Friday, July 22, 2016

Fanaticism vs Conviction

From Crisis:
A fanatic is a person obsessed with one idea, a monomaniac ruled by one dominant compulsion that governs all his thoughts and actions. He is enslaved by one predominant passion that dictates all his motives and decisions. Ruled by revenge, Captain Ahab in Moby Dick is determined to hunt and kill the white whale that inflicted the loss of his leg. Ruled by hatred and driven by wrath, Shylock the money lender demands his pound of flesh when Antonio fails to pay his loan on the due date. Ruled by avarice, King Midas asks the gods for the golden touch to increase his fortune although he is the wealthiest of kings. In this narrow pursuit of one ruling idea, the fanatic ignores the greater world surrounding him and blinds himself to the rest of reality. Like Procrustes, who cut off or stretched the legs of his victims to fit exactly his notorious bed rather than adapt the bed to the size of the legs, the fanatic exaggerates his one idea and lets it become the be-all and end-all.

In a chapter entitled “The Maniac” from Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton explains that the fanatic’s thinking is too “rational” in the sense that he overlooks many other considerations and ignores other evidence that surrounds him. The fanatic’s extreme mental concentration on one thing leads to madness at the expense of openness to larger universal truths that lead to wisdom: “Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists seldom.” To think with rabid intensity on one subject consumes the mind to an unhealthy degree of concentration. It warps a person’s mind, making him pay undue attention to one matter and ignore objects of larger importance. The fanatic makes himself the center of the universe as only his passions count. As Chesterton remarks, “Are there no other stories in the world except yours, and are all men busy with your business?” To be haunted, obsessed, and enslaved by one rigid idea ultimately distorts a person’s humanity. A fanatic lives and dies for one thing only, whether it is revenge, money, work, pleasure, or fame. To think like a monomaniac eventually leads to thinking only with the head and without the conscience or the heart. Ironically, the overworking of the mind on one narrow subject breeds some degree of insanity: “The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason,” writes Chesterton. (Read more.)

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