Consider this: “A fundamentalist is someone who believes that the only way a person can disagree with him is if that person is stupid, crazy, or just doesn’t understand.”
This isn’t the dictionary definition of fundamentalism, but I’d like you to entertain it just for a moment. It means that being a fundamentalist isn’t just a matter of religion… although people can be fundamentalists about religion. It also means that you can be a fundamentalist about somethings even if you aren’t a fundamentalist about everything.
It’s very easy for liberal “open-minded” people to criticize, judge, or even mock fundamentalists. It’s easy to imagine that fundamentalist are in a different category, that they are a different kind of person. “I’m not like that,” you tell yourself.
Which is why I want you to take a moment to think about this definition of fundamentalism.
If you assume that a person must be stupid because they disagree with you, then you are being a fundamentalist.
If you assume that a person just doesn’t understand because they disagree with you, then you are being a fundamentalist.
If you are offended that a person disagrees with you, then you are being a fundamentalist.
Being a fundamentalist is about respect… or rather, the lack of it. You are a fundamentalist when it doesn’t even occur to you that a smart, educated person could possibly have an opinion different from your own. When you are acting like a fundamentalist, it is impossible for you to respect someone who disagrees with you.
I truly believe that this is the defining characteristic of a fundamentalist: someone whose view of the world is held so unquestioningly that it is impossible for him to respect people who disagree.
And when you look at fundamentalism this way, you might just realize that a fundamentalist isn’t a special “kind of person”. Most people are fundamentalists about one thing or another. “Fundamentalist” doesn’t describe a type of person… it describes a way of thinking. It is worthwhile to keep this in the back of your mind, and maybe to recognize when even you are being a fundamentalist, too.