What Is Fanaticism?

     As my Gentle Readers might have expected, I got a number of emails about yesterday’s piece. There were a few mild disapprovals (“too long”), a few strident disagreements to be expected a priori (“religion is for fools and the weak-minded”), and two missives I’d rather not discuss in detail. But one rather interesting case styled me a “religious fanatic,” a term I’ve always found curious.

     There’s some wiggle room in the definition of fanatic, a word that’s more often used for its connotations than its denotation. Here’s what Dictionary.com has to say:

     fanatic noun: a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics.

     “Extreme” is a matter of opinion, barring the advocacy of violence, at least. “Uncritical” has somewhat clearer lineaments. The uncritical man is one whose beliefs, by his decision, are not to be criticized. He often reacts badly — extremely — to others’ differences of opinion about them.

     While I maintain that when fanatic is applied to religion, there’s considerable room for opinion – one man’s “religious fanatic” is another’s ordinary Sunday churchgoer – allow me to present a man I consider a fanatic, and at the height of his fanaticism, at that:

     Mind you, Sam Harris:

     There are good reasons for not discussing religion or politics with fanatics. (No, alcohol doesn’t improve matters.)


  1. When I first saw this video, I too was struck by it. Mostly it is Harris’ “well, I may as well discard my mask too” performance. ‘Why bother trying to keep my real inclinations hidden with a pleasant demeanor and rational arguments any longer when nobody else is doing so?’

    He and we are finding all of “Progressivism” at that stage today.

    Of the two long-standing slogans that Progs relied upon to move their agenda ratchet-like, their “two steps forward, one step back” approach has been thoroughly discarded because they believe their _______ agenda can no longer be stopped.

    It should be obvious that their next expected step is discarding their “no enemies to the left” slogan. It’s not like it is unknown what Stalin did to Trotsky and Hitler did to Röhm.

    Question: Are divide and conquer games restricted to one side only?

    • James Nelson on August 23, 2022 at 11:36 AM

    While raised in a protestant Calvanist church, the religion never spoke to me, so I don’t share your beliefs.  However real Christians have always struck me as an asset to America, those who feel the need to denigrate Christians, are merely expressing another, less moral, religion.

    • Sam on August 23, 2022 at 1:05 PM

    As chance would have it, I was just reading an old post (2014) about a fanatic:

    In Praise of an Uncompromising Bastard


    As one of my friends noted this week, Aaron was a fanatic. But in the best way.

    One of the things that made Aaron a great, effective fanatic was his willingness to listen and change. Another was his awesomely creative mind. I’ve spent a whole lifetime around writers, artists, and other “creatives,” but Aaron’s brain was more filled with creative ferment than anyone’s.


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