When religious faith turns fanatical

I was raised in a fairly strict Orthodox Jewish household. I logged 10 years in yeshiva until upon finishing my sophomore year of high school I decided it was time to venture outside my cocoon of faith and not to sound cliche but to see how the other half (as in the secular world) lived. I’ll admit it, it was both exhilarating and frightening- and it also opened a whole new world of possibilities for me. I finally had an opportunity to delve into academic studies of my own choosing- and I do believe the switch from private religious school to that of public school flipped a switch, that once activated could never be undone. It was that simple. It was almost akin to Eve in the Garden of Eden taking a bite from the forbidden fruit, now that I had tasted what life was like and could potentially be sans the constraints of religion I could no longer live what I believed to be a dogmatic, ritualistic existence.

photo courtesy of http://www.meredith.edu/religion/

Fast forward 20 years later and I now have kids of my own who-for better or worse- I am schooling in their religion. But I also try to be incredibly solicitous of engaging my kids in the study, tolerance and beauty of all theologies. So why, you ask, would I fork over a boatload of cash every year to send my kids to religious private school, and then seemingly undermine their religious education by introducing other religions to them? Well here is my answer. I love my religion, I love being able to give my kids the sense that there is a higher power that can envelop them in force field of good will and love. I love the best of what my religion can teach them- the basic ten commandments and most importantly that at its most basest form the idea that they should try to live their lives doing good unto others. And, I truly believe at the base of all religions lies this common principle. Unfortunately, the problem I have currently run into and one of the reasons in hindsight I know believe fueled my pressing need to flee the religious institution of my youth, was due to the fanatical aspect some choose to take when practicing the religion.

I know all religions have them– those core group of people, who obsessively adhere to strict rules of said religion, but as human beings exhibit no compassion or understanding for people of the same said religion who do not buy into that level of, for lack of any other word, fanaticism. And what is so disheartening to me is that, this level of devotion to religion is currently at the core of a rift in my personal life- that once again has me questioning and doubting whether I am indeed providing my kids with a beautiful love of Gd or relegating them to feel the only way to serve this Gd is through these rote actions that can be taken to such extreme levels and have the potential to alienate them from those they previously loved.

As a parent it is so difficult to know, while you’re in the thick of this parenting thing, if all you’ve tried to do will actually benefit your kids. In fact you likely won’t truly see the fruits of your labor, till you send your kids off into the world. My barometer for having done a good job at this parenting thing will be if in the future my 37 year old son does not come back to live in my spare bedroom and that at 30 years old my daughter realizes she doesn’t
need to marry someone to feel whole. But I’ve also got this religious barometer for them–that as adults I never want them to feel anything but love for this religion they are being schooled in- and I never want them to feel like they are less because they are not practicing at what I would consider an obsessive, fanatical level. And while I
would love to be able to confront this person who, via their religion, is creating a chasm in my family which I fear is irreparable, deep in my heart I know a person who practices their faith to the point of fanaticism is not one who can be reasoned with so easily. Ultimately, as a parent, I just want to protect and share the best parts of
religion with my kids– unfortunately it’s not so easy.


  1. says

    I was raised by parents with an odd combo of ideological backgrounds. Dad was raised a staunch Irish Catholic, went to all parochial schools. Mom a Lutheran, as in Martin Luther who turned his back on being Catholic. They added being hippies to the mix and that but a whole new twist on things. As a kid we went to all sorts of spiritual gatherings. Mom explored her Native American roots by taking us to drum circles. We went to Passover Seders at Rubenstein’s and took communion with grandma. They had Buddhist pals, self professed witches, UFO weirdos and even Celtic pagans (which by the way has nothing to do with Satan, they don’t even believe the dude exists). One thing they always made clear to us was it was important to have a firm grounding in the belief that there is a God, he is the higher power and YES the ten commandments. In college my favorite course was “Philosophy of World Religions”. Living in Spain, amongst devout Catholics, and seeing the wide gap between what was professed and not practiced, really bothered me. Traveling to North Africa and seeing how women were treated by people of “piety” soured me even more. What I’ve come to learn is that faith, spirituality, kindness and all the things that one may associate with being religious, are best expressed in quiet ways. Actions more so than words. So many atrocities have been committed in the name of religion that I have a hard time with most organized religions. Now that I’ve written a book in your comments section I think I’ll leave with a quote from Dad’s side of the drum circle.

    Matthew 6:1-34

    “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others…”

    Peace. Out. 🙂

  2. says

    A strong, passionate and sincere post. I agree that it’s good to expose kids to a peaceful religion, to give them a foundation from which to go through life. They don’t necessarily have to become religious so much as to become spiritual.

  3. says

    It seems to me that as long as you hold true to your values and what religion means to you and your family, it will make you collectively stronger. 🙂

  4. says

    As a Christian, I’m supposed to believe there is only one way for everything. Heck, there are a lot of things I’m “supposed” to believe, and it differs from denomination to denomination. Add to that, I was raised Catholic, and although I never embraced that religion, I felt gut-punched the first time a Christian harangued about it being a cult from the devil. Which is so weird, because many of my family became born again Christians through a Catholic church. Indeed, my own parents became Christians and remained Democrats, even fairly liberal. Another shock was being told my politics, therefore, were wrong, as were my parents…or the conservatives in my family who claim I’m wrong because I didn’t know them well enough, though I was the last person to live with them. AUGH.

    Hold on to what you believe, and seek to deepen your spiritual side. God shows up in unfathomable, unchartable ways – and reveals Himself endlessly. The obsessive believers can’t understand that – it’s just not part of their experience, which is sad, I think. I first discovered Him as a Sufi, so go figure how I got from that to Baptism. “Mysterious ways” indeed! 🙂

  5. misty lowe says

    we go to the uuc and i am wiccan myself i dont push my faith but teach them about it and all others so that when they get older what they pick to be is what they want. plus i want them to people open to other people and ideals.

  6. Elizabeth Norton says

    I was raised baptist and I feel like I could have written this post! 🙂 So tough! You said it much better than I ever would!

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