July/August/September 2003 Seed Catalog



(The Roots of Fanatical Spirituality) – Bill Joyner


There is, of course, no such thing as “holy” terror, just as there is no such thing as a

“holy” war. In both cases, it’s a lose/lose situation, and there is nothing holy about it.

Reviewing my little 1967 book of free form thoughts, WHEELS IN THE AIR (United Church Press),

had in it a section headed, “Holy War.” Even so late as then, I myself was still recovering

from a virulent strain of born-again fundamentalism, bemused by ideals of self-immolation

and militant religiosity.


Whence this madness, masquerading as holiness? One clue might be in Martin Luther’s

assertion that “until you are nothing, God can make nothing of you.” Erich Fromm

deconstructed that formula as follows in his classic work, ESCAPE FROM FREEDOM:


“While Luther freed people from the authority of the Church, he made them submit to a much more

tyrannical authority, that of a God who insisted on complete submission of man and annihilation of the

individual self as the essential condition to his salvation. Luther’s ‘faith’ was the conviction of being loved

upon the condition of surrender, a solution that has much in common with the principle of complete submission

of the individual to the state and the ‘leader’.”


Unquestioning obedience to “divine commands” has led to some very cruel and bizarre human behavior, as

Jon Krakauer documents in his recent study of violent faith, UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN. It concerns

what I call the Abraham/Isaac imperative, embracing the willingness to do anything, even to murder one’s own

beloved kin, in obedience to inner voices. In my opinion, Abraham showed real courage when he questioned his own

vision, attended to another voice and evolved beyond “divinely sanctioned” rituals of human sacrifice. All he gets

credit for usually, though, is his blind, unflinching readiness to commit even the most horrible of crimes in blind

obedience to his God.


Religion is an inevitable aspect of human experience. Spirituality is cool. So, more power to enlightened perspectives

(revelations), communities of faithful souls, and so forth. But let’s be done with “youthful fanaticism cloaked in ancient

myth;” let’s question authority and think for ourselves. Then, we might realize the liberation about which Alan Watts

speaks in this potent thought: “When you get to the point that you know you don’t need a religion at all, then it’s fun

to have one.”                                

                                                                                                   -- Bill Joyner