A woman cries as she pays her respects for the victims of attacks outside the Oslo cathedral. Photo: REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
The tragic events in Norway shock the conscience of us all. What is happening in the world today that a human being can kill 76 innocent people, mostly young adults, and be completely impervious to his actions? Is the world falling into a new barbarity, or a “clash of civilizations” as some scholars put it? I have no answers to the disturbing questions raised by the tragedy in Norway, but as a Christian, I do have two reflections.
First, real evil exists in the world. The Bible is clear about the reality of the evil that lurks in every human heart. While we like to give people the benefit of the doubt, the sad reality is that sometimes people do premeditated and horrific acts of evil intended to hurt, maim or destroy their fellow human beings.
Moreover, evil comes in many forms and has many faces: the Muslim jihadist crying “God is great!” as he crashes an airplane into the tower of the World Trade Center…the Oklahoma City bomber who seemed like an ordinary American guy…and Anders Breivik, the blond-haired, blue-eyed Norwegian, shooting people without any sense of remorse or regret.
Yes, evil is a frightening reality to contemplate, which is perhaps why we try to explain it away by talking about “errors of judgment” or “mistakes” or “insane" acts.
Yet there are people who do evil acts and who are very much in their right mind-that is, they know exactly what they are doing and intend to do exactly what they do. This, sad to say, is part of the human condition-fallen human nature bent toward its own destruction.
Second, the media-both in Canada and the United States-have not been helpful in reporting the Norwegian tragedy. They have repeatedly characterized Anders Breivik as a “right wing, Christian fundamentalist.” However, at least two of these three assertions are not true.
Mr. Breivik is not a Christian-by his own admission. He has said that he does not believe in the Christian faith nor does he attend a Christian church. He does not even consider himself religious. He is, in fact, part of the great secular wave of Europe-people who combine an ardent secularism and a deep nihilism with a fascination for folk tales and cultural myths-in Mr. Breivik’s case, the Vikings and Knights Templar. This combination is more about paganism than Christianity, more about secular folk religion than the religion of Jesus.
To put it bluntly, Mr. Breivik is a racist and a bigot who upholds a Scandinavian version of a master race-an ethnocentric superiority that views foreigners, and especially Muslims, as a virus to be eliminated. Whatever else his philosophy may be, it is NOT Christian.
Nor is Mr. Breivik a fundamentalist, if one means a Christian fundamentalist. I know some Christian fundamentalists, and none would ever consider murdering innocent people. The fundamentalists I know, mainly Mennonite, take the Sermon on the Mount literally, and therefore tend to be pacifists who turn the other cheek and seek to love their enemies, even the ones who have done them harm.
In stark contrast, Mr. Breivik believes in murdering his enemies (enemies in his own mind) rather than loving them.
Moreover, fundamentalist or not, no Christian would ever engage in such savage acts of murder. After all, the Bible is plain: “You shall not kill,” which has been interpreted to mean, “You shall not murder.” In other words, the intentional killing of innocent human life is never justifiable.
In these dark and terrible days when the world is threatened by mayhem and murder in Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Syria and so many other places on the planet, let me offer you one of my favourite prayers composed by one of my favourite preachers, the late William Sloan Coffin, who said: “May God give you the grace to never sell yourself short; grace to risk something big for something good; grace to remember that the world is too dangerous now for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love. Amen.”
The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.