The shootings and bombings in Norway last week were horrific by any standard. But those murders, which the perpetrator, Anders Behring Breivik, tried to justify in his online writings, reveal something more than the acts of a madman.
They reveal a perverted version of Christianity, soaked in the same righteous Islamophobia that inspired the medieval Crusades. Breivik named Islam as a danger to European civilization and "Christendom." And he himself identifies as a modern-day crusader, a member of the Knights Templar.
He chose the date, July 22, for his terrorism because that was the day in 1099 that the Kingdom of Jerusalem was established during the First Crusade. And he believed that the current struggle for Europe would end in 2083, exactly 400 years after the Battle of Vienna in 1863, when the Ottoman Empire was defeated by the armies of Christian Europe.
Like his medieval counterparts, he thought he was saving Europe for Christendom. He did this by attacking members of the Norwegian political party that champions "multi-culturalism."
In addition, Breivik describes himself as a Christian who chose to be baptized into the Protestant Church of Norway at age 15. Later, he rejected the Church of Norway and in 2009 favored "an indirect collective conversion of the Protestant church back to the Catholic." But he was not happy with conventional Catholicism either, condemning the pope's dialogue with Islam.
Because he claimed to be a Christian, a few commentators have called his horrific acts an example of "Christian terrorism." And many Christians have objected strongly. "This is not Christianity!" they thundered. And of course, they are right. What Breivik did is about as far from the teachings of Jesus as one can get.
So maybe this is a salient moment to look at another, much more frequently used, label: "Islamic terrorism." I have long objected to that phrase because -- as any Islamic scholar will tell you -- Islam does not permit or countenance terrorism.
Terrorist actions today may be inspired by some perverted form of Christianity or Islam, but neither represents the authentic teachings of those faith traditions.
But that brings me back to the Crusades. Acts perpetrated by popes and bishops and European Catholic royalty against Muslims (and also Jews… this is when the pogroms began). When anyone looks at al-Qaida today, we need to realize that terrorism that is "justified" in "religious" teachings has strong roots in Catholic Europe. And all this happens when someone in religious authority claims the right to use coercion and violence to defend the "one true faith."
What happened in Norway is an invitation to reflect on all that … again.