There is a certain configuration of religion that is highly explosive:
1.) Certainty: A feeling that what is right vs. wrong or moral vs. immoral is a FACT that is obvious to everyone and universally binding.He zeros in on the first one as the problem. That is if we become certain about our religious ideas then we are on the road to intolerance and possibly violence.It becomes immediately self-refuting. He identifies an ingoup and an outgroup. That is religious moderates are good. Religious fundamentalists are bad. He sees the fundamentalists as less intelligent and less honest. In fact, they do great hard to society by portraying this certainty about religion. So then what should society do to solve this problem that these pesky outgroup people are causing? One can see how this can cause aggression against fundamentalists.
2.) Ingroup: The creation of an ingroup and an outgroup.
3.) Infrahumanization: Viewing the outgroup as less intelligent, honest, or righteous because they disagree with the ingroup.
4.) Victimization: A victim mentality justifying aggression (overt or psychological) toward the outgroup.
The trouble is he has identified the wrong step. You can't keep people from being certain of their religion. People are going to order their lives around a central truth and seeing that truth as tentative is unnatural. Just like when Beck rejected fundamentalism with great certainty. People are not tentative by nature especially when dealing with moral outrage.
What I see as more important is step #3. I think that is the step where Catholics should always get off the religious intolerance train. We cannot dehumanize those who disagree with us. Yes, Catholic history is full of examples of this. Despite this Catholic teaching has developed into an understanding that no people group should be diminished no matter how wrong their faith and morals are.
Vatican II went so far as to say that the holiest of Catholics can learn something new about God by dialoguing with the most mistaken people. Why? Because God interacts with everyone on a spiritual level. God does not refuse to talk to anyone. This means that if we want to know God, and that is what we should want, then it makes sense to talk about matters of faith with anyone and everyone we can. Aggression towards any group is therefore ruled out not because Catholicism might be wrong but because Catholicism is a work in progress and anyone can contribute to that progress.
It occurs to me that any belief system, whether religious or political or whatever, needs to have this. That is a teaching that values human beings that oppose the system. That is what democracy and human rights are about. They flow from the Christian notion that all people are made in the image of God and that trumps any religious or political wrongness they might have. The trouble is not that we hold our doctrines strongly but that we think right doctrine gives us greater dignity as persons. It does not.
So the danger of intolerance comes from any belief system that does not include that basic dignity not just for non-believers but even for those who energetically oppose the system. This is where so many governments have failed. How do they deal with the opposition? It is also a place where God is mind-bogglingly generous. He allows people to oppose Him and to influence others to oppose Him and even allows them to corrupt His church and other important institutions. Why doesn't He just zap them? Yet He avoids aggression. He does not force them to become Christians and he does not prevent them from doing great harm.
This does remind me of what Pope Benedict said at a meeting of world religious leaders at Assisi. He even made sure atheists were invited. Then he denounced all violence justified in any way by the Christian religion. He was giving the leaders of other world religions an opportunity to condemn those who used their religion to justify violence. The awkward fact was that one religion represented there was used to justify a lot more terrorist acts than all the others put together. That would be the Muslim religion.
When you look at why that is, it comes down to what Beck calls infra-humanization. They just don't have clear teaching on respecting the human dignity of non-Muslims. In fact, they have a long tradition going back to Mohammad himself of using very brutal violence against the enemies of Islam. That is a huge problem because saying what Mohammad did was immoral would be denying a central teaching of their faith. It would be similar asking a Christian to say something Jesus did was immoral. The difference is Jesus never killed anyone.
This is precisely why we should be concerned about atheism. Sure there is a history of violent atheists but that is not the big reason. Atheists don't look to previous generations of atheists the way Catholics and Muslims do. So no atheist will get violent because the Nazi's or Communists were violent. Still they have no doctrine that says they need to respect the human dignity of their opponents. So there can be an atheist Osama Bin Laden. There can never be a Catholic Osama Bin Laden.