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Following the horrific events in Oslo, Norway, and the ensuing rhetoric about it, this question came to me. Who indeed is Christian?

As you will recall, long before much in the way of facts were uncovered, a shocking number of pundits and “journalists” speculated freely that Al Qaeda had struck innocents once again. Once the alleged perpetrator began to talk, all this changed, and we learned that the actor was a self-proclaimed Christian and fundamentalist. His written screed backed this up, with illusions to the Crusades.

As we have now come to expect, the Right was furious. How dare this madman do his evil deeds in the name of Christianity? In fact, some of these misguided folks claimed that they were the “true victims” since the Left now would use this crime to attack the far-right cause. Indeed the terrorist named several anti-Muslim activists in this country as being an inspiration to him. So the extreme right had reason to be concerned.

Other’s unbelievably, still wanting to put a Muslim face on this tragedy, said that the actor “had a point” in suggesting that multiculturalism was a disaster for Europe, and by inference for America as well. This tactic was rather soundly condemned: how can you uphold anything that comes from a crazed killer?

But perhaps the most profound result was people like Bill O’Reilly, pundit for Fox “News” who proclaimed that the Norwegian killer was “no Christian”. He claimed that one was not entitled to that title merely by saying it, especially when one’s actions belied any real understanding of the teachings of Jesus.

Of course, Mr. O’Reilly has never had any problem with calling Middle Eastern terrorists, “Islamic Terrorists” simply because they were of the Muslim faith or claimed to be. One begins to smell a lack a rat here.

But the question remains. What constitutes a Christian? The question of course can equally be asked of Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and any other faith tradition.

Who gets to decide when one is acting or talking or thinking within the acceptable parameters of one’s tradition?

I, for instance, would argue that The Westboro “Christians” aren’t Christians at all, or one’s whose understanding of Christianity is deeply flawed. I and many others sometimes refer to fundamentalist Christians as Christianists, to signify that they use and distort biblical passages in order to serve their personal views of the way the world “ought to be.”

Other’s argue that Mormons are not “true” Christians. And the list goes on and on.

The point is, that the majority of Muslims throughout the world might well argue that those who engage in terrorism are misguided and self-serving in their interpretation of the Qur’an, and are not “true” Muslims. Perhaps that is said by some portions of the Jewish community. There are Buddhists who engage or have engaged in violence. Are there Buddhists who would argue that they are not “true” Buddhists?

So the question remains, who decides?

There is no human answer here of course. The ultimately satisfying answer can only be, that God will and does determine this issue, if it is of any importance at all. We, individually or in community cannot know the mind and spirit of any other person. We cannot judge what faith means to them, or how they interpret it.

Is the man who killed Dr. Tiller a Christian? He would certainly, and does claim that he acted to defend God’s word. Were the Inquisitionists Christians? Were the Crusaders? The KKK? White Militias? All have killed in the name of God.

Again, we mere mortals do best to leave that alone. Nothing is served by trying to “protect” one’s sect of Christianity by claiming that this or that one “doesn’t belong to us.” The truth is that fundamentalism is not a Christian thing, nor a Muslim thing, nor even necessarily a religious thing. It is a state of being, in which the believer thinks that he/she has the answers to whatever issues matter to them. They have interpreted correctly and those that disagree must be defeated. The manner of their defeat can be many things, but for a fringe it can and will include violence.

It is this that is opposed, and not the thinking itself. I am well able to accept your self-serving interpretations as long as they remain yours and not ones you seek to impose upon me by force.

If the Norway shooter believes he is Christian, then he is entitled to do so. He’s not my vision of one, but I am not the decider. And neither is anybody else.

Amen.

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