Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

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.


Monday, September 21, 2009 - Posted by | Theology


  1. amen and amen. I completely agree. Oh, and when I wake up in the morning and see the sun shining and let the warmth of it fall on my face…am I a sun-worshipper? Oy. 😉

    Comment by Maya | Monday, September 21, 2009 | Reply

  2. Totally agree with you. Our focus needs to be on God and we need to stop judging other people and churches. We are one body!

    Comment by Anneke | Monday, September 21, 2009 | Reply

  3. Maya, as long as you look through a square window, you’re safe! (It’s really shocking to hear what this guy says.)

    Anneke, thanks for that comment. I know that we feel the same about this stuff. And I assume you realise that I was also referring to you and your passion.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Monday, September 21, 2009 | Reply

  4. I think that we should realize that someone else will probably stand from the outside and answer that question about us. I’d like to think that I am passionate about serving the underserved, disenfranchised and oppressed. At church, I am passionate about having systems that enable people to easily engage in our faith community and not slip through the cracks (unless they want to stay invisible). But passions like these (in my case at least) get on the nerves of others. I know that I have friends who wish I’d quit talking about Swaziland. I know that there are people at church who think things are just fine as they are and people (newcomers) should just take the initiative to find their own way. These comments are like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.

    So am I passionate or fanatical, I guess it depends on who you are asking.


    Comment by Wendi | Tuesday, September 22, 2009 | Reply

  5. Well, knowing you, I can assure you that I percieve you as passionate and not fanatical! The difference, as I see it, is that you are not saying that anyone not involved with those things you are passionate about, are all wrong. They can be passionate about other things and you, in fact, are passionate about quite a number of things.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, September 22, 2009 | Reply

  6. To some, if someone is about as committed as you are, they are “passionate”; if they are more committed than you are, then they are “fanatical.”

    While I agree with your post, I think we need to be careful of writing off someone’s passion as fanaticism because it lets us off the hook.

    Comment by Dan | Tuesday, September 22, 2009 | Reply

  7. I don’t think that is the essence of being fanatical.

    Being fanatical is to concentrate on one goal, or one aspect of something, to the exclusion of everything else.

    The man you described was not a fanatic, he was out of touch with reality.

    I remember in the 1980s there was a TV series called “V”, which was about evil space aliens who were disguised as human beings, but if you scratched them you could see that beneath their sink they were reptiles. And this was funny because PW Botha was die groot krokodil, and so it was a kind of metaphor of South African society.

    If someone could not see the metaphor, and set out to scratch PW Botha to expose him to all the world as a reptilian space alien, then he would be like your sun worshipping man — not a fanatic, but a nut. Nots can be fanatics, of course, but not all fanatics are nuts.

    Comment by Steve | Saturday, September 26, 2009 | Reply

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