The man who killed at least 68 people was apprehended. He confessed to the killing.
The headline by the New York Times called him a Christian Extremist.
Plenty of pundits are offended at this insinuation. Some even blame Muslims for pushing him over the brink. But while we search for some kind of motive, some sort of identity, a way to understand this act, so beyond any kind of sympathy, we’ll find any logic to his act slip away.
Some will blame conservatives and conservative thinking. But few conservatives would do such an act. Like others, some will be callous about he murders. But they would not pick up a gun, search for a camp and start shooting. It may be that the Manichean element in our political discourse contributes to the ease by which one justifies the casual ending of an enemy’s life. This is usually not enough. You may think of someone as wrong while not thinking of them as an enemy.
His attachment to Christian fundamentalism was thin. He didn’t consider himself religious – it doesn’t look like he attended any church in Norway. He mocked the liberal religion of the Church of Norway. More likely, they were soft and pliable, too flexible for his ordered and righteous mind. He was much more at home in the land of certainties, in right versus wrong, and assured he was on the right side. It is only when one is so sure of one’s complete righteousness, one can demonize those who think differently.
But there are other ingredients for this lethal combination. Was it video games? Probably not. Was it simply white nationalism? Not really. He did have a rigorous sense of Norwegian identity, with the resentment of being displaced oozing from many of his comments.
But finally, none of these ideas will be satisfactory.
And our dissatisfaction with any clear answer, perhaps, is one reason we call such acts “evil.” They seem beyond the notion of human sympathy that is a crucial part of our everyday experience. They are inexplicable, and seem to arise from nowhere. Did not a part of his mind react when as the children ran from him? Did not a part of his mind demand that he stop, and feel some sort of wound as the children he was murdering? How was it possible that these would be slaughtered like farm animals? Even a hardened conservative can find themselves weekping at the loss of a loved one.
And yet, I feel guilty that anything about my faith would have contributed. But what was it? Nothing recognizable to me. Still, the easy way, perhaps, is to assume there was no connection. There may not have been. My feeling of murderous rage has usually been contained toward yelling at the computer screen, or the occasional bout of helplessness – rage not at any particular person, but toward institutions – banks, airline companies. But yet we are responsible, in some way, for those who take on the same identity that we do.
But the prime minister of Norway said it well – that such an act would not diminish their commitment to and open and peaceful country. This is, perhaps, the only response we can give. That whatever happens to us, we will not be bound by the fear and hate that enters our lives, causes its terrible damage, and desires us to respond in kind. We remain faithful that the world need not be like this, and that there will be a time when we will not be afraid of each other’s differences, but have the strength to relish them rather than be scandalized.