The difference between religious fundamentalism and fanaticism is belief and action. One could be a fundamentalist in any given religion and believe in the literal truth of their holy scriptures. Most Christians, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish people follow this strict dogma. For the most part, fundamentalists act within society's law, and while it may pain them that secular society doesn't adhere to God's will, they recognize and respect that they are part of a larger collective. Fanatics, on the other hand, are an extremist sub-set of fundamentalists who see only their own point of view. They seek to force their ideology on others through intimidation and are more than happy to break the law and commit religious blasphemy, including, murder in the name of their God. From the Medieval Holy Crusades to modern-day terrorists committing atrocities in the name of Islam, to illegal Israeli settlement in the Gaza strip and right-wing Christian groups threatening US government from within, it seems that strict adherence to one's holy book of choice has been a source of much division throughout human history. It's interesting to think how many great scientific discoveries would have happened centuries earlier, if not for religion? What if Copernicus and Galileo were never tried as heretics?
Human beings did not become the dominant form of life on Earth by being easy to push around! In fact, even with the natural disasters that seemingly take us by surprise and either partially or completely level our cities, the unawareness and destruction is due to poor foresight and planning. We human beings can, if allowed, do virtually anything. If we can't yet, we will with a bit of practice and thought.
Before we get too high on ourselves, subsumed by what the Greeks in the dawn of human intellectual potential called hubris, it's important to remember that we are not automatically geniuses, nor are we invulnerable. Not everything we imagine and create is good. Human beings are both our own highest achievement and our own worst enemy. What we must do in order to move forward and flourish as a species is to get out of our own way, and stop damaging ourselves!
Religion is one of the worst offenders in this regard. This is especially unfortunate considering that it might be the best way to solve the problem, even if one defines religion as a belief in what is right and good in the world, and not in the traditional old-man-in-the-sky sense. The problem with the dominant religious forces in the world today is that they consist of organizations employing theology as a manipulation tool to keep the flock subservient. By using this threat of eternal damnation, they manipulate groups of people to set others against others thus enforcing confused disorder. The main obstacle in the way of changing this state of affairs is that religious orthodoxy has existed almost as long as religion itself.
Religions are almost universally founded by (divinely?) inspired individuals unbound by any other authority than God. Once the new religion is sufficiently widespread, it is co-opted in some form or other by the ruling order. The ancient Kings of Judea did this with Judaism, the Roman Empire with Christianity, and the caliphs of the Near East with Islam. Once this harnessing took place, the horse then stopped carrying people forward and became a threat to crush them beneath its hooves.
This is man's great dilemma: religion, man's greatest creation, creates the same entity that it is supposed to extinguish! People, especially young people, are pulling away from organized religion, with its tendency to maintain organizational power by oppressive means. It's important to note, that they are not pulling away from God. The younger generation of adults, commonly called Millennials, may be more actively religious than the previous handful of generations that came before. Albeit the form it takes is more individual and local than it is based in old-fashioned hierarchies. For example, the Christianity that young people practice on their own outside the existing structures is closer to the teachings of Christ than the mainstream churches have been for centuries. They don't need holy water.
It's important to remember that for all his talk about God, Jesus in practice was much more of a philanthropist than he was a submissive penitent. He challenged existing authority, first the established Jewish religious authorities and then the Romans to whom the power-corrupted elements within that structure of authority turned him over. (This, to be perfectly clear, is not and was not ever an indictment of Judaism. Jesus was a Jew. It was always about power and the intoxication that comes with it). The way in which religions like Christianity and Islam initially spread was wildly effective. The tenets of each of these faiths illustrated a path to reach one's moral potential and to become divine.
If it wasn't for the tendency of religion to become a tool of the ruling class, it might never have been necessary for there to be more than one. In its most basic state nearly every religion to ever exist has been about how to be a better person. In order for that to be the case, each of them has fundamentally had to hold that being human is a thing worth being.
Reminders of man's fallibility and weakness, concepts like original sin, always come later. They are added on to take advantage of believers' better selves, in order to keep them obedient using the best prison guard imaginable: themselves. Humanity's great artists and thinkers, however religious, nearly universally reject this self-imposed punishment. (This is also, all partisan politics aside, why there are so few great conservative artists: in order to think and create, one has to be deeply invested in the idea that the new and unknown is good, rather than merely preserving the existing order).
Ironically, so many of those that talk about immortality and the afterlife are the biggest threat to humanity's continued existence. As William Faulkner said in his speech accepting the Nobel Prize, "The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail." These words, for sure, apply to all human beings.
In the end, we only have ourselves, and the human mind is the greatest force this world has ever known! The human mind has given us wings, enabled us to travel faster than sound, to visit other worlds, to unlock the mysteries of this world. The only things standing in our way are those most formidable of enemies, ourselves. The only things in the way of our effectively becoming immortal (by holding the natural world at bay, which ironically is best achieved by living as one with it) are the political systems we've concocted to keep us from doing so, and all the philosophies that scold us for daring to be our best selves.
Most Dangerous Religious Cults
Religious fanaticism may represent a clear and present danger to society. But beyond the extremists embedded in organized religion is a more pressing concern. The often unheard of religious cults, such as The People’s Temple, Heaven’s Gate, and Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments, have a more frightening history than religious fanatics.
The People’s Temple
Being a very persuasive speaker Jim Jones managed to recruit members for his then small church that went by the name The People’s Temple Christian Church.
Established in the late 50s, the church was attractive to many residents due to Jim Jones being an anti-racist and pro-poor leader.
The church was notorious for sexual and physical abuse to its members and after some time it was banished from the United States.
Jim Jones and his followers escaped to Guyana to a place he named ‘Jonestown’ after himself. It was here where he ordered the mass suicide of 909 people among them 303 children through drinking fruit punch containing cyanide.
Order of the Solar Temple
In 1984, Luc Jouret and Joseph Di Mambro established this cult in Geneva, Switzerland. The order was built on the ancient myth of the continuing existence of the Knights Templar.
This cult performed its activities in secrecy and they believed that salvation would only be earned by those that convert into their religion.
In 1994, Di Mambro ordered the murder of a child using a wooden stake, he claimed that the baby was the anti-christ.
Di Mambro then went on to lead a last supper ritual similar to the one by Jesus in the bible. Members of the cult then resulted to mass suicide of more than 100 people; most of the means of death included being shot, poisoned, burned, and suffocation.
This cult was established by Bonnie Nettles and Marshall Applewhite; it was based around death and reaching heaven.
The members of this cult believe that in order to achieve enlightenment and to enter the gates of heaven one has to leave his or her earthly body.
In 1997, Applewhite persuaded his followers to follow him into death since the much awaited Hailey’s Comet had arrived and with it came a spaceship to take them to their salvation. Following this 38 people committed suicide in San Diego after an order by Applewhite.
This was a Japan based cult that was founded by Shoko Asahara in 1984; the English translation of this cult’s name is ‘Supreme Truth’.
The cult’s beliefs were built on Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Asahara prophecies. Initially the cult was also known to use yoga as a cover up of the activities it performed.
In the 1980s the cult gained a reputation of forcing members to donate cash and even murdering those who criticized its activities.
The cult had a belief that the third world war would start in 1997 and it is only those affiliated to Asahara who would survive. Later, the cult was involved in two terrorist attacks against civilians in 1994 and 1995; 20 people were reported dead and a thousand more injured.
The 1995 records on the group boasted 9,000 members in Japan, and 40,000 around the world.
The authorities moved in quick to stop this group’s activities by raiding their headquarters and arresting Asahara. Among the things found were explosives, a poisonous gas meant to kill four million people, a helicopter from Russia and chemical weapons like anthrax.
Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments
This cult was based in Uganda and it was characterized by the strict following of the ten commandments as written in the bible. The cult was characterized by some strange behaviors like refraining from sexual activity, speaking very little, banning of soap usage, and having only one meal on Fridays and Mondays as a form of fasting.
The cult members had a belief that the end of the millennium would also bring the end of the world on January 1, 2000. When that date went by without the world ending, the cult began to lose followers after they lost faith. This led to the cult leaders predicting a new apocalypse in March that year.
An explosion involving 500 followers gathered at a church was later reported, however it was later learnt that most of the victims were strangled or poisoned and hence murder was the primary cause of death.