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O’Reilly Tries To Thread The Needle On Norway Terrorist And Christianity

Reported by Ellen - July 27, 2011 -

Yesterday, I wrote about Bill O’Reilly’s efforts to distinguish Norway’s right-wing terrorist suspect Anders Breivik from jihadists. So upset was O’Reilly that Breivik had been described as a Christian that he spent two segments Monday night attacking the so-called liberal media and the lefties who are complicit. In my post, I said that O’Reilly may have had a legitimate point when he noted that Breivik, unlike say, Al Qaeda operatives, was not an operative of a religious institution but that that distinction had been obscured by O'Reilly's gratuitous vitriol at the left. Well, maybe O’Reilly read my post and took it to heart. Last night (7/26/11), O’Reilly hosted Sally Quinn for a more reasoned debate. Unfortunately for O’Reilly, though, his ultimate argument seemed to rest on the fact that the Fort Hood shooter had a business card calling himself a "Soldier of Allah" whereas Breivik had nothing “officially” Christian. Never mind, of course, the manifesto that Breivik left behind indicates that he considered himself a Christian and claimed to be acting on behalf of Christians.

On Democracy Now today, Amy Goodman played a clip from O’Reilly’s comments about Breivik during her interview with writer Jeff Sharlet. He said about Breivik’s manifesto:

The reality is, there’s a story that emerges when you read the entire manifesto. In the beginning, he says, you know, "I wasn’t particularly religious. Then I sort of glommed onto Christianity, and I realized I had to have a Christian identity." And by the end, he says he is religious. And, you know, as I said, he’s citing a lot of scripture, Bible verses. Bill O’Reilly says he’s not even Protestant. He agrees. He sees himself as being called back to Rome, to Catholicism. He described having high hopes for Pope Benedict early on, when Benedict said some very extreme anti-Islamic things, but he’s been disappointed. He doesn’t think Benedict is the right guy. But again and again, he says, "Look, I’m doing this for Christ." He even, at one point in the manifesto, talks about—he says, you know, "Some people have a personal relationship with Jesus. I don’t." So that’s being used to say, "Well, then, clearly he’s not a Christian." It’s worth noting that, by the end, he gets that personal relationship.

But it’s also worth thinking about the tradition he’s in. He’s not in the kind of American emotional evangelical tradition of Protestantism. He’s, in fact, very critical of that. And again, he goes to American sources. He cites a priest, Father Dwight Longenecker, a Bob Jones University alumnus who converted, and writes a very long critique of what he sees as "sentimental Christianity." He prefers what he describes as "Crusader Christianity." And in that, he’s not alone on the American Christian right.

Sharlet’s point – that it’s not really about the Christianity per se but the “crusader” mentality – is ultimately far more significant to those of us who are more interested in dealing with all kinds of extremism rather than in honing in on differentiating between Christians, Muslims and so on that ultimately does nothing to get at the cause other than to foment further antagonism. Sadly, it was a point that Quinn seemed to want to get at but never did.

Quinn did a fine job of highlighting Breivik’s self-proclaimed allegiance to Christianity and debunking the importance of whether or not he was part of any congregation. Citing some important elements of Breivik's manifesto, she asked, “Who are we to decide whether he is a Christian or not?” But she allowed herself to be sidelined into O’Reilly’s comparison of Breivik to Muslim terrorists by noting that plenty of Muslims would say that the Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Hasan, was not a “real” Muslim for his actions.

That wasn’t O’Reilly’s point but apparently he didn’t have any evidence to show that Hasan was affiliated with or acted on behalf of any specific Muslim group. So with unintentional hilartiy, O'Reilly said, “Here’s the difference. I’m not saying that he was a good Muslim. I’m saying that he was a Muslim terrorist because he carried a business card that said, ‘Soldier of Allah’ and he committed his crimes in the name of Allah.”

According to O’Reilly, that made a world of difference. “He (Hasan) killed because he believed that Allah told him to kill. The guy in Norway didn’t kill because he thinks Jesus wanted him to kill those people. Jesus had nothing to do with it, he wasn’t even cited. And the word, using the word ‘Christian’ to label this guy is dishonest.”

Near the end, Quinn said, “My point is, I don’t see why we have to define people by their religion. I mean, there are nut cases in every religion.” I’d like to hope she was going where I wanted her to go – that making a big deal of any distinction really only served to legitimize hostility - but she got interrupted by O’Reilly arguing that “using a religious war” was some kind of Muslim-only characteristic. When Quinn differed, O’Reilly semi-joked, “Well, Benito Mussolini would have liked you, Ms. Quinn, that’s for sure because that’s what he was doing.”

Sorry, O'Reilly. While you may be able to argue that Breivik was not as involved in any Christian institutions, ultimately there's just not that much difference between him and Hasan.

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