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30 June 2020 | St Albans, UK [tedNEWS / Marcos Paseggi]  

It may be due to lockdown. With more time on our hands we scroll through YouTube or other platforms and sometimes find ourselves caught by ‘click-bait’ – the industry jargon for astonishing headlines that tempt you to click, watch, and buy-into some product, belief or service that may, or may not, be worthwhile.


How does that work in the church? During the Covid-19 pandemic there have been fact-checking websites dealing with many conspiracy theories about origins, claims for healing, or blame. ADRA Europe has posted a series of myth-busters – and sites such as snopes.com investigate claims on thousands of urban myths, fake news, and conspiracy theories.

Seventh-day Adventists are not immune – and a myriad of articles in publications such as Adventist Review have tried to deal with some of the issues that seem to have grown during the last few months. These include theological issues such as the Cosmic Week theory that leads to a belief that Christ may/will return in 2027. [See: Blessed Hope of Blessed Calculation]

Harking back to the 3rd Global Conference on Health and Lifestyle at Loma Linda University last July, former TED Health Ministries director, and now Associate director at the General Conference, gave a presentation entitled, ‘What’s Unhealthy About Fanaticism’. That presentation is now available online, and while his examples focus more around Adventists and health reform, they apply equally to our theology. The presentation provides helpful guidance.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Bergland states, “fanaticism is an outlook or behavior especially as exhibited by excessive enthusiasm, unreasoning zeal, or wild and extravagant notions on some subject.” At the same time, he cautions, it is not just an issue of placing labels on others but something we all have the potential to fall into. At least part of the problem, he said, is the fact that we forget being human is being fallible.

The Issue of Fallibility

Citing scholar H. J. Perkinson, Bergland shares that “fanaticism is a flight from fallibility, and to be a human being is to be fallible.” He explained that our fallibility is a reality difficult to accept because all would like to be perfect. But even though everything that God has made is perfect, all that humankind makes is imperfect, inadequate.

Bergland quotes Perkinson further, reminding us that man can ignore his condition of fallibility and declare that his knowledge is true, that his actions are good. In other words, he can claim to be like God. “At this point he becomes a fanatic,” he said.

Bergland explained that a fanatic is dogmatic, in that he insists his theories, his ideology, his solutions are the correct ones. The fanatic is also an obscurantist since he ignores (or cannot perceive) arguments, facts, or consequences that refute his solutions. “And finally, a fanatic is authoritarian. When he has power, he tries to impose his answers on others.”

Ignorance and Belief

Torben Bergland speaking at the 3rd Global Conference on Health and Lifestyle at Loma Linda University in 2019. [Photo courtesy of Adventist World]Torben Bergland speaking at the 3rd Global Conference on Health and Lifestyle at Loma Linda University in 2019. [Photo courtesy of Adventist World]Fanaticism is often related to the problem of ignorance, in which “the ignorant are too ignorant to know they are ignorant,” Bergland says. He noted the Dunning-Kruger effect, in which “poor performers in many social and intellectual domains seem largely unaware of just how deficient their expertise is.” It is something that presents a double problem, as their “incomplete and misguided knowledge leads them to make mistakes, but those same deficits also prevent them from recognising when they are making mistakes and other people [are] choosing more wisely,” he explained.

Quoting E. Hoffer, Bergland says that “the fanatic cannot be weaned away from his cause by an appeal to his reason and moral sense,” but “he finds no difficulty in swinging suddenly and wildly from one holy cause to another. He cannot be convinced but only converted.”

A fanatic, explains Bergland, often performs acts of self-denial, which seems to confer the person with the right to be harsh and merciless toward others. Quoting Hoffer once more, he read, “The awareness of blemishes and shortcomings inclines the frustrated to detect ill will and meanness in their fellow men. We usually strive to reveal in others the blemishes we hide in ourselves.”

“When people are very judgmental, very harsh with others, I wonder what they are hiding or running away from,” Bergland said. “When someone seemingly is overly focused on some specific sin, I wonder if the person himself actually may be struggling with that exact thing or something similar.”

Adventists, Health, and Fanaticism

Adventist Church co-founder and author Ellen G. White had a profound understanding of fanaticism, Bergland noted. Even though White advocated for dietary and other changes for better health, she explained that going to extremes was, in her words, “the desire and plan of Satan.”

Our enemy wants, she wrote in her book Evangelism, “to bring in among us those who will go to great extremes—people of narrow minds, who are critical and sharp, and very tenacious in holding their own conceptions of what the truth means.” And she added, “They will be exacting, and will seek to enforce rigorous duties, and go to great lengths in matters of minor importance, while they neglect the weightier matters of the law—judgment and mercy and the love of God” (p. 212).

She warned that “if Satan cannot keep souls bound in the ice of indifference, he will try to push them into the fire of fanaticism” (Letter 34, 1889), and thus bring the faith into disrepute.

In Counsels on Diet and Foods, White added, “Extremists do more harm in a few months than they can undo in a lifetime. They are engaged in a work which Satan loves to see go on. Two classes have been presented before me: first, those who are not living up to the light which God has given them; secondly, those who are too rigid in carrying out their one-sided ideas of reform, and enforcing them on others. When they take a position, they stand to it stubbornly, and carry nearly everything over the mark” (pp. 195, 196).

In 1901, White also wrote, “I have something to say in reference to extreme views of health reform. Health reform becomes health deform, a health destroyer, when it is carried to extremes” (Letter37).

On the other hand, truly following the example of Jesus will prevent us from going to extremes, Bergland said. Quoting White once more, this time from her book Gospel Workers, he emphasised, “Those who are close students of the Word, following Christ in humility of soul, will not go to extremes. The Savior never went to extremes, never lost self-control, never violated the laws of good taste” (p. 371).

In closing, Bergland said, “It is my prayer that the Church, that Adventist healthcare and health ministries, and each one of us also, will be like Jesus.”

The major part of this article first appeared in Adventist World, 19 July 2019.


tedNEWS Staff: Victor Hulbert, editor; Deana Stojković, associate editor
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