This post was fist contemplated as a letter to an admired, inspirational figure. I began by observing that this person has sometimes rightly criticized “religious” fanatics who do so much harm. You know the type: those who get in your face, offering to “save” you, promising hellfire and damnation if you don’t get on their bandwagon.

Such people do indeed think of themselves as religious or spiritual, but there are two serious problems:

  1. They lack true knowledge, because they have not heard from authoritative sources; and
  2. because of this, their belief is rooted only in superficial sentiment, which manifests as team spirit.

My experience is that this team spirit drives their actions, rather than benevolence or courage of conviction. Team players wish us to serve their team, and are not above using fear, violence and terror to compel us to sign on. The fact that belief or love can only be voluntary is lost on them; they wrongly think it can be forced. They’re not interested in your well-being; they just want your compliance.

I’m convinced that this can only be a direct result of insecurity, a failure of sincere belief (what to speak of knowledge), and a lack of basic respect (what to speak of love). Such people don’t really believe or trust in God, or Jesus or Muhammad, or whichever representative to whom they swear allegiance. Lacking real knowledge of their teachings, they can’t avoid misrepresenting. For them, it’s mainly about the allegiance, what the team wants – not what God wants, nor the teacher whom they claim to be following. Team spirit inevitably leads to fanaticism, which inevitably leads to violence. It’s all driven by fear.

Why? Because if I’m secure about what I believe, I don’t need others to validate it. I don’t need to convince anyone. If I’m sincere, and of good will, I naturally respect everyone else’s right to make their own choice. Free choice is a birthright. It’s not my place to try to “save” anyone else by sticking my nose in their business. If someone asks a question, I can try to answer it; but there’s no question of getting in anyone’s face about it. We can make ourselves available for others to approach if they want to ask, but we should not approach them to tell.

Unfortunately, the fanatic (whether “religious” or secular) has a very different view, because their motivation is selfish. Again, they’re not interested in your well-being; they just want your compliance. Such people have no business claiming to speak for or represent God (or any bona fide representative), and there is no benefit to hearing from them.

If one professes a belief in God (who, by definition, must be the most loving and lovable person), one should act accordingly, loving others and respecting their right to choose. Such a person understands that love and force are mutually exclusive. That would be following the teaching of Jesus, and of Muhammad, and of all bond fide spiritual teachers.

Two people of good will, even with completely opposite views (even a theist and an atheist), can have a civilized and enjoyable discussion on the subject, because that basic respect and well-wishing is there, and nothing more is needed. This is basic but, all too often, sadly lacking.

A great saintly person said that team spirit is the greatest obstacle to spiritual advancement. Looking at its disastrous effects all around us, it’s easy to see why.