How do you even begin to understand what goes through the mind of someone like Anders Behring Breivik, the 32-year-old Norwegian who admitted to a bomb blast in Oslo, the capital of Norway, that killed eight people, followed by a shooting rampage at an island youth summer camp that killed 68 people?
Mental illness? Maybe in the way that choosing any act of evil shows a sort of illness, but not apparently in the modern medical sense, at least according to the evidence dug up in the media in the week after the attack. Some of his friends appeared to know he held some extreme views on issues such as immigration and Muslim demographic expansion in Western Europe, but by all accounts he seemed a normal, sociable, likeable person. No one seemed to think he was creepy or dangerous, as did so many of the associates of Jared Loughner, the troubled young man who in January shot dead six people in an attack on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona.
Perverted religious fervor? Although some media outlets initially labeled him a “Christian fundamentalist” or a “Christian terrorist,” it quickly became clear that Breivik’s attachment to Christianity is more historical — read, Crusader-times — than personal or devotional. He seems to have some regard for the papacy, again apparently mostly for historical reasons as leaders against Muslim encroachment in Europe, is a nominal Lutheran, was a member of the Freemasons and expressed admiration for early Scandinavian paganism. But as a New York Times columnist points out, Brievik writes, “I guess I’m not an excessively religious man.”
Ideological zealotry? Maybe. But there are plenty of people who hold strong feelings about preserving traditional culture, assimilation of foreigners and the spread of Islam in the West. It is a difference in kind, not degree, to demonstrate commitment to those beliefs by cold-bloodedly shooting young person after young person while they futilely are begging to be spared.
Another possibility was suggested by Michael Cook, editor of the “dignitarian” commentary website MercatorNet. He noted Brievik’s broken home of origin and the young man’s retreat into an online world.
“Surfing the internet gives you facts, not values to live by,” Cook wrote. “You can only learn morality and self-knowledge through commitment and engagement with other people, not by googling. At a time when families are falling apart and many children are growing up without engagement with their parents, how many more Breiviks are out there?”
Hopefully very few.
Whatever Brievik’s motivation, it speaks of evil. Pope Benedict XVI, during a public appearance after the attack, made this plea: “To all, I wish to repeat the urgent call to abandon the way of hate forever and to flee from the logic of evil.” To which we can only add, “Amen.”