A journalist writes in with the following commentary on what the word fundamentalist meant in one newsroom in which he worked: Fundamentalist” is like the political f-word (fascism) . . . and other f-words. It has a particular meaning in the hands of someone who knows what he’s talking about — test cases: one who can distinguish the religious f-word from “charismatic” (or who correctly answers the question “is Pat Robertson a fundamentalist”) is someone who has a right to use the word.
I had a boss at a paper other than the one I work at now who was very into “Course in Miracles.” Which is not objectionable in itself, except that it caused him to ask me whether I was a “Catholic fundamentalist.”
I said, “there’s no such thing.” I explained to him, in as much detail and as vigorously as prudence would allow as he was my boss, that fundamentalism was a late-19th/early-20th century movement within Protestantism, an effort to return to “the fundamentals” of the Bible and cut away the accretions of past tradition. Barely a month later, he writes his Sunday column about “fundamentalists” and includes the charming sentence “Saddam Hussein is a fundamentalist; Hitler was a fundamentalist.” He was plainly just using the word as a term of abuse for “someone who believes that truth is truth, and his truth ’tain’t my truth.” I believe that is what people who use the word ignorantly are trying to say.
Once again, the AP Stylebook simply advises journalists to avoid this word altogether — unless religious believers use it to describe themselves. Like a Jerry Falwell.