Religious Fanaticism – by Greg Albrecht

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  Justine Gubar, a producer at ESPN (the television sports channel), researched and studied the reasons behind violent celebrations and protests by fans whose teams either win or lose a sporting event. While reading a summary of her book “Fanaticus,” I could not help but see the many parallels that exist between the rioting generated by sports fans and the death and mayhem inflicted by fans of religion on those who are on the opposing “team.”      

Celebrations of victories and protests of defeats resulting in violence are often instigated by fans whose identity and purpose in life is almost entirely swallowed up by their allegiance to their team. As we prepare to observe the 15th anniversary of 9-11, we must reflect on the holy wars being waged by “religious fans/fanatics” in our world today. These past 15 years in this 21st century have been a fertile breeding ground for a virulent spiritual virus, introducing frightening new levels of terrorism leading to increasing bloodshed “in the name of God.”  

The word “fan” derives from the Latin “fanaticus” – whose root meaning has to do with deep religious devotion. Fanatical fans of a sports team and fanatical fans of a particular religion are consumed by hatred and bigotry to the point of inflicting violence and death on anyone who disagrees. The incubation and growth process of hatred often involves depersonalizing those of other racial or religious groups – in order for hatred to thrive, one must no longer see another human as a neighbor to be loved, but as an enemy to be feared and detested. 

Hatred and bigotry involve name-calling, ascribing unspeakable actions and motives to the subject of hatred. In the religious world, calling someone a heretic is often part of the process of dehumanizing that person, so that inhumane thoughts and actions that follow are more easily justified. It’s easier to abuse a person if one believes that person “has it coming.” 

Generally speaking, “heretic” is a recrimination directed at someone who does not conform to an accepted religious interpretation or practice. Many religious fans subjectively apply the term “heretic” to anyone who doesn’t agree with their own chosen convictions, beliefs and practices. An old adage suggests an easy way to identify and label a heretic: anyone who is not a member of your church

Religious fanatics often believe Christ-followers to be heretics because Christ-followers do not play the universal religious game wherein the ultimate purpose in life is to please and appease God via efforts, works and deeds. Christ-followers are often seen as non-conformists at best, heretics at worst, because their purpose in life does not center in, on and around a particular religious denomination or movement. Christ-followers are devoted to Christ alone. 

Christ-followers don’t play religious games – the grace of God leads to us becoming Christ-followers rather than religious fans/fanatics. As Christ-followers, we surrender any and all religious achievements that we or someone else might credit to our own efforts, and instead we give God all the glory. Jesus rescues those who believe, trust him and follow him from the delusion of continually attempting to prove their own goodness to God based on their faithful obedience to law. 

   Many believe God and law to be co-equal terms. However, nothing God creates is equal to his love. God’s love and God are one and the same – God’s love is co-equal with God. The Bible defines God as love but never does it equate God with or define him by law. Because of God’s grace and love, we are free in Christ, no longer fanatically consumed by the dictates of any law, but rather radically committed to the grace of the great I AM. By God’s grace, we can all be transformed from being a religious fan/fanatic to a Christ-follower

   Religious fans whose identity is defined by their loyalty to their congregation or denomination not only use the term “heretics” to speak of those who differ with them, but they also denounce those who oppose their beliefs as antinomians (anti=against, nomos=law). Religious fans whose identity and purpose in life is swallowed up in their allegiance to rules, regulations, rituals and regimens characterize antinomians as libertines who permissively live a self-indulgent, immoral, depraved and corrupt life.

   Christ-followers are often subjected to taunts of permissiveness. It may be true that some justify their sordid and self-centered life by saying that God has and will always forgive them – but self-indulgence is a product of self-will and lust, as opposed to the humility and love expressed by Jesus in the lives of those who truly are Christ-followers. In fact, if we who follow Christ are not occasionally accused of being antinomian (or permissive) then we might not be fully proclaiming and explaining the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ! 

Of course, all manner of laws effect and regulate us from our birth to our death. No one can completely disregard law. The question for Christ-followers is not whether law exists, but what is the role, if any, of religious laws and regulations in our lives? Are we “under” law or “under” grace? What priority does religious law have in our life? 

By God’s grace, Christ-followers know that Jesus Christ is our new covenant, forever negating the priority of any law, in terms of the rule of spiritual law in our lives. Jesus Christ alone is our ruler. He alone is on the throne. Jesus is the absolute focus of our faith – Jesus Christ is the meaning and purpose of our lives. Jesus is above all law – he is the love and grace of God. 

Christ-followers do not ignore the law – but we realize that the law will always condemn us, for we are unable to perfectly obey any law in such a way to earn or deserve God’s favor. We, as Christ followers, obey Jesus, and he empowers us to live out his commands, to love neighbor and to love God. As Christ-followers, any morality we have or exhibit is produced by Jesus who lives in us. 

Our obedience to law does not produce morality – our morality is given to us by God’s grace – our morality is the very righteousness of Jesus, which God credits to us. It is absolutely silly and irrational, and perhaps blasphemous, to say that someone who trusts in and believes Jesus is immoral – for the gospel of Jesus clearly teaches that the risen Lord Jesus lives his life in those who follow him and produces the works of God in their lives. 

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…  – Titus 2:11-13  

Christ-followers are absolutely committed to Jesus, who was and is non-violent. The teachings of Jesus never lead Christ-followers to acts of hatred and vengeance and retribution toward those who do not seem to follow Jesus Christ, for Jesus himself willingly surrendered to his Cross, so that in so doing he might accept all of the violence and hatred of humanity, including religious fanaticism. Of course, it was religion that sent Jesus to his Cross. 

The love of God wins and conquers on the cross of Christ. Jesus accepted all violence, hatred and recrimination and absorbed it all – he sucked it all up and forgave it. Like a fire that burns itself out, Jesus consumed all human hatred – all religious fanaticism, all pride and lust – and all devotion to gods other than the one true God and all allegiance to any teaching or beliefs other than Jesus. The act of accepting all violence, hatred and recrimination killed Jesus, humanly, but he rose triumphantly, winning the battle over death and the grave. 

As Christ-followers, we look to and devote ourselves to the Cross of Christ – we devote ourselves to the Sermon on the Mount rather than Mount Sinai. Christ-followers are not religious fanatics, violently opposing those who disagree with us, but as our risen Lord lives in us, we non-violently live out our lives in complete devotion to the Prince of Peace. 

The gospel of Jesus Christ reaches out to those who struggle, suffer and sorrow. The gospel reaches out to you and me and the entire world with hope – hope that comes from the grace of God. 

  • Grace is an eternal force that flows from God’s heart and soul delivering unmerited and undeserved favor to train wrecks like you and me. 
  • Grace delivers us from the false and corrupt ideas that we are powerful enough to earn and deserve God’s favor, by teaching us we are powerless to earn righteousness on the basis of our own obedience. 
  • Grace announces Jesus. Grace announces that the old way of trying to please and appease God via obedience to laws is over – and that the new has come. Grace is the love letter from God that frees us from the condemnation of the law – the love letter that proclaims God’s unfailing, unconditional, no-matter-what love. 

Thank God for his grace that delivers us from religious fanaticism into freedom in Christ, as we follow Jesus. 

Your brother in Christ,

Greg Albrecht 

Friend and Partner Letter from July 2016:  

Letters to My Friends

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