The Jewish Lutheran Who Made Sociologists Rethink Religion

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

 

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict