How We Describe It, Is How We Understand It: Breivik in Norway

I was surprised to see Sunday’s headline in The Wall Street Journal, in which the headline writer used the word “Christian” to describe the villain of the Norway murders. I was curious to see how other news organizations described this man. His actions would stretch to the breaking point our attempts to understand them, if not for the sad fact that we’ve seen this kind of evil already, several times before.

Here’s a sample of what I found:

“anti-Islamic zealot” (Chicago Tribune)

“extreme nationalist” (Chattanooga Times Free Press)

“ultranationalist” (Christian Science Monitor)

Other writers/editors have kept the word “Christian” in their descriptions of Breivik, if only because he used the term of himself, in his internet manifesto. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Some speculated that Breivik is seeking another public platform for his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim ideas, which center around the conservation of cultural and Christian values, in the face of what he sees as a continuing effort by Islam to conquer Europe, since the Ottomans were stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683. [via San Francisco Chronicle]

And from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Breivik says he will explain his motives on Monday when he is arraigned. For now, investigators can only speculate, but the suspect’s writings and videos on YouTube paint a picture of an extreme right-wing Christian fundamentalist with strong anti-Muslim views, skepticism about multiculturalism and animosity toward socialism. [via Cleveland Plain Dealer]


So how do we describe what happened in Norway? How do we understand the motivation of a Breivik– or of a Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber), from whom Breivik borrowed ideas? What is at stake in our description of this particular episode, is the accuracy of our understanding the wider social/cultural/psychological/spiritual challenges facing us today– and therefore the effectiveness of our response. Breivik is in Norway, but his spirit is abroad in the world. It’s a fearing, fearful spirit– a spirit Christ came to cast out, not to defend.

Theology Matters

Terry Jones (more about his plan here) thinks Islam is of the devil. He’s not the first Christian to make that mistake, and he won’t be the last.

Once you’ve come to the conclusion that someone, or some group, is of the devil, you are permitted– even enjoined– to obliterate it. The Qu’ran is his Salem witch: burn it at the stake. Such an enraged response to a perceived threat is, ironically, just what the devil wants: chaos, destruction, the unleashed death-force. Yes, evil exists. Unfortunately, Terry Jones is unable to identify the real Enemy, which leaves him vulnerable. The devil is, among other things, a master of disguise.