The Dynamics of Religious Fanaticism

In preparation for the next chapter in my novel I’m composing a list of the dynamics of religious legalists (such as I used to be!) that I find really irritating. This is what I have so far. Feel free to add your own in the comments!

–          Automatic exclusion of any beliefs that don’t fit into their accepted paradigms

–          Bad people are loved for their “holiness” while good people are hated for telling the truth

–          Moral certainty is seen as the ultimate virtue, and compassion is seen as a vice.

–           “Those who passionately defend the truth are often just grasping for power.”

–          Sentences that begin with, “Well, the Bible clearly says…” The widespread notion that someone’s interpretation of the Bible is the literal meaning of the Bible

–          Refusing to read the Bible with the heart as well as the head, allowing one’s emotions to engage the text

–          “What makes the Church any different from a cult if it demands we sacrifice our conscience in exchange for unquestioned allegiance to authority?” (RHE)

–          Giving peripheral interpretations the same authority as doctrinal teaching

–          Conformity: demanding that other expressions of Christianity look just like yours; questioning the integrity or even salvation of those whose worship or teachings differ from your own

–          Fear of contamination by the “evil world” out there

–          All things related to being human—human thought, intelligence, emotion, art, creativity—are seen as depraved and unreliable

–          Hatred of all authority: higher education, seminaries, media, traditional religious denominations, political leaders (populism, the root of conspiracy theories)

–          Safety and simplicity are seen as Christian virtues; depth and complexity are not (“A legalist rarely exercises critical thinking, preferring the apparent security of one-dimensional living“). Refusing to interpret the Scriptures in a thoughtful and sophisticated way.

–          Unwillingness to embrace the two core principles of existence: everything that has a beginning has an end; and the mystery of existence is impenetrable

–          Confusing faith with magic

–          The delusion that one is living at the center of a cosmic drama, a warrior, a hero

–          Destroying a person’s identity by ascribing their personality traits to particular sins

–          Preferring your idealized version of the Bible over the one we were actually given

–          Suppression of negative emotions such as anger, fear, or depression

–          People outside the community are ignored as if they don’t even exist

–          A corresponding obsession with violence, bloodlust, and the deaths of one’s enemies

–          The association of superstition and ignorance with Christian virtues

–          Needing to be better than all those other churches that are less enthusiastic in their worship and therefore spiritually dead

–          Being on fire for Jesus! From the comments: “If you’re loud, aggressive, spread tracts, bounce from church to church looking for “revival,” talk loudly in prayer and ‘claim’ people and things, bumper sticker up your car — you’re on fire. If you pray quietly, hang out with agnostics and hear them out, live in a town of 500 in rural America and work on the City Council, drop off food for widows and new mothers, donate to the food shelf, and pray and support missionaries you’re probably just an average Christian.” Also: “If ‘on fire’ means that people run the other way when you walk into a room because your zeal has blinded you to whatever is going on with others then count me out.”

–          God is so far beyond our categories of good and evil that we can’t even understand Him. He is completely good and we are completely bad. What seems good to us is evil in His sight. What seems evil to us is good to Him: genocide, murder, unrestrained anger, hatred, arrogance…

–          “True creativity comes straight from the throne room!” (“God doesn’t care about math, He cares about miracles!”)

–          “Love has to be willing to hurt the beloved, or it’s not really love.”

–          Revivalism

–          Hatred of women (saying they look like prostitutes, etc.)

–          Christianity = conservatism


One thought on “The Dynamics of Religious Fanaticism

  1. Pingback: This is What Dangerous Religion Looks Like | Sketches By Boze

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