A Fanatical Faith

Note: Fundraising “experts” say that campaigns sag a bit after they start – which is why at TCT we don’t pay much attention to the experts. As David Warren reminds us this morning, to be a Catholic (a real Catholic) is to be something of what the world regards as a “fanatic.” And that goes for your support of Catholic initiatives as much as anything else. So even though we’re several days into this mid-year campaign, I have to continue to ask you to find your inner fanatic Catholic. We depend on you – and, by the way, so do other readers who may not be able to help financially for one reason or another. The need is clear. The challenges many. So don’t wait. Click here. Add your support. Show you’re not ashamed to be a “fanatical” Catholic. – Robert Royal   

Christianity is a fanatical faith. On this the world is largely in agreement, if we except some of the Christians themselves.

That they are fanatics or, in the colloquial, “nuts,” is accepted as an invincible fact among cool and fashionable people – who do not discuss such things. (It would be unfashionable.) The modern bourgeoisie, including the entire business class, defers to their judgment. It cannot be doubted in government or throughout the bureaucracies. I say “cannot” because there are legal and disciplinary reasons for keeping fanatical propositions toned down.

Whether in “communist” China or the “capitalist” West or any of the places between, there is a legacy or history of Christian proselytism. It was once a fact of life for many, and it created the impression that “Christians are everywhere,” that the Creed enjoyed a certain stature – not to say, prestige.

The Catholic Church still has a certain notoriety, among those who are curious about comparative religion. As one might say, it is the Christian faith par excellence, and the various little churches reflect Catholic teaching, though they deny it.

If one is to criticize the tendency to fanaticism among Christians, one must sooner or later come down on the Church, which operates as its center. It is the concrete and material heart of this fanaticism, as well as its symbol in the abstract, as the mosque of Al Azhar serves for Islam.

If there is a Christian threat, however, it comes in a way that the Islamic threat does not emanate from a school in Cairo. At least in the past, it promulgated all Catholic opinions, as a received authority on all Christian theology and canon law. There was a time when even Christians who rejected the Church, involuntarily yielded to her opinions.

The whole world was fanatical then, or rather, that part of it which could be reached by missionaries.

In some “enlightened” jurisdictions, missionaries were imprisoned or even executed, but they kept coming, like a virus. And like a virus, their “disease” kept catching in unpredictable ways, among the generality of humankind.

To some degree this is still happening today, but not officially. The Vatican itself finds proselytizing distasteful and has called it off. And while “fanatic” individuals persist, it is surely dying out, like polio.

Not all Catholics are fanatical, especially today; indeed those with a record of baptism somewhere in their past are often quite tireless in their apostasy. Compare, if you will, their behavior with that of Mussulmans or Muslims, a high proportion of whom still seem confident in what they are about. A formidable number are not shy about embracing their more uncompromising and violent tenets. The Christians, by contrast, seldom entertain uncompromising views – except, as I say, for a few fanatics.

*

Or if they secretly entertain them, go to some trouble not to be found out. They are at pains to reassure their neighbors and try to avoid the social, administrative, and potential legal costs that might be imposed on them as a consequence of their fanaticism.

In this it is instructive to compare these Christian fanatics to the Islamic ones. They are, in one limited sense, much alike. Most Muslims, while perhaps acknowledging that they are Musselman in casual appearance, would not go so far as to put it on a driver’s license.

The West currently believes this is a private matter – that no one should have to disclose his religion, whether in court, at work, or wherever. It isn’t polite to ask, and is actually a social gaffe, as one quickly discovers in correct society.

And if you do ask, the typical Muslim, whether he is in favor of “jihad” – of blowing up pizzerias, or crashing airplanes into tall buildings, or killing off the Jews, or raping poorly dressed young women – he will, almost certainly, say no. He wouldn’t do these things.

You might show him textual support for such activities, in black and white from books available in mosques, yet he will deny that they say what they say. At most he will dismiss these as only literary flourishes – like the Book of Leviticus – with spiritual meanings only.

They are not to be taken literally: to the point where they would be considered fanatic in any Western environment. He might even feel entitled to call for a policeman, in anticipation of a “hate crime,” and have his questioner interrogated.

But more likely, he will tell the typical enquirer that he is not “that kind of Muslim,” but the moderate sort, implying that, like a modern Christian, he is just an innocent member of society, who does not hesitate to obey its laws. He is not, as it were, the equivalent of what we might call a “Christianist,” by analogy to “Islamist.”

Nor, of course, is any Christian, except a shameless one.

But turn your back and you will find these Christians – Catholics especially – discreetly praying, and making suggestive signs. Who has not been alarmed, to see a secret Christianist crossing himself when he thought no one was looking, or sneaking into a building where, reportedly, the Christian religion is being observed?

They practice all their secret cults in there, including elaborate Catholic rituals where these have not been systematically abandoned – such as admitting their supposed sinful behavior to a priest in a little closet or box. (This now happens rarely, but everyone who was once Catholic, or knew one, remembers this and shudders.)

Who knows what else they may be trying, when in church, or when they slip out, to wander about the city?

For Jesus Christ gave them a list of provocative things to do in his absence, and devices for memorizing them, like the “Sermon on the Mount.”

These in turn give the secular citizen an opportunity to spot Christians who may be trying to hide. A good clue is if you see someone diligently trying to be the opposite of crooked and perverse.

*Image: The Christian Martyr’s Last Prayer by Jean-Léon Gérôme, bet. 1863-1883 [Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD]

You may also enjoy:

Ines A. Murzaku’s Persecuted and Forgotten? Defending Defenseless Christians

Robert Royal’s What should Christians do in a post-truth world?

David Warren

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: davidwarrenonline.com.

RECENT COLUMNS

Archives

The Catholic Thing Daily Email

Receive columns each morning about events in the Church and the world.

  • Join the 50k+ subscribers who receive The Catholic Thing's daily email

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

 Join the 50k+ subscribers who receive The Catholic Thing's daily email

The Catholic Thing Daily Email

Receive columns each morning about events in the Church and the world.

  • Join the 50k+ subscribers who receive The Catholic Thing's daily email

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

 Join the 50k+ subscribers who receive The Catholic Thing's daily email