My wife Judy and I were eager to visit Bosnia, where our son is studying the return of displaced peoples, to meet his friends and a particular Bosnian family that has been so kind to him. And, too, we wanted to understand better what had brought this beautiful country to war, setting Catholics, Serbian Orthodox, and Muslims against each other. We learned a lot through our visit and subsequent reading. It is sad to see how relatively easy it was to create unwarranted fears and their tragic consequences. I noticed how the word fundamentalist was used, often inadvertently, but sometimes deliberately, to shape negative impressions and reinforce fear.
I've learned from seminary and over the years in my ministry as a military chaplain, that fundamentalism is a term used loosely to describe a number of characteristics. In general, though, it is used negatively. Yet, many qualities of people labeled in this way are not negative at all. I share their desire to know God and to live out God's will in my daily life. I respect the willingness, if necessary, to go against the currents of popular materialism to preserve one's spiritual identity. I find these same characteristics in prophet and disciple throughout Scriptures.
Unfortunately, this human yearning to know and do the will of God can have a dark side. Sometimes fundamentalism includes exclusivism, intolerance within and without, the demonizing of modern society and people in authority. In extreme situations, hatred and violence are perpetrated in the name of God. It is important to remember, though, that there is a distinction between such extremist actions and fundamentalism in general.