What really is religious fanaticism? It can be broadly defined as obsessive enthusiasm with religion, accompanied with zeal that is often uncritical. Many students of this subject have opined that lots of mankind’s problems can be traced to this fanaticism.
What’s the difference between fanaticism and fundamentalism?
To many, these terms may be used interchangeably. In reality, however, there is a major difference. Religious fanatics are usually characterized by extremism and an unswerving devotion to personal beliefs. Fundamentalists, on the other hand, are generally recognized as more law-abiding and tolerant, in spite of holding firmly to personal beliefs. Fanatics have been observed to be pretty happy to break the law and commit heinous acts in the name of religion. This, at times, includes committing such crimes as murder. Shockingly, this is often done in God’s name.
Generally, fanaticism results from a tendency to adhere too strictly to the beliefs and tenets of a given religious order. This is evident from a careful study of such horrific historical occurrences like the holy crusades of the mediaeval ages and modern acts of worldwide terrorism. Here is a closer look at fanaticism.
Further, religious fanatics often use theology to manipulate followers and keep them under strict control. Many religious orders have been known to use threats and the message of eternal damnation to keep followers under check. Many times , the believers are even set against one another, with horrendous consequences.
Some have noted that religious fanaticism has chiefly been responsible for setting back the clock of science. Examples are often cited of such incidences like those involving Galileo Galilei and Copernicus who were persecuted for defending scientific truth from powerful misguided religious authorities. Fanaticism has also been associated with political and governmental control from ancient times, along with charismatic leaders who, in effect, keep followers under lock and key. The kings of ancient Judea did that with Judaism, Roman authorities did the same with Christianity and the Caliphs of the Near East did the same with Islam.
Death, Destruction and Fanaticism
Many dangerous modern-day cults have pushed fanaticism to unimaginable levels. Below are a few of these that have shocked the world with horrendous deeds, done in the name of religion
1. People’s Temple: This cult was led by Jim Jones, a charismatic leader of the 1950’s. Jones quickly recruited members, using his gift of the garb, gaining many followers. He was reputed to be anti-racist and a fighter for the poor. However, Jones physically and sexually molested his charges and was later deported from the US. He went to Jonestown, Guyana, later ordering the massacre of 909 people, including 303 children. They all drank fruit juice laced with cyanide.
2. Order of Solar Temple: The cult was led by Luc Jouret and Joseph Di Mambro. It was first set up in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1994 Di Mumbro ordered a child murdered on a wooden stake, claiming it was the anti-Christ. He later presided over the ‘Last Supper’ and a horrendous mass suicide, killing 100 followers. Many were either poisoned, suffocated or burnt.
Certainly, from the foregoing, religious fanaticism poses a huge danger to society that, if not checked, can lead to mass destruction and massive disorder in human society.