My favorite definition of a fanatic is someone who doubles the effort when he loses sight of the goal. The human race has seen its fair share of fanatics over the centuries. Fanatics are people who live on the extremes. They are completely left or right of center. In their world, its how they show their commitment to a cause or ideal, while looking down on the people in the middle.
There are all kinds of fanatics out there: religious fanatics, political fanatics, food fanatics, shopping fanatics, ad nauseam. There is a fine line between an interest or committed follower and being a fanatic. I enjoy my cigars, but that doesn’t make me a fanatic about them. On the other hand, I think society has over-reacted in its anti-smoking fervor, to the point where teen smoking has surged in their desire to rebel against society, and the civil rights of smokers is routinely violated. In a so-called free society, there should be some accommodations made for the rights of smokers, as long as they don’t bother other people. The reality is, to someone who hates or disapproves of them, having one would make me a fanatic. I like the 19th century preacher, C.H. Spurgeon’s view. He always said he would smoke cigars until he smoked to excess. Someone asked him when that would be. His response was when he felt the need to have more than one at a time.
Food and health fanatics are not dangerous to society. If they corner you to tell you the food you are eating is bad for you, or how you need to lose weight, it gets obnoxious, but you will survive it. Exercise fanatics can build themselves up to their heart’s content, but it won’t hurt anyone else, unless they bully others, which is another problem all together.
The bigger problems, as I see them, lie with religious and political fanatics. I have known people who abandoned friendships over political arguments. Political anarchists have committed murder over their political differences with others. Politics is not a bad thing. The idea of the people discussing and voting their views is a healthy one. The problem is that some people cross the line from discussion to physical violence against others.
Religion has seen more of this than any other category. People have harmed and murdered in the name of religion. It doesn’t make religion bad or faulty. It means that some people crossed the line. It always seemed dissonant to me that people would kill other people “for the love of God.” I’ve had atheist fanatics point out to me all the people killed in religious wars.
To be fair, they were not following the teachings of the religion, and in fact, most monarchs used religion as a “holy cloak” to carry out their political ambitions under the guise of a holy gesture. How do I know this? What did those armies do when they were victorious? They murdered, raped, and stole from the ones they conquered. I would have expected them to do something religious, but they didn’t. They did something political. Religion was used as a ruse to carry out irreligious activity. The goal of religion is to make a person a better version of himself. Its purpose is not to commit acts of violence against others.
Also to be fair. Atheism is not exactly the panacea of peace atheists would have me believe it to be. Measuring by the same standard they use on religion, more people have been killed by atheist governments and wars than by religious wars. The wars carried out by the Former Soviet Union and China, both atheist governments, were responsible for the deaths of millions of people. War is a human thing. Not religious thing. War is more closely linked to politics than religion. Most atheists I know are not murderous thugs. It would be as unfair to lump them together with wars of atheist governments as it would to lump religious people with so-called religious wars.
Most people are not the problem. Most people are not fanatics. The problem is with small, vocal minorities who, in their fanatical fervor, cross the line, and try to force their views on the rest of society. It’s a case of the tail wagging the dog.
What does it mean to “cross the line?” For me, the line is at the place where I can hold my views, and practice my convictions without fear of recrimination by others. I tend to be a live and let live person. When fanatics, religious or atheist, or smokers or non-smokers invade my personal tranquility without my invitation, they have crossed the line. When a person ceases to value the life of another human being because they value their agenda, they have crossed the line. We do not have the right to physically harm or kill another person because they don’t agree with us or we don’t like what they are. What do you do if someone doesn’t agree with you? My advice is to walk away, or leave them alone. I was taught at a young age to choose my battles. If someone breaks into my house and tries to harm my family, that would be a battle I would choose to fight, and it would be dangerous for them to do so. If someone strongly disagreed with me, an act of violence would not mean I was right. All it would mean was that I did something evil.
To be honest, some of my favorite people are those I strongly disagree with. I love the argument and banter. If I totally agree with someone, what do we have to talk about? We already agree.
This past year, my uncle passed away. He loved to argue religion and politics. He got the room excited and there was great discussion. I loved him dearly and miss him, and the way he could get a lively discussion going. Disagreement doesn’t mean hate, and agreement doesn’t mean love. You have to bring those things to the table before the discussion begins. My uncle loved the argument, but there was always love there. I try in that way, to be like him.