As I continued my reflections on fanatics, a thought occurred to me.
It wasn't a pleasant one.
What if, just what if, we all have a bit of fanaticism within us?
What if, we all become fanatics at some point and time?
Think about it. How many of us at some point begin to think that we have it right? How many of us at some point believe that we have "it" on any given issue? How many of us believe that we know what is right and what is wrong, and those who don't agree with us are ignorant, stupid, or just don't know better?
I pause as I reflect upon my experience dealing with fanatics on either end of the political/theological spectrum. Yes, you read that right. I believe there are both liberal and conservative fanatics.
Here is another snippet from Keller's book, "The Reason for God" pages 59-60:
The tendency of religious people, however, is to use spiritual and ethical observance as a lever to gain power over others and over God, appeasing him through ritual and good works. This leads to both an emphasis on external religious forms as well as greed, materialism, and oppression in social arrangements. Those who believe they have pleased God by the quality of their devotion and moral goodness naturally feel that they and their group deserve deference and power over others. The God of Jesus and the prophets,however saves completely by grace. He cannot be manipulated by religious and moral performance--he can only be reached through repentance, through the giving up of power.
Think about those of religious faith who are on either end of the political spectrum. Think about the "Religious Right" and their political aspirations. Are they interested in giving up power? Hardly.
At the same time, there is another movement from the religious left. This group does not focus on the morality issues of the "Religious Right". Indeed, they do not focus on abortion, distributing condoms in schools, or school prayer. Instead, they focus on justice issues. They focus on care and concern for the poor and marginalized. Yet, how does this group go about their quest to raise these issues? Do they seek to give up power? Hardly. They seek to vote certain candidates into office who are sympathetic to their points of view just like the folks on the "Religious Right." They too are seeking to manipulate the process through power. They too are fanatics.
While some of you may be shaking your heads in agreement (and others thinking I am completely wrong), I ask you to reflect a moment on how you tend to operate when it comes to believing that you are right. When you believe you are solid on a position, how do you relate to others? Do you seek to get your point across with giving up power or acquiring it?
So much of the way the world works encourages us to get power; to get prestige; to influence things through that power. Yet, Christianity calls us to do the exact opposite--to exercise humility by giving up power; to influence the world through humble service; not by political gain.
But that is hard. We feel like we aren't making a difference. We see the scope of the problems of the world, and we think, "If only I had enough power to influence things for the good..."
Yet, is this not a fallacy? As Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings said, " Understand that I would use this Ring from a desire to do good. But through me... it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine." Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Many of us know this. Many of us have had this ingrained in our thoughts, but there is something within us that believes we can handle the power. We can handle whatever situation. We have proved it by our actions and our faith.
I catch myself doing this more often than I would like to admit. Most recently it was on one of my walks around the area. I was passing a particular house. The couple who lived there had been through a difficult time in life. They had to go through some dark tunnels. I had worked with them and talked with them and prayed with them. After a long stretch, things finally settled back into place. Much of what had been wrong was righted. They have much to be thankful for. And they haven't been back in church to offer any form of thanks since things have become better.
Reflecting on this, I laid out my complaint to God. "They've got things working out for them now. Everything is better, and they haven't been back to church. Why is it that I work my butt off for you in the calling you gave me, and I don't get to have the things they do? Why is it they beg you for help; you give it; and then they forget about you and worshiping you? I've given my life to you and your service, and how come I have to penny pinch and watch what I say and do all the time. One slip up from me, and I can get toasted. Yet, these folks can seemingly disregard what you've done for them, and no one cares."
Perhaps I was feeling a little sorry for myself that day. Yet, as I think about it, wasn't I being fanatical? Wasn't I lifting up my own righteousness in the face of these folks who I considered unrighteous? Yep. I was. I was being a fanatic.
Forget the rest of the song, but "Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble." It really is. It's easier to be a fanatic. It's easier to be consumed by self-righteousness.
Luke 18: 9 Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” 13But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’
God, be merciful to me, a sinner! Give me the gift of humility. When I think I am righteous, help me see that I am being a fanatic, and turn me away from power to service. Amen.