Religious fanaticism has a prominent place in recent news coverage. Those who are committed to proving that religion is by nature irrational and fanatical have more than enough examples to support their belief. Religious people are seen as lunatics, extremists who are willing to do almost anything to promote their cause and belief system. Unfortunately, there are those who, in the name of religion, are willing to do just about anything to promote their cause. They are inflexible and intolerant to the extreme. And there are those, in the name of irreligion, who are just as fanatical and capable of doing the same things.
We live in an age of extremism, an age of irrationality, of fanatical allegiances that are set in an automatic confrontational mode. People are being captured by simplistic worldviews that become their sole point of reference, and anything or anyone that does not fit into their understanding or viewpoint is immediately labeled “the enemy”. The added element these days is the desire of some to become the meanest and most ruthless of the extremists. ISIS and Boko Haram and others seek to show the world just how ruthless they are. It is some bizarre little game they are playing.
The problem is not religion, per se, but ideology, both secular and religious. The word ideology need not have a negative meaning. All of us are loyal to certain ideologies, whether we realize it or not. But an ideology can become malignant. It can become extremist in its views and volatile in its practice. Fanatics tend to be unreasonable and confrontational. They want to spout out propaganda, not have a reasoned discussion with society. Fanatics practice intimidation, seeking to force and coerce people into their viewpoint without bothering to persuade others in a courteous, person-affirming manner. Fanatics tend to be reactionary, willing to slip into verbal or physical violence to be heard. At the extreme, not only are they willing to die for their cause, but they may be driven to kill for it as well.
There is a need for authentic religious commitment to the true and living God. This commitment will cause us to participate in the legitimate processes of social and cultural change. What are the limits to which we can go as Christians to influence and impact our societies? What is the extent of true commitment?
True commitment is reasonable and clear-minded allegiance to the true and living God, the God revealed to us in the Bible. This recognizes that Jesus Christ is our primary Example of religious commitment, the Source of our understanding of God and truth, and our Model for relating to society.
I cannot think of a better time to be connected with a sober, responsible religious institution like the church where, because of its diversity and its open and reasonable forum of discussion, there is less chance of being carried into the exile of fanaticism.
It is time to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.