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What is a ‘Christian fundamentalist’? Not Fr Longenecker, surely. But Anders Breivik approvingly quoted his blog: how creepy is that?

The fact is that even mass murderers agree with sensible people sometimes: you can’t keep quiet, just in case

By on Monday, 1 August 2011

Anders Breivik: not everything he wrote was hate-filled (CNS photo)

Anders Breivik: not everything he wrote was hate-filled (CNS photo)

The Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Breivik, is being described, I see, as a “Christian fundamentalist” by the Norwegian police. But what does that mean? He has, apparently, been reading “fundamentalist” extremists in the blogosphere: but what kind of sites are we talking about? And what does the Norwegian police mean by “fundamentalist?” Some light may have been thrown on this question by a brief but disturbing post on “Standing on my head”, the website of an old friend of mine, Fr Dwight Longenecker:

Creepy and Disturbing

I learned over the weekend that the Norwegian assassin/terrorist actually read my blog.

Here’s how it happened: On Saturday I noticed a surge in my hits. When I checked the referral I saw that they were coming from a Norwegian website that Anders Breivik had been contributing to, and that in November 2009 he linked to one of my posts.

The post was one of my usual rants about modernist Christianity, and when I later saw a translation of Breivik’s comments about my post it was nothing extreme or weird in itself.

Nevertheless, to think that my blog is out there as part of this new global publishing phenomenon and that anybody at all can read it is always amazing. To think that this madman read at least one post on my blog was disturbing at first. Naturally I wondered if I had written anything to prompt such hatred and violence.

I don’t think I have. Still, I was creeped out by it. Breivik is clearly both mad and bad, and I guess all we can do in the face of such horror is be silent and pray.

What, I wondered, did Breivik approve of in a post from someone I have always thought eminently moderate, sensible and well-informed (in other words, someone just like me)? So I did some smart Googling, and managed to track down the actual quote from Breivik, commenting on a post from Fr Longenecker (you can still find the full text of Fr Longenecker’s post, not on his own site but here) in November 2009. Thus, Anders Breivik:

Evident in Longenecker’s writing is his radical Christianity, in “10 points why modernist Christianity will die” argues “… For them religion is a matter of fighting for equal rights, making the world a better place, being kind to everyone and ‘spirituality’. It doesn’t take very long for people to realize that you don’t have to go to church for all that…” Dwight goes on to say “Modernists are dull. They’ve so little imagination and are so literal about everything. …they’re a joyless lot, always on some sort of serious, smug and self-righteous campaign,” and “So, what will happen to modernist Christianity? It will die out or cease to be Christian.”

But he sees it becoming more prevalent before dying out: “These horrors are already with us on the fringe of modernist religion. Expect them to become even more mainstream.”

That’s it: all, in my opinion, not only perfectly sensible, but I would say almost irrefutable (read the whole argument, in full you get Fr Dwight’s point better). And this brings to our attention a simple but very important fact. It’s not what Breivik actually believed that is, necessarily, all that utterly horrendous. There are people (like me) who believe what Breivik quoted Fr Dwight as saying: they may even also believe other American posts that Breivik also quoted, which neither Fr Dwight nor I would support for a moment, hate-filled and deliberately inflammatory articles. The point is that even these don’t remotely begin to explain the slaughter on a holiday island of 68 unsuspecting young people, or of the eight people who died in the Oslo bomb. Hitler believed monstrous things, from which he constructed a murderous ideology: the point is that he acted on it. And he also believed some perfectly sensible things. The fact that as well as being a racist madman and evil genius he was also a non-smoker and a vegetarian is not generally held to discredit these harmless propensities.

I apologise if all this seems unduly obvious. The trouble is, however, that it needs saying: for otherwise we may hesitate to say something that needs saying, in case it might be taken as the kind of thing Breivik, or some other evil nutter, would agree with. There are certainly people around prepared to exploit, in my view disreputably, what one might call the “Breivik factor”. On Wednesday, I posted an article on the continuing persecution of Christians in Turkey, in which I argued that “the Turkish government’s anti-Christian policies have a good deal of popular support: this is, quite simply, an anti-Christian culture (and therefore incompatible, I would argue, with the European culture it claims to want to be part of).”

The fanatically anti-Muslim Breivik would probably have agreed with that. Most of those who commented on my article took my point: but one of them came very close to saying indirectly that in the context of recent events I was stirring up the kind of hatred which came to its horrible climax on Utøya island: “…this sort of blog is just inflammatory”, wrote this commentator. “And lest anyone think that western Europe is immune from eruptions of hatred on the basis of religion or ethnicity open your eyes”: was that a reference to events in Norway? Probably.

Others defended me, one saying that it wasn’t what I’d said, but “the Turkish flouting of human rights that is inflammatory”; undeniable, but the accusation had been made: I was writing the kind of thing that had brought about the Norwegian horror.

Well, I’m not going to be bullied by that kind of fanatical liberal authoritarianism. If there is ever to be a sane and truly tolerant society it has to be based on telling the truth and not on that kind of mealy-mouthed evasiveness. If that’s what you want, don’t read my column.

  • Anonymous

    I am not sure it is all that creepy.  If you think of the world in dualist terms, modernist bad, traditionalist good, Moslem bad, Christian good rather than trying to penetrate the complexity of our society and indeed universe, you are taking part in a sort of fundamentalist nightmare.  Telling the truth requires a noble search for the truth not for simplifications and selection of part of the story.  

  • ms catholic state

    I think the proper word to describe Fr Longenecker’s ‘fundamentalist’ Christian website is ‘Orthodox’…….but I guess the word ‘fundamentalist’ has more sinister overtones……so was used instead.  That’s how alien Orthodox Christianity has become in the secularised West.

  • https://openid.org/locutus LocutusOP

    What I found really amazing was the speed with which the media switched from saying this had been carried out be Muslim extremists (or whatever term it is they use nowadays) to claiming that it had been carried out by a “Christian fundamentalist” as soon as it turned out that it was a (white) Norwegian. It seems like whenever a bomb goes off – according to the media – there has to be a religious ideology behind it.

    The fact that this man sees Christianity no differently to the political parties he was complaining about – basically as a way to unite against some banner of the day – seems to be completely ignored.

    I’m still to read the quote from the police which named him as a Christian fundamentalist, but if the brightest of the police can deduce that he is a Christian fundamentalist from both what he has done and what he has written (and I’ve read most of it), then we should be thankful that he surrendered…….Cause with such (non-)intelligence they would surely never have found him if he hadn’t.

    Which brings me to a question that’s been on my mind ever since: What exactly is a Christian fundamentalist?…If I didn’t know any better I would have thought it was someone who prays for goes to church, prays in humility, forgives others, prays for his enemies and believes in the sanctity of human life – and that’s just for starters.

  • Brian A. Cook

    Unfortunately, there’s still the issue of Breivik calling for Protestantism to be assimilated into traditionalist Catholicism.  There’s still that issue of Breivik promoting himself as a Crusader defending European Christian civilization against Muslims and “Marxism”.  There’s still that matter of Breivik identifying with the Right and opposing liberalism.  This ideology was the fuel of the massacre.

  • Jeannine

    Christian fundamentalists are Protestants who interpret the bible literally. This webpage, taken from patheos.com, succinctly sums up who they:
    http://www.patheos.com/Library/Christian-Fundamentalism.html

  • ms catholic state

    Actually none of these explain his murderous act.  The reason he committed these murders….was to gain publicity for his views. 

    And in case you hadn’t noticed…. murder is against Christian teaching.  Thank God!

  • https://openid.org/locutus LocutusOP

    Actually, he puts it in more or less plain text that the only reason he those to speak of “Christian Europe” is because he thought it was the only way to unify Europe – which is essentially defined due to its Christian tradition.

    He writes that he could have chosen “Norwegian paganism” (not a direct quote) but he didn’t think it would have much appeal outside Norway.

  • https://openid.org/locutus LocutusOP

    Not a very good definition, and it certainly goes against the way the term is used in the popular press – which tends to equate Christian fundamentalism with anti-government militancy.

    Nonetheless, using that definition one cannot by any stretch of the English language claim that this man was a Christian fundamentalist.

  • Joel Pinheiro

    Few people payed attention to his comment about the crime: “atrocious, but necessary”. In other words, he was willing to pursue (supposedly) good ends through inherently evil means. This is the complete opposite of Christian ethics, in which we may not “do evil so that good may come”. It is, however, very much in accordance with most strands of modern and contemporary ethical systems, which may be called consequentialist.

    So, no matter how much his values and ideas were shaped by traditionalists, conservatives and Christians (though he explicitly denied having a personal relationship with God or Jesus Christ), an essential element was provided by modern, anti-Christian (in the sense of being incompatible with Christian faith) moral thought.Orthodox Christianity has always been very clear: if the only way to reach a good and just end is by some inherently unjust means (which is usually something that violates basic human dignity), no matter how desirable the end, the just and virtuous thing to do is to bear the evil patiently. A saint would rather see the collapse of civilization by enemy forces than of his own soul by sin.  

  • W Oddie

    bo**o*ks.

  • Jeannine

    Patheos.com has an excellent definition of Christian Fundamentalism. 

    I have dealings with Christian fundamentalists. My husband’s side of the family has a few of them. In my interactions I have found them to be very patriotic. They tend to be Calvinistic ie the government bows down to the people not the other way around. They are very charitable. They are law-abiding citizens & get involved legally to change laws that they abhor. They have a great personal prayer life, more so than many Catholics I know. Unfortunately they also believe Catholics are damned to hell. 

    The secular, popular press never seems to interpret religious events or ideas correctly. Why would you then believe their definition of Christian fundamentalism to be correct? Like you wrote, Breivik is not a Christian fundamentalist.

  • Jacob Suggs

    Strangely, if you think of the world in dualist terms with MASS MURDERING being part of the bad, it actually still works. Amazing.

  • Anonymous

    I have often wondered what makes a catholic a ‘ leading’ catholic layman.

  • Mr Grumpy

    So which church did he worship at? Which Christian hate preacher encouraged him to commit murder? If the answers turn out to be “none” and “none” there is no case for Christians, fundamentalist or not, to answer.

  • W Oddie

    If that’s a dig at me, I have never described myself (or thought of myself) in this way. It probably is; that simply confirms my suspicion that ‘AndyFrankophile’ is just a spiteful little berk who has no useful contribution to make to any serious debate. 

  • Anonymous

      You question why someone who disagrees with your views should read your blog.  I read it because you clearly represent a part of the English catholic world that until recently I barely knew existed.  In general I don’t like countries being dismissed as though they are a single person.  Similarly the European Union, a union of so many different states can hardly be thought to have a view on anything.  Even the Commissioners must be expected to have very different views yet you treat it so often as if it was a sort of papacy.  I do not find that kind of reasoning helpful.  You may not have thought my view on fundamentalism worth anything but I would not have expected abuse, repeated abuse.  If you think I have been abusive to you then I am truly sorry.  

  • https://openid.org/locutus LocutusOP

    Good point.

    I suppose it might be a tad optimistic to be expecting an apology from the media then – regarding the mislabelling…

    While I’m on the topic, I’m still waiting for the BBC to correct its assertion that “the Catholic church has changed it’s long-standing position on condoms” – that’s a direct quote, if memory serves me right.

  • Anonymous

    I hope you are aware that you suggest that Christians are wrong to try:

    ‘making the world a better place’

    and

    ‘being kind to everyone’

    and you then say:
    ‘That’s it: all, in my opinion, not only perfectly sensible’

    Really? I think we might have to redefine ‘Christian’ for this to make any sense.

  • Anonymous

    As long as you apply the same rules to calling terrrorists that call themselves Muslim.

  • Anonymous

    Often the ends justifiy the means, to deny so as the Church does is not helpful.

  • Joel Pinheiro

    Perhaps some actions which are generally immoral are not so in extreme circumstances (eg, lying to the nazi about jews in the cellar). But some actions, those that violate human dignity, can never be justified. One should never, ever, say, torture a child, no matter what great evil this might prevent or what good it might bring about.

    Evil will always exist (in this world). But let it not be through us!

  • Jeannine

    Don’t expect that apology ever. Journalists with a few exceptions are mentally lazy &/or are not curious enough to find & then report the facts. They will never admit to their shortcomings.

  • Dominikus Klein

    Hitler believed monstrous things, from which he constructed a murderous
    ideology: the point is that he acted on it. And he also believed some
    perfectly sensible things. The fact that as well as being a racist
    madman and evil genius he was also a non-smoker and a vegetarian and a Catholic!!!!!

  • Parasum

    “The Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Breivik, is being described, I see,
    as a “Christian fundamentalist” by the Norwegian police. But what does
    that mean?”

    Probably someone like Fred Phelps, who hates those whom he calls”fags” and “fag nations” for the greater glory of God; whom he appears to have confused with the devil. Pastor Fred and his in-bred cult of 71 persons, 60 of whom are his relations, do sterling work for his true master in preaching to all and sundry the Good News of the damnation of the entire human race, themselves alone excepted. His hatred of mankind is unlikely to be any less than that expressed in the murders in Norway.

    He is, unfortunately, different from some of his co-religionists only in degree – less venomous Fundamentalists lack his notoriety, but that is what makes it possible for the more toxic & foolish kinds of Christianity to be mistaken for all Christianity; they are less extreme, more plausible as normal.  In such a world, reason and dialogue and Christian virtue have no place – for Christianity has been identified with the unChristian perversions espoused by such as Pastor Fred; and is soiled beyond redemption. So it becomes entirely natural & plausible to describe Breivik as a “Christian fundamentalist” – he would not be out of place in a US survivalist sect. US Christian Fundamentalism seems to be very largely a religion of hatred and violence – prayer for the death of Obama, & prayer for his damnation, would not be regarded as Christian by men with any notion of what Christian faith involves. In the US, both prayers qualify as Christian. By such a standard, Breivik is a Christian through and through.

    What is wrong with rejecting the inroads of Islam ? They were hammered in 732, in 1571, in 1683 – they must be made to fail again.

  • Parasum

    “Christian fundamentalists are Protestants who interpret the bible literally.”

    Not quite. What they do is interpret it in ways that maintain their belief that it is totally error-free. Fundamentalism is a very complicated movement, but the total absence, from all of the Bible, of all error whatsoever, is shared by all forms of it. “Interpreting the Bible literally” is only of many ways they use to preserve the idea of inerrancy – very often, to “[interpret] the Bible literally” would lead to the conclusion that the Bible was in error, so the appearance of total inerrancy is achieved by other means. So whether the Flood as described in Genesis is universal or local – two very different possibilities – the assertions of the rext are treated as assertions by God; therefore, as fully & undeniably true; & as statements of actual historical fact. The references to the Flood in the NT are taken to be absolutely inerrant & infallible assertions about it, and the references to it by Jesus as taken as unconditioned & eternally valid assertions of its reality; never as the historically-conditioned statements of a first-century Palestinian Jew Who was as fully a product of His time & culture as any other man, Whose knowledge on that point there is no *Biblical* reason to think exceeded anyone else’s.

    Some Fundamentalists allow a place to science – other oppose evolutionary theories strenuously. And the choice affects the ways in which the inerrancy of the Bible is maintained, which in turn affects the meaning obtained. A reading of the Bible in which most OT prophecies are still to be fulfilled is different from one that is read in the belief that most are already fulfilled – but both readings can qualify as readings of a totally inerrant Bible. Inerrancy is no barrier to competing interpretations – far from it.

    One of the few really good books on the subject of Protestant Evangelical Fundamentalism is “Fundamentalism”, by the late  James Barr; the Catholic treatments of the subject are depressingly superficial & misleading. Barr’s books (he also wrote a sequel called “Escaping Fundamentalism) are both 30 years old, but they ought to be required reading for anyone interested in the subject.

  • Parasum

    of the rext are = of the text are

  • Parasum

    “If the answers turn out to be “none” and “none” there is no case for Christians, fundamentalist or not, to answer. ”

    ## If only. Unfortunately, perception is everything.

  • Parasum

    “Evident in Longenecker’s writing is his radical
    Christianity, in “10 points why modernist Christianity will die” argues
    “… For them religion is a matter of fighting for equal rights, making
    the world a better place, being kind to everyone and ‘spirituality’……But he
    sees [modernism] becoming more prevalent before dying out: “These horrors are
    already with us on the fringe of modernist religion. Expect them to
    become even more mainstream.”
     
    “[F]ighting for equal rights, making
    the world a better place, being kind to everyone” is a “horror” ? How sad. Still, from the country where Glenn Beck encouraged Christians to flee Churches that preach “social justice”, what else can one expect ?

  • Parasum

    To which the answer is, to re-define murder. Simples. “God’s Own Country” is full of pious people with assassinatory tendencies: what could be more laudable than to “kill for Jesus” ? Murder is what the *other* fellow does.

  • Anonymous

    This sounds much to relativist, tut tut! :)

    Hypothetically though would:
    You would not torture a child in order to save your friend? – The population of a village? – The population of a town? – The population of a city? etc…

    I can only believe at some point, that the evil of what we might do, is counter-balanced by the evil that we can stop.

    Much of utilitarian thinking is so depressing, but as far as my logic takes it – often inextricably correct.