Is this a religious vision, and am I right in calling Breivik a Christian terrorist? It is true that Breivik—and McVeigh, for that matter—were much more concerned about politics, race, and history than about scripture and religious belief; with Breivik even going so far as to write that “It is enough that you are a Christian-agnostic or a Christian atheist (an atheist who wants to preserve at least the basics of the European Christian cultural legacy (Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter)).
But much the same can be said about Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and many other Islamist activists. Bin Laden was a businessman and engineer, and Zawahiri was a medical doctor; neither were theologians or clergy. Their writings show that they were much more interested in Islamic history than theology or scripture, and imagined themselves as re-creating glorious moments in Islamic history in their own imagined wars. Tellingly, Breivik writes of al Qaeda with admiration, as if he would love to create a Christian version of their religious cadre.
If bin Laden is a Muslim terrorist, Breivik and McVeigh are surely Christian ones. Breivik was fascinated with the Crusades and imagined himself to be a member of the Knights Templar, the crusader army of a thousand years ago. But in an imagined cosmic warfare time is suspended, and history is transcended as the activists imagine themselves to be acting out timeless roles in a sacred drama. The tragedy is that these religious fantasies are played out in real time, with real and cruel consequences.