Father Maximos on Fanaticism and Delusion
Fr. Maximos continued. “I am reminded of what Elder Joseph the Hesychast wrote in a little booklet about this matter. The title of his essay was ‘Delusion.’ In it, he clearly identifies delusion with fanaticism. The fanatic is under the spell of delusion. The person who is monolithically dogmatic, absolutistic in his views, and dismissive of others who profess different opinions is under the spell of ‘plani’, of delusion.”
“Religious people often consider such characteristics as virtues,” I pointed out. “I mean, to be dogmatic and absolutistic. Alas, this has been the tragic reality of much of the history of the Church.”
“Yes. In fact such people may follow the teachings of the Church exactly. They may fast, they may study the scriptures day and night, they may go to all-night prayer vigils, they may be generous and charitable, they may follow everything to the letter, they may diligently study the word of God and pray continuously.”
“Where do you see the problem then?” Michael asked.
“Such people often turn such practices into absolutes and get attached to them. They lose sight of the reason that they engage in these practices.”
“This is an unavoidable problem for every religion,” I said. “Rules and regulations, and various religious practices necessary for the preservation of religion, become ends in themselves as people lose sight of why those rules were set up in the first place.”
“Exactly. People become intolerant toward others because others don’t act and behave like themselves. They are not pious like themselves; they don’t pray or go to church every Sunday. According to Elder Joseph, such fanatical attitudes are forms of delusion. Spiritual persons, says the elder, are whole persons. They do not have gaps inside them. They are perfected in Christ. They act having Christ as their model. And Christ was never a fanatic. Christ would not quarrel with those who disagreed with Him. Human beings who are on Christ’s footsteps will present their views simply and modestly, without trying to convince anybody. Christ never got into fights to impose His teachings. Furthermore, whenever He realized that the other was not receptive, He simply remained silent.”
“In the same way He responded to Pilate,” Maria commented.
“That’s the classic example. He recognized that Pilate was not open to His teaching. Christ did not marshal His divine powers to knock down Pilate’s views in order to convince him. Christ told His disciples that to them was given the privilege to get to know the mysteries of Heaven, whereas to the rest the teachings were given in the form of parables. The possibility of knowledge, in other words, was given only to those who had a thirst for knowledge and who were ready to accept the word of God. To others, God would not reveal His Truth.”
“But why not?” Maria asked.
“He certainly was not rejecting others. It was out of love that he wouldn’t reveal His Truth.”
“I don’t understand.”
“When you hear God’s word and you reject it, you are more responsible.”
“So ignorance is bliss in such a case.”
“Of course. If you know the difference between good and evil but you choose evil, you are more responsible for your transgression. It is the same if you know God’s ways but you choose to reject them. God in His great mercy, therefore, will not expose us to His ways if we are not ready to accept them. Once again, that is why Christ never tried to convince anyone. Neither Christ, nor the gospels, nor the saints, nor the Ecclesia, properly understood, could possibly produce fanatical human beings.”
“I wish that were the reality with the Church. Alas, there are plenty of fanatics all around,” I said, shaking my head.
“Yes. These are phenomena that are related to the spiritual immaturity of individuals, not of the Ecclesia itself. The Ecclesia should not be judged on the basis of such spiritually ill and undeveloped individuals. It should be judged on the basis of those who have been healed by its pedagogy. A hospital cannot be evaluated by the number of sick persons taken care of inside its walls. Can we say that because a hospital houses sick people, it is sickly and useless and must be closed down? Wouldn’t that be absurd? You judge the effectiveness of a hospital by the quality of its doctors and the number of sick people who have been restored to health, not by the number of patients who reside there. That’s how we must see the Ecclesia, as a healing institution, with all of us as its inmates. It is the presence of the saints among us that authenticates its therapeutic efficacy.”
~Adapted from Kyriacos C. Markides, Inner River: A Pilgrimage to the Heart of Christian Spirituality