Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Manifestos, Madmen, and Misinterpretation

The world was horrified and saddened to turn on the news last Friday, with reports of a man gunning down scores of children on the tiny Norwegian island of Utoya. The shooter, Anders Behring Breivik, apparently adhered to "right-wing" extremist ideologies, and was a self identified Christian. Naturally, when a tragedy such as this one happens, the human response is of course: why?

To answer that question, we're now looking into his past: the blogs he's written, what he's posted on Facebook, what religion he adheres to.. Among the many elements of his past being scoured through is a 1500 page manifesto posted only days before the attack,  in which Breivik attributes his actions to his anti-Islamic views and opposition to multiculturalism. The man's faith has been given particular attention, given his violent anti-Islamic views. Is he a "jihadist" of the Christian sort... a "fundamentalist Christian"... a "tea-partier"????  In the age of terror in which we live, it would be valuable to know if this man was simply insane, or he has an agenda to which many others could adhere (ie fundamentalist Christianity). Many in our country know little about this group, resulting in apprehension... fear... false assumptions. Before many in the media begin linking a few lines in Breivik's verbose manifesto to his being a "fundamentalist", it would probably be valuable for them to know what that actually means. At this point please sit down if you aren't already, and if you're prone to seizures or heart attacks, you may want to stop reading... because I have a confession to make:

I am a fundamentalist Christian.

Before you report me to the authorities, let me just say I've never bombed an abortion clinic, I've never picketed with the Westborough Baptist Church, and Lord as my witness, I've never plotted a mass murder. Now that I've cleared that up, I'll clear up what I believe the term actually means, and why I would admit I consider myself a part of such a despised and misunderstood group of people.

Fundamentalist Christianity as it's known today is largely as a result of a movement in our country in which protestants in the early 1900s began to change their interpretation of the Bible so that they would be more acceptable. Many parts of the Bible are offensive or hard to believe, and excluding of these parts makes a whole lot of sense if your goal is to increase church attendance.  Those that decided that these changes were essentially doing a disservice to Christ by "watering down" His message, have become known as "fundamentalists". Since then, even these "fundamentalists" have splintered... resulting in movements known as the "emerging" and "emergent" church, to name a few, and we again have prominent pastors who preach popular but un-biblical messages such as those in the best selling novel Love Wins by Rob Bell... (which I wont get into here... that's for another day).

There are still some who believe the Bible should be taken literally for the most part, and we should believe that Jesus spoke only truth, controversial or not - and these are the "fundamentalists." If you'd like to talk to me about whether or not I believe the world is just 5000 years old, and whether I've met a dinosaur, you can engage me privately, because to get into it here would be a significant digression from the purpose of the post. So now that you may know a little more about what the term means, which apparently many in the media have not done, we can analyze statements made by Breivik and determine if he too, is a fundamentalist, like me.

Here's what he said:
“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.”
Now that we know what Mr Breivik's interpretation of what a Christian is... Why don't we hear about... hmm. how bout Jesus':
 18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22 NIV)
 The picture painted here is Jesus telling his followers that to be a follower of Him (a Christian), you must give up what you are doing in life, and take up Jesus' mission instead... which is "fishing for people" as he says. Winning souls for Him. If Jesus used a metaphor of "harpooning" people for Him, I may be more inclined to believe Breivik when he said that he was a Christian.  But what we have instead is a metaphor of being a fisher of men, giving up self, having a personal tie to Jesus and His mission. (notice I'm prepared to accept this is a metaphor, and not a call to go get my new Orvis rod, tie on a veggie burger, and try to hook people in downtown Denver - fundamentalists can believe some passages are metaphorical when they obviously are).

I don't think there's really much to be said here about the difference between a raging madman's interpretation of Christians, and Christ's... but some these days are giving the benefit of the doubt to the former. At its best, this is simply ignorant... at its worst, its an attack on Christianity. But I'll give them  the benefit of the doubt and just hope they haven't done their research.

One of the most "fundamental" things about "fundamentalists",  and the thing which is probably the source of the most controversy about them these days... are the ten commandments. Have we forgotten that one of them was "Thou shalt not kill."? Anyone still believing this man is a "fundamentalist" maybe needs to think just for a second about the things "fundamentalists" believe.