Nearly everyone out there, that lives in the USA at least, has been confronted with examples of glassy eyed religious fanaticism in their daily lives. While the main flavor I'm familiar with is Christian, it exists in every religion and every area in the world where there are people that feel believing is at lot more fun than thinking. Because such folks nearly always neglect the mental (and, in the case of people like Tammy Baker, sometimes the physical) side of their being in favor of the spiritual, attempts at logical argument can lead you down extremely bizarre paths. When arguing once with a Christian fanatic, I had a conversation that went like this:
Fundie: "My faith is strong because God has revealed this knowledge to my heart. Anyone who has felt such a revelation cannot deny its truth. He revealed to me the bible is the word of God, requires no special interpretation, and cannot be wrong in any particular at all. It is the Truth."
Me: "So if God reveals to me in my heart that Evolution is fact, that it accurately describes how life as we know it reached the forms we see today, then that makes it the Truth too? Just as real and as accurate as yours?"
Fundie: "Of course it is! I'm so happy for you that you finally understand faith!"
It's no wonder they resort to bombs and guns so quickly.
But one of the things I've found in my studies is that Christians, in particular, have always been this way. The most interesting accounting of this fact comes to us from a Roman citizen known as Pliny the Younger. His father-in-law, Pliny the (wait for it!) Elder, was a pretty famous scientist who got himself broasted getting too close to Mt. Etna when it buried Pompeii. Why no formal last name? Junior and Senior weren't in broad use at the time, and they had to be told apart somehow I suppose.
Anyway, Pliny the Younger, who lived from about 62 A.D. to about 113 A.D. (less than two generations after Jesus died), was a Roman lawyer, just famous and rich enough to be popular but not so famous and rich as to be perceived dangerous (which was a quick way to get nailed to a stick and lit on fire so the emperor could read at night). He wrote dozens of letters over his career to folks both famous and unknown, at least to us. Eventually he was appointed proconsul, a sort of imperial watchdog, of a place called Pontus-Bythnia, on the south coast of the black sea in what is now Turkey, by the emperor Hadrian.
The letters were preserved and published after his death, and through no small miracle managed to make it through history to us. One of the most famous and interesting was his letter to Hadrian on the Christians in his province.
Remember that Jesus had only been executed about seventy years before. The last of the disciples had only just died off, and so there were still plenty of people who knew people who had talked directly to Jesus himself. It was a very, very new religion, and it puzzled the Romans of the time a great deal.
In Rome, as long as you paid your taxes and didn't piss on the emperor's statue, they didn't much care what you did inside your temple, church, or synagogue. They did require you to say that the emperor was more important to you than your own personal gods, at least in public. Because this wasn't all that far from the truth, seeing as how his representatives could separate you from your head with little justification and no warning, the vast majority of even religious people complied easily. But not the Christians.
The Christians were, to the Romans, extremely weird. Rumors got around that they married their brothers and sisters, drank blood and ate human flesh, and even stranger things (which only proves that the lady that buys and believes the Enquirer at the grocery checkout isn't all that different from your garden variety Roman citizen a full two thousand years ago). Because they wouldn't admit the holiness of the emperor, they were outlawed and became convenient targets any time something particularly weird or bad happened in the empire. There were quite a lot of Christians in Pontus-Bythnia when Pliny arrived and sort of took the place over. Hadrian trusted Pliny, and so he asked him to look into just what exactly made these people tick while he cleaned them out of the province.
Now I would again like to point out that the Romans at this point in time were more puzzled by than afraid of Christians. They separated Christians from the regular populace in the most basic way imaginable... they asked. If someone said "Christian? Christian?? Never heard of them!" then they were usually let go, even if they promptly crossed themselves as the legionaries left. The amazing thing was they managed to catch so many with this simple technique.
Now, from their perspective, this may not be as puzzling as it sounds. Fanaticism is a lot easier when your grandad actually walked with the savior himself ("I myself heard Jesus speak in a synagogue" "Synagogue? Lucky bastard. In my day we were so poor we didn't have any buildings, just a boat that we carted him back and forth on" "Boat? Lazy git. In my day Jesus had to walk across the bloody water to get to a mountain to preach" "Mountain?!? Old fart. In my day...").
So here we have Pliny interviewing Christians as they are brought in. When reading his letter, you can almost see the scene as he confronts a pair of young Christians standing wide-eyed before him in his office near the yard where they're industriously nailing people up as fast as they can find crossbars.
"So," he says, "you're Christians, right?"
The pair nod enthusiastically. "Oh yes, very much so, our savior is--"
"Yes yes yes I'm sure he's a wonderful gentleman, very well mannered. Pays his taxes, yes? Nevermind. Look. I want you two to understand something. We Romans are a very just lot. We don't go around hacking people's heads off willy-nilly. It's just bad policy. We especially don't want to execute anyone that isn't a Christian. In fact, we're so very concerned about this that anyone who tells us they aren't a Christian is quite free to go home. Do you understand me?" Polite nods. "Good. So, I'll ask", wink, "you again... you're Christians, right?"
The pair again nod enthusiastically and without blinking say "yes, very much yes, our savior--"
"Now hang on a minute", Pliny says, obviously getting frustrated with such enthusiastic hard-headedness. "Come over to this window and have a look. See those people out there?" Nods. "Those are the folks that told me they were Christians. Now getting nailed to a cross like that doesn't seem very pleasant, does it?" Heads shake. "Right. It can take days to die, and that's only if you get lucky and a vulture comes and plucks out something important. Quite unpleasant things happen to people who tell me they are Christian, wouldn't you agree?" More polite nods. "Okay", he says as he claps his hands and then rubs them together with a deep sigh, "I'm going to ask you this question one last time. All you have to do is say no. We're not going to follow you, we're not going to ask your mum if you lie, in fact I don't personally care what you do when you walk out these doors. Am I clear on this?" Even more polite nods. "Okay then. So I was wondering, just between you and me, are you two Christians?"
Again, even more polite enthusiastic nods, beautiful clear eyes, "oh yes, if you'd only read this pamphlet--"
"Yes, yes. Please hand it to the man on the left as you leave. Next?" (in the background: "Crucifixion? Good... first door on your left, down the stairs, and across the courtyard on your right.")
Luckily not all Christians were this forthcoming, and in what has to be one of the most unlikely turnarounds in history they ended up eventually ruling the entire world for about two hundred years.
Of course nowadays a lot of fundie wacks think they've returned to the time that simply saying you're a Christian results in immediate and punishing persecution, and they'll tell you this with a straight face and clear eyes.
Which just goes to show that fanaticism can rot even the most promising brains throughout history.