What Should We Make of Ritualistic Murder?

In recent months, Christian apologists have been forced to respond to claims that because Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 91 people in Norway last month, claimed to be a Christian on his facebook page that he somehow represented some seedy underbelly of the Christian belief. It was nonsense, of course, since it is apparent to anyone with even the most sketchy knowledge of Christianity that Jesus did not teach his followers to kill their enemies as Anders Behring Breivik did. He taught Christians to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute them. (Matt. 5:44)

Of course, it is hard to see in any way how the children and teenagers he murdered in cold blood could in any way be seen as Breivik's enemies, so his actions seem even less sane. But regardless of how Breivik designated these children as his enemies (or, at least, a tool to bring about some change that would help in the fight against his enemies), it is apparent that someone would have to debase the teachings of Jesus to think that it would be within the pale of Christianity for someone following the Lordship of Jesus should act in this way.

Incidentally, I think that the argument that Breivik is a Christian was put to death by (of all places) the Washington Post in an article entitled Anders Behring Breivik: Christian terrorist? Right-wing extremist? Madman? by Matthew N. Schmalz. Mr. Schmalz points out:

Amid summaries of the 1500 page manifesto, Breivik’s religious beliefs are set in the context of an explicitly political agenda: his vision of a Christian Europe is predicated on the expulsion of Muslims to stem the tide of “Islamization” and “multiculturalism.” When it comes to Muslims themselves, Breivik portrays them as cunning enemies by selectively, and superficially, referencing Islamic discussions of naskh (abrogation), taqiyya (dissimulation), and jihad (exertion). As many commentators have already pointed out, the real template for the manifesto seems to be the writings of Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski. The religious content of the manifesto, especially its references to Christianity, is a hodge-podge, a series of bizarre after-thoughts buttressing Breivik’s xenophobic and paranoid worldview.

Breivik calls himself a “cultural Christian.” Religious Christians, he observes, have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which he himself does not have. For Breivik, “Christendom” is a vehicle for preserving European self-identity and is not necessarily opposed to elements of “paganism” such as Breivik’s own “Odnistic/Norse” heritage, even though the cross, he argues, has a greater symbolic power than Thor’s hammer, Mj√∂lnir. In spite of this, the initiation ceremony Breivik envisages for “Knights Templar” has no cross, only a candle, sword, skull.

The Christian history that Breivik seeks to reenact is not the passion of Jesus Christ, but the narrative of the Crusades. Breivik rhapsodizes about battles and lists the indulgences promises to Crusaders by Popes Urban II and Innocent III. ***


Breivik’s vision is a Christianity without Christ. In the manifesto, Jesus is mentioned only as a foil against Islam or referenced in a contradictory way such as when Breivik attributes the survival of Egypt’s Coptic Christians to their acceptance of Jesus’s teaching to “put your sword in its place.”

This is almost always the case when it comes to violence done in the name of Christianity. In fact, the exceptions are so rare that they are hardly worth mentioning so I won't. Needless to say, murdering others in cold blood is not why Jesus, the One who sacrificed Himself to save all of mankind, came.

But not every religion is as peaceful.

Take Wicca, for example. Wicca, we are told, is a peaceful religion. According to the The Celtic Connection, "A magical home for all Wiccans, Witches and Pagans":

Contrary to what those who choose to persecute or lie about us wish to believe, Wicca is a very peaceful, harmonious and balanced way of life which promotes oneness with the divine and all which exists.

And, as one writer notes:

What comes to mind when you think of witches? Scary, ugly, old women dressed in black and riding a broomstick. Maybe she has a black cat in her arms or a cauldron on her front porch. Maybe she will kill your dog or put a "hex" on you, leaving you paralyzed! These are some of the myths about witches and witchcraft. However, they are very far from the truth. True Wicca is a peaceful religion dealing with nature. It believes in the preservation of our earth. If you use something from nature, replace it. It believes in using natural remedies for such things as minor ailments, shampoos, and soaps. As for animal or human sacrifices, the Wiccan Creed says it all. It reads "And it harm none, do as you will."

But if this is true, how do followers of Wicca respond to the news found in the Albuquerque Journal entitled Witch Pleads to Murder?

A self-proclaimed witch who had programmed the number of her victim in her cellphone under “Sacrifice” pleaded no contest Friday – albeit haltingly – to the second-degree murder of the man she stabbed to death in the Sandia foothills with a dagger.

The case made headlines because of the bizarre nature of the crime – Angela Sanford had met the victim at a casino less than a week earlier and asked him to meet her in the Sandias for a “Wiccan rite of spring.”

There, she stabbed him more than a dozen times with a dagger used in Wiccan rituals called an athame.

* * *

Wiccans have disavowed Sanford’s actions and said adherents of the religion do not practice blood sacrifice. The athame is not used in any type of sacrifice, but as a consecrated item in their rituals.

Now, I perfectly understand the desire to avoid connecting this athame with sacrifice, and as shown by the problem experienced by Christians trying to respond to Breivik's bastardization of the Christian faith, I can certainly accept the possibility that Angela Sanford was bastardizing the true teachings of Wicca. The problem is that there is little doubt that Wicca arose from pre-Christian pagan religions that did engage in sacrifice and undoubtedly used an early version of an athame in those rituals.

And this is the difference between Sanford's ritualistic murder and Breivik's massacre: Breivik's actions are divorced from the teachings of Jesus Christ and the historic teachings of the faith while Sanford's actions may be contrary to the recent teachings of Wicca she was acting consistently with the history of Wiccan practices.

I am glad that the followers of Wicca have now embraced peace. But it must deal with its religious foundations which Sanford could point to as her style of Wicca. Historically, she may be right.


I've been waiting for them to say that. I think that guy had some special tie in to his on private form of thinking that excluded most Christians.
Mike said…
"...there is little doubt that Wicca arose from pre-Christian pagan religions..."


I thought Wicca to be the spiritual child of O.T.O. and the imagination of Gerald Gardner, rather than anything pre-Christian.

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