No Call for Fanaticism

In a recent entry in his Through a Glass Darkly column here at Patheos, Joseph Susanka reviews the classic movie A Man for All Seasons. Susanka considers himself a “dyed-in-the-wool fence sitter,” and perhaps because of that he admires the martyrdom of Thomas More, a Lord Chancellor of England under King Henry VIII. Susanka considers More “a fanatic in the best sense of the word,” someone willing to die rather than compromise his ideals.

I don’t want to be a pedant, and I know that Thomas More the character is not supposed to completely line up with Thomas More the historical figure. And it’s also true that I haven’t seen A Man for All Seasons in quite some time. But I still cringe at lines like this:

Unlike modern-day fanatics, who impose their values on others without regard to conscience or the vital importance of free will, More’s extremism lay not in the way he treats those around him, but in the demands he placed upon himself.

It should always be remembered that during More’s time as Lord Chancellor, six men were burned at the stake for heresy. More was quite willing to impose values, namely the value of obedience to the Pope and the King. We can argue back and forth as to whether this represented a betrayal of More’s humanism or whether he was simply a man of his times, but the fact remains that he was completely willing to ignore the “vital importance of free will.”

Let me finish by quoting Professor Robert Bucholz, from his Teaching Company lecture on the history of the Tudors and Stuarts:

“More didn’t die for his conscience. Remember that he quite enthusiastically burnt people at the stake for theirs. More died for the Pope’s right to tell you what your conscience ought to believe.”

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  • Revyloution

    In terms of religion, what is a ‘dyed in the wool fence sitter’?

    Does he leave a place in his heart for Xenu? Does he think it’s equally possible that Joseph Smith really did find magic goggles that helped him read golden tablets buried in New York, instead of just being a con man? Does he think it’s equally possible that we all have a Marduk shaped hole in our souls?

    Listening to self titled agnostics describe their positions on faith is like trying to figure out Mitt Romney’s position on political issues. It seems designed more to make the listener comfortable, than to give any real answers.

  • Brian K

    Your assuming, Revy, that his fence sitting is broad. Nope. his fence sitting only involves begging the question on the religious traditions he was raised in or the culture in which he was raised. All the other gods and spirits are obviously simply beyond the pale. Yahweh, of course, is still giving him splinters in his butt.

    (what a bad pun)

    • Elemenope

      Sitting on a narrow fence evokes all sorts of painful images.

    • Revyloution

      Brian, I was being rhetorical, hoping that an he, or another agnostic might see the fallacy of their fence sitting. Being on the fence should be a temporary place. It’s where you weigh the arguments of being on one side or the other. Those who label themselves agnostics have tried to turn the fence into a place of intellectual superiority, looking down their noses at ‘modern-day fanatics’, when in reality they are just cowards who fear offending.

      • Ed-words

        agnostic- an atheist who skips breakfast

        (Agnostic billboard) _______________
        Is Nothing Sacred?


        But seriously, If Dawkins is an agnostic who isn’t?
        He believes a god is highly improbable (6.999999
        out of 7. likelihood.)

        Yours is a very broad generalization. (cowards?)

  • zach

    Good post!

  • Elemenope

    I was glad that The Tudors didn’t soft-pedal either the fanaticism or the remarkable intelligence of More. Would have been easier to make him either a victim or a villain, but they went for the full complication.

  • Schaden Freud

    I don’t find More quite as sympathetic a figure as Susanka obviously does. I definitely don’t see him as a champion of free will.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Vatican university hosts unusual tattoo conference

    Compare and contrast with Leviticus 19:28