The Definition Of A Fanatic


In a 2005 fireside address given by Dallin Oaks, entitled “The Dedication of a Lifetime,” he spoke of being constant and steady in our dedication to the gospel. Fanaticism in any form can be harmful if it is extreme. Here are some of his words:

“The “dedication of a lifetime” requires one to be tranquil and steady, steadfast and immovable. We hold fast to our covenants and to the leadership and teachings of the servants of the Lord so that we will, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). That is our standard and our goal. This steadfast standard requires us to avoid extremes. Our performance should be the steady 100 percent of a committed servant, not the frenzied and occasional 120 percent of the fanatic.

A valued teacher I had at BYU many years ago gave this definition of a fanatic: “A fanatic is one who has lost sight of his goal but redoubled his efforts to get there.” That definition has been a good guide to me throughout my life, and I commend it to you. Don’t seek to prove your dedication by fanatical excesses or by other evidence of “holier than thou.” Over a decade ago I gave a talk called “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall” (Ensign, Oct. 1994, 11–19).

I talked about what happens when we take a good principle or commandment and apply it to excess. An example concerns persons who have an all-encompassing commitment to one particular doctrine or commandment of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This could be an extraordinary focus on family history work, an unusually intense preoccupation with constitutional government, or some other exclusive occupation. We could say of such persons, as the Lord said of the members of the Shaker sect, “that they desire to know the truth in part, but not all” (D&C 49:2).

A willingness to sacrifice all we possess in the work of the Lord is surely a mark of dedication. In fact, it is a covenant we make in sacred places. But this must be carefully confined to those sacrifices the Lord and His leaders have asked of us at this time. We should say with Alma, “Why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called?” (Alma 29:6). Persons who consider it insufficient to pay their tithes and offerings and to work in the positions to which they have been called can easily be led astray by cultist groups offering what I will call “frenzied outlets” for their willingness to sacrifice.

I need to issue a caution. The principle I have espoused, that we should pursue steady dedication and avoid frenzied excesses, could be understood as implying that we should have “moderation in all things.” Not so. The Savior has commanded us to serve with all our “heart, might, mind and strength” (D&C 4:2), to “seek . . . earnestly the riches of eternity” (D&C 68:31), and to be “valiant in the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:79). He has also told us that if we are lukewarm, He will spue us out of His mouth (see Revelation 3:16). The thrust of my examples is that we should be steadfast and consistent in our dedication, our commitment, and our efforts.”

I have paraphrased some of the words spoken in order to make it brief, but the content is the same. Many of us can be found showing “bursts” of devotion or fanaticism, followed by “bursts” of complacency. Truer to a strong testimony is the steady consistency of devotion that are the fruits of a seasoned follower. Better to be strong, steady, and consistent in our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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