Fanatics of Love: A Defense of Fanaticism

“Fanatic” is now modern society’s supreme insult—especially when combined with “religious.” The other new F-word is “fundamentalist.”

When the federal government—our federal government—decided that David Koresh was a “fanatic,” they went in with guns blazing and well-known results. The explanation afterwards was that he and his group were “fundamentalists.” (Southern Baptists, beware!)

The media now habitually use the two new F-words to describe the moral philosophy of 2,000 years of Catholicism and 4,000 years of Judaism, when this philosophy differs from that of the modern secular establishment. The conflict almost always arose monomaniacally (“fanatically”?) over sexual issues: sodomy, abortion, divorce, fornication, contraception, condoms, priestesses—if we could only revoke the Sixth Commandment, the world would beat a path to our door.

Four groups are singled out as the only ones left in the world who threaten the Sexual Revolution: non-dissenting (non-heretical) Catholics, Protestant evangelicals (including real fundamentalists), Orthodox Jews, and Muslims. These are the only groups who have not surrendered to the new morality of sex on demand and abortion on demand, who have not bowed the knee to Astarte or Moloch.

We are living amid a war between gods. The sexual revolution is more than a mere military or political revolution; it touches the very wellsprings of life.

Three key battlefields are already in the hands of the enemy: our three most influential mind-molding institutions—education, journalism, and entertainment. Polls show that the moral beliefs of the leaders in these three areas are wildly at odds with, and in “advance” of, society at large. (“Advanced” here means advanced decay.) For instance, while almost 95 percent of Americans think cheating on your spouse is wrong, only half the movie-makers do. While 72 percent of Americans think there should be some limits on abortion, only 3 percent of media people do. About half of all Americans attend religious services, only 9 percent of media-ites do.

Why can’t the secular establishment just live and let live? Why do they have to sneak an anti-religious message into nearly every movie, however gratuitous? (See Michael Medved, Hollywood vs. America.) Why do they hate the four religions mentioned above?

The most obvious reason is guilt—the same reason crime hates law, roaches hate light, and cavities hate dentists.

A second reason is fear. Deep down, they know they cannot be sure there really is no God of justice and righteousness or that they will not ever be judged by this God, or even damned. No one can prove, no one can be certain, however they laugh or sneer, that sin, Judgment, and Hell are fantasies, not facts. A third reason is envy. Unconsciously, they envy the very thing they hate and denounce as “fanaticism,” the thing Kierkegaard called “infinite passion.” The modern world, without God, is passionless, grey, dull, “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable.” For if there is no God, no Heaven, no Hell, no Judgment, no absolute good or evil, then there is no object to elicit infinite passion.

Evangelicals, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims believe in a God whose will is the absolute good, a God disobedience to Whom is the supreme evil, and therefore they have an infinite passion. They believe not just in human “values” but in divine commandments.(God did not give Moses the Ten Values.)

Perhaps the group that gets the worst press of all is Muslims. The popular perception of Muslims is that they all justify violence in the name of religion. (Actually only about 5 percent of Muslims worldwide fit that description.) But the heart of Islam for every Muslim is the “fanaticism” of total “surrender” (islam) to God and His will. It is the same first commandment we have: to love the Lord God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength—with infinite passion.

Where can the world find infinite passion without God?

The obvious alternative is sex. Sexual passion is modernity’s substitute for religious passion. (Thus, naturally, Freud declares that religion is a substitute for sex, when in fact for him and millions more sex is a substitute for religion.) Saint Thomas explains that “man cannot live without joy. That is why one deprived of spiritual joys goes over to carnal pleasures.”

We Christians are accused of being “rigid” in our mind (our doctrines and principles) by those who seek this property only in a lower organ. There are ten commandments, not just one, but the modern mind has only one infinite passion and projects its obsession onto the Church, accusing us of being fixated on sex. It’s like a teenager on drugs complaining to his parents, who gently disapprove once in a blue moon, “you’re always harping on that!”

Any addiction blinds the mind, but sex especially does so because it becomes a substitute for religion and acquires the sanctity of dogma. How many open-minded, carefully reasoned moral arguments for abortion have you ever heard? If abortion had nothing to do with sex, it would be outlawed tomorrow. If the Sixth Commandment were obeyed, the Fifth would be too. Over 99 percent of all murders in America are abortions. Every time I have ever had a long and serious conversation with a committed pro-choicer, his bottom line, non-negotiable absolute always came down to sex.

Paul Johnson, in Intellectuals, and E. Michael Jones in Degenerate Moderns, have documented how most modern ideology came from sexual deviants and their deviance. Sir Julian Huxley, the world’s most famous evolutionist, frankly and freely admitted, on public radio, that the reason Darwin’s Origin of Species was so totally embraced by the intellectuals was that “Natural Selection got rid of God, you see, and God was a tremendous bother to one’s sex life.”

Besides “Fanatic” and “fundamentalist” a third anathema is habitually hurled at Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, and Muslim morality: “simplistic.”

This, too, is an envy-word. Just as they envy our passion, they envy our knowledge, our certainty and clarity. That is why they trash it. How precious it is to know the difference between the straight road and the crooked; to know that there is good and there is evil, there is right and there is wrong, there is a real black and white as well as things that are grey. Chesterton says, “Morality is always terribly complicated—to a man who has lost his principles.”

Deep down, even unbelievers know life must be ultimately simple. They know it when someone they love is dying. Then, money and fame and even sex cease to matter. Then, the “simplistic” words of Jesus to complexifying, modern Martha ring true: “Martha, Martha, you are worried about many things. But only one thing is necessary.”

Life as a Work of Art

The saints all have such real personalities because they know this “one thing necessary.” Saint Thomas explains the connection: the unity of a living being comes from its final cause, its end or purpose. So if you have a single ultimate good, your life attains the unity of a work of art. Only if you have “one great love” can you be one great person. To be a real person, you must be a fanatic.

The honest motive for this “fanaticism,” however, cannot be psychological; it must be theological. God will not let Himself be used as a tool of psychotherapy. Our fanaticism is to be a response to God, not to our own need; a conformity to the nature of objective reality, to the God who deserves our “fanaticism.” “Be ye holy for I the Lord your God am holy.” The byproduct will then be wholeness and happiness. Holiness cannot be a means to wholeness; wholeness must be a byproduct of holiness.

Such a unity of purpose is necessary not only for wholeness and happiness but even for sanity. The Nazis drove the Jews in Auschwitz insane not by torture or starvation or brutally hard labor but by meaningless work: digging a trench one day and filling it up the next. A hard and painful job for a great and good purpose is endurable; meaningless, purposeless work is not. Childbirth can be easier than retirement. The exhausting life of the peasant poor does not kill the spirit; the boredom of the sophisticated rich does.

The two most common and greatest examples of this unity of purpose, this “one great love,” this total self-giving, are religion and marriage and family. That is why these are the two things the secularists despise and undermine the most. They are envious.

My characterization of modern secularists is not calculated to win friends and influence people. And if the reader is not mad at me yet, he probably will be by the end of the next paragraph. I can only plead: Ask not whether it makes you feel good; ask only whether it is true.

Modern man is—by his own admission—in process, changing. It is man’s essence to be unstable and dynamic: he must either rise higher than himself or descend lower. If he does not rise to God, he sinks to bestiality. But which beast? I think modern man is becoming reptilian. Three distinctive features of reptiles are (1) that they devour their young; (2) that they are cold-blooded; and (3) that they conform their body temperature to their environment. Three features of modern secularists are (1) that they kill their unborn children, (2) that they judge the warm-blooded as “fanatics” (for 98.6 seems like a high fever to the cold-blooded), and (3) that they have nothing but their ever-changing society to conform to; they are social relativists with no transcendent absolutes.

Not Guns but Goodness

If I were to stop here, I would probably have done more harm than good. My purpose is not to elicit hatred, resentment, fear, or despair. It is to prepare us for war.

We are at war, whether we like it or not. We didn’t start it; Satan did, in Eden. It is not a war against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, and it is fought not with guns but with goodness. (By the way, this is the Koran’s primary notion of jihad, or holy war, also.) We are living in a wicked and wimpy society, and we are watching and smelling as it swirls faster and faster down the toilet. Perhaps it is too late to save it; no one knows. But we do know that we can save souls—which are infinitely more important and long-lived than society anyway. We can’t stop the war but we can lower the body count.

How? First, we can keep our powder hot, our passion alive, our “fanaticism” burning. Yesterday, Satan’s strategy was fire; today it is water. Yesterday, he inflamed fear and cruelty; today, he tempts to sloth and comfort-mongering and “peace, peace when there is no peace.” Yesterday, he was spotted around every corner; today, he has persuaded us that he is a myth. Both strategies are effective: if any army vastly overestimates or vastly underestimates its enemy, it will lose battles.

The danger today is not the restoration of the Inquisition. The ACLU is half a millennium behind the times. The danger today is the bland leading the bland. We face not fire but fog.

Second, we must clearly distinguish good fanaticism from bad. All fanaticism is bad but one: fanaticism for God. Nothing else is infinitely good; nothing else deserves infinite passion. Not sex, not ideology (Left or Right), not even biological life itself. (Ask any martyr.) We must avoid all false fanaticism)—idolatries—to keep our souls virginally pure for God’s love alone. For the final thing we were made for, the one thing God will never let us go until we do it, the “one thing necessary,” is to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. All Heaven’s citizens are fanatics.

We must also clearly distinguish holy from unholy fanaticism. Unholy fanaticism is loud and pushy; holy fanaticism is quiet and humble. It’s the difference between Madonna and the Madonna.

Mary is the model fanatic. Her whole heart was in her simple “yes,” her fiat, her islamto God. That little word opened the door into this world for The Word. The power that came through her “fanaticism” saved and transformed the world. And He can do it again. And again.

We must also not confuse holy fanaticism with narrowness. The saints, who were the most “fanatical” and “simplistic,” were also the most fascinatingly creative, unpredictable, and original individuals who ever lived. The reason is simple: once you know the one Absolute, you can sit lightly on and play with everything else, even life itself. The saints crack jokes on their deathbeds. Saint Lawrence, roasted over a fire, said: “Turn me over, please; I’m not done on the other side yet.” No one who has never met God could understand that.

Without God to be fanatic about, you have to absolutize some idol, for man was designed to be a worshipper. Thus, you become addicted to something less than yourself, something that enslaves you; for “you are a slave to whatever you cannot part with that is less than yourself” (George MacDonald). Even freedom can enslave you. C.S. Lewis writes: “I was not born to be free. I was born to adore and to obey.” (Did something thrill in your heart when you read that? Why haven’t you heard that before from your teachers?)

Third, we should not be surprised to find an increasing tide of vilification, propaganda, censorship, and outright lies in the three secular establishments. We often wrongly take the seemingly peaceful ’50s as our normal baseline and wonder what went wrong. But history shows that such tranquility is abnormal. The physical wars of the ’40s and the spiritual wars of the ’60s are normal. Our times today are normal. Not peaceful, and not good, but normal. God did not promise us a comfortable mansion in this life. He promised the opposite (e.g., John 16:33; I Peter 4:12).

Fourth, if we follow all our Commander’s battle instructions, we will also do something we don’t hear about any more today: we will rejoice when we are persecuted and vilified. Today’s persecutions are usually made of ink, not steel. If we can’t rejoice in even these little verbal slaps, how will we rejoice in imprisonments (Joan Andrews, Jim Cotter) or martyrdoms (Archbishop Romero)? What a privilege to get so close to the crucified that a bit of His blood spatters on us!

Fifth, though our war is defensive, not offensive, it must be positive, not negative. We should not hate evil with the same infinite passion as we love goodness. We are ordered to love God with our whole heart; we are not commanded to hate Satan with our whole heart. Hate never wins souls. The Inquisition converted no one. Our fanaticism must be a fanaticism of love, for God and His image in our neighbor, especially our enemy. “The way to conquer your enemy is to make him your friend” (Lincoln). We must love the truth infinitely, but not more than we love our enemies who hate it.

Love will win.

Finally, we must be grateful to God for His holy gift of fanaticism. For if we achieve what our enemies accuse us of (“If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”), it is only by grace. Saint Teresa said, “It’s all grace.” Saint Augustine said, “Give what You command, and then command what You will.” When we love Him with all our heart, that is His heart in ours. Only He can build the fire that is His own eternal life of agape, wherever it is kindled.

But this is not fatalism. He will do it—whenever He is asked. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” In the famous painting of Jesus with a lantern knocking on a door (the soul), there is no knob on the outside of the door. Only you can open the creaky door of your soul to this holy fanatic who wants to make you like Him.

William Law writes, “If you will consult your own soul with complete honesty, you will see that there is one and only one reason why you are not even now a saint: you do not wholly want to be.”

The main reason Islam is growing faster than Christianity in America is that Muslims want to be saints more than Christians do.


*Originally published in Crisis Magazine

The Center for the Restoration of Christian Culture is a project of The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.

Phone: (603) 880-8308
Fax: (603) 880-9280
Contact via email

Copyright © 2024 Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. All rights reserved.