Making lists  in an attempt to describe other peoples’ beliefs is a risky undertaking. Lists always diminish the person they attempt to depict and probably tell us more about the list-maker than the one being described.

Steve McSwain grew up in a fundamentalist Christian environment. From his experience in an environment he describes as “fundamentalist” McSwain has made a list of beliefs he views as having been foundational to the belief system in which he was raised.

There is a slightly superior and dismissive attitude to some of the comments McSwain makes in his list. But he identifies, from his past an interesting characteristic that may be shared by most fundamentalism.

The common thread in McSwain’s description of his experience as a fundamentalist is a quality of exclusivity.

The core of fundamentalism, as McSwain describes it, is that there is only one answer to every important question; there is only one way to live, one way to believe, and one way to get to a final place of peace. At the heart of the belief system McSwain experienced is the conviction that, if you are not with us, you are against us. If you do not see the world as we see the world, you are wrong and in grave danger. You must change and become like us in order to be blessed by God.

It is a system built upon fear and insecurity. It needs everyone to agree in order to feel confident in its own faith. It is unable to give room for others to live and believe as they choose because differences always feel threatening. If other belief systems are validated in any way, it seems to undermine the veracity of the system the fundamentalist has chosen to follow.

I am sure not all fundamentalists subscribe to every bullet item on McSwain’s list. But the overall picture describes a religious attitude characteristic of much of Christian fundamentalism. For fundamentalists, as McSwain experienced them:

• The Christian religion is the correct religion. That is to say, all other religions are wrong and the people who believe in them need to be converted to Christianity or face the dire consequences that await them in eternity — which means, of course, they will go to hell;

• Jesus is the Savior of the world, the only possible way to God. After all, he said himself, “I am the way … no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). … All other paths may lead to some kind of spiritual experience, but they do not lead one to God. If you want to go to heaven when you die, you’ll have to believe in Jesus;

• God’s word is in the Bible. God’s word is only found in the Bible. You should be suspect of anything that anyone else may call sacred scripture;

• Furthermore, the Bible is infallible (which means “without error”), at least in its “original manuscripts,” referring to the actual parchments on which the Biblical writers wrote their words. (Although many fundamentalist Christians do not know this, the fact is, no original manuscripts have ever been found….)

• The family God has ordained is made up of one man and one woman. A few other arrangements may be permitted, but they are hardly preferred…..

• The Creation Story in Genesis is an actual account of how the universe was created by God in six literal days of 24-hour duration. Evolution is suspect and those who accept it typically become materialistic, even atheistic.

• Abortion is murder. It’s always murder. No exception. No debate. …

• If America wishes to remain strong, it had better be on the side of Israel, no matter what. Israel is God’s chosen nation. Again, no exception. No debate. …

• The Second Coming of Jesus could occur at any moment. …

• God is not finished with Israel. So the nation of Israel will play a pivotal role in a pre- or post-tribulation Rapture-of-the-church-view of the end of human history. …

• Christians will go to heaven; everyone else will go to hell. Hell is real, a place with fire where disbelievers burn for an eternity;

• God is not associated with any political party (but, everyone knows He’s really a closet Republican…)

Some of the items in this list may seem obscure and esoteric. Of these twelve bullets at most three might be said to be foundational doctrines of the historic Christian faith. The rest are issues that have been debated and discussed for generations with a wide variety of conclusions viewed as falling within the parameters of what the church has traditionally recognized as Christian.

Jesus did not make lists of beliefs to which he required his followers subscribe. Jesus was more inclined to ask questions. Honest questions are not exclusive; they shut no one out. They aim to open spaces for people to come in an explore. They offer opportunities for discovery and growth.

The Gospel of Mark records 67 conversations involving Jesus. In these 67 conversations Jesus asked 50 questions. Jesus seems to have been much more interested in getting people to examine their lives and ask deep questions than in demanding adherence to a rigid set of right answers.

No matter what political stripe may colour our answers, when we have more answers than questions, we are straying into fundamentalist territory. We are shutting doors instead of encouraging them to open. There is no way to argue with a person who knows all the right answers. The only answer to fundamentalism is to ask better questions.