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. REALLY?

    If you take your anti-Christian blinders off for half a second you will note that Christians HAVE denounced this and of course will continue to denounce this! The pope called for an end to ALL of the violence! The person who did this is mentally unstable and is NOT a christian in any sense of the word. He is perhaps best described as radically anti-Muslim and that can be tracked to his "perception" of what the Muslims are doing to his vision of the world. If you present anti-Christian commentary laying blame for this nut-job, how can you be held less liable for any anti-Christian violence that results? Wake up people! We are ALLhuman beings and ALL created in God's image. Christianity teaches us to seek God's will but to do so we must first focus on making a change in ourselves. WE must become more Christlike and forgiving. The way to change the world for good starts internally and then moves out. We cannot affect change by forcing others to change when we don't do so first!

    July 26, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  2. The Pirate

    The Pirate
    As a Christian, my prayers go out to the families of those who were killed by this deranged person. and also to the perpetrator of these horrible acts. My father was born in Oslo, so I have a deep kinship to the Norwegian people. Obviously he was delusional when he calls himself a member of the Knights Templar. The order of Knights Templar was a group of warrior catholic monks, who's primary purpose was to protect the Christians travailing to the holy lands. yes they did battle the Muslims, but it was not to destroy the Muslim faith, but to try to regain control of Jerusalem which was then under the control of the Muslims and was sacred to the three major faiths, Christians, Jews and Muslims. In this country we have a degree in the Masonic lodge called the York rite (a degree that I have passed through) called the order of knight Templar, I am not sure if this is the case in Norway or not, but it could be that if a person was mentally ill, he could create a make believe world where he considered himself to actually be a Knight Templar fighting against the Muslims. Again as a Christian, my prayers go out to all those touched by this ill person, and I ask that God will forgive him for his act.

    July 26, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  3. doug shear

    So, if some nut says that Jesus told him to murder someone, that makes him a christian terrorist? The article is asinine. You will find millions, maybe hundreds of millions of muslims who support islamic terrorism, and they dance in the streets when people late murdered, this this guy? A christian? Come on. He's a nut, plain and simple. There is no equivalency, much as you would like there to be. And I dislike all religions.

    July 26, 2011 at 12:12 pm |

    Yes every human knows there something bigger then one self,,,not knowing what it is does not make it moot or religion! And I understand quantum just fine its a joke!

    July 26, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  5. Will

    Shouldn't you write an article about denouncing "Non-Christians" every time they commit a murder or a mass killing? Cuz' I'm pretty sure that happens 100000x more.

    July 26, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Robert David MacNeil

      Great idea! .... Every time a crime is committed, have the press find out the religious views of the criminal. It'd make for some interesting headlines.... "TWO AGNOSTICS ROB LIQUOR STORE!" or "THE ATHEIST SERIAL KILLER STRIKES AGAIN." That makes as much sense as calling this psycho a "Christian terrorist!"

      July 26, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  6. Rainer Braendlein

    Anders Behring Breivik should be called: "The Norwegian Muhammad."

    However, the Arabic Muhammad and the Norwegian Muhammad have something in common: They are murderers.

    Breivik was driven by right-wing radicalism, Muhammad by his hate against Jews and Christians.

    July 26, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Abu Umar

      No, he should be called "The Norwegian Rainer Braendlein". You you have proven from your utterly uninformed and abusive comments to the noble Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that you are as "mentally deranged" and full of hate towards Islam (if not more), than Anders himself. And as long as people like you are around, it is threat to the peace of society.

      July 26, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban

      Noble Prophet Muhammad??? The dude was a child molester??? As for Rainer don't pay to much attention...he is like the rambling idiot you see on the corner that talks to himself.

      July 26, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  7. Brandon L.

    Mr. Prothero, please show me in scripture where Jesus teaches anything that could possibly relate to the ideology of Breivik. Christian means follower of Christ. He obviously is not a follower of Christ. Just because he says he is a Christian, does not make him a Christian. In the book of James, it says that even demons believe [that there is one God] and shudder. Because they "believe," does this make them Christians? I think not. This whole article is absurd.

    July 26, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • StevenAnthony

      Isn't being a christian defined by their belief.

      July 27, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  8. rbt H

    That is the most ridiculous article I have read for a long time. For the last decade, the press has tried to defend Muslims against the charge of terrorism by saying that non-Muslims can be terrorists also. Until now, the only example they were able to point to was Timothy McVeigh. Now at last the press has a new poster-boy! Anders Behring Breivik... The "Christian" terrorist! You can hear the glee in their voice as they proclaim it.
    But there is no validity to the charge. Anyone can call themselves a Christian, and anyone can quote the Bible. But the twisted ideas of Anders Behring Breivik cannot be identified with ANY recognized branch of Christianity.
    You call Breivik a "Christian fundamentalist." Christian Fundamentalism is a distinct branch of Christianity. I don't particularly like Fundamentalist Christians. They tend to be legalistic and many are not well-educated. But they are NOT terrorists. And their belief system has NOTHING in common with Anders Behring Breivik. To call Breivik a fundamentalist is is nothing but slander, and smacks of a deliberate smear campaign against Christians. Enough is enough!

    July 26, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Moderate Christian in Brooklyn

      CNN is apparently full of anti-christian bigots looking for any opportunity to attack Christianity and Christians. They are gleeful about it and pounce as if proving some point. Never mind the facts. Never mind that this man was as "Christian" as the KKK burning crosses. Never mind that he never identified himself as religious or a "fundamentalist". We christians are sick of being persecuted by news outlets like CNN. And guess what? I am not a conservative but you alienate even moderate Christians with your relentless campaign to paint Christianity in a negative light. You would never do so with the Jewish religion or the Islamic religion. Shame on CNN but, sadly, not a surprise.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban

      Actually the KKK members are devout christians. Granted most people disagree with some of their views of the "perfect word of god". But they are still christians. Reaility is the bible is far from the perfect word of a god. It was written by man and quite imperfect. People see what they want to see... some of it might jive with you and some of it might not. You are holding that mirror in front of you that has the picture of the Norway guy in it......s u c k s doesn't it.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  9. Evan Carton


    July 26, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  10. U.S.Army-OverLord

    This guy is a sociopath and a coward. Anyone would wants to tie this to being a chistian is just someone with a B.S. agenda. The police should have shot him and ending it there.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Jasie

      There is not any evidence that he was a Christian, actually, to the contrary he did not follow a Christian lifestyle.

      July 26, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  11. WEBSPY

    Religion is for people who do not understand Quantum Mechanics!

    July 26, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • gr12345

      Scientists are still trying to figure out quantum mechanics. Therefore does that make them religious?

      July 26, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Muhammad Ali Farooq

      I agree... But Please tell me how you are connection those two things.....

      July 26, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • gr12345

      If religion is for people who cant understand QM and scientists still do not understand it, therefore are scientists religious? Its meant to show the fallacy of the original logic.

      July 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • WEBSPY

      a single proton is shot towards a paper with 2 holes in it and the proton divides and shines threw both holes, but it was found if a person looked at it it did not divide! or visa verso. ester either is the all and nothing that is one!

      July 26, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • WEBSPY

      A joke!

      July 26, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • gr12345

      I believe you are proving my point. The apparent contradiction, even though all or nothing, is not explainable. therefore scientists are still searching for answers to the unexplained. Are they reliigious because they do not know?

      July 26, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Bradford Plows

      Yet the HIGG's is called the GOD particle.

      July 26, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  12. Thom

    Okay. As a Christian I denounce this killer. Let me go outside and make it public.

    I'm back. Nobody was listening.

    What's this weird idea that individual christians need to denounce this? Is the assumption by the general public that if a mass killer likes using the Bible, then all Christians – unless they specifically deny it – support him? Or is this article targeted at only the Christians with the power to command an audience? Because it doesn't sound like that at all. It sounds as though it is making a request which could never be adequately fulfilled.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  13. Rainer Braendlein

    Interesting history:

    The first survived non-Muslim (or Christian) reference to Muhammad:

    When I came to Sykamina, I spoke to a certain old man who was well-informed in
    the scriptures (Bible), and I said to him: “What do you say, my lord and teacher, about the
    Prophet who has risen among the Arabs?” And he said to me, while he groaned
    deeply: “That is rubbish; do prophets come armed with sword and chariot? These
    are simply the works of anarchy …”

    The text is taken from the "Doctrina Jacobi nuper baptizati (Teaching of Jacob, 634 a. D.)"

    July 26, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  14. Budd

    This is the poorest excuse for an opinion piece that I have ever seen. How does this guy get on CNN. Blame entire groups for the actions of a nutcase? Do you blame cordon Bleu for John Wayne Gasey? What crap. Do they pay these people. I need a job doing this

    July 26, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • May

      Well, that was telling it like it is. 🙂

      July 26, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  15. LetsFaceIt

    The fact of the matter is that religions – all of them – are made up of groups of people who believe they have a divine knowledge of and connection to a god. All religions demand a standard of living that makes it's followers believe they are rising above everyone else and that they, personally, will be rewarded for their efforts. All religions have individuals who are inspiring and who accomplish wonderful things, whether it's in the name of their religion or not. All religions have individuals who represent the very worst of humanity in the forms of greed, abuse, hatred, oppression, and a desire to see those who would dare to disagree with their ideologies, in thought or deed, get their comeuppance either now or in some afterlife.
    This man believes he is doing what's right. His commitment to his cause and his willingness to commit such acts makes him a hero to those who believe as he does.
    There's no mystery here. Religion is poison.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Bill

      by that very argument, you can put most things in the poison category. You can find greed, abuse, hatred, oppression, and a desire to see those who would dare to disagree with their ideologies, in thought or deed, get their comeuppance in just about everything. Politics, business, sports. So it must all be poison.

      July 26, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Jasie

      Sir, what if you are wrong?

      July 26, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • REALLY?

      @ Letsfaceit: Your point should NOT be directed at all religions but at all people. Among ALL people there are some who believe that they are right and that they have a right to force their beliefs on everyone else. Heck we only have to look at politicians to see how that is true. More abuse and death has been brought on by those rejecting the teachings of religion than by those who claim religion and try to live by it. Stalin wasn't religious, Mao wasn't religious, Hitler wasn't religious (although some claim he was). The problem is that too many "claim" a religion and then act contrary to it. Hypocrisy is a human fault not a religious fault.

      July 26, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • An O'Brien

      As a child I went to a catholic primary school, was taught by nuns, did the holy communion thing and all that. Our home wasn't religious but my mother brought us up with the common morality that is inherent in most religions. As I got older I shrugged my catholic upbringing and have never considered any religion as part of my life. In recent years as I have gotten older I have started investigating all religions so as to understand the different arguments. Recently I have studied Islam and I have discovered like other religions/ideologies the core of it is also guff. People read into it what they will, it has it's apologists and a history.
      If people lived their lives in a simple moral way as indicated by the stories of most religious publications we would all live in a better world!

      July 27, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  16. steve19

    A ridiculous article. By using Prothero's shallow logic, he should now be held responsible for stirring up hatred directed toward European and American conservatives and any violence that they might experience.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • May

      Exactly. See just how words can be used and misused, no matter what the original intent may have been.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  17. Chris

    you desperately want to make this individual the face of Christianity...a man who never prayed or worshiped in a Christian Church. I would remind you that in comparison on the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations 90% of the list is comprised of Islamic terrorist organizations supported by Muslim clerics and Islamic governments. Pope Benedict XVI has denounced the attack...urged people to pray for the dead, the wounded and their loved ones. Breivik's ideas do not represent mine nor do they represent any Christian church. Breivik's thoughts and deeds were as an individual...quit trying to lump him in w/ any collective.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  18. mif991

    Wow. First of all, the headline assumes we christians are totally supportive of these types of attrocities. The acts of one deranged mind does not represent the vast majority of the christian population, but don't tell that to Mr. Stephen Prothero, who has an obvious agenda. The book of Jude calls people who pervert the scriptures heretics and false teachers, Romans 6:1-2 calls people who turn from God's grace inmoral, and God constantly calls on to people to come to the light. Sure, the church today has a lot of shortcomings and will never be perfect, but to say we NEED to denounce hate and terror, is like telling an atheist he needs to denounce God. So this mass murderer is a heretic, by Bible definition.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • May

      And as Jesus tells us, we are to pray for the victims AND for the one who committed the crime, most assuredly for the one who committed the crime. Jesus tells us to reach out to those who are poor in spirit. Only He will be the final judge, and as long as there is life in this man, he can repent and enter Heaven. For the last shall be first and the first shall be last. It is eternity that we must be ever mindful of.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  19. Jim

    Religion is like a penis. It's okay to have one. It's okay to be proud of it. But don't go whipping it out in public and waving it around.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  20. Tom

    I am sorry that this terrible thing was done in the name of Jesus. It is not in anyway reflective of Jesus and as such makes it not worthy of calling it a "christian" terror event. There are several here that have issues with Christians...I do too AS A CHRISTIAN. I am much more interested in what Jesus taught and lived because that is who I follow and love. Calling yourself a duck doesn't make you one anymore than calling yourself a Christian makes you a Christian. This is a terrorist and a madman but not a Christian, even if he claims to be one.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Grim

      well said.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • May


      July 26, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • jon

      Calling yourself a duck does not make you one. Of course, but calling yourself a Christian does make you a Christian in the eyes of many. Get real you fool.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • May

      Jon, his point was, just calling yourself a Christian does not make you one. Your actions make you a Christian, a Christian (unless mentally handicapped) would never do such a dastardly deed. Period. The man was either NOT Christian, or he was mentally insane.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • gr12345

      A wolf dressed in sheeps clothing is still a wolf even if he claims to be a sheep. A lie does not result in a truth.

      July 26, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Omar

      Tom its not for you to decide if he was Christan or not unless you knew him. I can imagin the people who knew him thought of him not only as a christan but as a right winger

      July 27, 2011 at 3:32 am |
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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.