In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!

. . . from the BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"Christian" Terrorism?

It's been almost two weeks since Anders Behring Breivik blew up a government building in Oslo, Norway and then went to nearby Ut√łya Island dressed as a police officer and fatally shot 69 people, most of them teenagers, at a Norwegian Labour Party youth camp. I caught the story early on the Internet, and became sick with horror and sadness as it unfolded. How could any thinking, feeling person do such a thing? How could someone coolly shoot down children, some face-to-face and others as they begged for their lives or tried desperately to run or swim away? Is there no limit to human depravity?

Well, it seems depravity has its echo in the cynical opportunism of those who would exploit a tragedy to serve their own political and social agenda--in this case "liberal" commentators and and the mainstream media. As soon as Breivik was arrested and the first details of his background emerged, the media were referring to him as a "Christian fundamentalist" and continued to do so even even after Breivik's own writings on the Internet ("2083: A European Declaration of Independence"), in which he denied that he was a religious person and disclaimed any personal relationship with God or Jesus Christ, became widely known and available. (Unfunny) comedian Bill Maher insisted on his TV show that Breivik is a "Christian terrorist." Other commentators, including Sally Quinn and Mark Juergensmeyer, support this characterization.

Why are these people--most of whom are at least skeptical of any religion and particularly of Christianity, or (like Maher) are downright hostile to it--pushing this line with such enthusiasm? And why does the mainstream media continue the drumbeat as though Breivik's Christian identity was a self-evident, universally recognized fact? Columnist Ed Stetzer offers this explanation for why juxtaposing the terms "Christian" and "terrorist" appeals so to media types and left-leaners:
1. Many in the media have deep suspicions about what they call "fundamentalism." They do not understand these strange people and are afraid of what they might do. . . .

2. Some desire to create a moral equivalence. There are Muslim fundamentalists and they are bad. There must be Christian fundamentalists who are equally bad.

3. Many believe that Christian fundamentalists are just a moment away from violence. . . .

A narrative is being fashioned about conservative Christians (and to the media, just about all evangelicals would be very conservative). That narrative is that they are simple, angry, persecute gays, cling to God and guns, and are close to violence at any moment.
The opinions of these people might be readily dismissed if it weren't for their considerable (if baleful) influence on public opinion and government, and the potential for their views to mislead and discourage many from finding God. So, the things they say should not go unanswered.

Is there any basis for the suggestion that Anders Breivik is a "Christian"? One commentator notes in Breivik's "manifesto" an assertion that he believes in Christianity "as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform," which he says "makes [me] Christian." But he also stated that " . . . you don’t need to have a personal relationship with God or Jesus to fight for our Christian cultural heritage. It is enough that you are a Christian-agnostic or a Christian-atheist (an atheist who wants to preserve at least the basics of the European Christian cultural legacy (Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter))." In addition, Breivik declared: "I’m not going to pretend I’m a very religious person as that would be a lie. I’ve always been very pragmatic and influenced by my secular surroundings and environment."

Thus, Breivik's own writings make clear that he is not a spiritual Christian at all, but sees Christianity in abstract intellectual terms only, as the historical and social underpinning of a culture he claims to value and wishes to defend against the onslaught of an alien culture (Islam). He fancies himself a Knight Templar, flashes the Templar Cross, and wants to start a modern-day crusade to defend "Christian" Europe (for a remarkable exploration of Breivik's writings as they reveal his twisted mind, see Susan Shannon's "Anders Breivik’s 2083 European Declaration of Independence: In Depth Analysis"). Does that make him a "Christian"?

In Matthew 7:16-20, Christ Himself taught us how distinguish His true followers from "false prophets":
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
It can hardly be said that the fruits of Anders Breivik's musings and passions, however inspired by some vision of defending Christian/European culture, were anything other than "corrupt." Even if his broader motives and non-homicidal efforts in behalf of Christendom were thought laudable, Christ warns us in Matthew 7:21-23 that mere outward virtue and pious works do not make us true disciples:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Again, who would seriously suggest that the mass murder of children accords with the will of our Heavenly Father? A genuine follower of Christ would heed and live His teaching:
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. (Luke 6:27-31)
Not only did Anders Breivik not love his "enemies," or turn his cheek to those he thought were seeking to smite him and his kind, he did the worst possible violence to people (mostly teenagers) who were innocent and posed not the slightest threat to him or anyone.

What Anders Breivik did is what almost always happens when passionate, desperate, or hate-filled people eschew genuine faith in God and His eternal Kingdom, and take the law--and the power of life and death--into their own hands for what they claim is the greater good. God has already warned those puffed up in their own minds, like Anders Breivik, that "when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood." (Isaiah 1:15)

So, it's demonstrably (and, let's be honest, patently) absurd to refer to Breivik as a "Christian." Perhaps he thought himself a Christian and a noble crusader for the Christian heritage of Europe, but it was all a fantasy twisted by an evil lust for vengeance and personal glory. Bill Maher and his ilk know that, but truth is of little concern to them; they keep up the "Christian terrorist" drumbeat simply because it denigrates something they despise, mocks its followers, and (so they think) diminishes its stature and influence in society. They might rightly refer to Breivik as a "terrorist who calls himself a Christian," or even as a "self-described-Christian terrorist." But they choose to use the more colorful and provocative term, as it better suits their social agenda.

Justification for using the "Christian terrorist" label has also been claimed by some as a proper response to what they see as widespread "Islamophobia" among people in this country, a disdain for Muslims on the presumption that they all condone or encourage jihadist terrorism, if not practice it themselves. Breivik's actions just amounted to "Christian" jihadism, so the thinking goes; are the Muslims really any different or any less trustworthy than Christians? Or are the latter any less dangerous?

There is some merit to this point; no one should treat Muslims generally, or individuals of the Muslim faith they may meet, with out-of-hand suspicion or contempt just because a handful of their coreligionists have committed despicable acts. But it's equally unwarranted and unjust to tar all Christianity with Breivik's brush. And, there are differences: Breivik apparently was an army of one (though he might have a few sympathizers), while we know that thousands of radical jihadists, many trained, supplied, and controlled by far flung networks, are at murderous work in dozens of countries around the world. And not a single bona fide Christian, so far as anyone knows, has come to Breivik's defense. In contrast, crowds of thousands regularly dance in Arab streets when Jews are slain in terrorist attacks in Israel. So, it may not be quite valid to equate Anders Breivik, monster that he is, with Osama bin Laden (monster that he was).

The "Christian terrorist" narrative being spun by the mainstream media and liberal pundits must be answered vigorously, so that people aren't swayed into rejecting Christianity or "religion" generally because of the bad things done, today or in the past, by many people who merely call themselves Christians or religious. Styling oneself something, or taking some action in its name, doesn't alone make him or her so; one must LIVE what he or she professes, and if one falls short, as is most often the case, it doesn't make the faith itself invalid. Nothing really worthwhile is easy. By nature people are incredibly weak and subject to corruption; the Bible acknowledges this everywhere. We mustn't allow scorners and mockers to exploit this fact and hold up as a universal example of our faith those who talk the talk but don't walk the walk so well. Rather, we must identify and loudly celebrate the countless "good" and selfless faithful among us, and trumpet their example. It's a war for the souls of our children and neighbors, and we must not yield the field to the Deceiver's minions.