Monday, August 08, 2011

The Face of Norwegian Christianity: Tale of 2 Activists

 Which is the True Face of Norwegian Christianity? 

A Tale of Two Activists

On the 22nd of July, Anders Breivik set off bombs at government buildings in Oslo, killing eight people.  He then took a Ruger mini-14 carbine and Glock pistol and drove to an island camp for young people nearby, and went on a shooting spree, murdering another 69 people associated with the Worker's Youth League, most in their late teens and early twenties. 

A Norwegian policeman described him as a "fundamentalist Christian," a phrase that has been constantly repeated.  (These days, a lie can get ALL the way around the world while the truth is still putting its boots on.)  Brevik has thus almost become the face of Norwegian Christianity for the world.  As evidence, his 1569 page manifesto, A European Declaration of Independence is often cited. 

In that document, Breivik does indeed describe himself a Christian.  He uses the word "Christian" or "Christianity" some two thousand times, quotes many Bible verses, and depicts himself as fighting for a European civilization of which Christianity is a defining element.  A Crusader cross appears on the first page of the manifesto. 

Was Breivik motivated by the Bible, or the teachings of Jesus?  Am I comitting the "true Scotsman fallacy" for even asking if Breivik was a "real Christian?"  Is that how we should picture Norwegian Christianity?  Fjords, fishing boats, and mass murder at summer camp?

In this post, I'd like to go deeper than just responding, "Breivik was not a real Christian."  After analyzing the "Bible-thumper gone wild" meme, I'd like to compare Breivik to a young Norwegian farmer who lived two hundred years ago, who resembles Breivik in some startling ways, but who was a very different kind of "Christian," who transformed Norway in remarkable ways, and provides a more genuine symbol of Norwegian Christianity.   

Who is Anders Breivik?

Anders was born to a nurse and a diplomat who divorced when he was just one year old.  Anders grew up, he recounts, in a matriarchal household, which "completely lacked discipline, and contributed to feminizing me."  He kept in touch with his father, who was living in Paris, until the age of 16, when he and his friends were caught spraying graffiti on walls.  After that, the father broke off all contact with his boy.

Anders proved a talented young businessman.  He was able to amass hundreds of thousands of dollars in his late teens and early 20s. 

One comes to Breivik's A European Declaration of Independence with two sets of questions.  First, how could he justify murdering so many innocent young people?  Second, why did he think doing so would further his cause, rather than prompt Europeans to turn against everything he stood for in disgust? 

What is striking about A European Declaration of Independence is how thorough and, in a sense, internally consistent it seems.  Anders Breivik is obviously intelligent and organized. He writes in fluent English. The document is usually internally consistent, and offers arguments on an astonishing variety of subjects: the failure of aid to Africa (Chinese treatment of African states as clients or equal partners works much better), judo techniques, the value of steroids, medals for martyrs, beet farming, how to hide knives on one's person.

Much of this is quite lucid.  If you were to overlooking the more chilling passages, one might find some of his arguments convincing.   

Brevik makes two essential points: (a) Muslim immigration into Europe threatens the cultural unity and character of Europe. (b) Violence is required to stop it.  In the last half or so of the document, he goes into rich detail on the kinds of violence necessary, the goals of that violence, and how to carry it out. 

It is correctly reported that Breivik quotes a lot of convervatives in his manifesto.  He seems especially indebted to Robert Spenser, author of Jihad Watch, and Bat Ye'or, the Coptic Egyptian historian and author of The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam.  Most of these citations are given to buttress the first point, with which most conservatives agree.  Breivik also cites Locke, Jefferson, Mark Twain, and Gandhi!  He also makes extensive use of Wikipedia. 

Breivik seldom sounds flagrantly crazy.  He admits limitations.  He does not call for a Holocaust -- Hitler was a "traitor" to the German people -- and grants that Muslims have a right to their own lands.  (Though his map of the world as it should be in the future also carves out small but significant ME territories not only for the Jews, but gives more than half of Turkey to the Armenians, and creates states for Coptics -- the Sinai peninsula -- and Syrian Christians.) 

Breivik fears that Islam will conquer Europe, as it has slowly conquered other lands in the past.  He charts this history in detail.

(Is Breivik right about the danger Islam poses to European civilization?  I'm of two minds about this question -- which I think I'll save for a later post.)   

Medieval Europeans saw the Jews as a domestic threat parallel to Islam, which is why some carried out pogroms against Jews in Germany before setting out on the Crusades.  Breivik also sees domestic enemies, but is not an anti-Semite.  "Marxists" and other "traitors" serve as the domestic foe, instead.  In fact, he suggests that if only Harry Truman had excecuted some 100,000 Marxists, America would not have experienced the "revolution" of the late 1960s. 

Breivik offers detailed estimates for how many "Category A and B traitors" are present today in various countries of Western Europe, the total figure being some 400,000.  These are his primary enemies.  He also believes that an attack on a large group of Muslims would set off riots that would further his cause. 

Breivik's methodical planning for a modern Crusade is, at times eery and chilling. 

Breivik logically, and "rationally," discusses how many civilians it would be justifiable to kill, if one could find Category A or B traitors concentrated in one spot. It would be OK to wipe out a few buildings to kill dozens of traitors, he concludes.  A small nuclear device -- ironically, he contemplates an alliance with Muslim terrorist groups to obtain such a device -- that destroys a few city blocks, may be justified to take out a larger concentration of traitors.  But more than that, would be too much!

"Copy your enemies, learn from the professionals," Breivik suggests, talking about how European "Justiciar knights" should borrow the Muslim practice of paying homage to martyrs.

Indeed, I have argued elsewhere that the Crusaders themselves seem to have borrowed key ideas about holy warfare from Islam.  In a sense, this is a normal kind of reaction to a threatening foreign culture. 

Was Breivik a "Christian?"

Clearly, Breivik sees Christianity as a useful flag around which to rally Europeans, as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism are useful flags around which to rally other nations. Christianity "should serve as the uniting symbol for all Europe, whether they are agnostics or atheists." He also thinks it can't hurt to pray when you're about to shoot a bunch of traitors: even if there is no God, one may derive some placebo affect, apparently.  In a section called "Christian justification of the struggle," Breivik quotes ten or fifteen Bible verses, also some crusading popes, to debunk the idea that Christianity implies pacifism.  But one should not be impetuous, like Peter with the sword: "Self-defense has to do with wisdom, understanding, and tact." 

In Breivik's vocabulary, anyone who opposes Muslim domination of Europe can be a "Christian," even if you don't believe in God:

"A majority of so-called agnostics and atheists in Europe are cultural conservative Christians without even knowing it."

Breivik does not claim to be very religious himself, but recognizes the value Christianity has had for European civilization:

"I'm not going to pretent I'm a very religious person as that would be a lie.  I've always been very pragmatic and influenced by my secular surroundings and environment." 


"It is therefore essential to understand the difference between a 'Christian fundamentalist theocracy' (everything we do not want) and a secular European society based on our Christian heritage (everything we do want).  (Emphasis Breivik's.)

In the end, European Declaration of Independence has something of the feel of an alternate on-line world. Breivik could have been a good sci-fi novelist or fantacist. But his work lacks enough of a human touch even for a Dune, still less a Middle Earth. It's a tour de force creation, but a sterile place, not so much too logical, as emotionally lacking.  (Despite a nice photo of the young madman with his mother and [I assume] sister at its end.)

All in all, I'm inclined to agree with Breivik's self-diagnosis.  With all the Category A and B traitors in Europe, not to mention Muslim gangs, why did he go after a bunch of kids about the same age he was, when his father wrote him out of his life for a juvenile prank?   

By contrast to Anders Breivik, Christ was the center of the life of another young Norwegian, who had a far greater impact on his nation.    

Hans Hauge and the Birth of Modern Norway

Hans Hauge led a life that parallels that of Anders Breivik at many superficial points.  Neither received much formal education.  Both farmed successfully.  Both made a good deal of money running businesses.  Both were ideologically intense.  Both saw the state church as corrupt, bending to the winds of secular ideology.  As a young man, Hans was sometimes troubled by dreams of murder. 

In their "Christian faith" and impact on Norway, the two men could not have been more different, however. 

Hans Nielsen Hauge was born into a family of prosperous and pious farmers in 1771, about 65 miles from Oslo.  During his youth, Enlightenment thinking was defeating pietism in much of Norway.  The state Lutheran church proved little defense against skeptical thinking, since it had become a power monopoly, more than a fellowship of sincere believers.

Almost ninety percent of Norwegians were bonder or peasants.  The farming class had little power in the Norway of Haugue's youth, though they had begun to own most of their own farms by this time. 

Hans did not seem an overly impressive youth:

"I was often mocked and considered a simpleton.  Indeed, I looked upon myself as of less ability than others . . . When there were rumors of a plague or war, then I was afraid to die and seemed to feel something mysterious which encircled me . . . Often when I slept, I dreamed about heaven, and at other times about hell, and murder and other frightful things.  But when I prayed to God before I fell asleep, then I could rest and did not dream about such things."

Hans was, as this shows, intensely interested in religion.  Along with pious
contemporary books, he immersed himself in the Bible, and spent a great deal of time in prayer -- being mocked by other young people for his zeal.  One of his biographers, Magnus Nodtvedt, notes that in his autobiography, "there is revealed a distinct dependence on his Bible reading, a study of the Lutheran Church's sermon books and of a rich spiritual and doctrinal heritage of Lutheran hymnology."

At the age of 25, Hans underwent a "baptism of the Spirit" that changed the course of his life.  He was working in the field, singing "Jesus I long for Thy Blessed Communion." 

"Mightily strengthen my spirit within me,
That I may learn what Thy Spirit can do!  . . .
All that I am and possess I surrender
If Thou alone in my spirit may dwell;
All will I yield Thee, my Savior so tender
Take me and own me, and all will be well."

Hans tells what happened next:

"When I had sung the second verse . . . my mind was so lifted up to God that . . . I was beside myself . . . When I began to regain my wonted reasoning power, I experienced a profound sense of regret that I had not served the good and kind Lord as I ought and that I deemed nothing in the world really mattered.  And my soul experienced something supernatural, divine and blessed . . . something glorious such as no tongue can express, that I remember to this day as clearly as if it happened a few days ago . . . "

Hans felt great sorrow for a world "immersed in evil," a feeling of God's presence, and a sense of humility and joy. 

He began to travel around Norway, preaching the Gospel, often to small groups (he remained essentially shy), making friends, and writing books infused with a simple, Bible-based love of God.

The elite was not pleased to find an uneducated peasant breaking the law, as they saw it, by preaching in public.  Hans was arrested some eleven times, beaten, and finally imprisoned for ten years. 

Like modern Christians I have met in the city of Wenzhou, on the coast of China south of Shanghai, Hans remained a farmer and entrepreneur, even as he went around preaching the Gospel.  With the help of friends, he started a series of businesses, even bought ships and conducted trade.  The Powers-That-Be were suspicious: one bishop noted that while he had found no evidence that Hauge was exploiting or defrauding anyone, there was potential for him to do so.  But it seems no such evidence ever turned up: Hans was as generous with his money as his friends had been, seeding capital for many of the earliest businesses run by the peasant class.  He believed that idleness was a serious sin, that women could work in the fields with men, and men could learn how to make clothes.  Manual labor, along with reading, praying, and singing hymns, should be part of a Christian's spiritual life. 

Hauge's movement helped enable the "Rebirth of Norway's Peasantry," -- the title of Nodtvedt's book.  An historian named Johnsen explained:

"Just as the Haugeans forged ahead in the face of much opposition -- to religious revival -- so too the endevours which the friends of Hauge displayed, in imitation of Hauge, to acquire economic self-sufficiency, brought them into conflict with the exclusive aristocracy of wealth . . . Thus the movement . . . created a new class sentiment and a new feeling of independence, and by so doing laid the foundation for the political and social conflect between bonder and the aristocracy of wealth that led to a new freedom -- for Norway's common bonde -- in the 19th Century." (Ibid, 150-1)

Even while kept prisoner, Hans helped his fellow Norwegians.  During the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark and Norway (which were united, Denmark being the lead partner) fought on the side of Napolean.  Great Britain imposed an embargo on Norwegian trade.  People went hungry, and there wasn't enough salt to preserve fish. Hans petitioned the government to allow him to use his business acumen to found salt works.  He was released long enough to successfully organize those works, then sent back to prison! 

Eventually Hans was released, paid some compensation for goods seized, and settled on a farm.  He spent the last ten years of his short life farming and encouraging followers, in person and by letter. 

So, Who Represents the True Face of Norwegian Christianity?

Anders Breivik, who quoted a few verses in one section of a 1500 page manifesto, to prove that "Christians" may defend themselves?  Or Hans Hauge, whose life, thought, and work was infused with biblical teachings?

Breivik, who claimed that atheists and agnostics should be called Christians, too?  Or Hauge, who challenged Norway to a deeper relationship to God?

Brevik, who saw Christianity, like Hinduism, as a flag around which to rally Europeans against foreigners?  Or Hauge, for whom revival began by recognizing his own sin, and whose life was bathed in prayer, singing, and Bible-reading? 

Breivik, who murdered innocent young people because they belonged to the wrong political party?  Or Hauge,  who was mocked, beaten, and imprisoned, but never lifted his hand against those who abused him? 

I think everyone who has known real Norwegian Christians, will have bridled at the insinuation that Anders Breivik was himself a Christian, or in any way represented genuine Norwegian Christianity.  Those I have had the chance to know, have seemed a whole lot more like Hans Nielsen Hauge. 

But I bet you've never heard of him before, have you? 


Peek-a-boo said...

I found my way here from Arizona Atheist's blog where he tore you a new one. It was quite fun to watch. You really shoudln't quit your day job whatever it might be.

Nice deflection. Instead of arguing Anders Breivik wasn't a christian you are arguing he's not your average christian. Riiight. You are aware that he cites American fundamentalist christians in his manifesto aren't you? He was obviously influenced by christianity.

After reading more of your style of argumentation here I see the rest isn't much better then your book.

David B Marshall said...

Peek-a-boo: I don't expect much literacy from Ken's fans, so your comments do not so much surprise, as bore, me. In fact, read the blog, and literate readers should see that I DO infer that Breivik was not a Christian, except in the sense in which any atheist who was born in Europe and likes western culture can be a "Christian" -- the extremely weak sense in which he uses the word.

Nor do you seem to have anything to say about the substance of the article -- just the usual, tedious New Atheist yipping.

Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Crude said...

Gee, Dave, it looks like you managed to pick up your very own blog nemesis based on some of these recent posts. Congratulations!

And, good article. I'm actually surprised more hay hasn't been made out of Breivek's blase attitude towards Christianity. Why, he was very secular. He saw science as having authority over religion. He saw the value of Christianity being largely 'cultural Christianity'. He saw atheists as allies. How accomodating.

David B Marshall said...

Crude: Oh, I have lots of "fans" of that caliber. Peek-a-boo added a few inane insults (but no substantive response, of course), which I deleted, so he could (hopefully) spread the word back at Ken's site that I practice censorship. I prefer silence to vacuous, vulgar babbling. I like kids, but on serious topics, it's more interesting to talk to people with a little more maturity.

Last night, as a matter of fact, I talked with a couple Norwegian-American Christians about Hauge -- the elderly missionaries who introduced my wife to Christianity, more than 20 years ago. Both of their churches, it turned out, were part of Hauge's movement. So in a way, it turns out my own family is a product of his ministry, and might not be here had a Norwegian youth been touched by the spirit of God while singing a hymn in a field outside Oslo 215 years ago. That makes one think.

A True Christian said...

David Marshall,

You sir, are a fraud. I’ve witnessed your high and mighty hubris and your lack of honesty and integrity throughout numerous forums on the internet, from to John Loftus’s blog to your blog. Your arguments have been exposed as vacuous if not downright dishonest and have been de constructed by many people. These people you mock and belittle and refuse to engage fully in debate and answer their criticisms. You ignore their counter arguments in favor of your delusional portrayal of reality. You are a disgrace to Christianity and good and decent Christians everywhere. It is my hope that you open your mind and your heart and begin to change your ways because if you keep up your behavior you will surely lose your way. You write of Jesus’s love but you ignore his teachings and you despise your enemies rather than love them as your Lord commanded. You’ve become a hypocrite, a liar, and a complete fool. At the rate you’re going Hell will be your destination and then no one can help you. This comment will be censored as you have censored all of your other critics and ignored their criticism but it is my hope you find your way again and stop being such as asshole, to put it mildly.

David B Marshall said...

It's always interesting to observe how people represent themselves. When someone calls himself "true Christian," what is he saying? Probably two things:

(1) First, that a lot of other people are phony Christians, and that it is psychologically important for him to separate from run of the crowd. For my MA, I studied a movement that called itself the "True Buddha" movement: the guru in charge was also big on trash-talking competitors.

(2) Second, often the person giving himself such an appellation is aware of doubts about the very quality he claims for himself. Thus, a hysterical poster might call himself "Calmly." An uncommonly slopped skeptic might call himself "Gifted Writer" (to give real-world examples) and so on.

"True Christian" does not engage a single one of the historical facts or claims in this OP. He does not say anything at all about Breivik, Hauge, Norwegian Christianity. Nor, in fact, does he say anything about anyone or anything besides the author of the blog, who is, he claims (without citing a smidgeon of evidence), dishonest, nasty, a hypocrite, an "asshole," and heading straight to hell.

No wonder he doesn't use his real name.

You know the meanest, sneakiest thing I am going to do today?

I'm going to post everything you said, and not waste a word rebutting any of it.