Religious fundamentalism is the uncritical adherence to ancient, allegedly inspired religious writings or oral traditions as an exact guide to what has happened in the past and to what will happen in the future, as well as viewing such writings or traditions as an infallible and ritualistic guide to behaviour in the present, characterizes one aspect of fundamentalist or revivalist creeds in the major religions. Although revered authorities in the world religions have from ancient times insisted on approximately four levels of interpretation to be given to scripture (historical, literal, allegorical or metaphoric, and anagogical or inwardly spiritual) fundamentalists disregard such exegesis and use only the first two levels.
As an ideological and organizational process fundamentalism entails the selective retrieval of such religious doctrines and practices for the purpose of building a viable political movement. "Traditional," is not synonymous with "unchanging" or "timeless." Fundamentalist leaders want their followers to believe that the political message they preach is also grounded in unchanging and absolute authority and that the leader holds this authority from God. The particulars of his message may change according to the concrete circumstances; but if the source of religious authority is secure, the act of adaptation will not undermine the leader's status.
The shared characteristics or "family resemblances" of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim fundamentalists are found in a shared attitude toward religion itself, and in a specifiable process of using religion to construct ideologies and organize movements. As a distinctive attitude or habit of mind, fundamentalism divides the world into realms of absolute good and absolute evil, claims exclusive possession of divine truth, and thrives on the identification and unmasking of the enemy. In particular, religious fundamentalists deeply mistrust secular or "godless" ways of knowing. And they oppose the ideas and practices that gain favor as a result of secularism, including pluralism (the acceptance of the existence of many different types of belief and practice, religious as well as nonreligious), relativism (the conviction that no belief is inherently superior to any other), and radical individualism (the idea that the individual rather than the community is the final arbiter of belief and practice). Finally, fundamentalists see revived, militant religion, characterized by absolutism and moral dualism, as the best defense against the threatening encroachments of secularism.
All religious fundamentalism is anti-intellectual. Fundamentalism renders a religious belief absolute, excluding respect for the opinion of others and strives to force this belief onto others, with or without the use of violence. A literal and absolute understanding of one's own holy scriptures renders any dialogue impossible, especially between religions. Worship tends to be emotional, searching for ecstatic and charismatic experiences. Large followings are built quickly and sometimes subverted to political ends. Over-zealous and sometimes violent behaviour can arise within a religious community, particularly a community which maintains that the book of laws on which it is founded is literally and uniquely divine and authoritative and thus encompasses all human behaviour with its infallible laws. Examples are Christians with the New Testament of the Bible, and Muslims with the Koran. Such an intense focus on the laws of one book leads to fundamentalist rigidity, intolerance and anti-social acts against non-believers. Another condition which predisposes to extremism is adherence to ritualistic behaviour, whether such behaviour is specified in the accepted book or not. When rituals are given the status of binding commandments their practice can lead to discrimination against those who are non-conformists, and to extremist acts against them. Rituals may encompass not only ways or worship but also dress, diet, language, social contact and the use of special symbols or body marks. Religious extremism and fanaticism may be turned as much toward members of the same faith, as it is towards non-members. Religious language is frequently used to justify sophisticated forms of terrorism in which violence is considered a sacred act.
Religious fanaticism has never been restricted to one group. Judaism provides examples of stoning to death in ancient times, of ostracism in mediaeval times, and nowadays of the violence sometimes associated with modern Zionism. Christianity has a long and bloody record of conversion by force which includes the Crusades and the Inquisition and such current secret terrorist societies as the Klu Klux Klan. Islam provided the origin of such terms as Holy War, fanaticism and assassination. Equal examples of extremism can be found in other religions. It is noteworthy that the quasi-religion of Nazism exhibited the same aberrant psychology. Modern ideologues in every country, who have replaced a theocentric religion with a nominally anthropocentric philosophy, are susceptible to the same weaknesses, as is seen in some revolutions.
There has been a notable upsurge in religious fundamentalism of which the most dramatic examples are Islamic and Protestant. Other current manifestations religious fundamentalism include: Jewish fundamentalists in Israel; both Hindus and Buddhists in Sri Lanka; Sikhs in the Punjab; and an assortment of syncretists cults throughout sub-Saharan Africa. These are enormously powerful cross-national forces. Both, despite important differences between them, are capable of inspiring large numbers of people to make radical changes in their lives.
[Christian fundamentalism] Protestant fundamentalists emphasize the accuracy of the Book of Genesis on the Creation, the Gospels on the Virgin Birth of Christ, and Revelations on the Second Coming of Christ and the final battle of Armageddon. Catholic fundamentalists, in addition, emphasize the prophetic character of the Old Testament and add the non-scriptural doctrine of the Assumption of the Virgin. It is alleged that Serbian militiamen cut the throats of Croatian Muslims in the name of their Orthodox Christian religion.
[Islamic fundamentalism] The extremists of both the Sunnite and Shi'ite branches of Islam aim to isolate the Moslem World from the superpowers and to purge their societies of all non-Islamic influences. It is associated with larger fundamentalist movement that is basically a resort to old moral values. It manifests itself in many different ways, in many different countries. Fundamentalists believe that Islam is the only valid religion and culture and therefore must convert or conquer all of humanity. All human activity, political, economic, social, mental or sexual must be regulated by Islamic social and legal precepts, and it is to be applied universally. Islamic fundamentalists adhere to the Koran and reject portions of Islamic canonical law. No distinction is made between spiritual and secular, so Muslim countries find it hard to draw a dividing line between church and state. There is no acceptance of secular politics, institutions, laws, or wars, because at worst they are an enemy of God.
National Islamic fervour is not only to be seen in Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, but has increased dramatically in Egypt and across North Africa. There is also a notable Islamic upsurge in central Asia among the minorities. There have been increasing instances of intimidation and assassination of Arab authors and intellectuals opposed to fundamentalism, notably in Algeria, Egypt and Turkey. Interpretations of Islam and Islamic history that are seen as giving offence to the Koran are notably condemned, especially any arguments suggesting that the political and judicial system of Islam is in any way deficient. Music, songs, films and videos may be censured to ensure that they do not conflict with Islamic values. In 1993 Egypt and Afghanistan agreed a joint security treaty to place pressure on Egyptian Islamic militants who were using Afghanistan as a base for their operations. In 1993, following the killing of series of foreigners in Algeria, Muslim fundamentalists informed the French government that they had month to ensure that all the 25,000 French nationals registered as residents left the country. A further 50,000 of dual nationality also live in Algeria. By 1994, anyone taking a public position opposed to Islamic militants lived in fear of assassination in Algeria, with over 3,000 having been killed in the previous two years according to official estimates (believed to reflect half the real figure).
[Jewish fundamentalism] It is reported that it is becoming increasingly difficult in the USA to take any position remotely critical of Jewish extremism without evoking a range of forms of harassment and intimidation, including bomb threats and excrement through the letterbox. By 1994 the climate of hatred and violence directed at the Jewish peace movement had virtually silenced those in the religious community who believed that the Palestine peace agreement should be enthusiastically embraced. In 1994 a single Jewish fundamentalist killed over 40 Muslims at prayer in Hebron. Although discounted by some as the act of a mad man, it was acclaimed by others as that of a hero and a necessary act of revenge for the past slaughter of Jews. For the extremists the reality is that all Arabs are enemies. Other Jewish observers saw it as arising from an extreme perspective which had dehumanized its neighbours, claiming to be acting in the name of God, a claim denied by all other Jews not caught up in extreme fundamentalism. The Hebron slaughter was seen as a monstrous violation of those values and ideals that Judaism and the Jewish people hold most sacred. A distinction is made between the violent followers of Rabbi Kahane, forming the Kach movement (to which author of the Hebron massacre belonged) and those of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, forming the more broadly based Gush Emunim, which promoted the development of settlements in the occupied territories of a Greater Israel. The latter see the creation of Israel as a divinely ordained event heralding the answer of the Messianic period and leading to the redemption of Israel at the End of Days. The government of Israel has been reluctant to confront the Kack movement for fear of alienating the Gush Emunim.
[Hindu fundamentalism] In 1993 in India increasing number of senior civil servants, intellectuals and journalists were taking fundamentalist positions, protesting that religious minorities, especially Muslims, had exceeded acceptable limits.