Is ‘Christian fundamentalist’ the correct label for the Norway terror suspect?

The CNN blog has a good post about the suspected killer’s religion and what role this might have played in motivating his actions.

16 replies
  1. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    Glad to see you guys brought this up. I’m not sure what point the CNN article ultimately makes. This quote is instructive:

    ‘But he doesn’t seem to have any insight into Christian theology or any ideas of how the Christian faith should play any role in Norwegian or European society,” Buck wrote in an email message. “His links to Christianity are much more based on being against Islam and what he perceives of as ‘cultural Marxism.'”

    Here is another link showing the comments of a Roman Catholic, including the argument that calling the Suspect A Christian is part of the media movement to “Diminish And Marginalize The Christian Philosophy”:

    http://mediamatters.org/mmtv/201107250030

    Authors in the Guardian have claimed that he is ‘not Christian but anti-Islam.’

    I saw that the Australian Christian Lobby have found a ‘definite link’ between violent video games and the killing spree.

    What is observable is that there has been a rapid and comprehensive effort made by moderate Christians to distance themselves from this maniac. In other words, he might well insist he is Christian, but he clearly doesn’t understand what being Christian is all about, and even if he does, he’s not a Christian anyway because his actions and Christianity are mutually exclusive.

    This raises some issues in my mind.

    1 – that Christians, like other religious groups, like to be able to personally select who is a member of their group, and who isn’t. Hitler might well have thought he was a Catholic, but he wasn’t, because ‘I’ know what being Christian is, and isn’t, and he isn’t. It seems to relate in part to theological education – does a person know x, y and z? If not, they’re not really a Christian, if yes, then maybe they are. I’ve heard right-wing people in Australia saying that Obama might go to Church every Sunday but they seriously doubt his authenticity. Millions of Americans vote on the basis of their political leaders’ faith – but does dropping bombs in Baghdad not rule Bush out of the Christian faith?

    2 – if Christians are entitled to claim Breivik is not a Christian, then shouldn’t we afford Muslims the same opportunity with regards bin Laden? Muslims are facing a huge backlash over the Park 51 community centre – but would anyone seriously question the right of Christians to build a church anywhere in Norway post July 2011? I hope not. Here’s an appalling little video from Fox – the network claiming that Breivik cannot possibly be a Christian.
    http://mediamatters.org/blog/201107230001

    3 – Can anyone give me a firm and practical answer the question ‘what defines a Christians authenticity?’ If we assume for a minute that Breivik knows the bible well and is a practicing Christian, does this event tell us anything about Christianity? I mean, if the despicable, evil things this man did are the basis for calling this ‘terrorism’ but not ‘Christian terrorism’, should we also say Bush is not a Christian? Or Obama, for that matter? How badly do you have to behave in order to be excluded from being ‘Christian’ despite whatever theological credentials you might have?

  2. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Tom:

    1. It isn’t that Christians “like” to personally select who is a member of their group. It’s that what it means to be a Christian is defined by the Bible. Someone can call himself a Christian till the cows come home, but if he denies the divinity of Christ, or salvation by faith alone, or openly acknowledges that he has no real personal relationship with God, then he is not a Christian according to the Christian’s own standard.

    I suppose it’s possible that someone who was genuinely a Christian could go on a killing spree because he thought the Old Testament allowed for it. But then, that would be a deeply confused person. Mistaking divine mandates given to a nation-state for a general principle of action for individuals is a fairly big boo-boo.

    So the question is not only whether Breivik is a Christian, but whether he was acting consistently with Christianity. The answer seems to be “no” on both counts. (Although, if it were “yes”, what would that prove exactly?)

    2. Muslims don’t have the same warrant for distancing themselves from terrorism—as you’d know if you’d read the Qur’an. Not only do Islamic terrorists seem to have a profound belief in the Qur’an itself, but they are also acting in accordance with its mandate of Jihad. So realistically, a Muslim who distances himself from Islamic terrorism has less warrant to call himself a Muslim than the one who gets on with doing what the Qur’an commands: killing infidels.

    3. The Bible defines what is an authentic Christian. It forbids murder, but goes to great lengths to emphasize that one of the defining characteristics of a genuine Christian is love. Look at James 2, for instance. Do you think Breivik is a Christian, given what James says?

  3. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    It doesn’t seem likely that he ‘is’ a Christian – this was the quote from his manuscript I was looking for yesterday.

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/christian-terrorism-and-islamophobia/

    However, he describes himself as a Christian. Many Christians have rushed to condemn this claim, (as I would want to, if I was one) but I don’t accept this:

    ‘It’s that what it means to be a Christian is defined by the Bible.’

    That’s probably my principle confusion with Christianity – it’s not defined well, at all. For example, the church is broken into thousands of different strands because of disagreement over doctrine (I took an evangelical friend to a universalist church in Toronto and she was not impressed to say the least). What are you actually subscribing to as a Christian, when you present caveats to rule out the entire first half of the book.

    I don’t think Breivik is a Christian ‘given what James says,’ but then I can assume that most Christians aren’t trying that hard either, given what Jesus said in Matthew, for example:

    ‘Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.’

    That line is crystal clear. It rules out all evangelical Christians who subscribe to wealth doctrines, for example. What right does a member of Hillsong have to say Breivik is not a Christian? Pot meet kettle.

  4. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Tom, perhaps you could document your claim that the church is splintered into “thousands” of different strands.

    If Christianity is defined by the Bible, then it is defined well. The fact that people who call themselves Christian disagree with the Bible, or with other Christians on what the Bible means in particular cases, doesn’t mitigate that fact.

    Not sure what you mean by “presenting caveats to rule out the entire first half of the book”. I guess you’re talking about the Old Testament. But those covenant laws are not ruled out. They are fulfilled. In fact, that was the point of having an old covenant in the first place: to point to Christ (Galatians 3:15ff). You can’t make objections just because you haven’t bothered to understand this element of covenant theology, or because you find the explanations personally unsatisfying.

    ‘Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.’

    That line is crystal clear. It rules out all evangelical Christians who subscribe to wealth doctrines, for example. What right does a member of Hillsong have to say Breivik is not a Christian? Pot meet kettle.

    A statement made by Jesus to a particular person, in response to a particular line of questioning, and in order to make a particular point to his disciples…it’s crystal clear that this is an unequivocal command to all Christians everywhere? Really? Not that I subscribe to wealth doctrines, and not that I think Hillsong is populated by first-class Christians, but that is a seriously harebrained way to argue the case.

  5. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    Thousands of strands, as evidenced by the fact that the answers you give to me are completely different to the answers other Christians give. And more so by the fact that answers you offer are likely to be unique, as is your particular understanding of the bible. No two Christians have the exact same understanding of all components of their faith, in my experience and most probably in reality (why go to hear preaching if not to learn a new approach or appreciation for certain parts of the gospel? Maybe to be entertained or in encouraged I suppose). Maybe ‘millions’ of strands would be better. Regardless of my argument, there are many different variations to Christianity, as you well know (and it’s a bit childish to object to it IMO), and competing claims to the ‘correct’ definition (my Calvinist friends are particularly unpleasant with regards to predestination).

    So what you’re saying is, some parts of the bible are context-specific and don’t necessarily apply to you, the first-class Christian, or to Christians in general at all. What you’re really saying is, some components are open to interpretation and shouldn’t be taken out of context. Presumably perfection in the eyes of Jesus is different when it comes to BNonn.

    The question in Matthew is instructive. The man is asking what good he can do to enter heaven, in essence. No good works will entitle you that luxury (here come the Calvinists). So how can he be a good Christian? Obey the commandments. Well I already do that. OK well, and I’ll quote it again:

    ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.’

    I assume you haven’t sold all you have and given it to the poor? Is that because you don’t want to be a perfect Christian? We can say Breivik isn’t a good Christian, or a Christian at all, because he’s broken one of 10 commandments (probably worked Sundays too) but what this argument does is open up the question of what defines a Christian, and it’s a lot more difficult to answer than most Christians might like to think.

  6. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Thousands of strands, as evidenced by the fact that the answers you give to me are completely different to the answers other Christians give. And more so by the fact that answers you offer are likely to be unique, as is your particular understanding of the bible. No two Christians have the exact same understanding of all components of their faith, in my experience and most probably in reality (why go to hear preaching if not to learn a new approach or appreciation for certain parts of the gospel?

    An anecdote is not an argument. (And answers about what? It’s not as if the Bible is so exhaustive as to mitigate against Christians having personal opinions and perspectives. It’s just a meaningless truism to say that every person’s understanding of Scripture is unique. Of course it is. So is every scientist’s understanding of evolution, because every person is unique. Yet I doubt you believe that science is splintered into thousands of different strands.)

    Regardless of my argument, there are many different variations to Christianity

    Perhaps half a dozen significant variations, depending on what you consider significant.

    So what you’re saying is, some parts of the bible are context-specific and don’t necessarily apply to you, the first-class Christian, or to Christians in general at all.

    Two things:

    1. Don’t put words in my mouth. I never called myself a first-class Christian. I am by no means any less a sinner than you or anyone else, and probably a greater one.

    2. It’s not that some of the Bible is context-specific. All of it is. The Bible is not a newspaper; nor is it a postmodern work to be interpreted how you like. Its authors intended specific meanings, some of which are applicable only to the people they wrote to; some of which can be generalized; some of which are clear without much study; some of which are quite opaque unless you know a lot about the passage’s sociohistorical setting; yet all of which we are entirely dependent on proper context to understand. “Context” is not a weasel-word used to wriggle out of difficult passages using twisted or unlikely interpretations. It is a cornerstone of higher criticism and accurate exegesis.

    What you’re really saying is, some components are open to interpretation and shouldn’t be taken out of context.

    Those are two separate things. Being open to interpretation means the meaning is unclear or indeterminate; that there is more than one reasonable interpretation, or possibly no obviously correct interpretation. To not take something out of context, on the other hand, is simply to follow the obvious practice (assuming you actually want to know the intended meaning of the text) of not divorcing it from its logical place in a passage, of keeping in mind the larger meaning of the passage, of understanding the semantic range of the words used; of understanding the social implications of the words used; of understanding the historical setting of the passage; of knowing the intent of the author in writing; of being familiar with his audience and how they would have understood his words; of having an understanding of the way in which the audience’s thinking was similar and differed to ours; etc. It sounds like you think that these are just “tricks” to avoid the “obvious” meaning of the text, as if reading your favorite English translation as you would read your newspaper is how we ought to go about trying to understand an ancient document written in a very different language by a very different kind of person to a very different kind of audience in a very different kind of culture.

    Presumably perfection in the eyes of Jesus is different when it comes to BNonn.

    Why don’t you stop being a smug git, as if you understand the passage, and instead actually put your money where your mouth is? Why don’t you go ahead and exegete the passage for us? Show us what a first-class biblical scholar you are—since you clearly are an authority on the teachings of Jesus.

    I assume you haven’t sold all you have and given it to the poor?

    Sorry, you don’t get to ask that question without providing an adequate exegesis of the passage to justify your implicit assumption that it applies to all Christians equally. For example, notice some obvious problems with your application: even if generalizing it is a licit option, not only would it appear to apply naturally to rich men alone (oh, but you conveniently avoided quoting the rest of the passage, didn’t you?) but it’s not even clear that this particular rich man was a genuine believer—so it’s not clear that it applies to Christians at all. Stop being utterly incompetent, pretending you know the Bible and are in a position to preach to anyone, and sit down, take a slice of humble pie, and do what the rest of us do: actually work at understanding it.

    We can say Breivik isn’t a good Christian, or a Christian at all, because he’s broken one of 10 commandments (probably worked Sundays too) but what this argument does is open up the question of what defines a Christian, and it’s a lot more difficult to answer than most Christians might like to think.

    When you have some arguments to dress your naked assertion in, feel free to come back and post them. But as long as you’re going to keep “misunderstanding” everything I write and pretending like you know shit, feel free to not bother. I didn’t say that Breivik violating one of the ten commandments means he isn’t a Christian. Every Christian violates every one of the ten commandments on a regular basis. My question was focused around the issue of how a Christian will typically conduct himself. Is the love of God evident in his actions? Does he try to be loving towards others? Is he repentant for his failures? It’s quite obvious that Breivik fails on all counts.

  7. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    This topic is interesting for a number of reasons, mostly relating to the debate ( particularly in the US media) now underway over whether or not this maniac is a Christian (and, the extension, what exactly IS a Christian?). I’m not trying to make an argument – just a muse. In my own experience, self-professed Christians have different ideas of what Christianity actually is, or what actions are required of a Christian for qualification. Don’t just take my word for it, take Ted Phelps or Brian Tamaki or the Popes. Presumably, putting aside the many worldly benefits of having Christians who actually act according to Christ’s word, the definition of ‘being Christian’ is important as a precursor to getting to Heaven, or going to Hell. I mean, that’s ultimately what this is about. If there was no eternity, it’s a bit of a pointless discussion.

    Despite the aggression, you basically concede that yes, there are different strands of Christianity (6, not thousands, but for the purposes of the point, it’s irrelevant).

    I absolutely do not accept that it is a meaningless truism to say that ‘every persons understanding of Scripture is unique.’ It’s of massive importance. For example, I spent a few weeks at a Calvinist church. They preach that a Christian is not a Christian if, once becoming born again, they indulge in any sin intentionally and without instant regret. Because hatred of sin is an essential component of accepting Christ. And this extends to all sin, not just murder or dishonouring your mother. Likewise, there are gay people who call themselves Christian, and there are many Christians who insist that homosexuality is a complete anathema to Christ. The answer is dramatically important, especially to gay Christians, but the lack of cohesion in the faith with respect to the answer is troubling to me. You might say, ‘oh well gay people can’t be Christians’ or ‘Calvinism it the true interpretation’ or here, ‘you can’t murder someone and be a Christian’ but that is exactly my point – there isn’t a way a ‘Christian’ would ‘typically conduct himself.’ It’s just not played out in reality. I’ve spent a lot of time at a lot of different churches under different denominations and the lack of consistency is mind boggling. I have baptist friends who take the scripture in Matthew very seriously, and very literally, and live in India, Uganda, Sri Lanka, working and living in slums to help in what ever ways they can. And yes, they think that the passage applies to all Christians, and that people at Hillsong or Life, for example, are poor-quality Christians. Now I’m happy to apologise to you on their behalf for clearly having misunderstood this passage, and possibly by extension not really being Christians at all, but you can hopefully see the predicament that Christianity imposes on everyone else, presenting a disunited front of what is and is not Christian. And when we come to ask ‘well is Breisvik really Christian?’ the answer is not quite as simple as ‘is the love of God evident in his actions?’ I mean, the love of God is not particularly evident in the scolding words you offer to myself and others here (and of course I don’t mean to draw actual parallels here). The love of God isn’t exactly evident to me in Hillsong, where the first point of order is your credit card number. Where’s the evidence for the love of God in the Bush or Obama administrations and the 4 trillion that has been spent dropping bombs on Muslims, both administrations run predominantly by devout Christians? I did, as you probably hoped, actually read the bible, and the things that stick out to me are passages such as that in Matthew – that we should sell everything we have and follow Christ. You can criticise me from the ivory tower but all you’re really offering, from the perspective of a non-believer, is another, nuanced and sophisticated strand of the same incoherent religion. There’s no point to argue with there, I’m just telling you what’s in front of me.

  8. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    self-professed Christians have different ideas of what Christianity actually is, or what actions are required of a Christian for qualification.

    Of course, but the only relevant definition is that which the Bible gives. In fact, given that many self-professing Christians are not actually Christians to begin with, we should expect them to have completely bogus ideas about what defines a Christian.

    the definition of ‘being Christian’ is important as a precursor to getting to Heaven, or going to Hell. I mean, that’s ultimately what this is about. If there was no eternity, it’s a bit of a pointless discussion.

    Agreed. On Christianity’s own terms, a Christian is a person who has been born again of the Spirit; someone regenerated by God. And the Bible warns us against false believers often, talking not only of wolves in sheep’s clothing (like Phelps and perhaps Tamaki), but also of antichrists like the Pope. It further states that people who claim to be Christians, but later abandon the faith, were never genuine Christians at all.

    Despite the aggression, you basically concede that yes, there are different strands of Christianity (6, not thousands, but for the purposes of the point, it’s irrelevant).

    Sure. Why would I have a problem conceding that Christians disagree over stuff, and that like-minded Christians gather together. In one sense, that just proves the underlying unity of Christianity despite these disagreements: just about all Christians without exception agree that we should not neglect to meet together and lift one another up, as the author of Hebrews puts it.

    I spent a few weeks at a Calvinist church. They preach that a Christian is not a Christian if, once becoming born again, they indulge in any sin intentionally and without instant regret.

    For the record, that’s hardly a Calvinist distinctive. That’s a bizarre legalistic idiosyncrasy of the church you attended.

    Likewise, there are gay people who call themselves Christian, and there are many Christians who insist that homosexuality is a complete anathema to Christ.

    And we can tell who is right by evaluating their arguments from Scripture. To make Christianity compatible with practicing homosexuality, you have to deny inerrancy, or take a postmodern approach to interpretation—along the lines of, “it doesn’t really mean that”, or “it doesn’t apply to us any more”, or “that was a cultural convention”, against all contextual evidence.

    The answer is dramatically important, especially to gay Christians, but the lack of cohesion in the faith with respect to the answer is troubling to me.

    You’re going to have to articulate exactly why. It’s as if you think that the second one person disagrees with another, the truth becomes impossible to find.

    I’ve spent a lot of time at a lot of different churches under different denominations and the lack of consistency is mind boggling.

    Okay, I’ll take “mind boggling” to mean that there’s a large degree of it. But so what?

    I have baptist friends who take the scripture in Matthew very seriously, and very literally, and live in India, Uganda, Sri Lanka, working and living in slums to help in what ever ways they can. And yes, they think that the passage applies to all Christians, and that people at Hillsong or Life, for example, are poor-quality Christians.

    All right, well let’s evaluate their exegesis. Let’s see their arguments for how they’re applying these verses.

    Now I’m happy to apologise to you on their behalf for clearly having misunderstood this passage, and possibly by extension not really being Christians at all

    I don’t think you have to understand Scripture perfectly to be a Christian. Far from it. Who has ever understood it perfectly? Certainly not me. Moreover, I don’t think that a Christian who takes the Matthew 19 passage to apply to him is committing some kind of sin. There’s nothing about the passage (to my knowledge) that prevents it being applied to a Christian. It’s just that it doesn’t have to be applied. I have great respect for Christians who feel called to enter ministries like the ones you describe—even if they enter them for exegetically strained reasons!

    but you can hopefully see the predicament that Christianity imposes on everyone else, presenting a disunited front of what is and is not Christian.

    Sorry, I don’t see it. Are you saying Christianity has some kind of obligation to present a unified front to non-believers? Why? What undergirds that assumption? The Bible certainly doesn’t indicate that this is necessary, or desirable.

    And when we come to ask ‘well is Breisvik really Christian?’ the answer is not quite as simple as ‘is the love of God evident in his actions?’ I mean, the love of God is not particularly evident in the scolding words you offer to myself and others here (and of course I don’t mean to draw actual parallels here).

    If I didn’t love God I wouldn’t have started this website—and I certainly wouldn’t bother trying to correct you. I didn’t ask whether Breivik wuvved God. I asked if he loved God. Love is not a touchy-feely emotion. It is not holding hands and singing kumbayfrigginya. It is an attitude, wherein you desire what God desires, and act to achieve it as best you can. For example, Jesus says that the whole of the old covenant law is summed up in the commandment “Love the Lord your God with all your mind and all your strength”. Of course, we don’t expect Christians to be good at exhibiting God’s love (although we hold more mature Christians to a higher standard) because we are not better than non-Christians. We are not less sinful. But there’s a difference between not exhibiting the love of God very well, and going completely against it, as when one takes up arms and guns down defenseless teenagers.

    Where’s the evidence for the love of God in the Bush or Obama administrations and the 4 trillion that has been spent dropping bombs on Muslims, both administrations run predominantly by devout Christians?

    Please. Call me cynical, but a politician’s profession of faith is about as credible as Captain Picard in a toupee. People who lie to their constituents and then send them to war for those lies, and people who support homicide against the unborn, are not acting in ways consistent with Christianity. In my (relatively uneducated) opinion, both Bush and Obama are no more Christian that Pontius Pilate was.

    You can criticise me from the ivory tower but all you’re really offering, from the perspective of a non-believer, is another, nuanced and sophisticated strand of the same incoherent religion.

    What is incoherent about Christianity? It would be good to hear you articulate your reasons for thinking that. All this just seems like fluff so far. Just amused meanderings. Doesn’t seem very productive.

    Still, at least my strands are nuanced and sophisticated. I’ll take what I can get.

  9. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    ‘Of course, but the only relevant definition is that which the Bible gives.’ Yes, I agree, but my point is that, as you seem to agree, over a multitude of issues the ‘Bible definition’ is contested. I realise I’m not breaking any ground here, but as you say, ‘many self-professing Christians are not actually Christians to begin with’ and what we have is say, 1 billion people who would describe themselves as ‘Christian,’ but in reality, factions within that group that would not accept the definition applied by others. I think ultimately what your argument implies (and this relates to the Cosmological argument too) is that the only way to be an authentic or at least a ‘mature’ one is to have a high level degree of intellectual competency when it comes to Scripture, the bible, and metaphysics more broadly.

    I have no objections to that, and I like it as a premise, but what it seems to indicate is that the vast majority of Christians (at least in my experience and understanding, and I would assume yours too) are either immature Christians or, worse, not Christians at all. I mean you’ve just written off almost every Christian in Latin America and the Philippines as worshipping the Anti-Christ (if I understand correctly) – that requires some audacity. And I say I find that troubling because, if I were to subscribe to Christianity, I would hate to be so numerically and intellectually under-represented. I would also hate the idea of having to defend or explain away Breivik and his ilk simply because they say ‘I am Christian.’ It speaks a little bit to me about both the complexity and strength of the theological argument FOR God in the Christian sense, because even amongst those that study and appreciate the details carefully, these is such profound disagreement (take Limbo, for example – or homosexuality, creationism, wealth doctrines, whatever). That’s what makes it incoherent in my mind.

    ‘Are you saying Christianity has some kind of obligation to present a unified front to non-believers?’

    No certainly not an ‘obligation,’ but for the purposes of proving the compelling nature of and argument for Christianity, the lack of a united front is difficult to overcome.

    ‘Why would I have a problem conceding that Christians disagree over stuff, and that like-minded Christians gather together.’

    Well I’d interpret that to mean you’ll concede that people who THINK of themselves as Christian disagree over stuff, and groups gather together, but within that there is a select group of ACTUAL Christians, with the rest (Catholics, for example?) worshipping Satan. Is that fair?

    There’s a good interview with an English professor on Democracy Now’s Wednesday Episode, where they discuss this claim by Breivik that he’s a Christian, and the rejection of both the claim, and THE REPORTAGE of the claim in teh media, by Christians. The professor points out that we can agree he’s not a GOOD Christian, but that people such as yourself, for example, would also say that Bill O’Reilly is not a Christian at all, either (or if not you, the evangelical right). So attempts by Christians to disown Breivik have a reflective quality in that the judgement they are making can be applied to not just mass murderers, but also Gay Christians, Catholics, Pentecostal Christians, etc etc.

  10. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Hey Tom.

    the only way to be an authentic or at least a ‘mature’ one is to have a high level degree of intellectual competency when it comes to Scripture, the bible, and metaphysics more broadly.

    I might not go that far, but I might not contest it very much either. I think it would be impossible to be a mature Christian without having a lot of knowledge of Scripture, for a start. I don’t think every Christian has to be a philosopher, but every Christian is called to be a theologian, at least in an amateur capacity.

    I have no objections to that, and I like it as a premise, but what it seems to indicate is that the vast majority of Christians (at least in my experience and understanding, and I would assume yours too) are either immature Christians or, worse, not Christians at all.

    Sadly true. But that said, there’s more than one marker of Christian maturity. Mastery of sin is a big one. I don’t consider myself a mature Christian.

    I mean you’ve just written off almost every Christian in Latin America and the Philippines as worshipping the Anti-Christ (if I understand correctly)

    Sadly true. I don’t think it’s audacious of me to write them off. Rather, it’s audacious of the Catholic Church to call itself Christian given that it denies doctrines like justification by faith alone. In Galatians, Paul has some pretty strong words about people who do that.

    And I say I find that troubling because, if I were to subscribe to Christianity, I would hate to be so numerically and intellectually under-represented.

    Why so? Aren’t you numerically and intellectually under-represented as an atheist? The vast majority of the world’s population adheres to belief in some kind of supernaturalism, whether it be theism or something more Eastern.

    I would also hate the idea of having to defend or explain away Breivik and his ilk simply because they say ‘I am Christian.’

    Wow, well then, as an atheist, you must be beside yourself over Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot!

    even amongst those that study and appreciate the details carefully, these is such profound disagreement (take Limbo, for example – or homosexuality, creationism, wealth doctrines, whatever). That’s what makes it incoherent in my mind.

    Hang on a minute. If people disagree about certain elements of a larger belief system, then that belief system becomes incoherent in your mind? Doesn’t that rule out science too? Scientists are constantly disagreeing with each other.

    No certainly not an ‘obligation,’ but for the purposes of proving the compelling nature of and argument for Christianity, the lack of a united front is difficult to overcome.

    Well, that seems to just point us back to the original question. What is it about the lack of unity, or the perception thereof, that is problematic to someone considering Christianity’s truth-claims?

    I’d interpret that to mean you’ll concede that people who THINK of themselves as Christian disagree over stuff, and groups gather together, but within that there is a select group of ACTUAL Christians, with the rest (Catholics, for example?) worshipping Satan. Is that fair?

    Not entirely. I don’t think Catholics, for instance, knowingly worship Satan. I don’t even think it’s impossible for a Catholic to be saved. They just have trust in Jesus, rather than the sacraments and the Church, which would make them a very bad Catholic. Moreover, it’s not as if mere disagreement is proof of apostasy. That would be pretty privileged of me, for a start. One might even say cultic. There are plenty of things for genuine Christians to disagree about. Why, look at good o’l Stu, one of the other contributors here. I disagree with him on just about every non-essential doctrine I can think of. The important thing is we agree on the essentials.

    So attempts by Christians to disown Breivik have a reflective quality in that the judgement they are making can be applied to not just mass murderers, but also Gay Christians, Catholics, Pentecostal Christians, etc etc.

    I would probably distance myself from American “right wing” Christians, who seem to usually think that the Bible says you have to be a Republican and includes an eleventh commandment: Thou shalt not say anything bad about your country, for it is the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave and God watches over it.

    Btw, I don’t think being a Christian and being gay are mutually exclusive. Being a Christian and being a practicing gay is more problematic. But then, there are plenty of Christians who routinely engage in sexual sins of other kinds. So, I’m not planting a flag on the hill of homosexuality. That’s one thing I think Christians have dealt with bloody badly, especially in the States. They’ve demonized homosexuality to the point that Christianity is equated with “hating fags”. But simply being gay doesn’t seem obviously sinful to me. And I think there’s good evidence that many gays are not so “by choice”; that they can’t just flip a switch and become heterosexual. So it’s quite possible for a gay to be converted and live his whole life in dedication to Christ, yet be unavoidably attracted to men. It’s not a sin to be tempted.

    To practice homosexuality, on the other hand, is definitely a sin. And it is a worse sin than heterosexual ones like adultery. Homosexuality seems to be reserved as a special judgment by God on societies that have become particularly depraved; see Romans 1:18ff. But that hardly makes it worthy of being singled out to the degree that it is. Not only is the militant, hateful rhetoric you see from the religious right in America not a reflection of a genuine Christian love for our neighbors, but from a purely pragmatic point of view it’s completely self-destructive. You know, just for the record.

  11. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    Hey BNonn,

    Fair comment on distancing from Right Wing American Christians. I understand that. I guess you’ve established here what it was I was curious about, which is that internally amongst Christians, there is a large volume of aspersion casting. Each group of Christian is quite happy to make ultimate truth claims that validate their own belief AT THE EXPENSE of other Christians. And ultimately, that within Christianity, there is one true way to get to Heaven and there are a great many people who think of themselves as Christian that now have the wrong end of the stick, and won’t get to Heaven at all (Catholics, for example). As for why that is troubling, anyone wishing to embark on a pursuit of faith is walking into a minefield whereby despite your best intentions, you might well end up celebrating the anti-Christ (if my grandmother hand anything to do with it, I would be, being from maternal Catholics). Likewise, if I followed my paternal methodist tradition, I would essentially be telling my Nan – ‘I think you’re going to hell, Catholic.’ Which, as I’m sure you can appreciate, is troubling.

    You must know that the canard ‘aetheism caused the killing fields’ is a very well known one. See Sam Harris in a dumbed down LA Times article below for that (I’m sure you’ve heard this argument before). More importantly though, as an atheist I am NOT lumping myself into any particular set of beliefs about politics, communism, totalitarianism. Atheism is an indicator of metaphysical beliefs. You can have extreme right and extreme left wing atheists, and their political views are not necessarily related to their metaphysical views (although I accept that they might be – it’s just that it’s not automatic). That is what this issue is about – the Christian right is seeking aggressively to disown Breivik as he is described as a ‘right wing Christian’ (i.e. one of them). That’s because ostensibly, by his own claims, he shares their beliefs, and what’s more has based his actions on those beliefs (albeit in a highly contorted version). Either way, I am simply not obligated, having declared myself an atheist, to defend Stalin, or even explain Stalin. That doesn’t seem to be true for the case of Breivik and Christians, as I think you agree?

    ‘People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.’

    ‘Why so? Aren’t you numerically and intellectually under-represented as an atheist? The vast majority of the world’s population adheres to belief in some kind of supernaturalism, whether it be theism or something more Eastern.’

    Yes, that’s true. I mean, as I said and would be the case with you, you call yourself ‘Christian’ but you are vastly under-represented in terms of your scholarly interpretation amongst other Christians. So every time you say to someone ‘I am a Christian,’ your understanding of that, and the other persons understanding, are unlikely to be the same. I’m not so much referring to minority/majority as the reality that your views are likely to be misrepresented in your minority status (sorry I’m not stringing words together well today).

  12. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Each group of Christian is quite happy to make ultimate truth claims that validate their own belief AT THE EXPENSE of other Christians.

    Two problems:

    1. You make it sound as if the purpose of groups of Christians is to make nasty remarks about each other. Of course, that’s not the case, or certainly not generally the case. When one group makes some ultimate truth claim, they usually argue for why we should believe it. The fact that it happens to invalidate contradictory beliefs is purely coincidental.

    2. This presupposes that all parties are indeed Christian. But as I’ve been saying for some time now, that’s not necessarily the case. The fact that someone identifies with the Christian tradition doesn’t mean that he is actually a Christian, biblically defined. So your comment could really be extended to include just about anyone; Muslims, for instance, are quite happy to make ultimate truth-claims that validate their own beliefs, at the expense of Christians. Jews at the expense of Muslims. Atheists at the expense of everyone. Trying to confine the minefield to ostensible Christianity is illicitly selective.

    And ultimately, that within Christianity, there is one true way to get to Heaven and there are a great many people who think of themselves as Christian that now have the wrong end of the stick, and won’t get to Heaven at all

    Sure, but that’s been the case from the beginning. The same was true of Judaism under the old covenant. Many Jews thought that salvation was a matter of adherence to the law. Salvation has always been by faith in God’s promise through the Messiah.

    As for why that is troubling, anyone wishing to embark on a pursuit of faith is walking into a minefield whereby despite your best intentions, you might well end up celebrating the anti-Christ

    Which is true of all belief-systems generally. If you pick Judaism, or Islam, or Buddhism, or Mormonism, or atheism, or Pastafarianism, even if you do it with “your best intentions”, you’re pursuing a false religion and are not saved. But if you’ve gotten as far as eliminating all the obvious false religions, so you know that somewhere within the realm of “Christendom” there is salvation, what’s the problem with going a bit further and doing your homework on what exactly is essential to true Christianity? The problem is not nearly as significant as you make it out to be.

    Atheism is an indicator of metaphysical beliefs. You can have extreme right and extreme left wing atheists, and their political views are not necessarily related to their metaphysical views (although I accept that they might be – it’s just that it’s not automatic).

    Actually, the problem isn’t usually atheism per se. The problem is materialism and evolution. If you take the view that human beings are nothing but material creatures, and that we evolved according to natural laws, then eugenics and religious persecution and so on is just a logical outworking of that.

    Either way, I am simply not obligated, having declared myself an atheist, to defend Stalin, or even explain Stalin. That doesn’t seem to be true for the case of Breivik and Christians, as I think you agree?

    I don’t feel obligated to defend Breivik. I don’t even feel obligated to explain him, in a general sense. What I do feel obligated to do is give people a reason for the hope within me. Now, if they think that it’s possible to be a Christian and a terrorist, they’re unlikely to believe Christianity has anything valuable to say. So in that case, I want to help them see why Breivik is not a Christian; why someone who was reborn of the Spirit would not act in such a way.

    I would expect that if someone believed that Stalin had wiped out millions of his own citizens as a logical outworking of evolutionary morality, and therefore believed that evolutionary morality had nothing of value to say in regards to ethics, you would feel some inclination to respond to that. Would you not?

    So every time you say to someone ‘I am a Christian,’ your understanding of that, and the other persons understanding, are unlikely to be the same.

    But that assumes that every time I say, “I am a Christian”, what I really mean is “I am a baptistic four-point Calvinist, partial preterist, inerrantist, traditionalist about hell who adheres to the 1689 London confession”. But I don’t think that “Christianity” means that. I think that Christianity extends to everyone who is saved by faith in the work of Christ. That’s a very large blanket.

  13. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    ‘You make it sound as if the purpose of groups of Christians is to make nasty remarks about each other. ‘

    Ah – well that wasn’t my intention, my bad. As you agree, the process of criticising other Christians ‘happens to invalidate contradictory beliefs’ and is therefore a condemndation of sorts, but that’s a long way from making nast remarks (although I guess, you can’t get much more nasty than ‘well you’re going to Hell for eternity’).

    ‘This presupposes that all parties are indeed Christian.’

    Yes, it does, and that’s derived simply from the claim of the party themself. You say later that ‘What’s the problem with going a bit further and doing your homework on what exactly is essential to true Christianity? The problem is not nearly as significant as you make it out to be.’ The problem is evidenced by the fractured nature of those under the Christian umbrella. You say the problem isn’t significant, yet you also say the MAJORITY of people who believe themselves to be Christian are going to hell and have deluded themselves. I’d say that qualifies as ‘significant.’ The ability to ‘do your homework’ is entirely circumstantial, and is premised on education, reading ability, social and community situations, family environment etc etc. The problem isn’t significant to YOU because you have the resources and capacity to consider and access the argument, and lead yourself down the path to salvation. But not everyone is afforded that grave. Maybe we’re crossing over into predestination here, in which case you can probably just answer yes, that’s true, and it’s meant to be that way. But I mean let’s be honest, a great number of religious people are religious because it has been dictated to them that they must be since day dot. It is a massive problem because a great many people, whom you concede are not actually Christians, access themselves as Christian and act in accordance with their faulty understanding, including things such as killing abortion doctors and massacring people in Norway.

    I don’t want to run around in circles here, and I appreciate that you said this ‘Now, if they think that it’s possible to be a Christian and a terrorist, they’re unlikely to believe Christianity has anything valuable to say. So in that case, I want to help them see why Breivik is not a Christian; why someone who was reborn of the Spirit would not act in such a way.’ Fair enough, but you’d necessarily spend the rest of your life doing that because of the extraordinary number of people who, thinking themselves Christian but not qualifiying by your preferred definition, act badly under the Christian banner. At the end there you say it’s a ‘very large blanket,’ which I assume means your precise self-description and the broader but STILL ACCEPTABLE definition are compatible to a fairly broad extent. I’m still lacking an understanding of those key ingredients though (I’m not asking you to do anything, I’m just letting you know).

    ‘I would expect that if someone believed that Stalin had wiped out millions of his own citizens as a logical outworking of evolutionary morality, and therefore believed that evolutionary morality had nothing of value to say in regards to ethics, you would feel some inclination to respond to that. Would you not?’

    I might do, but not because Stalin is an atheist and so am I. The argument is hardly ever made even to that depth, it’s normally just presented as ‘atheism is responsible for the mass murder in Cambodia, Russia and China, look what happens when you remove God.’ And I just find that a really weak argument which doesn’t merit any kind of detailed reply, and I can certainly rest easy knowing that by declaring myself an atheist I’m not somehow heading toward totalitarian annhilation. Conversely, it still seems that people declaring themselves Christian have a tendency to extermism as a product of their faith.

  14. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    you also say the MAJORITY of people who believe themselves to be Christian are going to hell and have deluded themselves. I’d say that qualifies as ‘significant.’

    Why? The majority of people in the world don’t believe they’re going to hell, if they even believe in such a place. Again, why confine this issue to Christendom?

    Fair enough, but you’d necessarily spend the rest of your life doing that because of the extraordinary number of people who, thinking themselves Christian but not qualifiying by your preferred definition, act badly under the Christian banner.

    I dunno. Maybe so, but if that’s the case, I don’t know about many of them. Breivik is the first example I’ve had occasion to defend in quite a while. Not that it matters. It’s just part of apologetics—which I am happy to continue as long as I live.

    which I assume means your precise self-description and the broader but STILL ACCEPTABLE definition are compatible to a fairly broad extent. I’m still lacking an understanding of those key ingredients though (I’m not asking you to do anything, I’m just letting you know).

    Well, there are certain essential doctrines that, if you deny them, you implicitly deny Christianity too. The deity of Christ. Salvation by faith alone. The resurrection. Sin. Etc. I did a series a while back on my personal blog called Who Are the Christians? which you might find interesting. But it’s confined largely to doctrines that I’ve personally had to defend against people who call themselves Christians. So it doesn’t cover many of the ones I’ve talked about here.

    I might do, but not because Stalin is an atheist and so am I.

    Sure. Just as I might feel inclined to defend Christianity, but not because Breivik is a Christian and so am I.

    Conversely, it still seems that people declaring themselves Christian have a tendency to extermism as a product of their faith.

    As opposed to New Atheists, who think that religion poisons everything, that a religious upbringing is literally equivalent to child abuse, and that Christians are suitable candidates for zoos? C’mon. Extremism is present in all faiths—atheism included.

  15. Rayburne F.
    Rayburne F. says:

    In recent times we have seen examples of extreme christophobia of the mainstream media (i.e. Time, Newsweek, Australian Broadcasting Company, etc.) ,which labelled western terrorists as “Christian fundamentalists,” for example, Anders Behring Breivik, convicted of horrific multiple murders in Norway. This is not the first time a western terrorist has been labelled “Christian”, although he was strongly anti-Christian. Timothy McVeigh , the Oklahoma City Bomber who killed 168, has often been called a “Christian terrorist,” although his final pre-execution public statement was a strongly humanist poem claiming, “I am the captain of my soul,” spitting in God’s face, as it were. Eric Robert Rudolph , who had nail-bombed an abortion mill in 1997 was likewise labelled a “Christian terrorist,” yet, Rudolph wrote in a letter from prison: “Many good people continue to send me money and books. Most of them have, of course, an agenda; mostly born again Christians looking to save my soul. I do appreciate their charity, but I could really do without the condescension. They have been so nice I would hate to break it to them that I really prefer Nietzsche to the Bible” (Nietzsche, the anti-God philosopher widely known for his “God is dead” pronouncement).

    What about Breivik? Breivik specifically denied that he was a religious Christian , caring nothing for God and Christ: “If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God, then you are a religious Christian. Myself and many others like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God. We do however believe in Christianity as a cultural, social identity and moral platform. This makes us Christian” (No, it doesn’t). Even the anti-Christian atheist and champion of evolution, Richard Dawkins, said of himself: “I’m a cultural Christian in the same way my friends call themselves cultural Jews or cultural Muslims. It appears “Christian” can mean anything today.

    It would have only taken a minimal research to find out that Breivik , in addition to loving the HBO TV series “Dexter” that portrays a serial killer favourably, liked the anti-Christian 19th century philosopher, John Stuart Mill, and did not list the Bible among his reading material, which is most unusual for a “fundamentalist,” a term which historically refers to defending the inerrancy of the Bible and other fundamentals of the Christian faith.

    Finally, even arch-atheist Richard Dawkins knows this: “There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings. I am not aware of any Christian suicide bombers. I am not aware of any major denomination that believes the penalty for apostasy is death. I have mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bullwork against something worse.”

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