Making Sense Of The Senseless

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
31st July 2011

Tagged: fundamentalism sin

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Last weekend’s bombing and shooting in Norway is awful. The pain and suffering of the innocent citizens and their families is incalculable. The actions were more than painful, they were wicked and evil. There is no excuse.

While there is no excuse, we still search for reasons. From the outset of media commentary, people have been struggling to understand the reason. We want an understanding that somehow distances ourselves from the perpetrator – “for we would never do such a thing”.

So the first step in analysing the reasons is to describe the perpetrator in some terms that distinguish him from us.  He is insane, or a Muslim, a terrorist, a fundamentalist, a right wing extremist or a left wing radical, a Nazi or a Marxist. These are some of the lenses through which we look at the evil of the human heart and distance ourselves from it at the same time.

This time the man has published a long document detailing what he stands for and the reasons for his actions. But before it was read, media deadlines had to be met. People needed an explanation to help them process the information - to make sense of what happened. So the journalists fell back to their usual metaphors, paradigms and narratives by which they make sense of the world.  Without any evidence they gave the reason for the unthinkable.

At first sight it had all the hallmarks of Islamic extremists. Norway has troops in Afghanistan and bombing has been a common method of Muslim terrorists. Here surely is the next episode. How easy it is to blame all evil on others – on Muslims. But on this occasion the criminal is not a Muslim. Just the reverse, he is anti-Islamic trying to drive Muslims out of Norway.

On Facebook he describes himself as “Christian”. But that does not make sense of his actions, for Christians do not normally bomb and shoot their opponents. So the media used a favourite story, labelling him: “a fundamentalist Christian”.  

To the secularist mindset all religions are the same – they are ‘not us’ but superstitious nonsense. Secularists make no attempt to differentiate between religions, for ‘they all have the same intellectual architecture, the same psychological pathology’.That is why journalists apply a word like “fundamentalist” to any religion. It is a generic term that means something like “an extremist who actually believes and lives by their religion in the full flower of its irrational, unenlightened, supernatural, superstitious literalism.” The origin and development of ‘fundamentalism’ as a vilifying swear word is ignored. A few years ago I complained to the National Portrait Gallery in London that to label Wesley and Whitfield “fundamentalist” was questionable to say the least but as an historical label put them in the wrong country in the wrong century!  To find out more about this see “Fundamentalism” on The Chat Room http://phillipjensen.com/video/fundamentalism/

To the secularist media’s prejudice, fundamentalist religion is a good explanation. To them, ‘religion causes war’ – especially when people believe their religion. So cultural, tribal religion is considered safe but fundamentalist religion is dangerous. ‘Religions as markers of our heritage and culture are fairly harmless and vaguely interesting – but as a belief system, religions are deceitful, divisive and dangerous.’ So religious tolerance and multi-cultural broadmindedness mean that all should be free to practice their religious rituals in privacy and peace but woe-betide any who would want to actually believe their religion, shape their life by it, or use it to critique the belief system of secularists!

However, as the week wore on people read the writings of the Norwegian perpetrator and it became abundantly clear that he is not really Christian. He wrote: “If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God then you are a religious Christian. Myself and many more like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God. We do however believe in Christianity as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform. This makes us Christian”.  This is no fundamentalist Christian, nor even a religious Christian, but purely a tribal, cultural Christian – the kind secularists find mildly acceptable. 

So other explanations have to be found: insanity, right wing conservative politics and the like. Each explanation labels him as somebody ‘other’ than us, somebody that we can distance ourselves from. But of course he is just like us. That is the terrifying part. He is like us. He looks and dresses like us. He is the-boy-next-door, educated, well-mannered, seemingly no threat to anybody. The only difference, of which we can be sure, is that he went about bombing and shooting people, and we don’t.

Could a Christian commit such atrocities? Yes, of course a Christian could. Not as a result of commitment to Christ but rather in defiance of his Saviour. It would be an appalling denial of his Lord.  But yet, in keeping with the Bible’s teaching on the universality of sin, anybody is capable of terrible wrongdoing. For the Bible warns that all people are sinful.

Nothing should surprise us when it comes to humanity’s capacity for good or ill. Humans are the creatures made in the image of the God of truth and life who have chosen to follow the god of lies and death. The sinner is not ‘other’ - he is me. It is the naivety of secularists that teach ‘all people are good and we should have faith in human nature’. Utopias have the unrealistic myth of human perfectibility where all people learn to live in harmony without tribalism, envy, greed or fear. But this man’s fear of others arouses our fear of others – others, like this man.