Robert M. Jeffers has written an excellent piece on fundamentalism's symbiotic relationship with modernity:
[W]hen "reason" insisted on primacy of place and the right to judge all aspects of human existence, even the "metaphysical" ones (Ovid's Metamorphoses is not about fantasy and gods, but about human passions and how individuals change) and the metaphorical understandings, an irruption was bound to occur. And that occurence, in religion, was fundamentalism.One basis for the problem, it seems to me, is the vulgar error of believing that diametrical opposition is necessarily a sensible corrective to a false (or simply objectionable) intellectual conception. Too often, such opposition merely leads to a dance of death wherein each side justifies and reinforces the other's worst excesses through its own.
It is, of course, inherently unstable, as well as unhealthy. Calling it a pathology is not an inapt metaphor. It is our Ouroboros, the world snake devouring its own tail. This is visible in our cultural life, and in our political lives. It affects the way we understand the world, and understand others in the world; and the way they understand us. Mark Miller is right: in its excess, in either the Bush Administration, or "Focus on the Family" or even Al Qaeda, it is pathological. But until we understand the basis for the problem, we won't understand how to respond to it.
When "reason" defines itself primarily through dogmatic opposition to a given system of thought - as it does in the more extreme forms of what Daniel Dennett calls "greedy reductionism" - it ceases to be reasonable, and starts resembling that which it claims to detest. Reason, properly so called, is neither a reflex nor a habit, but an achievement; it requires a considerable amount of effort, and an even greater amount of personal honesty. Having managed it on one occasion doesn't mean you'll inevitably manage it on the next. This makes it something very different from the sort of thinking that goes into the standard Technological Sublime boilerplate.
My favorite example of the latter is Ray Kurzweil's books, with all their techno-triumphalist prattle about downloading intact human personalities onto computers; it astonishes me that such writing is thought of as scientific, instead of as a modern-day version of those Medieval wonder-books in which any irrational or impossible claim could be made so long as it inspired the correct amount of reverent awe. The willingness to accept such crude conceptions as somehow "rational," simply because they're made by a scientist, is the would-be rationalist's equivalent of believing that Jerry Falwell is morally excellent simply because he's a preacher. In both cases, belief is formed through an assessment of context rather than content, which is anything but rational.
The larger problem is that fundamentalists welcome noisy opposition from scientists and atheists; it shows that they're doing their job, and it brings in lots of donations from the faithful. "Rational" opposition poses no real threat to the political vitality of fundamentalism, and has done a great deal to abet it.
Unfortunately, as long as it remains easy to "prove" one's rationality by attacking fundamentalism, and to "prove" one's sanctity by attacking science - as long, in other words, as seeming remains a convenient substitute for being - things probably won't change. We're a nation that adores convenience, after all, and few things are more convenient than a self-hewn shortcut to personal righteousness.