Pod people: Breivik a liberal Lutheran terrorist?

Sorry about the headline, I just couldn't stop myself. Actually, I don't think that's a good label for this loner and his unorthodox church-of-one approach to religion.

But stop and think about it for a minute. One of the only things we know about him, religion-wise, is that he chose to be baptized into the Church of Norway, which is a mainline form of Lutheranism and a state church that, for the most part, leans to the left in unity with its government. We also know that Anders Behring Breivik, by his own admission, is not a "personal Christian" (to use the Norwegian phrase) and that he is not a very religious person, implying that the basics of the faith are not essential to his life.

So he is a Lutheran who doesn't claim a relationship with Jesus, nor does he believe the core tenets of orthodox Christianity. That would make him, uh, a Lutheran agnostic? A doctrinal liberal?

Actually, this just shows us that (a) his church identity is national and ethnic and (b) his church identity is not based in belief, practice and experience (unless facts emerge that say otherwise). It would be wrong to call him a liberal Lutheran. It would be wrong to call him a conservative Lutheran. The f-word? Forget it.

GetReligion podcast listeners will not be surprised that the "let's label Breivik" discussion was still on my mind when we recorded the "Crossroads" episode for this week (click here to head straight to it or head on over to iTunes).

While we were recording this, it suddenly hit me that I had better warn listeners to brace themselves, to sit down and to prepare the be shocked. Why? I needed to praise the New York Times, more than once.

Now I need to do that again. The Times is still wrestling with coming up with a fair, fact-based ID for this terrorist. Here is the top of another story that offers another take on this:

OSLO -- The prime minister of Norway acknowledged ... that his country had fundamentally changed as a result of the attacks on a youth camp and government complex last week, but he vowed to protect the culture of openness that is a source of Norwegian pride.

The attacks have prompted officials to start reassessing Norway’s policy on public security, which seemed defined by a belief that bad things happen elsewhere. Anders Behring Breivik, a self-described Christian crusader who has admitted to the attacks, appeared to face few obstacles when he detonated a car bomb on a busy government plaza last Friday, killing 8 people, then traveled 19 miles and took a ferry to the youth camp on the island of Utoya, where he slaughtered at least 68 people.

You can see the editors distancing themselves from the label, right?

So Breivik is a "self-described" (yes, that's one of the only facts we have) "Christian" (Church of Norway, on the books) "crusader." Now that last word calls up all kinds of language in his manifesto and it also points toward the nature of his violence -- what he views as a necessary war with Islam.

Frankly, this is one of the better labels that I have seen in the mainstream.

Meanwhile, we have to keep waiting for some hard facts, as journalists try to see what role religion played -- if any -- in his man's political war on the political doctrine called multiculturalism.

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