I’ll admit it – when I first read the reports last Friday that a bomb was detonated inside a government building in Oslo, Norway, and that later someone disguised as a policeman had slaughtered dozens at a political youth camp in Utøya, I assumed it was yet another horrific attack perpetrated by Islamic terrorists.
And so I, like many around the world, was surprised to find that the terrorist in question was reportedly a native Norwegian named Anders Breivik, and that his motivations were at least partly anti-Muslim. Not only that, but he purports to be a member of the Knights Templar, an “armed Christian order” fighting against the rising tide of Islamic suppression in the West. There are photographs of Breivik wearing a supposed Knights Templar uniform.
But remembering back to that day — admittedly not that long ago, but please take into account our ever-shrinking attention spans – just about every news story, tweet, or blog post I read automatically assumed the perpetrator was a Muslim terrorist or had ties to al-Qaeda. Before the police had even made an arrest, the Oslo bombing was already being compared to the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
Now all that seems to be out the window, and we’re left to wonder what to make of the fact that this handsome, blond-haired, blue-eyed, 32-year-old Norwegian citizen and professed Christian could be capable of such heinous crimes against his fellow countrymen.
One question that has been tugging at me since we learned Breivik’s identity and background is this – should Christians (of which I am one) be made to apologize for his actions? Should we be held accountable for his actions or for those of like mind? What about Eric Robert Rudolph, member of the radical Christian Identity movement and the man behind the bombing of multiple abortion clinics and the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics?
Your first impulse might be to dismiss people like Breivik and Rudolph as violent aberrations – men who claim to be Christian yet act in ways completely contrary to core Christian beliefs – and I mostly agree. Why, then, have we been so quick in the post-9/11 world to lump average, peaceful Muslims together with Islam’s radical fringe? Do a quick Google search and you’ll find numerous articles and opinion pieces wondering aloud why moderate Muslims seem content to stand by idly while world opinion of their religion is colored by the actions of a relative handful.
Doesn’t it seem only fair that if Muslims should have to answer in some way for people like Mohamed Atta or Osama bin Laden, we Christians should be on the hook for Breivik, Rudolph, or any of the other countless, so-called believers who have committed atrocities in Jesus’s name over the last few millennia?
The answer seems to be no – that it’s not fair in either case – but I’m not always so certain. How many times have I as a Christian said or done things that contribute to a larger culture of intolerance, which ultimately feeds the kind of hatred we saw last week? OK so maybe I’m not stocking up on ammo, assaulting homosexuals, or lobbing Molotov cocktails at abortion clinics (actually I’m definitely not, just to be clear), but I’m sure I’ve told plenty of seemingly harmless jokes against one group or another, or otherwise displayed ignorance and intolerance at some point where compassion and understanding were called for.
I guess what I’m saying is that now, while the people of Norway mourn their dead, we all have been presented with yet another opportunity to turn a dark day for our supposedly modern and enlightened society into an opportunity to become better – better Christians, better Muslims, better atheists, better whatever. That’s something we are all accountable for, and should remember every day.