I paused today to consider whether I have been unreasonably critical of fundamentalists. In a previous post, I noted the traditional definition of Christian fundamentalist beliefs as including:
1. Inerrancy of Scripture
2. The virgin birth
3. Substitutionary atonement
4. Bodily resurrection of Christ
5. Supernatural nature of miracles
On the basis of this list alone, I'm not sure that I can sustain the argument that fundamentalism always results in violence. However, there are some related ideas that can create the kinds of problems of which we are all too well aware.
I think that one of the difficulties is an exclusive claim to truth. Whether the 'inerrancy of scripture' is cause or effect of this claim is unclear but there are inherent dangers (not to mention great arrogance) in thinking that God has been revealed only to our special group and that all other expressions of religion are misguided. This isn't just about the nature of truth as absolute or relative - it's about avoiding an extreme point of view that categorically dismisses any external challenge or dissident opinion. If God's will has indeed been communicated especially to us (or me), then who has the right to question what I do in God's name?
A related area is the claim to foreknowledge of people's eternal destinies. Whether or not you believe in a literal heaven or hell, does any human being really have the right to assign you to either? Based on a particular interpretation of scripture, some people firmly believe that they can predict the eternal destiny of others because of their beliefs or actions. I find such power a frightening concept, yet many are willing to wield it as reward or punishment to ensure that others 'toe the line'.
Ultimately, I'm more concerned about people's actions than their beliefs. However there is a dynamic relationship between these two things that cannot be ignored. I'd still prefer a fundamentalist that genuinely loves their neighbour than a liberal that was apathetic to human need.