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Fatherlessness, chaos and the Norwegian killer

By Warwick Marsh - posted Tuesday, 2 August 2011

All of us have been shocked by the deadly rampage of the Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people. The question is, "Are we shocked by the fact that Anders grew up as a fatherless child?" Anders was abandoned by his father, Jens Breivik, when he was only one year old. If we know our history and the social science statistics, this information should not surprise us.

Some of the most famous killers in human history grew up in fatherless homes: Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Billy the Kid, Mark Lepine and Charles Manson to name a few. Crime authorities are well aware of fatherlessness in criminal profiling. An American FBI agent who specialises in serial killers has said that most of them come from a dysfunctional family with an absent father and yet, the truth is always more complicated than reality. As Tolstoy once said, 'Happy families are all alike but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.'

This was the case with Breivik's family. The article in the Daily Mail in the UK tells the story, from the killer's manifesto:


His father Jens Breivik, a diplomat, already had three children from a former marriage when he met Breivik's mother Wenche Behring, a nurse - who also had a daughter from a past relationship, Elisabeth. The family lived in London as Mr Breivik was a diplomat for the Norwegian Embassy at the time.

After his parents' divorced when he was one year old, Anders was then brought back to Oslo with his half-sister and mother after she married a captain in the Norwegian Army. Jens Breivik also married again, this time to a colleague who also worked in the Norwegian Embassy...Both his mother and stepmother are described as feminists. There are indications of an unsettled childhood where his father and stepmother entered a custody battle for Anders with his mother and stepfather which they lost. . .

Anders also writes in the online manifesto about his relationship with his stepfather who was a major in the Norwegian army but has since retired before adding: 'I still have contact with him although now he spends most of his time (retirement) with prostitutes in Thailand...

Breivik is critical of the influence of women in his life saying: 'I do not approve of the super-liberal, matriarchal upbringing though as it completely lacked discipline and has contributed to feminise me to a certain degree.'

The salient facts of the story are that Breivik grew up fatherless with a lack of discipline and in his own words "too much freedom" with a mother and grandmother whom he described as feminist. His stepfather, it would appear, abandoned Anders and his mother for prostitutes in Thailand. Certainly the whole story is one of fatherlessness and family dysfunction in more ways than one.

Although there is another overlay in this twisted tale and that is moral relativism that has taken over Norwegian Society over the last several decades. Chuck Colson, who spent time in gaol in the USA for the Watergate fraud in the 70's and who runs a worldwide jail ministry to help incarcerated criminals, is well able to comment on this shocking tragedy. Having spent a good deal of time myself helping prisoners inside Australian jails, I have a great deal of respect for Chuck Colson.


But here are two root causes of this horrible act that few in Norway, or the rest of the Western world for that matter, will acknowledge: Evil and sin. You see, Norway is one of the most secular countries in Western Europe. Hardly a shred left of the Christian faith that once dominated the country. So, without that Christian understanding of fallen human nature, the people of Norway are left in mourning, but without an explanation for the horror that has befallen them. I can't help but think of a visit I made to a maximum-security prison outside of Oslo back in the 1980s. I tell this story in my book How Now Shall We Live?

I was greeted by the warden, who was a psychiatrist. She gave me a tour of the place, which seemed more like a laboratory than a prison. We met so many other psychiatrists that I asked the warden how many of the inmates here were mental cases. She replied, "All of them, of course." I was stunned. Really? "Well," she said, "anyone who commits a violent crime is obviously mentally unbalanced." This was the ultimate expression of the therapeutic model.

People, the reasoning goes, are basically good, so anyone who could do something so terrible as this must be mentally ill. And the solution is therapy. It is a tragically flawed and inaccurate view of human nature.

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About the Author

Warwick Marsh is the founder of the Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation with his wife Alison. They have five children and two grandchildren and have been married for 34 years.

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