Thursday, 28 July 2011

Thoughts on Breivik

Social commentators are making a mistake by takings Breivik's 'manifesto' seriously as a reason for his appalling crimes. It's akin to treating 'Mein Kampf' as a reasoned political tract. Breivik's actions should not be dignified with such an approach. If the pundits wish to help people understand what has happened in Norway, let them point others to the more likely truth of the matter. Breivik's lawyer has, after interviewing his client, said that he believes Breivik to be quite mad. From this far-away vantage point I'm inclined to agree, not that his madness absolves him from his crimes I hasten to add. For we are not talking about 'ordinary' madness here (if I can put it like that) but something much more sinister and disturbing. This 'madness' is compatible with intricate planning to bring evil intent to fruition while all the time masquerading as a normal, even charismatic human being. With Breivik and those like him we cross over from the 'normal' pathology of original sin (sooner or later the category of original sin must be brought in here to make such actions understandable to us) into a purer form of evil.

What psychiatrists call 'personality disorders', which I prefer to regard as the 'pathology of original sin', are unfortunately much more common than we realize (fortunately not all are equally serious or dangerous, and most people with a disorder do more harm to themselves than others). Thankfully not every psychopath ('antisocial personality disorder') becomes a mass murderer; most wreak much more banal types of havoc upon those around them (ever wonder about the motivations for senseless cruelty to women, children and animals that the police and social services have to deal with every day?). But the psychopaths, together with the narcissists ('narcissistic personality disorder', not your average self absorbed modern), are actually responsible for much of the anguish that is inflicted upon people in this world through interpersonal conflict right on up to the international conflict of war (Hitler being the classic case of this).

We've probably all come across these types of personalities, even without realizing it. People who are more or less balanced and only 'ordinarily sinful' (if I can put it that way) often don't recognize incarnate evil when we meet it, precisely because it is beyond our ordinary experience of life - that's why 'ordinary people' can be easily drawn in and manipulated by psychopaths and narcissists, until one day they wake up and realize there is something terribly wrong with this other person. If anyone has seen the unforgettable German film 'Downfall', about Hitler's last days, there is a moment in the bunker when the assembled generals realize Hitler is completely deranged and driven not by love for 'the Fatherland' but by something else completely - the scene brilliantly portrays a moment of collective awakening. Alas, it was much too late, and this made the generals themselves culpable.

Breivik's self-proclaimed motivations should be treated with caution - they are those of a psychopath who will latch on to anything at hand as fuel for his evil intent. He is probably even lying to himself about them. His claim that his act of mass murder was 'terrible but necessary' in the service of his ideology reminds me very much of Stalin's (yes, another psychopath) rationalization of the forced starvation of 30 million or so Ukrainian peasants in the 1930s, not to mention the millions more poor innocent souls (including churchmen) sent to the Gulag or just plain murdered by his thugs. With these characters we cross the line from the normal, everyday pathology of sin to complete moral derangement. And yes, the 'madness' of these men does not mean they are not responsible for their actions or should not be held accountable. I'm afraid that a society or state that fails to confront such evil in its midst and punish it colludes in its own destruction.


It would be a fascinating if disturbing task to sort through the life of a Breivik and learn from it - could a skilled diagnostician of souls determine the crucial moment the surrender to evil took place? If indeed there is such a moment - perhaps it is just an incremental process, and if so, does it mean there is hope that intervention in cases which are still borderline might prevent the development of a full-blown psychopathology? Toxic relationships with fathers seem to figure strongly in the biographies of psychopaths. This is perhaps the element of truth behind the otherwise false 'generational sin' teaching of some Pentecostals. That is concerning given the breakdown of the family in our Western societies and the estrangement of so many fathers from their sons. What whirlwind shall we reap come harvest time?


Leaving the individual Breivik aside, another aspect of this event is that Norwegian society, which has become quite liberal in its penal system (through denial of the reality of sin and the need to restrain evil and satisfy justice, I wonder? A society is always underwritten by a theology, for good or ill), now faces the problem that its laws apparently do not envisage dealing with a perpetrator of such evil actions. If the Breivik case leads to collective self-reflection and reform, some good at least may come of all this.


Please continue to pray for the families of the victims and for the people of Norway in their hour of darkness. May the light of Christ give them hope and consolation, as He once did for their devout ancestors.


Melanchthon said...

Thank you for your comments. He was quickly labeled a "fundamentalist Christian" by some in the media here, but he is only Christian in the nominal non-Muslim sense.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Thanks Jon. Same happened here (Lately I've been astounded by how often the press get major stories wrong).