Today Michael Brown tweeted the following:
“What the world calls fanaticism and much of the Church calls extremism, God calls normal.”
The observation reminded me of a statement that Noam Chomsky once gave about so-called “religious fanaticism”. In the interview Chomsky is asked about religious fundamentalism. He replies,
“There have been a lot of cross-cultural studies of what social sciences call ‘religious fanaticism’ – not people who just believe in God or go to church, but they’re really kind of fanatic about it, it’s the kind of fanatic religious commitment that permeates your whole life.” (Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, ed. Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel (New York: New Press, 2002), 50.)
Since this is an extemporaneous response in the middle of an interview, I don’t want to come down too hard. But take a look at that explanation for “religious fanaticism”, viz. the kind of commitment “that permeates your whole life.” Chomsky seems to think that “sensible” religious commitment is that which is confined to the innocuous role of civil religion, i.e. a loose commitment to community and practice that is relevant on religious holidays and perhaps on a weekly pause from one’s proper secular activities. But the idea that religious commitment should structure your daily life is fanatical.
Why limit this definition of fanaticism to religion? Wouldn’t it make sense to extend it to a political philosophy as well? Chomsky is justly famous for his political anarchism. It has been a driving force of his career and life over the last sixty years as evidenced in dozens of books, countless interviews and public addresses, and a world famous reputation.
Chomsky is really kind of fanatical about his anarchism, it’s the kind of fanatic political commitment that permeates his whole life.