Fundamentalists of all stripes have more in common than they think.

I was thinking about this after a conversation with someone who I consider an atheist fundamentalist as well as with someone who I consider a Christian fundamentalist. (I don’t mean fundamentalist as in they have a few fundamental tenets that undergird what they believe. I mean fundamentalist as in that cultural mindset of a strident adherence to a set of beliefs.)

There are some universal characteristics of fundamentalists. Fundamentalists tend to view the world from a reactionary perspective. They see themselves as defenders of their faith, be it a belief in science and the doctrine of the scientific method or rationalism in general. And they view these principles as vital to not only a way of life for them, but for society as a whole. Through their belief system, salvation is possible. When their beliefs are challenged or threatened, it is felt at a personal as well as social level.

They (have elevated and) believe their cause to be of central importance. Certain issues become fundamental, all or nothing type beliefs, thus their posture of having to fight back perceived encroachments on their worldview (or more generously, fight for their worldview). Unfortunately, this tends to lead to a demonizing, a caricaturizing, of their enemies (backing up, it leads to them declaring some people their enemies). Enemies that need to be converted. They become just as evangelistic when laying out the atheist equivalent to the “Four Spiritual Laws”/Chick tracts. True fanatical devotees spend time on blogs, message boards, endlessly raging about the Church and Christians. It all becomes about reinforcing their identity. I keep waiting for an atheistic jihad (or Crusades, depending on which side you are on of the analogy) to be declared.

Basically, I get as big a headache talking to them as any other fundamentalist. Mostly because conversation is limited due to the fact that they are more inflexible in their thinking than they want to believe. The idea of faith is irrelevant. The God question is irrelevant . Ultimate questions become any questions. So conversations with people who take their faith seriously becomes difficult. It’s one thing to question, doubt, critique, but when you dismiss people of faith as idiots, conversation ceases (and typically further name calling ensues).

The journey of knowledge begins with an assumption: atheists begin with human reason (“I know through my reason, I know because I’ve reasoned that”); people of faith with theirs (“The Bible is the word of God because it says it is”). Oversimplified, I know, but minds of inquiry and genuine intellectual curiosity can journey together. I have enjoyed conversations with many of my atheist friends. I also understand how many have had bitter experiences with the church, faith, or those who call themselves Christians (and we’ve given plenty of reason for folks to be bitter) and have become fundamentalist in their thinking. When there is mutual respect, conversations can be had, and both sides can learn from the other.

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