Like many people, I've been trying to make sense of the stuff Anders Breivik has been coming out with during his trial. He's clearly a fantasist, but not clinically insane; he knew what he was doing.
Those of us who aspire to some kind of spiritual goal have to discipline ourselves. It requires an act of will to face down selfish desires, impatience, and do the right thing. We also intuitively understand that deliberately to take another human life is wrong, and indeed the most evil act that anyone can commit.
But Breivik was going in the opposite direction. To kill young people in cold blood, he said, he had to steel himself to overcome his sensitive nature. When he had victims in his sights and his finger hesitated on the trigger he kept telling himself that they weren't really innocent; they were working for multi-culturalism, and thereby destroying Norway's precious national identity.
So he wasn't killing out of hatred, like other homicidal nationalists. Quite the contrary, it was out of compassion for his countrymen, whom he thought he was rescuing from a terrible fate. It's scary to think that in some people an idea can have so much force as to overcome the natural aversion to cruelty that many if not most humans feel. It recalls Heinrich Himmler explaining to his SS underlings that the business of butchering other humans - men, women, children, the old and infirm - was bound to be upsetting, but had to be done.
What interests me especially is that Breivik does claim to be religious, at least 'a little bit'. He calls himself a 'militant Christian' and says he believes in an afterlife. He compares himself favourably with the leftwing Bader-Meinhof terrorists - atheists who didn't want to die and weren't prepared to sacrifice themselves. Peversely, although Islam is the enemy, he feels kinship with Islamic suicide bombers because they are prepared to martyr themselves. He says he'd rather live than die, but that he'd prefer execution to the 'pathetic' punishment of the maximum 21-year jail sentence.
As with religious terrorists, I wonder what on earth Breivik thinks the afterlife is about. What kind of existence does he think it is? Does he expect to find his national identity has some holy status in heaven? A Valhalla for Nordic warriors?
Coincidentally I've been dipping into one of Jane Sherwood's books, The Country Beyond. Sherwood lost the love of her life in the 1914-18 war and never got over it. Having tried with little success to make contact with her dead husband 'on the other side' she tried her hand at automatic writing, which eventually worked. The text is based on exchanges she had with her husband and two other individuals about afterlife conditions.
One passage describes a gradual breakdown of barriers.
Nations keep their own languages and customs but they are less defined because movement has become more simple. Thus there is much coming and going among us and our sympathies are wider and knowledge of each other fuller. The language barrier begins to be removed because it is so much easier to pass thought between us. Groups are formed more for the purposes of special interests and occupations than for national reasons and thus we get aggregates of talent of a high level of attainment which cut across all artificial boundaries of nation and class. Here are brotherhoods of mutual interests having a rich and satisfying communal life. Co-operative activity and close and sympathetic human relationships bring into being many of the ideals of the world's dreamers. A social order emerges which brings satisfaction to all its members and enables each to arrive at full self-development.
The spiritual conception of life, beginning here and continuing after physical death, is of the gradual overcoming of separateness. The first step is to cease to glorify it, then look for ways to communicate with other beings, understanding them until the sense of individual boundaries are overcome, and finally we start to merge into groups - maintaining some individuality of our own, yet enriched by closeness of understanding with others.
But for Breivik, as for many people in our world, this process of breaking down barriers is profoundly threatening. For them, the boundaries guarantee their personal identity. If breached, the basis of their beliefs and being are compromised. The self is endangered.
Later in the book one of the communicators talks about the process of 'purgation'. This bears close echoes of the near-death experience, which however did not become known until at least four decades following the book's publication. At first, he says, one's thoughts are concerned with the previous life. Memory is dulled to begin with, but as one becomes used to the conditions the scenes and events of the past life begin to return vividly. But this time they are much more comprehensive.
The difference in this presentiment of the past is that included in it now is the reaction of other people. I find this difficult to explain. Everything that happens to you affects others as well as yourself and every event has therefore as many aspects in reality as there are consciousnesses affected by it.
Now, in this process of recollection, as an incident comes back to one's mind it brings with it the actual feelings, not of oneself alone but of the others who were affected by the event. All their feelings have now to be experienced in oneself as though they were one's own. This means that the effects of deeds on the lives of others must be experienced as intimately as though to do and to suffer the deed were one. Where sorrow and wrong have been inflicted, sorrow and wrong must be felt, not merely known to exist.
Most of our deeds on earth are performed in ignorance of their real bearing on the lives of others. There may be an uneasy sense that others are involved in suffering because of us but we often choose to ignore this. We have understood a situation with our mere intellect and have kept back sympathy which is the beginning of knowing in oneself what this suffering is. So often we have remained in ignorance of the real events we have set going in the lives of others and these things are now gradually revealed to us as a part of our own experience. We have to face the reliving of our whole earth experience in this way.
If this is true, then Breivik has set up a formidable challenge for himself in the next life. He must fully experience the feelings of every one of his seventy-seven victims, and of all their families and friends who were devastated by their loss. In that case, two or three decades in jail would be a mercy, giving him an opportunity to slowly grasp the enormity of what he has done, rather than go directly into a new state of being, where it would crash into him with the force of a speeding truck.
There's always a temptation to feel satisfaction at the idea of a cruel man getting his just desserts, in the next world if not here. It's fair enough to be angry. But if we fully understand the implications we may also feel some compassion. And reflecting further, we realise that we ourselves can't afford to be complacent: we too will have shocks to deal with when the time comes.