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Have you ever met a fanatic? The dictionary defines a fanatic as someone with excessive zeal or obsessive enthusiasm. Does anyone you know come to mind?
First, before you start making a list, let’s further define the term. The psychologist of religion Tonu Lehtsaar has defined fanaticism as:
… the pursuit or defense of something in an extreme and passionate way that goes beyond normality. Religious fanaticism is defined by blind faith, the persecution of dissents and the absence of reality …
We probably all know a few fanatical fans—of sports teams, pop stars or film and TV actors. Completely devoted to the people or organizations they idolize, these super-fans live their lives with a slavish sense of adoration and allegiance. But what about religious fanatics? If you accept Lehtsaar’s definition, you can recognize religious fanaticism by blind faith—the unquestioning, uncritical and unconditional beliefs that lead to an absence of reality.
One of our readers here at BahaiTeachings.org asked a question related to fanaticism a while ago: “Is it alright to not live life devoted to religion?”
In our modern culture, we often think of anyone devoted to religion as a fanatic, or at least some kind of “religious nut.” Hardly anyone wants to be labeled like that—or think that way. In fact, some see people who devote themselves to a religious teaching as unbalanced or even insane.
The Baha’i Faith, since its inception, has forbidden every form of fanaticism—religious, racial, national, etc.:
He likened the world of humanity to a tree, and all the nations to its branches and the people to its leaves, buds and fruits.
His mission was to change ignorant fanaticism into Universal love, to establish in the minds of His followers the basis of the unity of humanity and to bring about in practice the equality of mankind. He declared that all men were equal under the mercy and bounty of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 36.
In North America, he proclaimed the same call—against all forms of fanaticism. He said the Baha’i teachings are resolutely opposed to the terrible consequences fanatics bring to their societies:
Shall we remain steeped in our fanaticisms and cling to our prejudices? Is it fitting that we should still be bound and restricted by ancient fables and superstitions of the past, be handicapped by superannuated beliefs and the ignorances of dark ages, waging religious wars, fighting and shedding blood, shunning and anathematizing each other? Is this becoming? Is it not better for us to be loving and considerate toward each other? Is it not preferable to enjoy fellowship and unity, join in anthems of praise to the most high God and extol all His Prophets in the spirit of acceptance and true vision? Then, indeed, this world will become a paradise, and the promised Day of God will dawn. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 369.
A new religious principle is that prejudice and fanaticism—whether sectarian, denominational, patriotic or political—are destructive to the foundation of human solidarity; therefore, man should release himself from such bonds in order that the oneness of the world of humanity may become manifest. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 455.
That new religious principle, which the Baha’i Faith exemplifies, urges all humanity to resist fanaticism:
Aim high, choose noble ends; how long this lethargy, how long this negligence! Despair, both here and hereafter, is all you will gain from self-indulgence; abomination and misery are all you will harvest from fanaticism, from believing the foolish and the mindless. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 105.
So, to answer our dear reader, yes, the Baha’i teachings say that a life devoted only to religion and blind faith can lead to fanaticism. However—the Baha’i teachings also say that a truly religious life, one lived with moderation, love and kindness, can lead to peace, concord and unity:
May fanaticism and religious bigotry be unknown, all humanity enter the bond of brotherhood, souls consort in perfect agreement, the nations of earth at last hoist the banner of truth, and the religions of the world enter the divine temple of oneness, for the foundations of the heavenly religions are one reality. Reality is not divisible; it does not admit multiplicity. All the holy Manifestations of God have proclaimed and promulgated the same reality. They have summoned mankind to reality itself, and reality is one. The clouds and mists of imitations have obscured the Sun of Truth. We must forsake these imitations, dispel these clouds and mists and free the Sun from the darkness of superstition. Then will the Sun of Truth shine most gloriously; then all the inhabitants of the world will be united, the religions will be one, sects and denominations will reconcile, all nationalities will flow together in the recognition of one Fatherhood, and all degrees of humankind will gather in the shelter of the same tabernacle, under the same banner. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 95-96.