Many years ago, when I was finishing work on my graduate degree in political science in New York, I took a course on international affairs. The professor was a Muslim man from Beirut, Lebanon. One day for some reason he was talking about Pope John Paul II and he paused and looked over at me and asked: “What is the pope like personally?”
He assumed that because I was an Evangelical pastor, I must know the Roman Catholic Pope pretty well, because after all, we both professed the Christian faith. This was sort of like if I were to ask an elderly African-American friend of mine if he knew Lena Horne.
This kind of associate thinking is rather benign, but a more malignant type occurs when there is a broad-brush sweep such as the recent labeling of Anders Behring Breivik, the man who wrought murderous havoc in Norway, as a “Christian Fundamentalist.”
He isn’t. And in this case the media not only gets it wrong—they do so recklessly.
Christian Fundamentalists—of which there are multitudes in this country, are not murderous or delusional thugs. They are devout people who believe in the fundamentals of the historic Christian faith—although sometimes there are extra “fundamentals” thrown into the mix. They may be strict in their codes, dogmatic in their views, somewhat austere in lifestyle, and quite critical of popular culture (while observing it from a safe distance as diehard separatists), but they are not hate-filled murderers.
I come from a background of fundamentalism, and though I long ago shelved the nomenclature in favor of evangelical, I am still grateful for some of the important things I learned and hid in my heart. I may have moved (some Fundamentalists today likely consider me at least slightly apostate) from some of the cultural “isms” – we couldn’t go to movies or swim in pools with the opposite sex and had to dress like the Amish much of the time—but I reject any characterization of Christian Fundamentalists as dangerous people. In fact, they have been among the first and loudest to condemn that evil man in Norway.
Even a cursory reading of Breivik’s twisted tome yields clues hiding in plain sight that speak to him being anything but a Christian Fundamentalist. For example, on page 1,132 (the document weighs in at more than 1,500 ponderous pages), Breivik attacks the idea of “sola scriptura” (the Protestant Reformation doctrine that means scripture alone is the final authority in matters of faith and practice), whereas to Christian Fundamentalists (as well as most Evangelicals) the concept is very much foundational to the faith. But in Breivik’s view: “Scripture was never intended to be the believer's sole guide for all of faith and practice; for all that he believes and does.” Real Christian Fundamentalists would reject that.
In fact, the document clearly indicates that Breivik rejects “Protestantism” in favor of Roman Catholicism (“Only Rome is the true church” according to him). This is hardly the view of a Christian Fundamentalist, especially if you have any idea of the historic relationship between Fundamentalism and Catholicism. But then again, this evil man who says he admires Catholicism advocates abortion “if the baby has mental or physical disabilities (page 1,179).”
So to label Breivik as a Catholic and his murder of 76 people as somehow motivated by this would be just as egregious as calling him a Christian Fundamentalist.
Breivik is also routinely called a “conservative,” yet he spends an entire section challenging the notion that capitalism is a “force for freedom.” But pointing out these and numerous other clear differences between the mindset of Anders Behring Breivik and that of adherents to Christian Fundamentalism, Catholicism, or American-style Conservatism, seems to be lost on many who have already made up their minds.
Yep—this must be another case of a Christian nut behaving murderously, just like that Timothy McVeigh guy. Of course, McVeigh wasn’t actually a Christian (“Science is my religion,” he said) certainly not a Fundamentalist, either—but why split hairs? A fanatic is a fanatic, right?
Apparently not. This is America after all, a place where Christian Fundamentalists are regularly demonized, while clueless masses wear images of Che Guevera, whose firing squads murdered more than 10,000 people, on T-shirts or tattoos. To quote a line from a 1940 Three Stooges short, A Plumbing We Will Go: “This house has sho' gone crazy!”
What strikes me as incredible is the difference between how the Norway story has been handled by the mainstream media as compared to the Fort Hood massacre back in 2009. From the start, the Norway narrative has been all about a rush to judgment, the clear determination from the get-go to make this evil deed the work of a conservative Christian Fundamentalist, even though the facts hiding in plain sight clearly tell a very different story.
Yet when Nidal Malik Hasan committed his horrific crimes in November of 2009, the same outlets did their best to avoid any mention of his religion—even though multiplied eyewitness testimony had it that the guy was doing it all in the name of Islam.
Could it be that there is a fundamental (pun intended) bias in some media quarters against various expressions of the Christian faith? One that leads them to a tortured attempt to connect the incredible foulness of a murderous rampage to people who, in the opinion of media elites, take their belief system way too seriously?
Christian Fundamentalism may have its “challenges” and some things in its background that have never been fully dealt with or repudiated (I have written about some of this in my new book), but no real Christian Fundamentalist would advocate or carry out such evil violence.
Sure, the media will parade the usual suspects, McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, George Tiller, James Wenneker Von Brunn, Andrew Joseph Stack—and now Anders Breivik, but even an amateur sleuth can find glaring clues that these losers had no connection to the faith or the faithful.
In a very real sense, when the mainstream media seeks to draw a straight line from the horror in Norway to Christian Fundamentalists here, they are ironically playing the same kind of conspiracy-theory-guilt-by-association game as the one chronicled on the pages of Anders Breivik’s disgusting manifesto.