Fundamentalists always concern me – and I’m not simply thinking about the Christian fundamentalists – so do Jewish, Muslim and any other type of religious fundamentalist. 
Historically, much of the world’s blood was shed by believers protecting the faith from either so-called heathens or other religious zealots.

Similar to the religious fundamentalists are the atheist fundamentalists. Their militant views and dismissive responses are not much different from the religious fanatics, who in turn ridicule and demean those who reject God’s existence.

All these fundamentalist groups disdain, dismiss and disrespect those who refuse to blindly accept their particular ideological worldview. 

As an unapologetic Christian, I find my non-deist colleagues who respect my views, as I theirs, are able to challenge my own thinking, helping to expand my mind and better develop my thoughts. 

Their views, with which I disagree, neither threaten nor frighten me; rather, they force me to think deeper about what I claim to believe. Hopefully, I too contribute to and challenge their thinking. 

Probably the greatest insult is to disregard another’s faith, or lack thereof, and insist that for them to be saved, they must think, believe and act as I do. 

The fundamentalist believer belittles those who say there is no God, just as the fundamentalist atheist belittles those who have faith. Each sees the mirror other as a fool.

I am also concerned with political fundamentalists, those on the right (Fox) and those on the left (MSNBC).

The low level of civil discourse in this country is partly due to these political fundamentalists and certain politicians adept in manipulating them by elevating the rhetoric so as to increase their chances of getting elected.

Lacking humility makes compromising for the good of the whole impossible. Those of us in academia who insist on nuance of argument are rejected as the intellectual elite or snobs.

Anti-intellectualism reigns as stereotyping others, and reducing arguments to their common denominator becomes the acceptable and legitimate norm.

Referring to those with whom we disagree as “traitors” or “idiots” – rather than engaging their thoughts and ideas – speaks poorly as to the direction this country is heading.

Fundamentalists, when challenged, turn to character assassination instead of engaging the opposing idea. The conservative is a fascist and the liberal is a socialist. The opposition is reduced to evil, to someone out to destroy this country. 

“Hussein Obama” becomes a Kenyan-born Muslim socialist out to make America non-Christian, while Mitt Romney is portrayed as a blood-sucking vampire capitalist who enjoys firing the middle-class while belonging to some Mormon cult that will move America away from its Christian roots. 

Name-calling is always the last refuge of those who lack the ability to conduct critical, analytical thinking.

Humility teaches that no one person has a monopoly on truth. In fact, we should all beware those who claim to know the truth, for if we don’t, we are in danger of losing our soul, our wallet or both. Claiming absoluteness reconstructs the other as having devious, if not sinister, motives.

When we learn to view the other as evil, great atrocities can be committed in defense of the good. Before we can hope to move away from this destructive form of fundamentalism, we must first learn to detect fundamentalists.

â—      A fundamentalist is one who, instead of arguing the merits of an opposing view, engages in the character assassination of those with whom they disagree.

â—      A fundamentalist is one who is incapable of pointing out something positive about the opposing political party or a different faith tradition.

â—      A fundamentalist is one who is unable to vote for a candidate of the opposing political party or praise the wisdom of a religious leader from a different faith tradition.

â—      A fundamentalist is one who looks for the stupidest thing said by someone in the opposing political party, or the irreligious acts of a member of a differing religion, so as to use it to stereotype everyone else with similar political or religious views.

â—      A fundamentalist is one who fuses and confuses their political opinions or religious interpretations with absolute truth.

â—      A fundamentalist is one who believes that engaging in political compromising or religious discourse is akin to negotiating with traitors or communing with Satan.

â—      A fundamentalist is one who will never honestly and openly read, engage or consider the opposing ideas or religious thoughts of others without seeking the weakest link in their worldview so as to deride and dismiss.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:22: “For whosoever shall say to his brother or sister, Raca [you good-for-nothing], shall be in danger of the court; and whosoever says, you fool, shall be in danger of the fires of hell.”

We all do well to learn how not to call those with whom we disagree raca or fool. Only then, we might succeed in creating a more just society that can move beyond the empty rhetoric prominent in our day.

MiguelA. DeLaTorre is professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology.

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