In the past few years, several murderous racists have shown a strange interest in demarcating their complicated relationship with Christianity, writes Jeet Heer at Commonweal.
Payton S. Gendron, who was arrested for shooting ten Black people at a Tops Friendly Markets store in Buffalo in May, raised the issue in his heavily plagiarized manifesto. In a “questions and answers” section, he takes up the question “Are you a Christian?” According to Gendron, “No, I do not ask God for salvation by faith, nor do I confess my sins to Him. I personally believe there is no afterlife. I do however believe in and practice many Christian values.”
It’s the issue of “Christian values” that makes Gendron’s affiliation with Christianity more complex. For the manifesto makes clear that Gendron’s racism includes the belief that “Christian values” are a significant component of “White culture.” He also accuses Jews of being demonic.
Gendron lists an array of other killers as his inspiration. They include Brenton Tarrant, who killed fifty-one Muslims in New Zealand in 2019, and Anders Breivik, who killed seventy-seven people, mostly teenagers, in Norway in 2011. Both men also defined themselves as unbelievers but cultural Christians, acting to defend the faith against secular and infidel (largely Islamic) foes. In his manifesto, Breivik told his followers that they “don’t need to have a personal relationship with God or Jesus to fight for our Christian cultural heritage.”
These three murderers are a new breed of crusaders: political Christians who kill on behalf of a faith whose tenets they don’t believe in. They are the most extreme and violent manifestations of an upsurge in white Christian identitarian politics throughout the lands formerly known as Christendom.
It’s one of the many merits of Matthew Rose’s A World after Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right that it helps answer the question of how a figure like Breivik could both disavow Christian belief and claim to kill on behalf of “our Christian cultural heritage.”