Posted by Matthew on February 3, 2009
Fanatics…who likes them? anyone out there? They are annoying and harmful, right?
As a missionary in Brazil I met people more fanatical than I had ever known before. It was a relatively small set of people, but they were noticeable due to their extreme positions: lots of talking in tongues, not allowing women to cut their hair, etc. And it was hard to reason with them because …well, their positions didn’t seem reasonable and they didn’t see their positions as up for discussion.
But this isn’t just a problem among religions other than our own. Plenty of members of our church seem to get a bit fanatical about this or that, whether it is food storage, the temple, scouting–there are lots of options.
So I was thinking it would be nice to have a few scriptures to back up an anti-fanatical message. Maybe “moderation in all things” or something like that–something I could quote to combat someone’s pet-topic comment (usually shared off-topic in the middle of a Sunday School lesson). In looking around though, I was a bit disappointed. Where are those scriptures telling those crazy fanatics to just settle down? I couldn’t really think of any…And that classic moderation-in-all-things quote comes not from our Judeo-Christian tradition but rather from, where else, the Greeks.
In fact, the scriptures seem more likely to support a fanatical position than to support moderating one. Take the famous scripture Matt 6:3 “take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” This is certainly a more extreme position than most actually take.
So all of this leads to the questions: Why isn’t there more of an anti-fanatic message in the scriptures? Weren’t fanatics a problem at the time these scriptures were written? Or, is there a strong anti-fanatic tradition in the scriptures and I just have missed it?
Or, maybe, . . . are the fanatics right in how seriously they take stuff (even if–and surely, this has to be true–they get some of the details wrong). Supporting this view is the following: the closest word to “fanatic” I could think of that is in the scriptures is “zealous.” But what do the scriptures have to say about zealots? Mostly positive stuff . . . and nothing negative.
I want to say “surely the truth is somewhere in the middle–we cannot embrace fanaticism nor passivity.” But that really is just to say that I’m not drawn to fanaticism. The point of reading the scriptures though isn’t to find only what I’m already looking for.
But if your view, like mine, is that fanatics do more harm than good, how do we square this with the scriptures? Thoughts?
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