Fanatics, Extremists, and Religion

The difference between fanaticism and true religion.

Fanaticism is an unhealthy set of principles that takes the letter of the law too literally and avoids compassion or feeling towards self or others. It is found in all faiths and ideologies. It is part of the human narrative.

On the other hand, true religion is one who lives by the higher law of love and commitment to truth. A condition that takes much more effort, patience and sacrifice to achieve than simply following a legal code.

There are good Christians and bad Christians, same with socialists, capitalists, Jews, and also Muslims. History shows that even non-religious systems such as Communism, and the attempted establishment of Western Democratic countries in the Middle East have run into the same problems of fanaticism. The ancient texts and modern history weaves the account that wherever humanity exists, greatness is found, but also the element of corruption and inhumanity always runs in parallel.

Is it the fault of religion or ideology? No. Any system designed for the benefit of humanity can also be a source of bondage. From my observations as a member of the Charismatic Church community, there are many stories where people are rescued from their own destructive behavior and discover a newfound sense of community. However, there are also those who have personally suffered either at the hands of those asserting legal principles over human need or are using religion to avoid dealing with their inner demons.

How can that be? If one lives simply by the rules and adheres to the Bible as a legal text of dos and do nots, it absolves one of any personal responsibility. The letter of the Law does not require one to love another, or even care while the spirit of it does.

The present Church is a combination of some who just go by the letter, and those who strive hard to go by the higher law. Most vacillate between the two sides – not because these are bad people, it is because the Church is a human entity. Being human is a problem of imperfection, and the ensuing challenge is to go beyond self and to be altruistic. The achievement of such a condition is not an easy path to follow.

The legal vs. spirit of the law is not just an ancient religious problem. It is a common theme today but masked in different motifs. It is seen in my place of employment where the Collective Agreement between the Union and Management is like a Bible. There is no higher standard than the words in the agreement between the two parties. Management does not have to care at all about the individual employee in any decision-making, and can harass, shame, or push for productivity as long as it does not contravene the Collective Agreement. The Union too can call out names and shame management, and treat with contempt because this behavior is not explicitly found in the Collective Agreement and therefore not punishable. The Agreement is not designed to force anyone to like, respect, or treat each other humanely. This is not in the spirit how people should treat each other, but this is the reality.

People can easily hide behind the façade of the secular Western democratic systems of governance and justice.The halls of democracy can equally abuse as that of a religious system. If people follow the legal text without being encouraged to reach for a higher standard above the Law – that is of loving one another, then it fails.

When the Law becomes a daily part of our lives, and the spirit of the Law is removed, it takes away the responsibility to think about others, communicate, or even care. Inhumanity then easily can sink in.

Are there fanatical Christians? Yes. Fanatical Muslims? Yes. Fanatical Jews? Yes. Fanatical secularists? Yes. Are most people fanatics in any system or ideology? No, but the majority voice of compassion and patience can be drowned out by a small minority of passionate zealots. Fanaticism is not the fault of any religion or ideology, it is simply the dark part of the human character that hides behind legal texts for its self-seeking purposes, and thus avoiding any personal responsibility. It’s an easy-way-out.

To not recognize or address fanatical elements in any religious system or ideology is an immature view of our human capabilities for both good and evil. It is also dangerous because ignoring the fanatical dark side in any movement can have damaging future consequences.

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