Q. Calling himself an anti-Muslim ’crusader’ for ’Christendom,’ Anders Behring Breivik killed 76 people in Norway last week. Should Breivik be called a ‘Christian terrorist’?
A. I need to confess that I have a somewhat loose connection to Anders Behring Breivik, who recently killed 76 people in Norway. You see, he lifted words for his manifesto from the manifesto of “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski. I never met Ted, but he and I were in the same research field of geometric function theory, and I published some joint papers with Kaczynski’s dissertation advisor.
When Kaczynski was caught, a slightly paranoid math colleague of mine became unnecessarily concerned that there might be an anti-mathematician backlash. It helped that nobody could think of other mathematicians who were guilty of anything more than eccentric behavior. History showed that violence was more likely to be committed against, rather than by, mathematicians. Hypatia of Alexandria had an illustrious math career until she was burned alive in 415 by a mob of Christian monks. And St. Augustine said, “The good Christian should beware of mathematicians, and all those who make empty prophecies. The danger already exists that the mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and to confine man in the bonds of Hell.”
While Kaczynski never made any connections between his mathematics and his violent acts, Breivik indicated in his manifesto that he was a conservative Christian engaged in a Christian war to defend Europe against the threat of Muslim domination. His acts are consistent with both biblical Christian theology and Christian behavior. The Bible and other holy books have passages encouraging the murder of infidels. They also have passages about loving your neighbor. I think we can tell more about individuals by which parts of their contradictory holy books they emphasize than by which religion they have in common.
Here’s what I don’t accept: the claim that Breivik is not a “true” Christian because of what he did. Yes he is. You might not like the kind of Christian he is, but he is what he says he is. So is “God hates fags” Christian Pastor Fred Phelps. Similarly, Osama bin Laden was a true Muslim. The Crusaders were true Christians, as were those who murdered abortion doctors, as were most Nazis.
Despite Ted Kaczynski’s terrorist acts, he is a true mathematician. I wish my math publications were nearly as impressive. But math and morality don’t always go together, and neither do religion and morality. I leave for others to opine whether there are positive or negative correlations. I will say that compared to the general population, there are far smaller percentages of mathematicians than Christians in prison for violent crimes. Also, a much smaller percentage of atheists.
Herb Silverman | Jul 27, 2011 11:09 AM