At Notre Dame, my friend Dave Hartman co-wrote an article on Fundamentalism. Its focus, as I recall was on the religious type of fundementalism. The article covers a lot of ground--like the link between fundamentalism and violence, for example--but I also remember coming away with the idea that fundamentalists--of no matter which religion or creed--feel a great sense of hostililty toward and uncomfortableness with a lack of certainty. A lack of certainty leaves no room for doubt, leaves no room for "throwing up the hands," leaves no room for "I just don't know." For this reason, many Christians are regarded as fundamentalists because the Christian religion--in its historic, orthodox tenets--is particularly exclusivist. However, we have heard of Hindu fundamentalists, Muslim fundamentalists, and the like. Without invoking the issue of violence here, the common factor in these groups is most certainly an utter disdain for a lack of certainty in all areas of life. Without a lack of certainty comes a lack of freedom. Freedom of choice regarding how one lives life on the practical level, necessarily precludes a fundamentalist approach to life.
For example, Christian fundamentalists have historically abandoned the wider culture and intructed their parishoners and children to hold the wider culture in disdain. This means movies, theatres, music, tobacco, alcohol, cards, etc. are all "not allowed" by Christians "in this church." To wit, even the women are forbidden to wear pants, because it is understood that such clothing violates Levitical law (a misinterpretation, in the lauded opinion of many). Fundamentalism in the Christian Church has also manifested itself doctrinally as well, whether it is one's view on the days of creation, which version of the Bible to use, or which eschatological paradigm to promote. Of course, simply because one believes that God created the world in six days in a matter of six to ten thousand years ago does not necessarily make one a fundamentalist. While Christians and non-Christians alike would declare such a belief makes one a fundamentalist, fundamentalism is more of a state of mind than a belief system. So, fundamentalism is extremely mental, and it's typically no fun to be one. If I can't read my Tolkien because there's a wizard in it and enjoy my microbrew at the same time, well--that's no fun.
Fundamentalists then, are easy to point out, you say. Good enough. But perhaps there are fundamentalists who are the opposite of what we just described. A good number of Christians these days insist that the Bible is not really the word of God, but merely the words of man as they try to relate God to man. Moreoever, many Christians are pushing the idea that human sexuality should no longer be so oppressive as to relegate proper relationships to monomy between members of opposite gender. These same people would denounce the so-called evils of unequal wealth distribution. What if they also insisted on being heard, believed upon and listened to regarding their own interpretation of Scripture at the expense of a very vocal minority, especially regarding the nature and authority of Scripture regarding human sexual relationships? Perhaps fundamentalism is more than a few strange, out-dated doctrines or practices. Perhaps a person is a fundamentalist when they insist that their interpretation of Scripture must be believed upon no matter what.
But then we have ourselves in quite a pickle. If there is no standard by which we come to conclusions on these things, then what are we left with? Well, I think it does start with a high regard for Scripture, and an abandonment for one's own agenda. The Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) serves as prime example of how to come to grips with changing tides in the ideas of scholars, pastors, and the rest of us within the Church. The Scripture, while not the only authority concerning matters of faith and practice, must be regarded as the highest authority. Equally important is a spirit of genuine humility and reverence for the Scripture. My pastor put it to me this way: I don't care what your idea is about (the documentary hypothesis), what I care about is, Do you look down on the Scripture, or do you look up to it? This is a good starting point for Christians who want to avoid fundamentalism: the authority of Scripture and a healthy dose of deep humility toward others.