Jeremy E. Sherman Ph.D., MPP
Fanaticism Is a Disease Like Alcoholism
Fanatics Anonymous 12 Steps. At core, don’t blame the addict; blame the disease
Posted Nov 04, 2014
Fanatics, ideologues and absolutists are humanity’s greatest scourge. Whether they’re the leaders or the followers, fanatics are people who indulge in a heady, intoxicating and toxic concoction of self-affirming, know-it-all confidence that they have unique access to absolute truths, truths so perfect that they have to impose them on everyone.
The absolute truths that fanatics latch onto might be religious or political, right wing or left wing, Christian or Islamic, libertarian or communist, new age spiritual or old-time religious. It’s not what they believe that makes them fanatics but how they believe it, that they have final word, no need to consider further evidence, no need to ever wonder or doubt themselves again.
Fanaticism is a drug. Let loose on society it's like crack cocaine or alcohol only worse. Fanatics drive through life like alcoholics driving under the influence. They think they’re perfectly fine driving. They kill innocent bystanders, sometimes by the thousands or millions.
We’ve learned though, that treating alcoholics as criminals doesn’t help us or them. Alcoholics Anonymous has been so successful in part because it gives the addict a graceful way out of the corner he or she is painted into. It’s hard to kick a drug if sobriety means admitting that you’re a vile person through and through. Shaming the addict can make him dig in his heals. It’s easier to kick it if you declare that you’ve become host to a virulent disease that can attack any of us. No one is exempt from the risk. It’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility to kick it.
What's needed is an AA-style safe-haven for recovering political and religious fanatics, ideologues and absolutists. It’s message is, "Yes, you’re a wreck and have done real damage. But don't beat yourself up over it. Like so many of us, you became host to a powerful parasite that mutates quickly and has taken over minds throughout human history. Don't blame yourself. You are not alone. Join us. Together we can lick this thing."
Here’s a rough draft for the 12 Steps of Fanatics Anonymous
1. We admitted we were powerless over fanaticism—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that Reason, a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of Reason.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have Reason remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly invoked reason to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through inquiry, debate, conversation, curiosity and doubt to improve our conscious contact with Reason seeking for better understanding of the human tension between what we want to believe and what’s most likely to be true.
12. Having had an awakening to Reason as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to fanatics of all kinds, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Of course, the peculiar move here is replacing god with Reason, and more peculiar perhaps to repurpose the AA model for fanatics anonymous, what with AA’s surrender to god’s will, the most notorious excuse for fanaticism in fanaticism’s long and sordid history.
And what is Reason anyway?
Reason is nature’s gift to humankind and to the humanitarian impulse. It’s also called rationality, which comes from the same root as ratio, to compare, discern, evaluate, judging carefully and humbly in our efforts to find the better bets on how to live.
Reason is also related to logos, a word with diverse implications over the millennia but related to language, and logic, uniquely human gifts for our ongoing effort to understand the true ways of the world.
Ongoing--that’s how science practices reason. Where fanatics say “I reasoned once, came to the absolute truth and don’t have to reason again,” science, a practical practice we can learn to apply well beyond the lab, admits that there’s no last word, just today’s best guesses, to be improved upon through ongoing inquiry.
Sustained reason is just the hard work that an addiction to fanaticism frees us from. No wonder fanaticism is so intoxicating. Being a know-it-all provides such powerful pain relief. Reason is a much harder master than god. Humbling ourselves to it is painful.
No wonder so many of us fall off the wagon.
I print this as I know one personally, a young 22 year old boy who has yet become a man but is so obsessed with religion as a way of "saving" him it is beyond tragic. Diagnosed with Clinical Depression and in turn hosptialized for it at age 18 it shows that faith has failed him repeatedly. His father is a Minister and holy roller and despite it his son has struggled with self medication and violent outbursts all tied to his confusion about his life and what I suspect his sexuality. I finally have to wash my hands (given that I am doing it 20 times a day this metaphor is either perfect or a pun so I will let the reader decide) as it is difficult for me to rationalize with him let alone even listen to the ramblings and repetitions he has plagiarized, memorized or obsessed over the teachings of the faith, all of it from dead white men, some dating to over a century ago. I thought it was odd but now he is taking classes in ministry from an online theological school and the boy has never set foot in a mainstream college or university in his life. He has no basic skills sets needed to build any kind of foundation in which to grow other than spiritually and for that one just hopes he marries some poor woman willing to shoulder that responsibility.
When I read this all I thought was DEAR GOD and that was not a prayer by any stretch of the imagination:
This is a pitfall of many people in Christianity, only taking Sunday to "read" the Bible and go to church (whatever that means to them), and in turn, their life balance is out of whack. I immediately notice my life is out of whack when I'm not centered on Christ, and that speaks to my daily need for him. The kind of people we see largely representing Southern Christianity, and even Western Christianity, specifically in North America, are people who tack on the label "Christian," only go to church on Sundays or Easter or Christmas, and never really develop that daily personal relationship with Christ that's necessary to grow them in their faith. They refuse to have conversations with non-believers that challenge their faith, and they never really take time to study, not just read, the Bible. There's a huge difference. The reason we have "young people [leaving] the church in droves," is because they don't know how to cultivate or take seriously the cultivation of a personal relationship with Christ on a daily basis, they don't know or take seriously that true faith in Christ by grace is regenerative and sanctifying. In large part, churches are to blame for that. Many of today's churches and their attendees are afraid of two words: sin and repentance, which aids in the drop-off of young folks we're seeing today, as well as sound, biblical teaching which doesn't bend at the cry of what people say is right. 2 Timothy 3:1-9, 4:3-4; Romans 1:18-32, these are just a few passages that speak about how people, even churches, are going to continue to behave against God, and it's going to get much worse. They don't want to hear Biblical truth. It burns them up. They don't want to submit themselves to God or believe they're made with a sovereign design, that they actually have a purpose greater than themselves. The last thing Satan wants to see in this world is even one person commit their life to Christ, and he uses three things to keep people from that: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. But the thing Christians and non-believers all have in common is that we're sinners who need salvation, and we're offered that freely in Christ by grace through faith in him alone, and it's a much more fulfilling life than one without him.If you did not know he was 22 would you not think this is rambling thoughts of a 92 year old man? No matter what modern take or thought on the Bible and especially those by women who have by far more experience, knowledge and education he accepts or even believes. He has not once acknowledged the role of the Bible regarding women except again citing some dead fuck who basically actually affirms the hideous representation of women in the 'good book." So even I who has the patience of Job, pun intended, has to go this is just sad.grim.pathetic.
Religious fanaticism is what the Orthodox Community that surrounds the region has come under fire of late for disregarding the social distancing edicts across the region and when reprimanded or cited they immediately level charges of anti-semitism to any critic to stifle said commentary. They are a sect of Judaism much like Fundamentalist are in the Christian faith, and of course those Wahhabist sect of Islam.
Religion is one of the worst offenders in this sense of obedience outside the dogma of their faith. . This is especially unfortunate considering that it might be the best way to solve the problem, even if one defines religion as a belief in what is right and good in the world, and not in the traditional old-man-in-the-sky sense. The problem with the dominant religious forces in the world today is that they consist of organizations employing theology as a manipulation tool to keep the flock subservient. By using this threat of eternal damnation, they manipulate groups of people to set others against others thus enforcing confused disorder. The main obstacle in the way of changing this state of affairs is that religious orthodoxy has existed almost as long as religion itself.
And with that we have a consistent messaging issue that enables those to ignore and disregard the feelings, the truths and of course beliefs of others. All religions suffers from a cognitive dissonance and that if it wasn't for the tendency of religion to become a tool of the ruling class, it might never have been necessary for there to be more than faith. In its most basic state nearly every religion to ever exist has been about how to be a better person. In order for that to be the case, each of them has fundamentally had to hold that being human is a thing worth being.
Reminders of man's fallibility and weakness, concepts like original sin, always come later. They are added on to take advantage of believers' better selves, in order to keep them obedient using the best prison guard imaginable: themselves. Humanity's great artists and thinkers, however religious, nearly universally reject this self-imposed punishment. (This is also, all partisan politics aside, why there are so few great conservative artists: in order to think and create, one has to be deeply invested in the idea that the new and unknown is good, rather than merely preserving the existing order).
And hence we use religion as the idea that we are a Christian nation with some specific subsets embedded in that concept that has no room for that which does not fit.. sexuality is the number one but of course just gender and race are also strong components in which to excuse and inflict pain.
Religious fanaticism may represent a clear and present danger to society. But beyond the extremists embedded in organized religion is a more pressing concern. The often unheard of religious cults, such as The People’s Temple, Heaven’s Gate, and Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments, have a more frightening history than religious fanatism and one perusal of the Netflix documentary on that subject - Wild Wild Country - can allow you to see behind the gates. But the reality is that religion is man made and in turn our greatest dilemma: religion, man's greatest creation, creates the same entity that it is supposed to extinguish! People, especially young people, are pulling away from organized religion, with its tendency to maintain organizational power by oppressive means. But the idea behind it is not through some organized means, the Christianity that young people practice on their own outside the existing structures is closer to the teachings of Christ than the mainstream churches have been for centuries. They don't need holy water. And if you do believe in Christ you would realize he was the first hippie and the first social activist. He challenged existing authority, first the established Jewish religious authorities and then the Romans to whom the power-corrupted elements within that structure of authority turned him over to the authorities who sentenced him to death for it.
Now I don't believe Jesus was the Son of God nor did he die for my sins. He died because he was willing to do so for his beliefs. Many do now in the Military under the guise of keeping us free and that we give them heroic status for that and we do so now with the supposed front liners in this pandemic while again the leaders do shit all nothing. Sound familiar? But anyone who is obsessed with this story and the Book of Myths as a Book of Laws cannot say on one hand, the information presented was written and translated over time and in turn its meaning is not relevant today while also quoting or extrapolating other text as law. Either/Or, Neither/Nor as it become both convenient and hypocritical to denounce others for doing the same when asking questions about the relevance of this book regarding their lives. As I asked this young man about the Bible and women and cited over two dozen scriptural references regarding women his response was this:
These passages are obsolete because Christians don't observe Civil or Ceremonial law. So when Christians "cherry pick," we don't cherry pick at random. We know why we choose what we choose from Scripture, and again, it goes back to study. What you're doing is simply reading a passage, maybe seeing if it has something seemingly degrading about women, not minding the context, not asking those five key questions: Who wrote this, when was it written, why was it written, where was it written, and to whom was it written. You're also not trying to understand the laws behind those governances, not considering the written format of the book, either Law, Prophetic, Epistle, Poetic, et cetera. All of these things matter when pulling information from a Biblical text. That's Hermeneutics. There's a scene from the West Wing where President Bartlet uses OT passages to make an argument, and it shows the ignorance of the general population as to what the Bible really is and how to handle the Bible. Obviously there are things in the Bible that are obsolete today, and every single verse Bartlet references is a verse that's obsolete because of the new covenant in Christ. Does that mean we don't read them? No, the entire Bible is meant to be read, but it's also meant to be understoodHuh? You are citing a fiction show to demonstrate how people use the Bible incorrectly. Well in a way that is sort of kinda appropriate as that book is also a work of fiction. But what was odd about this particular citation was that the West Wing ran on TV from 1999-2006 and that would be over 14 years ago. Maybe that is why he went into the spin of depression? I have no idea why any 8 year old would watch and remember this over a decade later, and of all things cite that show, other than again that entire explanation is plagiarized (as most of that actually is). And yes I found it is as there are numerous right wing cites dedicated to eviscerating Aaron Sorkin's take on the Bible. This is extremism and it is not good.
I will miss the boy I met but the man he is becoming not in the least. And he is one of many who are lost souls and this pandemic will push them further to the marginal fringe and we need to be ready. I am moving to Sweden, there idea of a herd is about immunity not as in sheep.