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The Jewish Lutheran Who Made Sociologists Rethink Religion

Sept. 14 2017

The sociologist and public intellectual Peter Berger, who died in June at the age of eighty-eight, left a lasting impact on many areas within his field of study, but perhaps religion was what interested him most. At a time when most social scientists saw modernity as bringing inexorable secularization along with it, he was among the first to realize that religion wouldn’t simply wither away. James Nuechterlein reflects on Berger’s upbringing, his intellectual development, and his ideas:

Peter’s ironic temperament marked his complicated and unsettled religious views. He was born in Vienna in 1929 to Jewish parents who converted to Christianity when he was a child. (The family immigrated to America, by way of Palestine, when Peter was seventeen.) At our first meeting in the early 1980s, he described himself as a liberal Protestant, but while he shared that heritage . . . he had little in common with most of those who currently go by the name. . . . His bourgeois mentality and his conservative politics made him a stranger to the culture that prevails in [today’s liberal Protestant circles]. . . . Toward the end of his life, he confessed that he alternated in his religious identity between “agnostic” and “relatively conservative Lutheran.”

[Berger] was a reformer in the 1960s . . . but a reformer who scorned ideologues and who never in his life experienced a utopian temptation. He grasped the fragility of the social order. To the injunction of the youth culture to “let it all hang out,” he responded typically, “Tuck it all back in.” . . .

Early in his career, Peter was convinced that modernization was an inevitable carrier of secularity. But over time the evidence changed his mind. Most of the modern world, he concluded, is decidedly unsecular: the principal exceptions are Western Europe and the non-geographical category of intellectuals. What modernization decrees is not secularity but pluralism. Our modern problem, he concluded, is not the absence of God, but the presence of many gods. There is no available route back to a world taken for granted. We might choose to quarrel with modernity, but we cannot pretend it does not exist.

Read more at First Things

More about: Lutheran, Religion & Holidays, Secularization, Sociology

 

Why a Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Is Unlikely

Feb. 16 2018

High-ranking figures in the IDF, along with some Israeli and foreign officials, have been warning that economic troubles combined with severely deficient public works could lead to an outbreak of starvation or epidemic in the Gaza Strip; their warnings have been taken up and amplified in sensationalist stories in Western media. Hillel Frisch is skeptical:

The most important factor behind real humanitarian crises—mass hunger and contagious disease—is first and foremost the breakdown of law and order, and violence between warring militias and gangs. This is what occurred in Darfur, Somalia, and the Central African Republic. In such situations, the first to leave are the relief agencies. Then local medical staffs evacuate, along with local government officials and anyone professional who can make it out of the bedlam. The destitute are left to fend for themselves. Hospitals, dispensaries, schools, and local government offices are soon abandoned or become scenes of grisly shootouts and reprisals.

Nothing could be farther from such a reality than Gaza. Hamas, which is the main source of [misleading reports] of an imminent humanitarian crisis, rules Gaza with an iron fist. Few developed democracies in the world can boast the low homicide rates prevailing in the Strip. Nor have there been reports of any closings of hospitals, municipal governments, schools, universities, colleges, or dispensaries. . . .

Nor have there been news items announcing the departure of any foreign relief agencies or the closure of any human-rights organizations in the area. Nor is there any evidence that the World Health Organization (WHO), which rigorously monitors the world to prevent the outbreak of contagious disease, is seriously looking at Gaza. And that is for good reason. The WHO knows, as do hundreds of medical personnel in Israeli hospitals who liaise with their colleagues in Gaza, that the hospital system in Gaza is of a high caliber, certainly by the standards of the developing world. . . .

Hamas, [of course], wants more trucks entering Gaza to increase tax revenues to pay for its 30,000-strong militia and public security force, and to increase the prospects of smuggling arms for the benefit of its missile stockpiles and tunnel-building efforts. How Israel should react is equally obvious. You want more humanitarian aid? . . . Free the two mentally disabled Israelis who found their way into Gaza and are imprisoned by Hamas.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian economy