25 July 2011

On Norway, and the Sun, and Speaking Too Soon

Charlie Brooker has a fine piece in today's Guardian where he is more scathing than usual about the British media, saying, for instance:
'I went to bed in a terrible world and awoke inside a worse one. At the time of writing, details of the Norwegian atrocity are still emerging, although the identity of the perpetrator has now been confirmed and his motivation seems increasingly clear: a far-right anti-Muslim extremist who despised the ruling party.

Presumably he wanted to make a name for himself, which is why I won't identify him. His name deserves to be forgotten. Discarded. Deleted. Labels like "madman", "monster", or "maniac" won't do, either. There's a perverse glorification in terms like that. If the media's going to call him anything, it should call him pathetic; a nothing.

On Friday night's news, they were calling him something else. He was a suspected terror cell with probable links to al-Qaida. Countless security experts queued up to tell me so. This has all the hallmarks of an al-Qaida attack, they said. Watching at home, my gut feeling was that that didn't add up. Why Norway? And why was it aimed so specifically at one political party? But hey, they're the experts. They're sitting there behind a caption with the word "EXPERT" on it. Every few minutes the anchor would ask, "What kind of picture is emerging?" or "What sense are you getting of who might be responsible?" and every few minutes they explained this was "almost certainly" the work of a highly-organised Islamist cell.


Soon, the front page of Saturday's Sun was rolling off the presses. "Al-Qaeda" Massacre: NORWAY'S 9/11 – the weasel quotes around the phrase "Al Qaeda" deemed sufficient to protect the paper from charges of jumping to conclusions.'
Even as the front page of the Sun was previewed online, friends of mine were sceptical. The quotation marks were the big clue, and the standard quip was that, now barred from hacking phones and bribing police, the Sun had just taken to making stuff up. No other paper, it's worth noting, ran a frontpage headline even tentatively ascribing blame. It's worth taking a look at that front page.

Fantastic, isn't it? And that's nothing compared to what was inside. I don't mean what they left on the website after they corrected it once it became obvious how wrong they were. I mean what they printed, and published, and what several million people will have read on Saturday morning.

The current line is increasingly that Anders Behring Breivik is a fundamentalist Christian. This is obviously wrong too. He may call himself a 'Christian' on his Facebook page, but page 1307 of his online manifesto reveals a rather idiosyncratic understanding of what it is to be a Christian:
'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.'
So while I'd certainly say that as someone who's been baptised he is -- ontologically speaking -- a Christian in the strictest and original sense, it's pretty clear that he's not a Christian in the more mundane sense of what he believes. Certainly, it's clear than nobody who thinks of Christianity as a mere matter of belief could ever say that he's a Christian in any sense. Christians often say that Christianity isn't a religion so much as a relationship, and although this is a cliché, it's only one because it's true. Christianity can be 'a cultural, social, identity, and moral platform' but it can only be that if it is first a living relationship with Christ.

I'm not using a 'no true Scotsman' argument here. This is an empirical thing, insofar as we can judge based on what this Eurabia-obsessed nut has written and said. After all, as Lewis said in Mere Christianity:
'It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men's hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge.

It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense. And obviously a word which we can never apply is not going to be a very useful word. As for the unbelievers, they will no doubt cheerfully use the word in the refined sense. It will become in their mouths simply a term of praise. In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good man. But that way of using the word will be no enrichment of the language, for we already have the word good. Meanwhile, the word Christian will have been spoiled for any really useful purpose it might have served.

We must therefore stick to the original, obvious meaning. The name Christians was first given at Antioch (Acts 11:26) to "the disciples," to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles. There is no question of its being restricted to those who profited by that teaching as much as they should have. There is no question of its being extended to those who in some refined, spiritual, inward fashion were "far closer to the spirit of Christ" than the less satisfactory of the disciples. The point is not a theological, or moral one. It is only a question of using words so that we can all understand what is being said. When a man who accepts the Christian doctrine lives unworthily of it, it is much clearer to say he is a bad Christian than to say he is not a Christian.'
Breivik clearly distinguishes between 'religious' Christians and  those for whom 'Christian' is a synonym for someone with a certain understanding of the West, that being a reconstructed fantasy Christendom, starkly opposed to the Marxist-Islamist 'Eurabia' of so many right-wing nightmares. In truth, though, I don't think anybody should be trying to pigeonhole him among their enemies. He's a nut, that's all, one who's consumed by a violent hatred of Islam. More than that, I really don't think we can say.

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