The phenomenon of "fundamentalism" has made an extraordinary impact on the world. But what is it? The scholar Gabriel A. Almond defines fundamentalism as "religious militance by which self-styled 'true-believers' attempt to arrest the erosion of religious identity, fortify the borders of the religious community, and create viable alternatives to secular institutions and behaviors." Some fundamentalists pursue openly political agendas (Northern Ireland, Israel, Iran). Some are apolitical (Latin American Pentecostalism). In war zones (Sudan, Afghanistan, Palestine, Sri Lanka), fundamentalism is energizing conflict. Most notably, the warring groups in Iraq have jelled around fundamentalist religion.
These varied manifestations resist being defined with one word, which is why it is better, as Almond suggests, to speak of "fundamentalisms." But they all have something in common, and,... it is dangerous. The impulse may begin with good intentions, the wish to affirm basic values and sources of meaning that seemed threatened. The term was born when conservative Protestants in early-20th-century America committed themselves to defend the five "fundamentals" of their faith -- the inerrancy of the Bible, virgin birth and deity of Jesus, doctrine of atonement, bodily resurrection of Jesus, and his imminent return. That movement was a rejection, especially, of the historical-critical mode of biblical interpretation, and of Darwinian science. These characteristics still animate Protestant fundamentalism.
But all fundamentalisms, rejecting a secular claim to have replaced the sacred as chief source of meaning, are skeptical of Enlightenment values, even as the Enlightenment project has begun to criticize itself. But now "old time religion" of whatever stripe faces a plethora of threats: new technologies, globalization, the market economy, rampant individualism, diversity, pluralism, mobility -- all that makes for 21st-century life. Fundamentalisms will especially thrive wherever there is violent conflict, and wherever there is stark poverty, simply because these religiously absolute movements promise meaning where there is no meaning. For all these reasons, fundamentalisms are everywhere.
...But culture consists precisely in negotiation of values, and change in how values are understood is part of life. Moral reasoning is not mere obedience, but lively interaction among principles, situations, and..."human limitations"
Read the rest to see the author's specific context, comparing a fifteen year old statement from the Vatican condemning fundamentalism with Pope Benedict's recent "Apostlic Exhortation." to wit:
(originally from the NYT):
Pope Benedict XVI strongly reasserted on Tuesday the church’s opposition to abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage, saying that Roman Catholic politicians were “especially” obligated to defend the church’s beliefs in their public duties.
“These values are non-negotiable,” the pope wrote in a 130-page “apostolic exhortation,” a distillation of opinion from a worldwide meeting of bishops at the Vatican in 2005.
...The document suggested that the church would continue to speak out strongly on political issues it saw as fundamental, even at risk of accusations, as has been the case in Italy, that it is interfering in politics.
Those issues, Benedict wrote, include “respect for human life, its defense from conception to natural death, the family built on marriage between a man and a woman, the freedom to educate one’s children and the promotion of the common good in all its forms.”
h/t bird on the moon