The difference between being passionate or being fanatical about something
Some time ago a friend passed on some DVDs to me which he wanted me to evaluate. The person speaking used to be a member of one of the large mainline churches in South Africa, at some stage decided that ths wasn’t the place to be and eventually, as far as I know, formed his own faith community which is not linked to any existing church. He tackles a few issues (I can’t even say hot issues, as for the most part I have never heard anyone discussing this in the past) such as sun worship and Freemasonry (which the church I belong to is officially against but which has not been on the agenda of the church for years, mainly because there are much more important things to discuss.)
This guy is absolutely fanatic about these topics. A round window in a church building indicates that the specific church is a sun worshipper (serious!) Any picture of the sun in a church indicates that the church worships the sun instead of God. A tower at a church says the same. And so on and so forth! He sees himself as a modern-day prophet called by God to warn the modern believers about the sin in their midst. I was preaching in a church in Pretoria just over a week ago and couldn’t help noticing the round window with a sun beautifully made in coloured glass. The inscription in the window comes from Malachi 4:2: “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.” According to the speaker on the DVD, this window indicates that this congregation is actually worshipping the sun. The way I see it, is that this window illustrates a wonderful promise from God which has nothing to do with worshipping the sun.
I didn’t bother to watch all the DVDs. I came to the point where I decided that I had much better things to do with my time. But watching part of the DVDs did get me thinking about the difference between people who are passionate about something and people who are fanatic about something. I know many people who are passionate about some cause. I, for one, am passionate about seeing the lot of people with HIV & AIDS being improved. And as I thought about this topic, I asked myself whether I would be regarded as a fanatic about AIDS. I hope not, as I see fanaticism as something negative.
I think the difference may lie in the approach. A fanatic – the way I experience it – seems to present a totally unbalanced viewpoint about a topic. In order to get their point across, they tend to lose focus on other issues which may be equally or even more important. They deliberately exaggerate in order to bring their own viewpoint across with greater authority (“Any church with round windows worship the sun”, or “If you raise your hands during worship and the palms are shoulder-high, then you are actually worshipping the sun!) They redicule people who dare to differ from them. They also deny that anyone who may feel differently about their viewpoint, may also have an equally strong viewpoint. I am pretty sure that, should I contact this person and tell him that I think that he has an unbalanced view about sun worshipping, that he will most probably attack me verbally.
But I know a lot of people who are passionate about certain things. One is passionate about prayer. The other is passionate about helping orphans. Another is passionate about peer educating (people teaching their peers about AIDS), another is passionate about helping less privileged people to be trained. The difference between them and the fanatics is that they see their passion as part of a much larger plan. The one who is passionate about prayer has often asked me to attend a prayer group as they want to pray for our work in Swaziland. The one who is passionate about helping children often contact me to find out whether they could help us with anything. Last week I was invited to speak to a group of 68 peer educators about our work. A few weeks ago I was asked to present a class on home-based caring at a training session for pastors.
I feel uncomfortable when I’m with someone who is fanatic about something, but I love being in the midst of someone who is passionate about some aspect of the work of God.