Tragedy in Norway

That violence is ineffectual as a means of persuading minds and hearts was a lesson, sadly, in full display last week in Norway. Nothing but a trail of blood and pain are left in the wake of a path of destruction one Anders Behring Breivik chose to travel last Friday. He now sits in an isolation cell, physically removed from the civil society, which he had already by degrees alienated himself from, both mentally and morally.
Pondering the dimensions and lessons of this horrific human tragedy, we also remain joined in prayer for the victims and their families. We are thereby spiritually united with them and all people of good will, as the Holy Father has exhorted, in “a determined resolve to reject the ways of hatred and conflict and to work together fearlessly in shaping a future of mutual respect, solidarity and freedom for coming generations.”
The damage, incomprehensible though it may be, could even have been worse. The temptation to empower its senselessness beyond the deliberations of a twisted mind are understandable in our times. So far, however, we see no evidence that anyone other than Breivik bears responsibility for the murderous actions. By his own confession, he acted alone.
Early speculation that yet-unidentified Muslim extremists were to blame soon shifted to right-wing affiliations as we learned that the suspect, in a 1,500 page Internet-published manifesto, identified himself as an opponent of European multiculturalism and, in particular, Muslim immigration. An account, later discredited, that headlined Breivik as a Christian fundamentalist — he himself claims only a “cultural” connection — was apparently based upon a televised news conference with a local police official.
Not long ago we witnessed similar convulsions of blame-assessment following the attack of a crazed lone gunman last January in Tucson, Arizona. Again, not surprising in our emotion-charged, often ideologically driven, sociopolitical climate.
From such episodes we also learn the alarming extent to which stereotypical labels — Muslim and Christian, extremist and fundamentalist, Marxist and Fascist, alien and billionaire — can become code-words for contempt-rallying, even among so-called mainstream public officials. The potential for mass manipulation and social upheaval over sensationalized claims without substance increases.  It still comes as a surprise when individuals turn out to be products of their own choices and not necessarily the group to which genetics or geography may have assigned them.
The parable of the wheat and the weeds is a chilling reminder that it is not always easy to discern the difference between disciples and impostors, who may grow up side by side in the same field or church-pew, so to speak.  The point of the parable seems to be that, under the guise even of respectable religious practice, individuals can harbor very different motives and intentions. Only in time is it revealed whether the seed has taken root or not and grown into a healthy plant. The Scriptures urge caution in a rush to judgment based only on externals like class, color or conformity.
Our temptation then might be to see in such tragedies as this occasions to pounce upon the weaknesses of an entire religious or cultural or law enforcement system. In fact, every human society contains within it individuals who may claim allegiance but, sooner or later, emerge with ideas or behaviors very different from what that membership really stands for. Not that the insight is new.
Remember the Good Samaritan and the Repentant Thief. It remains nonetheless a lesson to be learned again.

One thought on “Tragedy in Norway

  1. Obviously what he did was incredibly un-Christian and not representative of true Christian faith, but Breivik calls himself a Christian (“I consider myself to be 100% Christian.”) and invokes the Knights of Templar and other Christian Crusader imagery when discussing his anti-Muslim beliefs in his manifesto.

    It’s odd that the Tablet is so consistently wrong on the facts even in an opinion piece that is expressing the very uncontroversial opinion that what Breivik did was horribly wrong and that, while he calls himself a Christian, he has an utterly twisted and incorrect notion of what Christianity is.

    One of the lessons to take from this horrible tragedy is that every religion can have its psychopaths who misinterpret the faith and use it to justify violence. We must remember they are not representatives of their true faith.