Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Religious Deaths in Norway

By William P. Lazarus

Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian who gunned down and bombed 68 men, women and children in two attacks July 22, turns out to have hated Muslims. 

According to published reports, Breivik had a “compulsive interest in websites that see the modern world in terms of a ‘clash of civilizations,’ where Christian values are supposedly under siege in the face of an Islamic onslaught.  The blogs and websites Breivik enthused about were pro-American and pro-Israel, extremely hostile to Islam and despairing that the "European political elite would ever see the error of its liberal multicultural outlook.”

That prompted such an articulate and invariably accurate spokesmen for the extreme right wing of reason, Bill O’Reilly, to attack the media for insisting Breivik was Christian.  He called that idea "impossible. No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder.  The man might have called himself a Christian on the net, but he is certainly not of that faith...we can find no evidence, none, that this killer practiced Christianity in any way."  He added, “The left wants you to believe that fundamentalists Christians are a threat just like crazy jihadists are."

Of course, the fact that Breivik identified himself as Christian did not concern O’Reilly.  By the way, Norwegian police also called their suspect Christian, and anyone who has glanced at Bleivik’s 1,500-page manifesto can read he believes in Christianity "as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform," which "makes [me] Christian."

I can certainly understand O’Reilly’s logic, such as it is.  After all, Christians emulating Jesus, the supposed man of peace, shouldn’t kill anyone.  Right?  Maybe not in the last 15 minutes, but history tells another story. 

In the early Middle Ages, for example, lords of the Christian realm loved to go on annual, ritualistic massacre of non-Christians in Eastern Europe.  It was just a jolly chance for military training and preparation for bigger assaults.

Starting around 1095, Christian Crusaders, urged on both by popes and saints, swarmed down to Outremer -- their name for what is now Israel – to fight with Saracens – their name for Muslims.  The Crusades last almost 200 years and were invariably initiated with the slaughter of Jews in Europe and occasionally Eastern Orthodox Christians who got in the way en route to the Promised Land. 

Meanwhile, back in Europe, Catholics were massacring what they described as heretical sects, such as the Cathars.  Those awful people believed in a simply life of prayer, fasting, work and nonviolence.  How terrible can anyone be? 

The Spanish took their religious ideas to the West and even used germ warfare to kill and enslave conquered people in Central and South America, all in the name of religion.

The Inquisition started in France, but became infamous for its splendid work in Spain to allow true believers to separate personas no grata from their assets.  The auto de fe, the ritualistic mass burning of apostates and heretics, served as amusement for the masses who flocked to enjoy them. 

With the rise in the Protestant revolution in the 1500s, the religious battling got worse.  The 100-Years War almost depopulated Europe.  The battles continued on the sea and in distant lands where Protestants captured by the Spanish were treated with utter contempt and brutality.  In desperation, the English took turns attacking each other.  Henry VIII burned Catholics.  His daughter, Mary, burned Protestants.  Or had them drawn and quartered.  The amusement level was the same.

Old history?  That’s OK.  There’s plenty of new history.  The Holocaust ended in 1945.  An estimated 6 million Jews were killed simply for their religion.  The Vatican can protest all it wants, but the Church then did little to nothing to intercede for fear its members would be attacked next. 

Besides as a 1960s Stanford University study pointed, churches are directly responsible for the continued poison of anti-Semitism, which regularly leads to the deaths of innocent people.  In 2009, for example, a gang calling itself the Barbarians tortured a French Jew for three weeks and then killed him, all because they thought all Jews were rich.  In 2010, two men were arrested in the Ukraine for murdering two Jewish pilgrims visiting the grave of a beloved rabbi.

No religion is exempt.  Buddhists and Hindus have engaged in murderous assaults on each other in India.  And Buddhism may the world’s most peaceful religion.  Members aren’t even supposed to focus on this world.

Islam is hardly alone, although Muslims have been more ardent in recent times.  That’s why when the Norwegian killings hit the airwaves, newscasters worldwide speculated whether Arab terrorists were involved.  After all, Islamic radicals have been busy bombing and murdering people for decades, all in the name of religion. 

O’Reilly can continue to spout all the poppycock he wants, but religion has certainly has motivated many mass murders through the ages.  Christians regularly talk of peace and love, but they have demonstrated the ability to kill unhesitantly along with the best of any religion.

After all, the idea of using weapons to deal with a situation is supported by the leader of the Christians.  Just open a Bible:  Jesus is quoted as saying, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Matt 10:34) and (Luke 22:36) “He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.”  Sure, he said other things.  And, of course, there are many apologists ready at the drop of a comma to spring into defensive action, but the words are clear and easily could have motivated someone like Anders Behring Breivik to go out and kill innocent people.

The truth is that any religion is as correct as another one.  Belief in Osiris is no different than belief in Jesus to followers of either faith.  No one has a monopoly on the truth.  Besides, as the Bible quotes the great Jewish sage Gamaliel saying of Christianity: Refrain from these men, for if this work be of men, it will come to naught. But, if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it, lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.” (Acts 5: 38, 39)

Good advice.  Let God handle it, and pray other people see the desire for peace that lies at the heart of all faiths. 

Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  Many of his essays are posted at

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