Adventist Psychiatrist Discusses How to Understand, Prevent Fanaticism

In his presentation entitled “What’s Unhealthy About Fanaticism,” psychiatrist and Adventist Health Ministries associate director Torben Bergland called on the church to avoid fanaticism and focus on Jesus to find balance. He spoke during the 3rd Global Conference on Health and Lifestyle at Loma Linda University on July 12, 2019. [Photo: Adventist News Network]

Quoting a church cofounder, he said health reform should not become ‘health deform.’

“What I am going to share with you today may challenge you; it may trigger some soul-searching,” said Seventh-day Adventist psychiatrist Torben Bergland at the 3rd Global Conference on Health and Lifestyle at Loma Linda University on July 12, 2019. 

His assertion was the opening statement of a presentation entitled “What’s Unhealthy About Fanaticism,” in which Bergland, an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries, unpacked how the fanatical mind thinks and works and how to prevent it.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Bergland said, “fanaticism is an outlook or behavior especially as exhibited by excessive enthusiasm, unreasoning zeal, or wild and extravagant notions on some subject.” At the same time, he cautioned, it’s not just an issue of placing labels on others but something we all have the potential to fall into. At least part of the problem, he said, is the fact that we forget being human is being fallible.

The Issue of Fallibility

Citing scholar H. J. Perkinson, Bergland said that “fanaticism is a flight from fallibility, and to be a human being is to be fallible.” He explained that our fallibility is a reality difficult to accept because all would like to be perfect. But even though everything that God has made is perfect, all that humankind makes is imperfect, inadequate.

At the same time, Bergland said, as Perkinson reminds us, man can ignore his condition of fallibility and declare that his knowledge is true, that his actions are good. In other words, he can claim to be like God. “At this point he becomes a fanatic,” he said.

Based on Perkinson, Bergland explained that a fanatic is dogmatic, in that he insists his theories, his ideology, his solutions are the correct ones. The fanatic is also an obscurantist since he ignores (or cannot perceive) arguments, facts, or consequences that refute his solutions. “And finally, a fanatic is authoritarian,” he quoted Perkinson as saying. “When he has power, he tries to impose his answers on others.” 


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