Ludger Viefhues-Bailey on Anders Breivik and the Attacks in Norway

“After the horrid day in Oslo, it is undeniable: political religion has taken hold, even in allegedly secular Europe.”—Ludger Viefhues-Bailey

In an essay for Religion Dispatches, Ludger Viefhues-Bailey, author of Between a Man and a Woman?: Why Conservatives Oppose Same-Sex Marriage, examines the current political context through which the recent attacks in Norway should be understood.

Viefhues-Bailey suggests that while thinking the actions of Anders Breivik are the actions of an insane person offers some comfort, in fact:

what should really concern us is the political agenda that underlies the massacre. This is not about Breivik, the person, but about the political world from which he comes and to which he speaks; a world in which the defense of Christendom is so urgent that it must lead to violence. Breivik forces us to recognize what kind of politics of religion is taking hold in Europe.

Viefhues-Bailey views Breivik’s attacks in light of the growing prominence of right-wing movements and bloggers in Europe who are calling for the defense of “Christian civilization” in the face of the “Islamization of Europe.” Like Breivik himself, the movement is very savvy in spreading its message via blogs, traditional media, and social media. Viefhues-Bailey likens Breivik’s media strategies to that of communist terrorist groups in Western Europe during the cold war who communicated their message to a wider public in the hopes of radicalizing them.

The message Breivik extols calls for a defense of Christendom but one that is divorced from theological concerns. Viefhues-Bailey writes:

At stake here is the veneration of an imagined political community, an imagined homogeneous people, and an alleged cultural homogeneity. “Christendom,” a singularly uniting Christian heritage against Islam, is meant to hold this holy Europe together. Thus, though Breivik describes himself as not particularly devout, he characterizes his “resistance” in the terms of a crusade in defense of Christendom. “European Christendom isn’t just about having a personal relationship with Jesus or God. It is so much more. Christendom is identity, moral, laws and codexes which has [sic] produced the greatest civilisation the world has ever witnessed.” Indeed, the crusader himself has no particularly strong faith. “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….”

The idea of a Europe that is allegedly culturally homogenous because it shares a single Christian heritage, and the claim that European countries are under siege from a violent and profoundly foreign Islam, are actually quite plausible to the wider European mainstream. This is the most troubling lesson we have to learn from Breivik’s attack and accompanying manifesto. Just as left-wing terrorism during the Cold War crystallized the most dangerous tendencies of socialism, right-wing terrorism sends a troubling message about the state of ultra-conservative rhetoric. After the horrid day in Oslo, it is undeniable: political religion has taken hold, even in allegedly secular Europe.

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