Breivik case: faith vs. political power

Andrew Sullivan, on his blog The Dish, ruminates about the distinction between Christianity and his self-coined word, “Christianism,” in order to defend Christianity from those who use faith for political purposes, as he claims about Anders Breivik:

The core message of  Christianism is, in stark contrast, the desperate need to control all the levers of political power to control or guide the lives of others. And so the notion that Breivik is a “Christian fundamentalist” seems unfair to those genuine Christian fundamentalists who seek no power over others (except proselytizing), but merely seek to live their own lives in accord with a literal belief in the words of the Bible.

… Both Islamism and Christianism, to my mind, do not spring from real religious faith; they spring from neurosis caused by lack of faith. They are the choices of those who are panicked by the complexity and choices of modernity into a fanatical embrace of a simplistic parody of religion in order to attack what they see as their cultural and social enemies. They are not about genuine faith; they are about the instrumentality of faith as a political bludgeon.

Of course, one can’t ignore the “real religious faith” of the 9/11 attackers, in that they believed they would be rewarded for their efforts in heaven (with a slew of virgins no less).

Terrorists who operate under the banner of a religion, whether Christianity or Islam, are certainty about gaining power, but that power is hoped for under the cloak of both politics and religion. The extreme Muslim wants his religion to gain power to set up a new worldwide caliphate, while the extreme Christian, as I have stated before, pines for America to be a Christian nation, not just in a symbolic sense, but in a literal one. I can only conjecture about the motives of an extreme right-wing believer like Breivik, but I don’t necessarily see the comparison Sullivan makes between Breivik and the 9/11 attackers, the latter of which seemed far more religious than does Breivik. (There is some doubt now, as previously stated, that he was a Christian fundamentalist, but anyone describes himself as a potential martyr for God certainly has a heightened level of religious zeal.) And I don’t buy the argument that since the men behind Sept. 11 visited some strip bars prior to running the planes into the WTC, that makes them more secular, politically minded and less fervent in their beliefs than previously thought.

Sullivan highlights some of Breivik’s statements prior to his attack in Oslo:

If praying will act as an additional mental boost/soothing it is the pragmatical thing to do. I guess I will find out… If there is a God I will be allowed to enter heaven as all other martyrs for the Church in the past.

And Sullivan:

Notice the absence of real faith, which would recoil even at the very thought of killing innocents, but the pragmatic, cold-blooded use of faith as a psychological mechanism to enable mass murder.

I suppose Sullivan might have to elaborate on what he means by “real faith,” but people of faith have had no problem through the ages killing or causing innocent people to suffer in order to further their cause, and this underscores the very problem with faith, real or imagined. When people think they have God on their side, any action, no matter how reprehensible, can in theory be justified. Suppose that some of the Christian fundamentalists that Sullivan hopes to defend heard a new message from God commanding them go kill as many homosexuals as possible. They had also found some passages in the Bible to help them justify such actions (This is actually commanded in Leviticus 20:13, NAB. Of course, Christians will argue that Christ established a new law or covenant with man so we can, perhaps, relax some of the more arcane and cruel Old Testament commands. But Christ also said to keep the law in Matthew 5:18-19, RSV, and in other places. Which is it?). If the aforementioned Christian fundamentalists believed the message was genuinely from God, they would have no choice but to obey this command. How would such a scenario make these Christians any different from the 9/11 attackers?

Nonetheless, I think the distinction between Breivik and the 9/11 attackers is this: the latter were believers first and political instigators second (a far second, in my view), while Breivik was an instigator first and a Christian second.

About the Author

Jeremy Styron
Jeremy Styron
I am a newspaper editor, op-ed columnist and reporter working in the greater Knoxville area. This is a personal blog. Views expressed here are mine and mine alone.

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