The problem with fanaticism — it’s not what you think

“It’s OK if someone is a Christian, as long as they aren’t fanatical about it.”

We all know what they are talking about. Religion is OK to most people (except to Richard Dawkins and kin), as long as people don’t get fanatical about it.

Fanatics make the news, and it isn’t pretty. Fred Phelps and his band of funeral protesters. Islamic extremists blowing themselves up in a crowded subway station. Perhaps your relative, neighbor, or coworker who is rather pushy or judgmental in your opinion.

Fanaticism among believers is clearly one reason people are turned away from the Christian faith. Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, has some good thoughts on fanaticism in his book The Reason for God:

“Pharisaic people [i.e. moral fanatics] assume they are right with God because of their moral behavior and right doctrine. This leads naturally to feelings of superiority toward those who do not share their religiosity, and from there to various forms of abuse, exclusion, and oppression. This is the esence of what we think of as fanaticism.

What if, however, the essence of Christianity is salvation by grace, salvation not because of what we do but because of what Christ has done for us? Belief that you are accepted by God by sheer grace is profoundly humbling. The people who are fanatics, then, are so not because they are too committed to the gospel but because they’re not committed to it enough.

“Think of people you consider fanatical. they’re overbearing, self-righteous, opionionated, insensitive, and harsh. Why? It’s not because they are too Christian but because they are not Christian enough. They are fanatically zealous and courageous, but they are not fanatically humble, sensitive, loving, empathetic, forgiving, or understanding—as Christ was. Because they think of Christianity as a self -improvement program they emulate the Jesus of the whips in the temple, but not the Jesus who said, ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone’ (John 8:7). What strike us as overly fanatical is actually a failure to be fully committed to Christ and his gospel.

—from Chapter 4: The Church Is Responsible for So Much Injustice (emphasis added)

God, help me to be a fanatically loving, forgiving, serving, understanding, and humble. Help me to be increasingly committed to Christ, and therefore to be fanatic about loving the people I come into contact with.

Grace and Peace

Christian or hippie — which would you choose?

One of the pastors at my church passed along a story from Dry Bones Denver: “Ask Me Why You Deserve HELL”: Reflections on the DNC. It is a bit dated, being from the Democratic National Convention here in Denver last summer, but it is also timeless. The author was with friends in the downtown area and observed a group of Christians whose behavior was somewhat less than loving, and a group of young anarchists who welcomed the pastor and his friends with open arms.

Here’s the christians:

“Ask me why YOU deserve to go to HELL!” My heart dropped and I hung my head in shame as I approached the banner waving these poisonous words. Riot police surrounded the group of christians (emphasis on the little “c”), protecting them from the enraged and ever-growing crowd of pedestrians; men, women and children. Other signs that littered the street corner and held up traffic for blocks on the 16th St. Mall read:

• “Homo sex is a threat to national security”
• “Looking for change? Then do what Christ said and repent. Hell Awaits You.”
• “You are headed for Hell”
• “WARNING: Baby Killing Women, Party Animals, Rebellious Women, So Called Christians, Liberals, Jesus Mockers, Porno Freaks, Muslims, Drunks, Homosexuals, Sex Addicts, Mormons…GOD WILL JUDGE YOU!”

Here’s the hippies:

Tattooed and dread-locked hippies relaxed in the sunshine. Droves of police, outfitted in full riot gear with masks down and guns out, stood nearby occasionally walking in single-file through the crowd to make their presence known. I took it all in, amazed by the eclectic group of people. We walked up to the hippie gathering and saw a sign that read “Doc’s Place” and another one that said, “Food not Bombs.” As it turned out, “Doc’s Place” was a volunteer-run, free medical clinic. Anyone could come by and receive limited, but free, medical care. “Food not Bombs” was a group that thought “…dropping food instead of bombs…” was the cool thing to do, so they decided to fix three meals a day for anyone who wanted food. They cooked everything on-site and if you ate, the only requirement was that you wash your own dishes in the provided buckets of soapy water, and then hang them in a tree to dry.

Here’s a quote from the conclusion:

Friends, I witnessed two very different groups of people this week. One group was filled with hate, judgment, and self-righteousness. The other group was loving, accepting, and humble. One group was insulting and abrasive and the other group just wanted to serve food and take care of people. One group called themselves Christians, the other group stayed as far away from them as they could. The way I see it, one group looked and acted like Jesus, and it wasn’t those who claimed to be His followers. This is the ultimate tragedy.

Read the entire story here.

Grace and Peace