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Violence and Fanaticism

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Pavel Hošek – Religions and violence

Violence and Fanaticism

In recent years, there has been a steep increase in religious terrorism all over the world.
In the 1990s, the American public was shocked by a series of bomb attacks against abortion hospitals organized by Christian terrorists. In 1995, other Christian terrorists blew up a government building in Oklahoma City. Nearly 170 people died. In 1994, a Jewish terrorist in a mosque in Hebron shot dead more than 30 Muslims, as an answer to similar atrocities committed by Palestinian Jihadists. In the 1990s in India, Sikh separatists committed a series of horrible terrorist acts. The horrid attack of 09/11/2001 was among a series of Muslim terrorist attacks on the symbols of western culture. In 2008, anti-Christian pogroms took place in India, led by Hindu nationalists. What is happening?
We live in a pluralistic world; the globe is being transformed into a colourful global village. However, many people do not enjoy this cultural situation. They understand plurality as a threat, as a loss of traditional certainties, as if the earth under their feet was shaking. The heart of many a person is today veiled in the creepy anxieties of uncertainty. The lost paradise of certainty is in ever-higher demand, as is also a solid anchor, a safe and cosy haven for the weary souls.
And it is this paradise lost which “sectarians” and “fundamentalists” offer. They answer the deep and justified needs of the current generation. Fundamentalist groups offer the longed-for islands of security in a sea of uncertainty. Often, their offers are well intentioned and also successful. The thing is that fundamentalists can be peace-loving, kind and “harmless”, they can give themselves satisfied with the paradise regained, and they can enjoy it together.
A problem arises when a fundamentalist decides to enforce his or her ideals, in other words, to impose his or her ‘black and white’ views on the whole of humanity. In this moment s/he becomes a fanatic. A fanatic does not long for security, anchor, and safety. S/he needs to transfer his or her ideas into deeds. S/he won’t have peace until the whole world will follow his or her vision. S/he suffers from the “madness of one thought only ”. The thing is that a fanatic faith desperately needs self-assurance; it is characterized by an “angry unyielding persistence of unambiguity”. A fanatic tortures himself or herself and their surrounding by a “moral terror”, a part of his psychical profile is “passion for perfection”, and it usually is a person without sense of humor, a person hard as a stone.
Understandably, a fanatic usually encounters misunderstanding and protests in their environment. This makes him or her, logically, feel humiliated and being done wrong upon. His or her excruciating inner tension can then often turn into bitterness and aggressive anger. Usually, sooner or later, a specific scapegoat will be looked for, a symbolic representative of Evil. Usually, in the end, the main vehicle carrying corruptness and perversity in the world is identified. The blaming finger points to the Jews, Roma, Americans, religious or ethnic minorities, state authorities or to abortion hospitals.
And at that point the ominous short connection comes. A fanatic comes under the ancient spell, s/he believes in the myth of the purifying power of violence. Stains on the world’s face have to be cleansed by the blood of the victims, in order to establish the coveted order. There is no place for mercy in the cosmic battle of Good and Evil. Your own doubts have to be out voiced by a militant “cry for perfection”, by a terrorist deed.
This is the context which explains bomb attacks at abortion hospitals in the USA, Muslim terrorist attacks at western countries’ institutions, or anti-Christian pogroms of Hindu nationalists in India.
By their aggressive deeds, fanatics try to overcome their own fears and anxieties. Therefore, an answer to fanaticism is not an atheistic skepticism, but rather a mature faith. Such a faith which can be the source of courage to live with imperfection and uncertainty.



(The article was originally published in the Czech Protestant youth magazine „Bratrstvo“ nr. 10/2008.)

Pavel Hošek teaches at the Charles University, Prague, at its Protestant Theological Faculty. He wrote on C. S. Lewis, now he focuses on interreligious relations. Among others, he published a book called 'On the Way to Dialogue' (Na cestě k dialogu) dealing with the principles of coexistence of Christianity and other religious traditions in the globalized world of today.








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