Breivik and the face of evil

This article was published in the St.Catharines Standard.

Evil incarnate is the term used by the head of Norwegian security police to describe the 32 year old confessed mass-murderer, Anders Breivik. Norway has rightfully been able to describe itself as a peace-loving nation. It has been a point of national pride that most of the police is unarmed, and even those who carry a gun, keep it locked and unloaded unless specially authorized.

July 22nd changed Norway. First a bomb exploded in the heart of the government buildings in Oslo, killing eight and injuring many. While the police was busy securing the center of the city the perpetrator, disguised as a police officer, traveled to a nearby island, and went on a systematic killing spree with at least seventy-six fatalities among mostly young people, all members of the youth wing of the Norwegian governing Labor Party.

I was in Stockholm, a few hours away, when the news hit that the unthinkable had happened. The consensus among all the people I spoke with was that this was another Islamic fundamentalist act of terror, only to give way to the realization that the killer was a young blond Norwegian, who saw himself as a “crusader” against his own government and the governments of Europe, who he perceived to have sold out to Muslim immigration.

What triggers such evil? How could anyone commit more than one murder a minute for over an hour and seemingly feel nothing, but a twisted sense of pride? What is the human capacity for evil? Given the “right” circumstances are we all capable of evil? Are some more prone to excessive evil than others?

Breivik has been demonized in the media, and rightly so, referred to as a devil, an ice-cold, soul-less psychopathic killer, and a monster. In Norway hundreds of thousands have flooded the streets, echoing their prime minister’s call for more openness and more democracy, to meet hatred with love. The message is clear and beautiful, but it also carries with it a self-protective assurance; we are not him, he is an evil racist killer, we are good and tolerant. British poet John Donnes coined the phrase, No man is an island, and if that’s true it would include also Breivik, as well as Canadian double murderers and rapists like Russell Williams, Karla Homolka or Paul Bernado. Reportedly Breivik was at one time a shy and polite young boy, and he has become who he is today within an enlightened democratic society. Something made him spend the past nine years planning the cruel atrocities that have shocked the world. I am not suggesting that anyone but Breivik is guilty just like Williams, Bernardo and a host of other perpetrators of evil are responsible for their actions.

I am suggesting we take a look at the face of evil. While the average person would never imagine doing what these mass murders have done, the potential for evil lurks within every soul and within the most enlightened society. Whether we talk about Nazism, the Rwandan and Bosnian genocide, the killing fields of Cambodia, or a thousand personal acts of taking revenge, slander, or tearing others down to make myself look good, evil lurks under the surface within every person. Yes, there are hugely larger and infinitely lesser evils, but they are evils nonetheless.

“I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwells nothing good”, is how the New Testament of the Bible addresses the issue of evil. The same New Testament also tells us to acknowledge every good thing that is in us in Christ Jesus. So which way is it: nothing good or every good thing?

The genius of Christ’s Gospel is in the blunt recognition of the face of evil. While other philosophies attempt to deal with evil by a list of self-help remedies from religious legalistic rules and disciplines to meditation techniques, the Gospel declares the human state hopeless without a conscious receiving of the life of God inside. Christ lives in me was the message of the apostle Paul, who wrote half the New Testament. I am still fully me, but Christ’s spirit of love, forgiveness and faith has come into me. Do people who receive Christ live perfect lives? Absolutely not, we fail and we have the option to maintain self-centered lives. What is the advantage then? Much in every way, Christ empowers us to break evil habits, and gives us the choice to yield to the new life that is in us.

Some in the media were quick to jump on the fact that Breivik is a self-proclaimed ‘Christian fundamentalist’. His ‘manifesto’ makes it clear what he means, “If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ or God, you are a religious Christian. I, and many with me, do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ or God. We instead believe in Christianity as a cultural and social identity and a platform for morality.”

That’s a huge distinction. It is not the cultural Christ, but the indwelling Christ, that makes a person a Christian.

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