We all have our blind spots. Perhaps there is no one so blind as a zealot, a fanatic. And fanatics are often the most difficult and even dangerous kind of people to deal with. They can be willing and convinced to commit heinous acts to forward the “Cause” and silence “the Enemy”—even permanently.
I have been a zealot, and can still be one. I confess that zealotry has gotten me into hot water more than a time or two. I tend to form and hold strong opinions and views about things that disturb me or about which I am convinced I know significant truth. I suspect that most people share this characteristic during their lives, at least sometimes and about a few things.
It is amazing to consider the reasons people fall into zealotry-fanaticism. For millennia people have become so fanatical about favourite sports teams that they have killed and pillaged the supporters of their main rivals. This became a huge problem in Rome and Constantinople during the heyday of chariot racing. There were times when the supporters of the “Blues” and the “Greens” went on days-long rampages, seeking out their rivals to even kill and maim them, burn their businesses and homes. Only declaring martial law would bring them under control. Perhaps we have not seen quite that level of sports zealotry yet, but the fans of soccer/football teams in Europe, Africa, and Latin America have sometimes given those ancient Romans a run for their money in zealotry.
The two areas that seem to invariably and perennially engender the most fanaticism are religion and politics. We can link these two areas under the heading of “ideology”. Ideology manifests as religion and, in its secular form, as a socio-political movement. These two manifestations are closely linked, and until recently were intimately connected. The birth of secular ideologies which reject any connection to religion was only about two centuries ago, and is a specifically western phenomenon. It is the child of the Enlightenment, whose leading lights saw religion, particularly in its Christian form, as the root of all injustice and inequality.
From the perspective of the late 17th-19th-Century philosophes the intellectual giants of those heady days for the new progressivism, Science and Reason had set humanity free from the chains of ignorance, dogma, and superstition, which is all they attributed to the essence of the forms of Christianity they saw around them during the two centuries which followed after a century of wars of religion which had slaughtered millions in the name of Christ and truth.
This unshakeable conviction of inevitable progress through the agency of Reason and Science eventually led to its own brand of zealotry and fanaticism, and in turn engendered its own reaction. The zealotry and fanaticism which followed on the heels of the Enlightenment liberation of the West from slavery to religious dogma and moral and doctrinal judgmentalism and condemnation was ideology without God as its starting point. Instead there would be “scientific analysis”, rationality and Reason. Hence, there was a whole new area of thought to explore, the “Social Sciences”, dressed up in a facsimile of scientific methodology. The quest was to decode human behaviour and enable the enlightened Gnostics who saw truly and deeply enough into this new mystery to direct society into a coming age of harmony and symbiosis. This new age would be based on the proper ways to not only understand why and how humans behave as they do, but to channel that behaviour into constructive purposes and so reach the “Promised Land” that had so far eluded the Christian version of Western society.
We are still seeking the Promised Land, and, for the most part, still discounting the God-hypothesis as holding any prospect of showing us the way, but, at the same time, watching the more than two-hundred-year-old promise of a secular path to it unravelling. What has been the fruit of all that labour—beyond the accretion of mastery over nature through exploiting its resources for our own benefit and to blast one another to smithereens more and more efficiently?
Socio-political ideologies such as Communism, Fascism, Capitalism, Anarchism, and all their variations have proven themselves and continue to prove themselves to be every bit as capable of begetting mayhem and slaughter as religious-style bigotry, dogma, and hate-filled apocalypticism of the religious variety as any god-based religion ever did. We have only to tally the toll for all the wars of Revolution since 1792, two World Wars, and a host of other conflicts claiming to be bringing liberation or defending freedom. The toll is in the hundreds of millions.
The truth is that human beings are bred to believe. If we remove gods/God, we will nonetheless believe in a substitute, for, as has been said in various ways by different sages over many centuries, “Man is made with a God-shaped vacuum in his soul. If we do not let God fill it, we will find another god to take His place.” (This is my rather free-wheeling paraphrase of French philosophe Blaise Pascal’s formulation of the problem in his masterpiece, Pensées.)
I will not try the reader’s patience by discoursing on my own particular zealotry. Those who know me to some extent will have some idea of what some of it may involve. I will only challenge the thoughtful types among you to do some self-examination in the style of Socrates. He was the greatest of all Western philosophers and would, I believe, be shaking his head in dismay at the path our culture is taking away from its foundations in Reason and Science, set in their proper place. That place is not in God`s place, but alongside the Creator who gave these gifts to us in the first place.
Socrates’ greatest admonition to his contemporaries was “Know yourself.” When asked why the Oracle of Delphi had pronounced him the wisest living human of his time, he replied that the only thing that he knew for sure was that he knew almost nothing for sure, and, because he realized his own ignorance, he was free to inquire and discover truth inasmuch it could be found, because his mind was free from slavery to preconceived dogma. If, during his inquiry, he discovered that some dogmas were true, he was free to affirm them for their truth, but he was not free to compel others to accept them. In the end, only God can judge how truthfully a man (person) lives his life and only God is fit to judge.
I suspect that Socrates would be as controversial today as he was 2400 years ago. We would probably once more persecute him till he was forced to drink poison by some officious court defending some sort of “freedom” which the self-righteous justices of said court judged to be above the kind of examination Socrates advocated. I also suspect that another even greater One who lived four hundred years later would be once more taken out for “liquidation” for telling people that only the truth could set them free and that he himself was/is that truth.
One thought on “Zealotry”
Yes, I guess we are all zealots!
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