As I said in my last post, I am re-reading, “Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance,” by Robert M Pirsig. Published in 1974, the back cover states, “One of the most important and influential books written in the last half century.” It is the tale of a father and son as they take a motorcycle trip across America’s Northwest. During the course of telling the story the author recounts his own life, his mental breakdown and subsequent recovery. He dives deeply into philosophy, reason, ethics, morals and other subjects not often understood. It is one of the most important books I have ever read and therefore deserves another go. As of today, I’m on page 218, so not quite half way through. Yesterday I read something quite profound that I’d like to share.
At one time in the authors life he was a college professor. At the time he is talking about he described himself as a fanatical teacher of reason. While writing the book he was exploring his past life and trying to understand some of the things he did. He was having a hard time with why he was in fact so fanatical with his students on the subject of reason. He discovers that he was actually having a kind of crisis in faith when it came to the subject of reason. He had come around to believe that reason wasn’t the answer to life’s issues. Here is what he says from pages 189-190:
“You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow.When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kind of dogmas or goals it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.”
Reading this caused me to set the book down. Really, I thought? I had always assumed that fanatical people were that way because they believed so fully in what they were doing. Now this guy claims just the opposite. Then he goes on with this example:
“The militancy of the Jesuits he somewhat resembled is a case in point. Historically their zeal stems not from the strength of the Catholic Church but from it’s weakness in the face of the Reformation. It was his lack of faith in reason that made him such a fanatic teacher.”
I was totally blown away by this idea. I sat for quite some time reasoning through this. Then some things came to mind. How often have I read that some fanatically anti-Gay political or religious figure was arrested for sexual molestation of same sex children? I’ve read several times about anti-Gay public figures found to be having Gay affairs. And in my own experience, the people I have known who are the strongest Christian believers are also the people who fear death the most. (Read my post, “What Scares You?) Maybe you, my reader won’t find this as profound as I have, but it makes sense. We don’t have to be fanatical about things that we have complete confidence in. We know they’re good, we know they’re right. It’s the things we’re unsure of that we get fanatical over. Are we then trying to convince ourselves that the things we feel strongest about are right? It seems so.
This seems so totally backward to me but it’s making more sense all the time. It’s amazing how you can read or hear something and suddenly you have a revelation! The sun comes out, a choir of angels sings! It’s like finding the gold at the end of the rainbow! I have often wondered why some people get so fanatical about things. Now I know. They’re having trouble believing it themselves. They want too, but they’re not sure, so being fanatical about it is their way of trying to convince themselves. If they had confidence in their belief, whatever it is, they wouldn’t need to be raving about it. And if they can convince you of the truth they themselves are trying to swallow, they feel more assured about it. Their fanaticism is a confidence booster. This just makes so much sense.
Okay, (deep breath) I sound like a fanatic. So am I trying to convince myself that I know what I’m talking about? Maybe. I might be exhibiting the very behavior I’m talking about. But that’s good, isn’t it, serving as my own example? It shows that no one is immune from being human. As much as we’d like to believe that we’re above it all, we’re not. We’re all human and we all do human things. We all make a lot of the same mistakes, We all judge, we all assume, we all fit the same mold. This is why I am interested in philosophy and psychology. To understand human behavior and try to improve. Because like most everyone else, I’m just an average person.