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The Tragedy in Norway and Fallacious Thinking

Anders Behring Breivik is a terrorist and a very bad man.  The question many within the media want to ask is whether he’s a “Christian terrorist” of some sort or another.

Breivik seems to have been inspired by the Templars, a 12th to early 14th century Christian order of knights who defended pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land.  Further, he confesses his Christianity within his manifesto, though he also says that he is not a religious man.  He has expressed his hatred for Islam, Communism, and secular society, but we shouldn’t think his hatred as what defines Christianity.  So, what can we infer from all of this?  At the very least, I think we can say Breivik is a cultural or nominal Christian who may have been inspired by his perverse understanding history and Christianity.  We can infer this from his own words and actions, but we cannot know his heart.

Biologist, and atheist blogger, PZ Myers found some sections of this deranged killer’s 1,500 page manifesto pertaining his views on Christianity.  Those sections confirm his lackadaisical acceptance of the Christian creed–whatever that might mean.  At the same time, other articles now suggest that Breivik was obsessed with freemasonary, neo-paganism, and esoteric philosophies.

The ACLJ lawyer, Jordan Sekulow, wrote to the Washington Post a flat-out denial of Breivik’s Christian affliation:

Simply put, Breivik is not a “Christian terrorist” because, according to his own description of what the word ‘Christian’ means to him, and his actions, he is not a Christian.

We might wonder if Sekulow is guilty of Anthony Flew’s “No True Scotsman Fallacy“.  This would be the fallacious claim that Breivik cannot be a true Christian, because “No True Christian” would ever be a terrorist.  Christians can do bad things; they can do very bad things.  And one does not cease to be a Christian when one commits sins.  If Breivik is a Christian, and that is an open question, then his terrorist activities do not negate this fact.

The question of whether Breivik is a “Christian terrorist” is not a question of whether it is possible for a Christian to commit such horrible evils and still be a Christian.  To assume the impossibility for a true Christian to do this is to blatantly commit Flew’s fallacy.  I think the question people are asking is whether he is a Christian terrorist, or a terrorist who happens to be Christian.  If Breivik’s Christianity was a motivating factor in his homicides, his Christianity is not accidental to his terrorism.

Sadly, I think the case could be made that Breivik’s understanding of Christianity was a contributing factor in his violence–so much can be gleaned from his insane manifesto.  But this is not to say that Christianity itself is responsible for motivating his violence.  Let me be clear.  I think it is Breivik’s understanding of Christianity which may have contributed to his terrorism.  His understanding of Christianity is completely perverse.

So isn’t saying Breivik is a “perverted Christian” the same as saying he is “no true Christian”?  It is possible that Breivik accepts the core of Christianity as true.  Again, we do not know his heart.  I am not passing judgment on whether he sincerely believes that Christ is the savior of the world. I am passing judgment on his understanding of Christianity as a religion that permits violence against innocent people.  A person can self-identify as a Christian and it is not my place to contradict such professions, but it is also true that Scriptures say that it is not enough to simply claim to be a companion of Christ to be saved.  For instance, there is Luke 13:22-27:

And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.

Acknowledging Christ is not enough.  As James 2:19-20 says, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”  So even if Breivik professes the Christian faith, his works clearly do not reflect this.  What kind of works represent the fruit of living Christian faith?  Christ says:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me (Mt 25:35-40).

We can only take Breivik’s word that he professes a Christian faith.  So perhaps he truly has the faith of Christian.  One can have such a faith and that faith could still be dead.  But it is ultimately Christ who passes judgment on who is a true Christian and who is not.  Perhaps Breivik will come to repent of his sins before he dies.  I pray he does.  I pray I do.  I pray we all do.

So let us take Breivik at his word.  He is a Christian of some sort.  At the same time, in avoiding the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, we should not stumble into the fallacy of stereotyping.  We cannot take Breivik’s Christianity as paradigmatic of Christianity generally.  To do this is to hastily generalize from the evil and perversion of one individual to the conclusion that all Christians are evil and perverse.  We must find the mean between the extremes of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy on the one hand, and stereotyping on the other.  We should find the  golden mean that is rational and fair-minded.  But if we walk this mean for the Christian, we should be consistent in its application.

PZ Myers noted early on:

If it turned out to be an action by Al Qaeda or angry immigrants, we’d be in for many denunciations of Islam. If it turned out to be an action angry conservative Christians, do you think we’d get similar denunciations of right-wing extremism? I don’t think so. Expect Fox News to lose interest very quickly if the culprit turns out to be a white guy.

Many within our society are guilty of stereotyping Muslims as violent terrorists.  So Myers observes that if we are to be consistent, we will denounce conservatives Christians as violent and subversive too.

Consistent we would be, but also irrational!  Our stereotyping of Muslims is not right and we should not return the favor to any other group just to be “fair” in our injustice.  Rather, a tragedy like this should bring us to reconsider how Muslims are unfairly treated within our society.   We cannot continue to appeal to the “No True Scotsman” fallacy as a cloak to hide our prejudice.  Sure, we can admit that bad people self-identify with various religions and ideologies.  But, we shouldn’t assume that any other member who affiliates with such groups is bad for the reason of a guilt by association.  If Breivik is not representative of Christianity, Osama bin Laden was not representative of Islam.

Rather than using this tragedy as an opportunity to grind a personal axe against Christianity, or conservatives, or freemasons, or any other group with which this killer affiliated, I hope we can come together to stand in unity with the people of Norway.  We the non-terrorists should stand united against terrorism.  We should not let them win by sowing discord, mistrust, and hatred within our societies.

Seeing that the shoe can be on the other foot, I pray that Christians become more compassionate towards their Muslim brothers and sisters, recognizing that they have faced prejudice over this past decade (and beyond) because of stereotyping.  The evils of 9/11 as the evils committed by individuals who do not represent Islam as a whole.

Again, we must walk a mean.  It is wrong to say Breivik is not a Christian just as it is also wrong to say the Osama bin Laden was not Muslim.  We should not try to whitewash religious or political organizations to pretend that none of its members ever do anything seriously wrong.  We should acknowledge these facts so as to remind us that our affiliations do not protect us from being evil.  But for the grace of God go I.

I pray that God help the people of Norway and that terrorists do not succeed in their aims of tearing apart our social fabric.