On the Norway killer’s motive

26 Jul

I am shocked and disheartened by the atrocious acts of violence in Norway.  While remaining in prayer for the victims and their families whose blood cries out from the ground to a global community and ultimately a God who hears them, I’m trying to make some sense of the conversations that are ensuing about the perpetrator’s motives.

Some preliminary thoughts:  First, it is increasingly clear that Breivik was not a Christian fundamentalist in the classic sense, but rather a cultural fundamentalist and militantly so.  As this quote shows, Breivik was interested in Christianity more as a prop for his cultural fantasies or as a decorative coat of arms, than as any relational way of life that would personally challenge him.

“As this is a cultural war, our definition of being a Christian does not necessarily constitute that you are required to have a personal relationship with God or Jesus,” he writes. “Being a Christian can mean many things; That you believe in and want to protect Europe’s Christian cultural heritage. The European cultural heritage, our norms (moral codes and social structures included), our traditions and our modern political systems are based on Christianity – Protestantism, Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and the legacy of the European enlightenment (reason is the primary source and legitimacy for authority). It is not required that you have a personal relationship with God or Jesus in order to fight for our Christian cultural heritage and the European way.”

Still, how is this different than any other person who has or currently does evil things while claiming some kind of Christian identity?  While it may comfort us to know that Breivik’s Christianity was counterfeit, there are plenty of Christians who have or continue to engage in a compromised form of faith that lead into violent behavior.   Non-Christians see this quite clearly, and the seemingly dismissive focus on distancing ourselves from such pseudo Christians appears defensive and unhelpful.

It should also be said that, contra some of the sloppy language on this topic, fundamentalism as a religious phenomenon should not be so readily equated with violence.  Many religious people might fall under the classical definition because they take very literal views of their sacred histories, have strict laws of conduct regarding their faith, or have an exclusivist perspective vis a vis outsiders.  None of this suggests violence ipso facto.  The same might even be said of the kind of pseudo cultural conservatism or ethnocentrism Breivik promoted.  What distinguishes Breivik from others who may share some of his views is his bloodlust and violence.

What leads to violence is the stripping away of what I call moral friction:  the abrasive quality that moral conscience has against your own desires and thoughts. Such was the so-called faith of Andrew Breivik.  He desired a Christianity devoid of all moral friction or traction that might be abrasive against his violent tendencies.  This atrocity captures for us the capabilities of an evil and perhaps delusional individual.  Yet, with the politics of the person being largely incidental, this atrocity also suggests one potential consequence of living in an ideological echo chamber.  Christians, as people of various political stripes, should spend most of our communicative energies from this incident providing that moral friction for those in the public at large, who like Breivik, seek to have the ends justify the means.  Let’s spend our time making sure those in our communities are not subject to a Christian faith so culturally captive and compromised that it no longer is salt and light to one’s moral conscience.

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