Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Was Breivik a Christian?

Perhaps you've heard that the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik was a Christian fundamentalist. Perhaps you were disheartened that a Christian would do such a horrific thing, or perhaps you felt a bit of schadenfreude in thinking that Christians are just as bad as anyone else, or perhaps you thought that the New Atheists are right in alleging that religion is the source of most of the world's evil.

Well, as a lot of people suspected when the media first put it out that this evil man was a Christian, the meme didn't survive a careful reading of his own manifesto.

John West at Evolution News and Views has done the leg work in uncovering Breivik's beliefs, and it turns out that he's in fact an atheistic Social Darwinist who used Christianity as cultural camouflage.

If you're one of the folks mentioned above you really should read West's essay. Here's a sample:
[I]t now turns out Breivik really isn't a Christian fundamentalist after all. According to his 1518-page manifesto "A European Declaration of Independence," he may not even believe in God. Instead of Christianity, his views are largely based on what might be described as a virulent mixture of scientific fundamentalism and Social Darwinism.

To be sure, Breivik identifies himself as "100% Christian" in his manifesto (p. 1403), and he certainly talks incessantly about defending "Christian" civilization. But he also makes clear that his Christianity is simply a pose adopted for political reasons.

Answering why he chose to align himself with a group supposedly espousing "Christian values," he states: "My choice was based purely [on] pragmatism." (p. 1380) He goes on to explain that "Christianity" has far more "mass appeal" than nationalism, white supremacy, or a revival of paganism, and so it is a more effective "banner" under which to build his movement. (p. 1381) In sum, Breivik views religion like Machiavelli viewed religion--as a political tool. It's worth noting that Machiavelli's The Prince is listed by Breivik as one of his favorite books. (p. 1407)

As for his own religious beliefs and practices, Breivik frankly admits: "I'm not going to pretend I'm a very religious person as that would be a lie. I've always been very pragmatic and influenced by my secular surroundings and environment." (p. 1344, emphasis added) Indeed, Breivik acknowledges that he used to believe that "Religion is a crutch for weak people. What is the point in believing in a higher power if you have confidence in yourself!? Pathetic."

[Breivik] continues: "Perhaps this is true for many cases. Religion is a crutch for many weak people and many embrace religion for self serving reasons as a source for drawing mental strength (to feed their weak emotional state f[or] example during illness, death, poverty etc.). Since I am not a hypocrite, I'll say directly that this is my agenda as well." (p. 1344, emphasis added)
Breivik's claim to be a Christian was a cynical attempt to appear socially innocuous. In fact, he was a Christian in the same sense that Hitler was a Christian.

Breivik was a Social Darwinist and an atheist, which, I think, is significant. Ask yourself this question, If both atheism and Darwinism are true in what sense did Breivik do anything wrong? What objective ground does an atheistic Darwinian have for believing that it's wrong for the strong to kill the weak?

Richard Dawkins, who is both a Darwinist and an atheist, makes this very point when he asks, "What's to prevent us from saying that Hitler was right? I mean, that's a genuinely difficult question."

He's right, it is a difficult question, at least it is for a man who accepts no transcendent moral law or authority. Were Anders Breivik actually a Christian he would have acted in utter violation of all that Christ taught. On atheism, however, his massacre of those young people violated no objective moral law and thus incurs no moral, only legal, guilt.

Freedom or Statism

Tony Blankley of the Washington Times explains why the current debate in Washington over how best to handle the debt ceiling is really an exercise in niggling around the margins. Spending needs to be cut and needs to be cut much more drastically than either party is proposing. What's at stake is nothing less than our liberty. Here's the crux of his essay:
Until a couple of years ago, I never actually expected to see a constitutional restoration. I assumed that America was on a slow, irreversible trek to the statist side. But the sheer incompetence and, in some cases, mendacity, of the current crop of statist politicians in both the legislative and executive branches seem likely to bring on an economic crisis that will actually force Americans to decide between a constitutional restoration and a full embrace of statism.

When the current, failing effort to fund our medical and retirement benefits programs creates an American bond crisis (Greece today, Spain, Portugal, Ireland tomorrow, America probably soon) that will lead to actually running out of money to pay the promised benefits. When that avoidable crisis hits, I'm pretty sure the American people will overthrow statism for restored constitutionally limited government. If we flop on the statist side, then the great American freedom experiment will be over.

The Washington power holders could and should avoid that stark choice if they would actually try to get our fiscal condition under control. But they have drifted into fantasyland. It is hard not to suspect that even the recent "big solution," a $4 trillion alleged reduction-in-deficit plan (rumored to be $1.3 trillion in taxes and $2.7 trillion in spending cuts) is inadequate to the challenge.

First, it is too small a reduction — we need to reduce deficits by at least $10 trillion over 10 years. Second, President Obama talks about attaining that $4 trillion in the 12th out-year. That is another way of saying that such proposed spending cuts will mostly be backloaded to the years 2023 and 2024 — three presidential administrations and six Congresses from now. That would constitute the world's longest can-kick.

Meanwhile, the proposed tax increases that are described beguilingly by their advocates as responsible, sensible and necessary are both excessive and inadequate - and misrepresented. Not only is raising tax revenues during an economic slowdown a violation of even Keynesian principles, which recommend both deficit spending and tax cuts during economic contractions, but if the George W. Bush tax cuts were repealed for all couples with incomes of more than $250,000, it would yield just $700 billion over 10 years, while the entitlement shortfalls will be about $10 trillion. That would include severely limiting mortgage interest deductions and charitable deductions.

It is representative of the dysfunctions that arise when symbolism replaces policy calculation that the president has recently taken to calling for raising the taxes on corporate jets — a provision of the tax code that the Democratic Congress passed in 2009 and the president signed into law — reasonably justified at the time as an effort to protect more than 11,000 workers on corporate-jet construction who were losing their jobs. Now, with unemployment again going up, that same policy, which once symbolized helping workers, is characterized as needed punishment for the plutocrats.

If the federal government really went after all those billionaires the Democrats snarl about and confiscated all the property of the country's 400 billionaires (down to their last set of cuff links and children's baseball mitts) it would yield only $1.3 trillion — about five months of federal spending.
We're headed for a cliff and the only party in Washington that seems to be serious about averting catastrophe are the Republicans. They keep putting forward proposals to at least limit the rate of increase in spending, but the Democrats keep shooting them down. The problem is that we spend far more than we have. Conservatives want to roll back projected spending increases, liberals want to raise taxes, but as Blankley and others have pointed out, even if the government confiscated everything that the "millionaires and billionaires" owned it would only solve the problem for a few months.

Any long term solution to the problem, any restoration of fiscal stability, is going to require that we severely curtail how much we spend and borrow. It'll be painful, to be sure, but if we don't do it our children and grandchildren will find themselves living in a third world country.

Making it in America

Mona Charen tells us a wonderful story with a couple of valuable lessons for a lot of Americans who complain they can't get ahead because the deck is stacked against them or the playing field isn't level. Her column is based on a memoir written by a Chinese immigrant named Ying Ma who overcame enormous hardship and obstacles to graduate from Cornell and then Stanford Law school. Here's Charen's lede:
It's impossible to read Ying Ma's fascinating memoir, "Chinese Girl in the Ghetto," without wincing. She was born in Guangzhou, China's third largest city. Throughout her mostly carefree early childhood years, she kept her family's secret: that her parents repeatedly sought permission to emigrate to the United States.

Her family was not poor, at least not by Chinese standards of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Yet her daily life would be considered squalid by first world standards. Her family lived in a two-bedroom apartment. She, her brother and her parents shared one bedroom (and two plank beds). Her paternal grandparents and an uncle shared the other. At times, another uncle slept in the living room. They shared the kitchen and bathroom (such as it was) with the family next door. There was no running hot water, and the toilet was a hole in the floor. The elderly had a particularly hard time crouching.

Ying Ma's childhood was nonetheless relatively carefree. She longed for more possessions and eagerly consumed whatever Western products — like nail polish and candy — her relatives brought from nearby Hong Kong. But she excelled in school, was surrounded by friends, was doted upon by her grandfather and looked forward (here's the wince) to a fantastic new life in America.

As a child, Ying could not comprehend the more menacing aspects of totalitarian rule. Her third grade teacher, for example, announced one day that instead of doing math, "You are all going to spend the hour confessing." When the pupils expressed confusion, teacher Fu explained, "The school knows that each of you, or someone you know, has behaved wrongly....Now start writing."

Ying recalls, "I always believed my teachers. Now I was genuinely worried. Did the school already know I had relatives from Hong Kong who brought me toys and clothing from the world of the capitalist running dogs? Did it know I really, really liked American movies...?"
The rest of the narrative is fascinating, especially the glimpse Charen gives us of what Ying had to endure when she arrived in the States as a child unable to speak English. Her experience in U.S. public schools reminds me of the story of the Vietnamese family portrayed in the movie Journey from the Fall.

There are a couple of take-away lessons in Ying Ma's story. One is that the belief, evidently widespread in the minority community, that racism is a sin that only whites are guilty of is risible.

The second, also prevalent among those in the minority community who wish to rationalize their own failure to achieve, is that the reason minorities can't get ahead is because they're so disadvantaged due to poverty and racial discrimination that they simply can't compete with the more fortunate. Ying Ma's accomplishment shows what a cop out this is.

Ying succeeded in the same way anyone can succeed in this country - through hard work, tenacity, good choices, and a determination to rise above her circumstances.