Commentary: Thoughts About Norway

Robert Hunt, director of Global Theological Education at SMU's Perkins School of Theology, comments on the July 22 bombing and shooting spree in Norway that left at least 76 dead.

By Robert Hunt

In Anders Breivick we see a figure all too familiar in our Western world. A gun and violence obsessed youth plays out the violent fantasies of a video game world in our real world of flesh and blood. Psychologists will need to tell us why. Why do some individuals lose track of the boundary between fantasy and reality until virtual bloodshed becomes real blood? Clearer is the particular door through which Anders Breivick walked from his inner world to the outer. It was his fear of a Muslim takeover of Europe. It was a fear that the supposedly pristine and comfortable cultural furnishings of his outer culture and inner mind were going to be permanently changed by Islam. Yet Brevick was unlike his American counterparts, who tend to act out their angry Islamophobia at Muslims and their institutions. Breivik attacked what he thought was the root of the problem, a Norwegian government complicit by allowing and even encouraging social and cultural diversity. That door of fear was opened by Islamophobic speakers and websites.

Like Americans, Europeans should look closely at the forces that are emerging in their body politic. They should examine doors that those forces are opening between inner fears and real flesh and blood. Since the first civilization erected a rammed earth wall around a circle of crude houses there has been a near genetic fear among us of the barbarians at the gates and their agents in our midst. The Iliad and Beowulf, like all myths, tell the story of those fears at play in our human sub-conscious.

Fear of the night invader, fear of foreigners bearing gifts. Now Islamophobes in Europe and the U.S, like their counterparts in Muslim lands, are breaking down the barrier between our primal and irrational fears and our positive experience of human diversity. They are building a highway of hate and you can bet that it will carry violence. It always has.

Christians in particular need to understand this. Our habit of confession of sin, so often forgotten, is nothing other than this: We remind ourselves that when we look in the mirror we should see Grendel looking back with his teeth bared and ready for human blood. The rest of our liturgy seeks to humanize that beast just a bit by inviting into our souls the Spirit of Christ. Only then can we walk out into the world with something better than fear and hate.

The greatest failure of the Christian church has been to imagine that the barbarians are at the gates. In fact they are already seated in the pews.

The Trojan horse, the marauding worm, the deadly virus; these slipped into our hearts before the world ever heard of a computer, hackers, or a city called Troy. We took in barbarism in a bite of apple, and it has been with us ever since.

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