I coined the term “Christianism” many moons ago to defend Christianity and the gospels from their political co-opters. And I think it’s indispensable in understanding the motivations of the terrorist, Anders Breivik (yes, I’ve given up my quixotic attempt to call him by the English name he gave himself on his manifesto).
One of the core messages of Christianity is a rejection of worldly power. The core message of Christianism is, in stark contrast, the desperate need to control all the levers of political power to control or guide the lives of others. And so the notion that Breivik is a “Christian fundamentalist” seems unfair to those genuine Christian fundamentalists who seek no power over others (except proselytizing), but merely seek to live their own lives in accord with a literal belief in the words of the Bible.
But Christianist? Breivik’s picture should accompany the term in any dictionary. Christianism is all about power over others, and it has been fueled in the last decade by its mirror image, Islamism, and motivated to fury by hatred of what it sees as is true enemy, liberalism. Both Islamism and Christianism, to my mind, do not spring from real religious faith; they spring from neurosis caused by lack of faith. They are the choices of those who are panicked by the complexity and choices of modernity into a fanatical embrace of a simplistic parody of religion in order to attack what they see as their cultural and social enemies. They are not about genuine faith; they are about the instrumentality of faith as a political bludgeon.
So the mass murderers of 9/11 visited strip bars not long before they yelled to Allah as they murdered thousands of innocents. And Breivik, in his methodical, sadistic murder of his political enemies, including their children, describes how he will manage to conduct the attack:
I’m pretty sure I will pray to God as I’m rushing through my city, guns blazing, with 100 armed system protectors pursuing me with the intention to stop and/or kill. I know there is a 80%+ chance I am going to die during the operation as I have no intention to surrender to them until I have completed all three primary objectives AND the bonus mission. When I initiate (providing I haven’t been apprehended before then), there is a 70% chance that I will complete the first objective, 40% for the second, 20% for the third and less than 5% chance that I will be able to complete the bonus mission. It is likely that I will pray to God for strength at one point during that operation, as I think most people in that situation would….If praying will act as an additional mental boost/soothing it is the pragmatical thing to do. I guess I will find out… If there is a God I will be allowed to enter heaven as all other martyrs for the Church in the past.
Notice the absence of real faith, which would recoil even at the very thought of killing innocents, but the pragmatic, cold-blooded use of faith as a psychological mechanism to enable mass murder. Bin Laden, we should recall, had been a very Westernized rich kid before he became a “believer.” Breivik – who killed a greater proportion of Norwegians than bin Laden did of Americans on 9/11 – has the same internal conflict. It is his fear of his lack of real faith that propels him to pragmatically embrace the psychological structure of religion to murder his cultural enemies, to reify “Europe” or “Christendom” or “the Church” in order to defend them and give some meaning to his life. He also needs to reify Islam into a purely political and cultural entity that exists solely as an existential threat to Western freedom and in which every Muslim is therefore suspect.
Like all such weaklings in the face of modernity, he is obsessed with sexual control of others and the sexual repression of oneself. He literally embraces a return to the mythic model of the 1950s, in which women remain at home, gays belong in the closet, and white Christians are the only kinds of Americans there are. He is obsessed with demography and reads at times like a parody of Mark Steyn, brooding over the out-breeding infidels. He is still angry at Betty Friedan.
A pseudo-believer, he nonetheless favors the arch-authoritarianism of the Old Catholicism rather than contemporary Protestantism (just like the atheist neocons). He loathes all transnational institutions and reads at times like an incarnation of Richard Hofstadter’s brilliant description of the “pseudoconservative”. He is also Christianist in the new way. There was a time when the extreme Christian right in America was anti-Semitic; now the extreme right is fanatically pro-Israel as a vanguard against the real foe, Islam. And not Islamism, but Islam. They have long since dispensed with that critical distinction, leaving George W. Bush’s scruples in the dust.
My point is this: this was about as far from an act of meaningless violence as you can get. It is an explicitly articulated, carefully argued conclusion from a mishmash of every current far right platitude out there. Breivik does not merely claim influence by someone like Robert Spencer, he quotes him and so many others at great length as part of his manifesto! It’s a pastiche of vast tracts of the far right blogosphere. None of this delegitimizes sane, vital critiques of Islamist intolerance, violence and ideology; none of it makes these cited ideologues and fanatics guilty of murder or in any way being accomplices to murder, or in any way connected to his crime. But it does seem to me to prove beyond any doubt that Christianism is indeed a phenomenon in its own right, and that its evolution into neo-fascist violence, like Islamism’s embrace of neo-fascist violence, is now something that cannot be denied.
Notice how unlike other crazed madmen, he does not end his killing spree by killing himself. Notice how he has not pled insanity; but has pled not guilty even though he concedes the horror of his actions. This man is extremely sane. Notice the justification:
Speaking at a televised news conference, [Breivik’s lawyer] Mr. Heger said that Mr. Breivik had acknowledged carrying out the attacks but had pleaded not guilty, because he “believes that he needed to carry out these acts to save Norway” and western Europe from “cultural Marxism and Muslim domination.”
He did what he did, knowing it was evil, because of a passionate commitment to a political cause, which has become fused with a politicized parody of one religion, and with a passionate paranoid hatred of another one.
If you think that contains no lessons for the United States, you might want to open your eyes a little more widely.
(Top photo: Self-portrait from Breivik’s manifesto. “Note the home-made insignia: “Marxist hunter – Norway – Multiculti traitor hunting permit”” reads the Wiki caption. Bottom photo: Flowers and condolences surround the outside of Oslo Cathedral after Anders Behring Breivik appeared in a closed court on July 25, 2011 in Oslo, Norway. By Paula Bronstein/Getty.)