by Rev. Laura Barclay
In the wake of the horrible terrorist attack in Norway, many are left trying to make sense of all the violence, death, and loss. At last count, 68 people were killed at the summer camp site and eight died in the bombing of the Oslo government building. There has been some argument over whether or not to call Anders Behring Breivik, the suspect, a Christian terrorist. Piecing together information, it appears that Breivik thinks of himself as a sort of modern “Knights Templar” who is to crusade against Muslims and Marxists. He states there are others in this group who will carry out similar attacks across Europe, a claim that officials are now investigating.
For the first time, I feel like I have some personal understanding of what my Muslim friends must feel like when they fear public judgment of adherents to Islam based on the stories of extremists who claim their faith. What if the only knowledge some have of Christians are Breivik’s actions? Will Christianity be perceived in Norway similarly to how some Americans view Islam in the wake of 9/11?
Dr. Charles Kimball, a Baptist minister and scholar on comparative religion and Islamic studies, wrote a book shortly after the September 11 attacks called When Religion Becomes Evil. He discusses various signs that religion has been corrupted for evil purposes, including the belief that the end justifies any means and the inciting of holy war. I heard a report on NPR where officials said Breivik stated he was sorry that he had to kill so many, but that it was necessary in order to fight the acceptance of diversity in Norway. Similarly, Kimball discusses how the Church during the Inquisition used torture and burnings to root out “heretics” and force conversions. This violent approach caused 40,000 Jews and many Muslims to flee Spain, with others converting under fear and torture (149).
Breivik also believes this is the first in a line of attacks meant to start a holy war to claim Europe for Christians and drive out Muslims. This concept of holy war was embraced by the church to fight Muslims during the crusades, where slaughter of the enemy was considered a “penitential act” (162). However, the Templar scholar in the CNN article was careful to say that even the Knights Templar wouldn’t slaughter innocent civilians as Breivik did.
The point is that no religion is immune to violence or terrorism. While many Christians are shocked, there are documented cases of Christian terrorists, like Timothy McVeigh who carried out the 1995 attack in Oklahoma city (raised a Catholic and angered by government actions against the Branch Davidians in the 1994 Waco, TX, incident), the Ku Klux Klan, and a group called the Army of God, responsible for abortion bombings in the U.S.(45).
Instead of making the argument that Breivik and others are not Christians, it would probably be more productive to acknowledge his beliefs as a distortion and corruption of Christianity and work that much harder to explain Christ’s teachings of love. Kimball states, “Proximate justice and peaceful coexistence are realistic goals for those who avoid the pitfalls of absolute truth claims and who are committed to working toward a better future using means that are consistent with desired ends. People in various faith traditions must be clear among themselves and with one another: holy war is not an option” (212). Christians and Muslims in Europe, the United States, the Middle East and beyond must hold to this statement if we are to consider ourselves sincere followers of God and embrace one another in the spirit of our loving God.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 (NIV)
“If God had so willed, He would have created you one community, but [He has not done so] that He may test you in what He has given you; so compete with one another in good works. To God you shall all return and He will tell you the truth about that which you have been disputing” (Qur’an 5:48).