Does True Christianity Produce Fanatics?
CHRISTENDOM has had its fanatics—from people who set themselves on fire in political protest to individuals acting intolerantly toward those holding different religious views. For example, the first Crusade was inspired by the Catholic Church to free Jerusalem from the hands of people she considered to be infidels. It began with three undisciplined mobs whose violent excesses included a pogrom of Jews in the Rhineland. When the military forces of this Crusade succeeded in taking Jerusalem, these so-called Christian soldiers turned the streets into rivers of blood.
In his book The Outline of History, H. G. Wells said of the first Crusade: “The slaughter was terrible; the blood of the conquered ran down the streets, until men splashed in blood as they rode. At nightfall, ‘sobbing for excess of joy,’ the crusaders came to the Sepulchre from their treading of the winepress, and put their blood-stained hands together in prayer.”
In a later Crusade called by Pope Innocent III, the peaceful Albigenses and Waldenses, who objected to the doctrines of Rome and the excesses of the clergy, were massacred. Regarding the fanaticism expressed against them, Wells wrote: “This was enough for the Lateran, and so we have the spectacle of Innocent III preaching a crusade against these unfortunate sectaries, and permitting the enlistment of every wandering scoundrel . . . and every conceivable outrage among the most peaceful subjects of the King of France. The accounts of the cruelties and abominations of this crusade are far more terrible to read than any account of Christian martyrdoms by the pagans.”
Christendom’s history is full of accounts of fanatics, and they have usually produced fruits of violence. So we can conclude that fanaticism does not produce good fruitage. Funk and Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary of the English Language (1929 edition) defines fanaticism in the following way: “Extravagant or frenzied zeal.” And it goes on to illustrate it with these words: “No period of history exhibits a larger amount of cruelty, licentiousness, and fanaticism than the Crusades.”
It is also of interest to note the definition given to the word “fanatic” by Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, 1961 edition. It says: ‘Fanatic—Latin, inspired by a deity. 1. possessed by or as if by a demon; broadly: crazed, frantic, mad. 2. governed, produced, or characterized by too great zeal: extravagant, unreasonable; excessively enthusiastic, especially on religious subjects.’ With these thoughts in mind, can it be said that true Christians are fanatics?
Identified by Fruits
As the fruit of a tree identifies it, so the results of human actions identify what kind of people are producing them. Jesus Christ, the Founder of Christianity, pointed this out. He said: “A good tree cannot bear worthless fruit, neither can a rotten tree produce fine fruit. Really, then, by their fruits you will recognize those men.”—Matthew 7:18, 20.
Jesus founded true Christianity as a good tree. It could not, therefore, produce the bad fruits of fanaticism. At no time did Jesus urge his followers to do physical harm to themselves or to others. Instead, in quoting one of the two great commandments, he said: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) His followers were to be kind even to their enemies. Said Jesus: “Continue to love your enemies, to do good to those hating you, to bless those cursing you, to pray for those who are insulting you.”—Luke 6:27, 28.
Jesus’ true followers went out among people of many different nations, not with fire and sword, but with God’s written Word and peaceful persuasion. No military armies accompanied them to other lands in order to slaughter, torture, and rape those who rejected Christian baptism. Instead, Jesus’ disciples followed his peaceful example of preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom to all, encouraging them to reason on information presented from the Scriptures. The fruits of their work included the fruitage of God’s spirit—“love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.”—Galatians 5:22, 23.
It is not different today. True Christianity still produces good fruit. The tree, the Christian organization, that Jesus planted over 1,900 years ago was good, and it is still good. So it is incapable of producing the bad, intolerant, violent fruits of fanaticism. Why, then, has fanaticism been so common in Christendom?
The apostle Paul indicated that the time would come when imitation Christians would appear. They would bear the name Christian but not live up to it or produce its good fruits. He told elders from Ephesus: “I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:29, 30) From these apostates arose Christendom with its hundreds of conflicting religious organizations teaching things that are merely represented as being Christian. Actually, they are “twisted things,” ideas of men and not the truth of God’s Word. It has been among these false Christians that the bad fruitage of fanaticism has manifested itself.
Is Christian Zeal Fanaticism?
It is true that fanaticism is a form of zeal. But fanaticism is an “extravagant or frenzied zeal,” an “unreasonable” zeal. This cannot be said of true Christianity.
Repeatedly, the Bible admonishes Christians to be reasonable. For example, Philippians 4:5 says: “Let your reasonableness become known to all men.” And Christians are counseled “to speak injuriously of no one, not to be belligerent, to be reasonable, exhibiting all mildness toward all men.”—Titus 3:2.
Because Jehovah’s Witnesses visit people in their homes to talk about the good news of God’s Kingdom, they are different from the majority who claim to be Christians. This zeal in the Christian ministry is no basis for viewing them as fanatics. It is a reasonable zeal for a work that Jesus did and commanded his followers to do. (Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20) A person who sets aside many time-consuming personal activities in order to devote as much time as possible to the Kingdom-preaching work is not a fanatic. Instead, he shows his appreciation for the urgency of helping others to learn about the life-giving truths of God’s Word in the short time remaining for this work to be done. This is reasonable and beneficial.
Instead of being a fanatical work that injures others, this activity builds faith in God and his Word. It gives hope to those without hope, brings freedom from religious superstitions and ignorance, and transforms countless immoral and violent people into morally clean and peaceful Christians. These good fruits indicate a good organization.
In more than 200 lands, Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain their loyalty to God’s Kingdom, even though they are under official proscription in many places. Their loyalty to God, the Supreme Sovereign, can hardly be classed as fanaticism. He is the highest Authority, and when there is a conflict between his laws and those of a human government, a true Christian is obligated to obey him. Under human governments, local laws are sometimes nullified because they conflict with federal laws. Similarly, for true Christians human laws are nullified when in conflict with those of the Universal Sovereign, Jehovah God. Since a true Christian cannot obey two conflicting laws, he does what the apostles did. They said: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) This is reasonable.
The same reasonableness is shown by Jehovah’s Witnesses with respect to national and religious celebrations that are in conflict with God’s Word. It is not fanaticism to decline to participate in what the majority in a country are observing. Being different because of their religious conscience puts the Witnesses in the same category as the early Christians, who did not participate in the popular celebrations of their day. And Jehovah’s Witnesses are glad to give a Scriptural reason for their nonparticipation.—1 Peter 3:15.
Some persons may class the Witnesses as fanatics because of their refusal to accept blood transfusions, a procedure that is popular with the majority of doctors. Here again it is a matter of obedience to the law of God. True followers of Jesus Christ are commanded to “keep abstaining . . . from blood.”—Acts 15:28, 29.
Is a person fanatical because, for conscience’ sake, he rejects a medical procedure that is currently popular? Some people who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses reject blood transfusions out of fear of contracting AIDS or other diseases. So is it unreasonable for the Witnesses to request medical treatment that does not violate their conscience?
What, then, should be concluded from this? That Jehovah’s Witnesses are not fanatics because they are different from the majority and insist on being obedient to God. Although they have a zeal for God, they do not have an “extravagant or frenzied zeal” as if possessed by a demon; nor do they appear to be “crazed, frantic,” or “mad.” At no time do they out of religious zeal do violent harm to others or to themselves. Rather, in harmony with what the Bible says about true Christians, they are “peaceable with all men.”—Romans 12:18.
So the Christian organization that Jesus Christ began in the first century as a good tree continues today producing only good fruit. It is, therefore, impossible for true Christianity to produce fanatics.
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There is no reason to view Jehovah’s Witnesses as fanatics because of their zeal in the Christian ministry