Fanaticism is a belief or behavior involving uncritical zeal, particularly for an extreme religious or political cause or in some cases sports, or with an obsessive enthusiasm for a pastime or hobby...
related to a person's, or a group's, devotion to a religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...
. However, religious fanaticism is a subjective evaluation defined by the culture context that is performing the evaluation. What constitutes fanaticism in another's behavior or belief is determined by the core assumptions of the one doing the evaluation. As such, there is currently no constant academic standard for what defines a fanatical religious position. As with any fanaticism (e.g. militantism, and anti-religious fanaticism), it has the danger to be bigoted, rely largely on sweeping statements (in some cases entirely) and generalizations often twisting what its opponents are actually saying (or the meaning) to what the speaker wishes their opponent had actually said or meant. Often the arguments come across as bigoted, completely unwilling and unable to fully take on an opponent's point at any stage, just like their religious extremist counterparts, whom they openly despise (although they are often assertions and not arguments, again just like many religious fanatics) and will actively demonize those they oppose.
In his book, Holy War, Just War
, Lloyd Steffen says, "[Religious] fanaticism . . . invokes the idea of ultimacy, and its presence in religious life is undeniable." He goes on to say, "[Religious] fanatics are persons who attach to some object an ultimate valuation and then attend to that overvalued object with what is recognizable as a kind of religious devotion."
Steffen gives several features associated with religious fanaticism or extremism. Calling it "the demonic", he says:
- The demonic meets spiritual needs... human beings have a spiritual longing for understanding and meaning, and given the mystery of existence
In common usage, existence is the world we are aware of through our senses, and that persists independently without them. In academic philosophy the word has a more specialized meaning, being contrasted with essence, which specifies different forms of existence as well as different identity...
, that spiritual quest can only be fulfilled through some kind of relationship with ultimacy, whether or not that takes the form as a "transcendent other." Religion—even demonic religion—has power to meet this need for meaning and transcendent relationship.
- Demonic religion is attractive... because demonic religion is real religion and meets real human spiritual needs, it presents itself in such a way that those who find their way into it come to express themselves in ways consistent with the particular vision of ultimacy at the heart of this religious form. People are not attracted to demonic religion because it is false or a perversion of religion; they are attracted by all it promises to do for them, and more often than not it delivers on its promise.
- The demonic is a live option... the demonic is presents itself in competition with another way to be religious, the life-affirming option, and it sometimes wins. It wins because it is present to the moral consciousness as a live option that addresses spiritual need and satisfies human longing for meaning, power, and belonging.
Christianity (as Catholicism)
Ever since Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....
was brought to power, those in authority have sought to expand and control the church, often through the fanatical use of force. Grant Shafer says, "Jesus of Nazareth is best known as a preacher of nonviolence.
The start of Christian fanatic rule came with the Roman Emperor Constantine I
Constantine the Great , also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all...
as Catholicism. Ellens
J. Harold Ellens is a psychologist and theologian. He was the founding editor of the Journal of Psychology and Christianity, and was Executive Director of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies International from 1974 to 1989.- Education:Ellens has received multiple educational...
says, "When Christianity came to power in the empire of Constantine, it proceeded almost to viciously repress all non-Christians and all Christians who did not line up with official Orthodox ideology, policy, and practice". An example of Christians who didn't line up with Orthodox ideology is the Donatists, who "refused to accept repentant clergy who had formerly given way to apostasy when persecuted".
Fanatic Christian activity, as Catholicism, continued into the Middle Ages with the Crusades
The Crusades were a series of religious wars, blessed by the Pope and the Catholic Church with the main goal of restoring Christian access to the holy places in and near Jerusalem...
. These wars were attempts by the Catholics, sanctioned by the Pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...
, to reclaim the Holy Land
The Holy Land is a term which in Judaism refers to the Kingdom of Israel as defined in the Tanakh. For Jews, the Land's identifiction of being Holy is defined in Judaism by its differentiation from other lands by virtue of the practice of Judaism often possible only in the Land of Israel...
from the Muslims. Charles Selengut, in his book Sacred Fury: Understanding Religious Violence
The Crusades . . . were very much holy wars waged to maintain Christianity's theological and social control . . . On their way to conquering the Holy Land from the Muslims by force of arms, the crusaders destroyed dozens of Jewish communities and killed thousands because the Jews
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...
would not accept the Christian faith. Jews had to be killed in the religious campaign because their very existence challenged the sole truth espoused by the Christian Church.
Shafer adds that, "When the crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099, they killed Muslims, Jews, and native Christians indiscriminately".
Another prominent form of fanaticism came a few centuries later with the Spanish Inquisition
The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition , commonly known as the Spanish Inquisition , was a tribunal established in 1480 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, and to replace the Medieval...
. The Inquisition was the monarchy's way of making sure their people stayed within Catholic Christianity. Selengut said, "The inquisitions were attempts at self-protection and targeted primarily "internal enemies" of the church". The driving force of the Inquisition was the Inquisitors, who were responsible for spreading the truth of Christianity. Selengut continues, saying:
The inquisitors generally saw themselves as educators helping people maintain correct beliefs by pointing out errors in knowledge and judgment. . . .Punishment and death came only to those who refused to admit their errors. . . .during the Spanish Inquisitions of the fifteenth century, the clear distinction between confession and innocence and remaining in error became muddled. . . .The investigators had to invent all sorts of techniques, including torture, to ascertain whether . . . new converts' beliefs were genuine.
In addition, John Edwards, in a review of an article called "Was the Spanish Inquisition Truthful?" says, "Ferdinand and Isabella's Inquisition . . . repressed . . . the natural yearnings of . . . Jews who had converted to Christianity . . . after the attacks mounted against numerous Jewish communities in the early summer of 1391."
During the 19th century, most Christian nations have adopted the principle of separation between church and state. Religious fanaticism is since an internal problem of the Christian churches or merely a personal (psychological) problem. However, this is not so in most modern Muslim countries (except, for example, Turkey under Ataturk.)
Charles Selengut explains in his book "Sacred Fury" that Christianly calls on the fact that they offer their body to God, just like many other religions do. Christians make many sacrifices also, as Charles Selegnut states, "[Christianity] places great value upon avoiding bodily temptations and accepting pain and sufferings as sacred activity and promises religious rewards to those who do so." He also describes the Christian "martyrdom" which is more literally referring to all who offer their life and well-being for the cause of God and religion.
Islam . The most common are and . : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...
has become the most publicized religion with members who display fanatic tendencies. Ever since Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden was the founder of the militant Islamist organization Al-Qaeda, the jihadist organization responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States and numerous other mass-casualty attacks against civilian and military targets...
A fatwā in the Islamic faith is a juristic ruling concerning Islamic law issued by an Islamic scholar. In Sunni Islam any fatwā is non-binding, whereas in Shia Islam it could be considered by an individual as binding, depending on his or her relation to the scholar. The person who issues a fatwā...
in 1998, the world has known about radical jihad
Jihad , an Islamic term, is a religious duty of Muslims. In Arabic, the word jihād translates as a noun meaning "struggle". Jihad appears 41 times in the Quran and frequently in the idiomatic expression "striving in the way of God ". A person engaged in jihad is called a mujahid; the plural is...
. Bin Laden's concept, though, is very different from the actual meaning of the term. In the religious context, jihad
most nearly means "working urgently for a certain godly objective, generally a positive one". According to Steffen, there are portions of the Qur'an where military jihad is used. As Steffen says, though, "Jihad in these uses is always defensive. Not only does ‘jihad' not endorse acts of military aggression, but ‘jihad' is invoked in Qur'anic passages to indicate how uses of force are always subject to restraint and qualification". This kind of jihad differs greatly from the kind most commonly discussed today.
Thomas Farr, in an essay titled "Islam's Way to Freedom", says that, "Even though most Muslims reject violence, the extremists' use of sacred texts lends their actions authenticity and recruiting power". (Freedom 24) He goes on to say, "The radicals insist that their central claim—God's desire for Islam's triumph—requires no interpretation. According to them, true Muslims will pursue it by any means necessary, including dissimulation
Dissimulation is a form of deception in which one conceals the truth. It consists of concealing the truth, or in the case of half-truths, concealing parts of the truth, like inconvenient or secret information. Dissimulation differs from simulation, in which one exhibits false information...
, civil coercion
Coercion is the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner by use of threats or intimidation or some other form of pressure or force. In law, coercion is codified as the duress crime. Such actions are used as leverage, to force the victim to act in the desired way...
, and the killing of innocents". (Freedom 24)
According to certain observers this disregard for others and rampant use of violence is markedly different than the peaceful message that jihad is meant to employ. Although fanatic jihadists have committed many terroristic acts throughout the world, perhaps the best known is the September 11, 2001 attacks
The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks (also referred to as September 11, September 11th or 9/119/11 is pronounced "nine eleven". The slash is not part of the pronunciation...
. According to Ellens, the al-Qaeda members who took part in the terrorist attacks did so out of their belief that, by doing it, they would "enact a devastating blow against the evil of secularized and non-Muslim America. They were cleansing this world, God's temple".