Summary: A Good Friday talk from the point of view of Jesus and religious fanaticism.
Fanaticism Taken Too Far?
Israel Folau (an Australian Christian sporting personality) has been in the news lately for expressing unpopular views—for quoting an unpopular part of the Bible on his personal Instagram page. Is his belief in heaven and hell fanaticism taken too far? Is Australian Rugby Union right to censor his beliefs?
When does religious belief become religious fanaticism? And who decides?
I guess when you fly aeroplanes into towers and blow up people and shoot people in the name of God—when you’re willing strap a bomb to yourself and lay down your life for your beliefs. Or when you’re willing to lay down your sport for your beliefs.
As we come to Good Friday we consider a person willing to lay down his life for his beliefs. Jesus felt so committed to his cause that he was willing to give his life. It was a belief that all people sin. It was belief in heaven and hell and sin and condemnation. By today’s standards this makes Jesus intolerant and a religious fanatic.
Not everyone likes this. The Hillsong pastor, Brian Houston, is quoted in the paper as saying, “The world doesn’t need more judgemental Christians”.
Is that what irks people about religious fanatics, they look judgemental and feel condemning?
Jesus was accused of modern day religious fanaticism. In his own day he was accused of being out of his mind (Mk 3.21) and possessed by demons (Mk 3.22). Is this a person we want to follow? Is this why Good Friday has lost its popularity?
And then Jesus demands that we “hop on board” and follow him to the cross, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mk 8.34).
Is this religion taken too far?
So perhaps Christians overstate the importance of the death of Jesus.
If God were real there then surely everyone would know about it. And very conveniently, once God has be removed, sin has gone. For there can be no absolute morality against which we can measure right and wrong if there is no God. The death of God leads to immorality.
Therefore, what is normal, what is right, becomes the decision of the majority—like the plebiscite on gay marriage.
No God—no sin—no guilt.
And if there is no god and no sin—there is no divine condemnation. And therefore no need for saving and therefore no need for a Saviour. Jesus is reduced to a deluded, religious fanatic whose death saves no person. Although some will say that his death is a good moral example to others—an ultimate expression of sacrificial love which we all should strive to model.
So do Christians overstate the importance of the death of Jesus? Are the reasons for Jesus’ death exaggerated for the sake of his followers?
In answering these questions, I’d like to make three points. (1) People these days aren’t less religious, they’re more religious; (2) belief is not a dirty world; (3) the Bible explains why Jesus died on the cross.
People aren’t less religious, they’re more religious. Believe it or not, I got this point from an Australian non-Christian writer who is no friend of Christian thought. Contrary to what we often hear, we are living in a more religious society not a less religious society. The well-known social researcher, Hugh Mackay, makes this point.
He makes the point that religion goes marching on. He wrote a book about it called, “Beyond Belief”.
MacKay talks about, “the impenetrable mystery at the heart of our existence (which) explains our existential angst—a permanent underlying rumble of anxiety about the fact that we don’t seem to be able to answer the very questions which most intrigue us”.
He says that people’s response to lost-ness and emptiness is to create religion in the guise of myths and stories and witch doctors and priests and poets and philosophers. And while institutional religion is on the decline, people’s sense of emptiness and hopelessness is on the incline.
People aren’t less religious, they’re more religious. There is within each of us a desire to find meaning beyond ourselves. We look at the universe and ourselves desperate for a sense of belonging—a sense of purpose and a clear direction.
Our existential pain pushes us toward religious belief.
Belief is not a dirty word. We often hear the word “faith” used as a word that implies ignorance and lack of education. Like it’s dumb people who have “faith” and its smart people who are rational and have science.
I want to argue that belief is a legitimate means of acquiring knowledge about God and the world.
Imagine a car crash and it goes to court and the judge and jury listen to the evidence. The evidence is tested and cross-examined and subject to scrutiny. Only then can the evidence be trusted. Only then can witnesses be believed. The court acquires knowledge about the car crash by believing the testimony of others.