How many times has a self-righteous individual killed in the name of God? When Anders Behring Breivik committed his heinous acts in Norway, setting off a bomb in downtown Oslo that ultimately killed 90 people he thought that he was acting morally. Breivik identifies as a cultural Christian, much to the incredulous horror and dismay of Christians everywhere. When this man defended his actions before a court of law, he stated that his actions were necessary, as explained by Judge Kim Heger:
“What the court understands (is) the accused believes that he needed to carry out these acts in order to save Norway and Western Europe from among other things cultural Marxism and Muslim take over,”
Breivik thought that he was obligated to commit these acts because he truly believed that Europe was under attack by Islam, Marxism, and multiculturalism. This man thought that killing so many innocent lives was a righteous act because it rallied people to his cause to fight what he saw as evil. Although Breivik himself does not believe in God, he still committed these actions in the name of a Christian God on behalf of a Christian culture. So Breivik claims that Christianity inspired his acts of terrorism, but does this make him a Christian? Lacking any objective criteria to differentiate a so-called true Christian from one like Breivik, it stands to reason that the label Christian is almost entirely dependent on the person who identifies as such. A cultural Christian is no different from any other Christian because it is impossible to distinguish someone who identifies as a Christian but doesn’t have a personal relationship with God and someone who purports to having a relationship with God. The only way to differentiate one from the other would be through an admission of doubt if that person outright denounces their faith. Because of this, we can say that Breivik is a bad person who happens to be Christian. But the Christian blog-o-sphere decries this man as anything-but-a-Christian because he committed such horrible crimes against innocent people. But being a horrible person or committing crimes does not preclude one from being a Christian. After all, the Christian conception of hell as a place for condemned Christians is ready proof that being a Christian is not mutually exclusive from doing horrible things and perhaps one could even argue that the concept of hell is intended exactly for people like Breivik.
But what makes this case especially disconcerting for Christians everywhere is that Breivik did these things explicitly in the name of Christianity. Again, this brings us back to the question, is a person behaving morally if they harm others in the name of their God? Christian theologians and spiritual leaders often rely on what has been called the Divine Command Theory (DCT) to make sense of the actions of people who commit atrocities in God’s name. The DCT argument follows that God creates all moral laws and enforces them. It is God who decides what is right and wrong and punishes those who unjustly break the rules, or so the theory goes. If our morality comes from God, and God condones violence in his name, then these acts of violence would not be considered wrong. In the Bible there are many cases where it is one’s duty to God to commit acts of war against those who do not believe in God. One such passage comes from the book of Exodus and reads, “He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed” (Exodus 22:20). Any Christian attacking someone of a different faith could argue that they were just following their religion. Assaulting someone based on their religion would be against the law, but would it be immoral? If one believes that morality comes from God, then they can pay lip service to the secular laws brought out by the government, but ultimately, they would follow the rule of God because he is a higher authority than their city’s charter or the Constitution. Much like the actions espoused in this Bible text, Breivik’s actions are carried out in the name of Christianity. He writes on page 1307 of his online manifesto:
“If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God then you are a religious Christian. Myself and many more like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God. We do however believe in Christianity as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform. This makes us Christian.”
This Breivik affair raises some questions in me; is an action considered right (or wrong) because God wills it? Or does God will it because it is right? These questions highlight a sharp bridge between some religious and secular thinkers. Those who believe in the existence of God or a supernatural power tend to hold favor with the first question. Some people would assert that God wills all things to happen because he is the arbiter of all things. But not everyone accepts this premise. For an atheist, there is no God and no supernatural being capable of directing all the things in the natural world. The idea that God wills an action to right is as incredulous to some as the idea that instead of gravity, God wills to let some items sink and wills to keep others aloft. Those who do not believe this premise that God is the arbiter of all things might instead argue that God wills things to happen because they are inherently right to begin with. Philosophically speaking this is an equally valid premise, however it highlights circular reasoning; this is another way of saying that an all-good God follows his own good rules. But this too falls short of fulfilling the spiritual questions that underlie this discussion of morality and what it means to be good. If there are things that are inherently good, then God didn’t decide that these things were good, and so they were good without God having to decide that these things were good. Of course, this means that if there are things that are inherently good, God is not the arbiter of all things.
Good and bad exists without God.
So when bad things happen, is it because God a supposedly benevolent God let it happen? Or could it be because God can’t stop it from happening? This would make more than one Christian irate to suggest that God is impotent against the causality that he himself created. But if we don’t accept this premise that God is powerless to stop bad things from happening, it would suggest that God wills bad things to happen. In our case with Breivik, his interpretation of the Bible is just as valid as any other interpretation because it is based on the same text just as mainstream Christian sects are. One could not invalidate his religious beliefs without leading to an inconsistent view of all Christian sects. What makes his view any less valid than other Christian groups? There is no way to prove that Breivik’s God of bloodlust is the true God any more than we can prove that the Pope speaks for God because the true glory (and proof) of God is only revealed to us upon death, or so the Christian worldview goes. So up until our death, anything goes; with no evidence to substantiate any religion’s worldview, all religions end up on equal footing in the real world when we can’t distinguish the true word of God from a thousand other ungodly claims.