Mediocrity, the Manifesto, and Religious Overachievers

I just read a book called "The Overachiever's Manifesto", by Ray Bennett.

Actually, it's


...which I thought was fitting.   Or not fitting -- on the cover.  You know what I mean.  Or maybe you don't.

What was I saying?  Oh.  The book.  

I recently began a little journey into the study of mediocrity. Part of it came about with the one line in my song "What's Done is Done" ... and I quote: 

     If I had a dime for every time I looked behind and missed the road ahead
     I'd be a mighty wealthy man, but I'm just a mediocre man instead

I then proceeded to start writing a song called "Mediocre Man" -- which isn't ready for prime time yet.

Along the journey, I purchased a book called "The Underachiever's Manifesto". I highly recommend it. It contains more wisdom in its 100 or so pages than most other books I've come across. (only one left in stock at Amazonat the time of this writing -- but then, having more in stock would be overachieving, wouldn't it?).

I've spoken with friends of mine over the years (written, acutally -- in an email group) about my views on religion, and ultimately that the enemy is not necessarily religion, but fundamentalism. In this book, the fundamentalist seems to be like the "religious overachiever." I found it refreshing.

With apologies to Mr. Bennett, I post here a snippet from the book, which I couldn't resist because I captured the text from the book on my iPhone using an OCR application (and VERY little editing -- very cool).

Would that underachievement were its own reli-
gion, holding as it does the keys to contentment,
happiness, and a well balanced life.
Religion is too often the pretext for war,
hatred, intolerance among different faiths, and
competitive piety within faiths. But the problem
isn't with faith, or even with difference in faith
within the churches, synagogues, temples, and
mosques. The problem is the overachievers in
those institutions.
When people feel the need to prove them-
selves more worthy than their neighbors, that's
when the trouble starts. It can happen within a church,
when some members are absolutely
convinced that God prefers one sort of recog-
nition over another. Or it can happen when
members of a particular faith decide that the
rest of the world needs to see things their way,
and their way only. For too many people, that
becomes another means of achievement. Instead
of striving for the worldly successes of money
or fame, the religious overachiever competes for
special cosmic significance or special favor with
God. To believe that you are God's only gift to
the world puts you at odds with the six billion
other people who might like to feel the same
way. If the faith of underachievement holds
anything to be true, it's that by not striving to
be better than someone else, you're free to bet-
ter yourself.

So, my buddies and I got to talking about this.  Mostly one buddy -- Jeff.  He asked me what the difference in my mind was between a "fanatic" and a "fundamentalist" (religion-wise).  Jeff considers himself a "traditionalist" -- another twist. 

I post an edited version of my response here because 1) it's at least tangentially related to songwriting, 2) I found myself expressing a viewpoint of mine clearly enough to actually help me explain it to myself (unlike this blog entry), and 3) I don't have anywhere else to post it.

. . .

I learned a new word today:

I found this new word along the way towards trying to figure out if there was a difference in my mind between a fanatic and a fundamentalist. I admit that I thought of them as equivalent. Some day I'd like to get back to talking about Hermeneutics (which sounds like Scientology for Munsters or something). I'm sure we will.

A fanatic is all about excessive zeal -- which I suppose is the definition of an overachiever. A fundamentalist, on the other hand, is defined by rigidity; dogma. The part of the Wiki entry that stuck out for me was "unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs." -- which, oddly, sounds a lot like "Faith" to me, and this could be the source of some of my confusion in the past when I've pondered faith, belief, and the like. In the end, it seems that "traditionalist" and "fundamentalism" could be thought of as the light and dark sides of the same concept.

So. I've said in the past that it's fundamentalism that I am suspicious of -- not religion in general. I'd say that statement still holds, given that most people equate fundamentalism with fanaticism most of the time. I'm not against traditionalism, however, since in my mind at least that term implies at least some openness to interpretation, albeit biased towards the wisdom of the past.

In the end, I am suspicious of any set of beliefs that relinquishes responsibility for personal thought and action to any single source under the pretense of divinity. It's just too convenient, and to easy to abuse. I respect the study and use of scripture as a tool for self-examination, but draw the line at anything that starts to smell like "because God said so", simply because it's all wrapped up in Hermeneutics, even though most traditionalists/fundamentalists would deny it.  (there's that new word again)

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