Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Juergensmeyer's "Christian terrorism" and Breivik's paganism

Reza Aslan's thesis advisor Mark Juergensmeyer got some notice in Norway for calling Anders Breivik a "Christian terrorist":
The American terrorism researcher Mark Juergensmeyer believed however that Breivik was a Christian terrorist in line with the Oklahoma bomber, according to NRK. [Den amerikanske terrorforskeren Mark Juergensmeyer mente derimot at Breivik var en kristen terrorist på linje med Oklahoma-bomberen, ifølge NRK] *
Apparently, being raised in "flyover country" by a Catholic family makes one a Christian, just as growing up in Europe does for Breivik.  Writing for Patheos on the McVeigh-was-a-Christian meme, Jeremy Lott (editor of summarizes:
[McVeigh] told Time magazine in 1996 that he believed in a deity but had “lost touch with the religion” of his birth. . . . We might call him spiritual but not religious. He claimed to be agnostic but not an atheist. McVeigh believed in “science” and not “religion,” he said. (In fact, he said his religion was science.) His murky metaphysical notions included some sort of Deistic creator who set things in motion, not the personal God of Christianity.  . . . [He] didn’t believe in an afterlife and he certainly didn’t believe in hell.

Supposedly, Breivik identified himself at one time as a "cultural Christian."  But does that mean anything more than having grown up in the secular Europe with its historical roots in Christianity?  Is Breivik's use of the symbols of ancient Scandinavian paganism merely a superficial cultural flourish?  According to the same Norwegian article:
Now Breivik said that he "is not and never has been - a Christian," in a letter he sent to "interested or affected parties in comp. With 22/7" along with two other letters to, among other day.  He describes himself as "one of the more fanatical National Socialists in Northern Europe."
During a point called "Odinisme" dismisses his Christianity and Jesus as follows:
"There are few things in the world that is more pathetic than the Jesus figure and his message, and I have always despised the weakness and the internationalism that the church represents."
He stressed that he prays and sacrifices to God and receive strength from God, but that he calls him "Odin, not Jesus or Jehovah."

Sounds Christian to me.  Could be that radical sect of Christianity that eschews the Biblical names for God and thinks little of "the Jesus figure and his message."  Interesting sense of being "culturally Christian."  Breivik seems culturally pagan, in addition to being religiously pagan.

According to the article, Henrik Syse, "philosopher and senior researcher at the International Peace Research Institute (PRIO)," thinks people should be careful how they apply the phrase "Christian terrorist" to Anders Breivik, considering how he is not a Christian "in any meaningful sense." Not being a Christian in any meaningful sense seems like an excellent reason not to be called a "Christian terrorist" at all.  It doesn't seem that he could be Christian in any meaningful sense even if he claimed to be a Christian.

It is not entirely unnatural that people have characterized Breivik as a Christian, just as there are many Muslim terrorists as far removed from what most people would think that Islam stands for, says Sysendammen.
While it is clear a point that if he takes [sic] explicit distance from Christianity, one can not call him a Christian.

The researcher stresses that the Christian culture background is not completely irrelevant, because Breivik refers to it and calls himself a crusader.
His ideology and philosophy must be taken seriously because it is so dangerous and
can inspire others.  But philosophically it is a smear, as it is hardly worth taking seriously intellectually, and that is a far cry from Christian thought, says Sysendammen.

True, the background is "not irrelevant" because, as Adolf Hitler did, Breivik was trying to sell his ideas to European cultures whose historical traditions are rooted in Christianity, not Islam.  However, fascism, even paganistic fascism, has more in common with cultural Marxism than , the nationalistic tendencies of fascism notwithstanding. (Of course, fascist dictators have always respected national borders, right?)  Fascism may be the illegitimate child of Marxism, but its paternity is clear, with its aims of the government shaping and controlling its people by undermining the roles of family and traditional institutions.  Unlike communism, fascism paid lip service to the importance of the very institutions and it actively sought to subdue and control.  The religious cultural background becomes very important to any ideology that claims to uphold the very cultural elements it seeks to radically refashion (or "fundamentally transform"). 

Syse's analogy to "Muslim terrorist" only holds with respect to terrorists who (1) are "far removed" from what most Muslims (rather than "most people") would think Islam stands for, and who (2) embrace an ideology that is "a far cry from" Islamic thought.  Which begs the question, how do we determine how far something is removed from essential Christianity or essential Islam? 

Let's say Mahmoud is an Egyptian terrorist killing Arab Christians, and he said that he preferred to call his Allah by the name of the Egyptian god Horus, and he said that nothing was more pathetic than Mohammed and his message.  Wouldn't anyone calling Mahmoud a Muslim terrorist be quickly corrected?  Assuming, of course, that it could be argued in this case that Mahmoud was not a Muslim in any meaningful sense.  In what sense would he be "culturally Muslim" other than having been exposed to Islam while growing up?  President Obama could be considered culturally Muslim in that sense, having attended a Muslim school as a boy. 

In Reza Aslan's view of religion, we might have to call Ahmoud a Muslim terrorist as long as Ahmoud associates himself with Islamic culture, even if his appeal to Islam is shallow and opportunistic, since religious affiliation is entirely about identification and not about what you actually believe.

Why would anyone need to associate an obvious pagan like Breivik with the "Jesus and his message" which he finds so miserably "pathetic"?  Maybe for the same reason people identify the pagan Adolf Hitler with Christianity.  But underneath the question of how a blatant non-Christian gets labeled a Christian is a deeper question:  If "making explicit distance" from Christianity can disqualify one from the charge of being a Christian, how far can one drift from being a Christian "in any meaningful sense" so that the distance from Christianity no longer needs to be "explicit"?

PS: The Norwegian article sports these factoids about Odinism:
[Odinism:]  Worship of Odin in Norse mythology.
There is disagreement whether [Odin] is the same as Asatru. [Det er uenighet om det er det samme som åsatru.] 
In the US Odinism [is] often coupled with white supremacy and violence. [I USA er odinisme ofte koblet med hvit overlegenhet og vold.] 
Vigrid is e.g. a late modern form of Odinism mixed with Norse mythology and racial doctrine.  [Vigrid er f.eks en senmoderne form for odinisme med blanding av norrøn mytologi og raselære.]