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Foolishness As a Mirror

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Commentary by Becky Tallent | FāVS News

No one wants to be considered a fool, especially in America. 

But, most Americans do not know about Holy Fools, people who give up everything to live their beliefs and encourage faith. They wander through life, often homeless, acting as a mirror of change. 

The idea of fools and foolishness has been on my mind a lot lately since reading Laurie R. King’s 1995 mystery novel “To Play the Fool.” King, a theologian who turned to writing mysteries in the early 1990s, spends a lot of time in the book explaining the history of fools. 

Holy Fools Across Religions

Checking other resources, I found that fools have been around long before Saint Paul coined the term “Fools for Christ.”  Perhaps the most well-known fool is Basil Fool (for whom St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, Russia is dedicated) and some other Eastern Orthodox figures, although the Old Testament also documents prophets who might be considered fools, such as Isiah, Ezekial and Hosea. Technically, St. Francis of Assisi could also be considered a Holy Fool. 

Significantly, fools can be found in many religious faiths throughout the years. The basic principle of being a fool is to give up all worldly possessions for their faith. Many times, a fool will pretend to be insane to reflect specific actions back to society, fostering thought about making changes. 

Often, fools go around half-naked, speaking in riddles, homeless and/or pretending to be psychic. They are also known to create disruptions to make a point. 

Fools have a place in society, they are the observers who want people to change for the good of their souls. Unfortunately, we often do not recognize them for who they are. 

In her book, Kings said Christianity is based on humility, not magnificence; in weakness lies strength. Far too many faiths have lost that idea in modern times. Too many, especially Americans, see any weakness as something to be avoided rather than embraced. Thinking of the current political structure, far too many Americans are decrying the basic principles clearly said by Jesus as “weak” and therefore unworthy of action. 

There lies a major division within society: Letting anyone see care, love/affection or compassion as a weakness. Funny, aren’t these the things most faiths are based upon? 

The Perceived Weakness of Compassion

Looking to my own background, Shamen are considered to be wise healers, and yet the requirement on being a Shaman takes the person into a forced control of parts of their universe, essentially going from chaos to control. Conversely, the fool goes from normality into a form of insanity, living at the mercy of chaos.  We seek Shamen to help us find control, why don’t people seek fools to help them see the chaos? 

If that last sentence does not seem to make sense, look at it this way: Fools are people who challenge the conversation, call out pretension and witness to a deeper moral or spiritual wisdom. Maybe it is my own sense of logic, but being called to question often brings me greater clarity. 

I am old enough to clearly remember the 1980s and 90s when televangelists and mega-preachers as well as sidewalk pastors regularly lined their own pockets at the expense of their followers through “love offerings.” Million dollar mansions, jets and other luxuries were the rewards for the leaders; many times, followers were left in debt.  

The chaos which followed, especially the federal court cases including tax evasion, made clear these leaders were not fools – some were exploiters – ultimately leaving their followers in deep doubt about their faith.   

The Need for Modern Holy Fools

Conversely, fools live in poverty and serve religion with a purpose; they have a higher calling by deliberately flouting society’s norms to make a point about faith. 

Perhaps we do need more fools – Holy Fools – in society to help us question, seek out and ultimately define our own beliefs.  


The views expressed in this opinion column are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of FāVS News. FāVS News values diverse perspectives and thoughtful analysis on matters of faith and spirituality.

Becky Tallent
Becky Tallent
An award-winning journalist and public relation professional, Rebecca "Becky" Tallent was a journalism faculty member at the University of Idaho for 13 years before her retirement in 2019. Tallent earned her B.A. and M.Ed. degrees in journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma and her Educational Doctorate in Mass Communications from Oklahoma State University. She is of Cherokee descent and is a member of both the Indigenous Journalists Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. She and her husband, Roger Saunders, live in Moscow, Idaho, with their two cats.

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Walter A Hesford
Walter A Hesford
22 days ago

Thanks, Becky, for this recognition of the role of holy fools. If I remember right, the Navajo Night Chant Ceremony includes people who clown with the sacred ceremony, inviting in some chaos and allowing free thinking.

Becky Tallent
Becky Tallent
22 days ago

Thanks Walter! Yes, many tribes and other groups have a variation of a Holy Fool, I just wish we would pay more attention to them.

Nick Damascus
Nick Damascus
22 days ago

Nicely done Becky

Rebecca Tallent
Rebecca Tallent
22 days ago
Reply to  Nick Damascus

Thank you!

Nick Gier
Nick Gier
22 days ago

good topic, Becky. I’ve been wanting to write a similar essay about fools in the Asian tradition coupled with the idea of cosmic laughter. thanks for starting the conversation. will this be in the daily news too?

Rebecca Tallent
Rebecca Tallent
22 days ago
Reply to  Nick Gier

Thanks Nick! I do not know yet, I’m trying to decide if my next DNews column will be this or something else.

Chuck McGlocklin
Chuck McGlocklin
22 days ago

I love this. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, I was attracted to the “hippy” movement, but disgusted that it evolved into drugs and taking advantage of others. What happened to the thousands of hippy communes that were going to “live off the land” and show peace and love to the unlovable? They found that the land needs to be worked and it was easier to blame “the man” which many of them became, including pastors. It is so much easier to tell others how to live than to live it.
I am responsible to myself and my God. I have to do for others what He has done for me. That takes a change of nature that only God can do, but is willing to do to any that submit to His principals, whether they know Him or not. That change allows us to humble ourselves. When we have humbled ourselves, it is difficult for others to humiliate us.

Rebecca Tallent
Rebecca Tallent
22 days ago

Thank you! This is why we do need fools – Holy Fools — to help us see. Like you, I grew up in the 60s and was greatly saddened by the actions/reactions of my generation. Mirrors (Holy Fools) are great devices to help us think and, perhaps, see a little better. You are right – the lesson of the Fool is that once one is truly humbled, it is difficult to be humiliated.

Jonas H
Jonas H
21 days ago

As someone who has recently transitioned from rising middle class (pre-covid) to laboring poor (since), I daily earn difficulty, distain, and reward on The Fool’s path. Dispersing one’s possessions isn’t popular, despite how we admire most those who die with nothing. Hmmm.

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