I have actually tried to avoid writing on this topic because it is too easy to point out that religion was at least a very large factor in this terrible crime. Plus, I know many Christians will accuse me of only focusing on Christians terrorists despite the fact that I have written about a violent terrorist who was an atheist before. This week’s Washington Post “On Faith” topic is: Is Breivik a ‘Christian’ terrorist?
Calling himself an anti-Muslim ’crusader’ for ’Christendom,’ Anders Behring Breivik is accused of killing 76 people in Norway last week. Should Breivik be called a ‘Christian terrorist’?
I can understand why so many Christians want to distance themselves from this man and his actions. Christians on the political right and the political left are claiming that Anders Behring Breivik has twisted the message of Christianity to justify his action. Bill O’Reilly even said that Breivik can’t be a Christian (despite his lengthy manifesto proclaiming his religious views as the inspiration for his attack) because Christians don’t kill people. I hear the same thing from some Muslims who claim that Islam is a religion of peace.
While this is no doubt a text book case of the “No True Scotsman” argument, there is an interesting question here. How do we know that Breivik is the one who is twisting the message of Christianity? The Bible isn’t known for its clarity of meaning. It isn’t like the Lorax in which the meaning of the book is solid and the author who wrote it had a clear and easily understood message in mind. The Bible is a series of books which were written by multiple authors each with their own meaning in mind which has been lost over time. These books have been altered, translated, mistranslated, and thrown together under the false assumption of a single narrative.
Almost any message you can think of can be justified with Bible quotes. If you want to claim that the Bible is against murder that is easy to do. It is in the Ten Commandments. However, if you want to claim that the Bible supports killing people (as Breivik no doubt does) that is even easier. The Old Testament is filled with reasons why God thinks people should be killed (usually by stoning). The New Testament isn’t much better. While Jesus talks about not casting the first stone, he also talks about not coming for peace, but with a sword and plucking out eyes and cutting off hands. Jesus discusses quite a bit about how some people (most actually) will be and ought to be tortured for all eternity. I don’t know about you, but that sounds positively lovely.
The point here is that anyone can rightfully use the Bible to justify almost anything and that no one has the monopoly on the correct interpretation. Maybe it is the Right and Left Christians who denounce Breivik who have misunderstood the faith and have twisted Christianity and maybe Breivik was the one who got it right? Who is to say? Is there some sort of way to objectively test to see whose interpretation is correct? No, there isn’t. Who is right comes down to who has might. That’s the real problem with religious beliefs. That is why it is better to have beliefs based on secular reason, logic, and science. To paraphrase Sam Harris, no one goes ballistic and kills nearly a hundred children because they are being too reasonable.
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