nobody has silenced them. The voters simply chose to elect politicians who understand that we live in a multicultural world and that multiculturalism is a strength, not a liability. Those who disagree with the choice of the majority actually disagree with democracy. Rather than participate in the political process and make sound, logical arguments, they turn instead to violence. All the while screaming about how their voices "cannot be heard" and how their violence will somehow counter some other threat. People who do that are a far greater threat than the "threat" they claim to be "protecting" their societies from.

      July 28, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  7. Reality

    Listen up as the following condemnation is echoing across the globe from all good and gracious agnnostics, atheists, secularists, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Pagans:

    Another Timothy McVeigh !!! Hopefully this "nut job" meets the same fate. The sooner the better!!! If Norway does not have a death penalty, then there is always the justified "oops" accident. "While transporting Breivik to prison via an aircraft, the cabin door suddenly opened and he fell 30,000 ft. He did not survive the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. "

    Next topic !!!!!

    July 28, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • Mike from CT

      Then those committing the "whoops" would also be murders. Thus condeming them to the same sentence and then their holders will have to commit the same "whoops" making them murders. Thus condeming them to the same sentence and then their holders will have to commit the same "whoops" making them murders. Thus condeming them to the same sentence and then their holders will have to commit the same "whoops" making them murders. Thus condeming them to the same sentence and then their holders will have to commit the same "whoops" making them murders. Thus condeming them to the same sentence and then their holders will have to commit the same "whoops" making them murders.

      Where does it end?

      July 28, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  8. Bonnie

    Everyone especially villains like atheists need to hear the truth(Gospel), whether they want it or not.

    July 28, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • pfeffernusse

      “Villains” like atheists? And how exactly are atheists villains? And you would have us learn the gospel “whether (we) want it or not”? How exactly would you do that? Put a gun to our heads and force us to sit in church?

      What makes you think I’m not aware of the gospel? I’ve read the entire Bible and spent many years active in a church. I’m pretty sure I’m aware of what the gospels are. In fact, I’d wager I know the gospels better than you since you are flagrantly violating them. Let’s see…

      Bearing false witness.



      Even a villain like me isn’t this bad.

      July 28, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  9. william wallace

    If there is a religious debate as arguement /it
    always ends with the religious groupings / in
    taking hands /praising the name of Jesus / or
    whomever having as an religious idol then as
    one turning their anger upon the poor atheist.

    The atheist whom the only one in having true
    religious experience / scorned stoned beaten.

    Thus unto all of religious belief /the atheist be
    as the farmer whom having / cleared the land
    of weed stone through sweat as hard labour
    being now prepared in planting the seed. The
    a future bringing them a rich bountiful harvest.

    The atheist has taken an path to the Almighty
    which praiseworthy showing much wisdom.

    Having you prepared. / Toiled removed such
    faults in your being. // Is your home prepared
    for the Almighty's arrival / making it his abode.

    July 28, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  10. Atheist b/c Truth is Better Than Fiction

    Who cares if he was Christian, Muslim, or followed any other belief or non-belief system in the end? The fact remains that this man killed numerous humans. Whether he did it in the name of God; Allah or whatever deity he may believe in does not take away from the fact that he committed a horrific crime. Can we not set aside the frivolous droning of what might have lead this man to do this? Innocent lives were lost b/c this man obviously suffered from delusions and severe mental illness. This type of act can happen regardless of what you believe...we all have one thing in common-we're all human. Once we take away from the human factor, we take away from the purpose of life...to attempt to live in a peaceful world.
    This man deserves to be punished while he still resides on this wonderful planet.

    July 28, 2011 at 7:12 am |
  11. Mike Gloster

    " Ithink all of us who place ideas into books or blogs or lectures or sermons should be acutely aware of the use to which our ideas might be put. What is obvious is that those who read or listen to us will take our ideas in directions different from what we intended. But that fact does not absolve us of responsibility when they do"

    If you think about what he is saing there, he is putting limits on freedom of speech. What people do or do not do about our speech should not enter into the situation at all.

    July 28, 2011 at 6:25 am |
  12. Bonnie

    This article is stupid. Writing as if any Christian approved this evil criminal. If Muslims vanish, it's only secularists and atheists who'll be happy.

    July 28, 2011 at 3:00 am |
  13. man

    The killer was obviously a delusional megalomaniac. He was not a follower of Jesus the Messiah. Nothing he did or wrote about suggests he had even a child's understanding of the Word. Jesus gives two commandments to His followers, "Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Mark 12:29-31. Love of others and concern for their well being is a hallmark of Christian theology. This killer was not anything like a Christ follower, regardless of his claims.

    July 28, 2011 at 1:33 am |
  14. Bonnie

    American kids only know the shame of their nation thinking all other countries are innocent or something, when in fact it's USA that saved all the world from evil tyranny and opprsseins. Was Nazis American? I hope they know it was Germans. How naive. American kids always sing multi-culturism and it makes me want to vomit.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • pfeffernusse

      Have you been drinking?

      July 28, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  15. Bonnie

    Americans should not denounce America though everything noble about America is Christian. Americans no longer love their own nation because the liberal activists didn't teach US history right. No wonder American kids are ashamed of their nation, wanting to destroy it and get a lottery to be rich.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • blessedgeek

      Incoherent speech.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • pfeffernusse

      Actually, no. Everything noble about America is in our foundation. Freedom of expression. Freedom of the press. Separation of church and state. The notion is that everyone is equal, afforded equal opportunity and protection under the law. That our government is made up of representatives that the people vote for. These are the things that make our country great.

      Our children are taught less and less actual history because too many special interest groups (like some Christians) want their version of history taught. Take a look at Texas.

      No one wants to destroy our country from within. The people that take a stand for a secular government are trying to keep our country up to the high standards established by our Founding Fathers.

      July 28, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  16. Nickell

    Religion is probably going to wipe us all out one day.

    July 27, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • Bonnie

      Religion(Christianity) made and built up America. Americans need religion.

      July 28, 2011 at 2:56 am |
    • pfeffernusse

      Christianity was not used at the basis for our country. Other than lines like “endowed by their creator” and “year of our lord” (both common expressions for the time), there is not one mention of God or Jesus in the Declaration of Independence, the Consti-tution, or the Bill of Rights. The Founding Fathers were very careful to craft a foundation where ALL would be free. It is our very diversity that makes us stronger. We are not a theocracy. We are a secular representative Republic.

      Individuals may want or need religion and the laws of this country protect that right. But there are others who aren’t Christian or don’t need religion. Our laws protect them, too.

      July 28, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Alex Gessong

      @Nickell: humanity has survived religion for thousands of years, and we will continue to. It wasn't religion that drove this gunman (Christianity does not allow its followers to commit mass murder to make a political statement), even though he spoke of his fears of "Muslims". Humanity is multicultural, as every rational person knows. To fear multiculturalism is to fear humanity itself.

      July 28, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  17. william wallace

    It's not enough to live by beliefs ideas based on some illusion
    of a heaven a paradise beyond the clouds which one's spirit
    then transported unto on such death of the body mortal frame.

    All must go beyond ideas as beliefs unto that where knowing
    the reality of the heaven the paradise that's within every soul.

    Thus a realty of spiritual self / revealed. Via meditation unto all.
    Prayer but a shortened version of meditation that having come
    over the many centuries / as the art of true prayer in meditation
    was lost /where the focus of reality had turned to the external
    based on ideas belief /rather than practical spiritual experience
    of one turning the senses inward / thus knowing / not believing.

    Through time of humanity there's always been spiritual teachers
    presently / having a spiritual teacher of teachers in /Prem Rawat.

    On PC search put (words of peace) on site find a large selection
    of videos where Prem talks of turning one's senses inwards in a
    unfolding of spiritual self // bringing a clarity of understanding via
    practical spiritual experience's / in knowing the power of creation.

    Humanity need advance in the spiritual development from believing
    unto knowing as from not believing to believing /unto their knowing.

    Such the design of a human form / that via meditation one can then
    attain spiritual enlightenment. Via meditation know practical spiritual
    experience of self /thus to experience the power of creation within.

    July 27, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  18. Mark Faby

    This guy wasn't a Christian and there is no need to renounce him, although I think I see your point.

    More importantly why are you not requiring Muslims to renounce their terrorists?

    July 27, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • pfeffernusse

      Muslims have denounced “their” terrorists. Long and loud. It’s just that it doesn’t get much play in the media and people don’t care to find out on their own. Muslim laypeople and clerics have been saying for years that the actions of extremist Islamists do not reflect the ideals of Islam. People scoff and refuse to believe it, painting all Muslims with the terrorist brush.

      July 28, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  19. nepawoods

    Breivik's manifesto, in talking about "our definition of being a Christian", admits the term "Christian atheist", which to any sane Christian, will illicit the question "Huh?". In his list of his favorite books, he names 11 books, none Christian in nature, then goes on to name the Bible, along with the Quran, Darwin's Origin of Species, and the Communist Manifesto among the "other important books I've read". Sorry, this does not sound like a Christian, whether he applies the label as he redefines it to himself or not.

    July 27, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      @nepawoods: the gunman is not a Christian, true, but the list of books he cites does not preclude him from being a Christian. What precludes him from being a Christian is that he rejects what Christ preached. Christ said "do good to those who persecute you," "treat others as you would like to be treated," "turn the other cheek," and "love one another." He also said "be as wise as serpents ans as harmless as doves." His actions say very clearly that he does not believe in what Christ preached. So, not a Christian at all, just another conservative who chooses to call himself "Christian" while rejecting what Christ's message is all about.

      July 28, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  20. Sarah Bonner

    Well said! I think that the underlying message of this blog can be felt in almost every walk of life, not just concerning religion - our politics today are so fueled by hatred and the "Us vs. Them" mentality that we have brought our own nation to its knees. We have talk-show and radio hosts who 'explain' how the opposition is ungodly, immortal, tyrannical, fascist, communist, apathetic, or anarchist with such conviction... and when someone toting their ideology goes out and kidnaps or kills someone, or even "peacefully" further teaches violence or hatred (*cough*Westboro*cough*), they aren't responsible. Heck, most of them will not even acknowledge the event.

    As a Christian, I am appaled at much of what others of my faith profess as being the "Christian way" to approach a problem. How can we condemn the 'Muslim' torture and stoning of women, when some of our own believe women should be outcast and pushed the very bottom of society if they are not willing to be your typical barefoot-and-pregnant, obedient housewife?

    July 27, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • pfeffernusse


      Thank you for posting it!

      July 27, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
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