Remembering the Great Jewish Lutheran Sociologist of Religion

July 10 2018

Born to Jewish parents in Vienna in 1929, the late Peter Berger was converted to Christianity along with his parents in 1938—just before his family fled Europe for Mandatory Palestine. After World War II and his formative years in Haifa, he then came with his family to America, where he went on to become one of the most important sociological theorists of secularization, eventually reconsidering and reevaluating his own theories when religion failed to wither away as sociologists had predicted. Abraham Socher, who came to know Berger toward the end of his life, reflects on the man and his work:

Berger had often remarked that sociology asks the nervy little question “Says who?” and [began to ask] it of his colleagues and himself. Not only hadn’t the world secularized in the way that he had thought it would, but the religions that were resurgent weren’t the kind that had made peace with modernity. Instead, “movements with beliefs and practices dripping with reactionary supernaturalism (the kind utterly beyond the pale at self-respecting faculty parties) have widely succeeded.” Modernity, Berger went on to argue, does lead to pluralism, and pluralism does tend to relativize religious belief, but it hasn’t led to a thoroughly secular world; nor will it. As soon as one stepped out of the faculty lounge, Berger said, one saw that people moved much more easily from the enchanted groves of tradition to the iron cage of modern rationality, and back again, than Max Weber, or indeed he, had ever thought possible. . . .

Peter and I bantered on the phone and through email, [but] I didn’t ask him how his life experience related to his sociological theory of religion, though I couldn’t help wondering. Twice, I came close. The first time was when he included a joke about speaking Yiddish in Israel in [an article]. The second was when he excitedly told me that he had been invited to address the German Protestant Assembly, and I almost told him the one about the Jewish convert who is invited to give the Sunday sermon and begins, “My fellow goyim . . .” It would have been presumptuous (again), but he probably would have laughed. He enjoyed telling Jewish jokes more than most Lutherans I have known. . . .

I thought about my conversation with Peter often in the months that followed, and I sometimes wondered whether I could get him to write about his years in Haifa and their bearing on his later thought, but I never quite got up the nerve.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Austrian Jewry, Conversion, Holocaust, Lutheranism, Mandate Palestine, Religion & Holidays, Secularization, Sociology

Maintaining Security Cooperation with the PA Shouldn’t Require Ignoring Its Support for Terror

In accordance with legislation passed last year, the Israeli government has begun to deduct from the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) an amount proportional to what the PA pays to terrorists and their families. Last year, a similar law went into effect in the U.S., suspending all payments to the PA so long as it continues its “pay-for-slay” policy. The PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, has retaliated by refusing to accept any tax revenue collected by Israel—raising concerns that the PA will become insolvent and collapse—while insisting that payments to terrorists and their families are sacrosanct. To Yossi Kuperwasser, Abbas’s behavior amounts to mere extortion—which has already worked on the Europeans to the tune of 35 million euros. He urges Israel and the U.S. not to submit:

Abbas [believes] that influential Israeli and European circles, including the security establishment, view strengthening the Palestinian Authority, and certainly preventing its collapse, as being in Israel and Europe’s best interests. They will therefore give in to the pressure he exerts through the creation of an artificial economic crisis. . . .

[T]he PA leadership’s insistence on continuing wage payments to terrorists and their families, even at the price of an artificial economic crisis, shows once again that . . . the Oslo Accords did not reflect a substantive change in Palestinian national aspirations or in the methods employed to achieve them. . . . If paying wages to terrorists (including the many terrorists whose attacks took place after the Oslo Accords were in force) is the raison d’être for the PA’s establishment, as Abbas seems to be saying, . . . one cannot help asking whether Israel has to insist on maintaining the PA’s existence at any price.

True, Israel cooperates on security issues with the PA, but that serves the interests of both sides. . . . The short-term benefits Israel gains from this security cooperation, [however], are of less value than the benefits enjoyed by the Palestinians, and worth even less when measured against the long-term strategic damage resulting from Israel’s resigning itself to the constant incitement, the promotion of terror, and the political struggle against Israel carried out by the PA. Israel should not do anything to hasten the PA’s breakdown, because it has no desire to rule over the Palestinians and run their day to day lives, but it also should not feel more obligated to the PA’s continued existence than do the Palestinians themselves, thereby leaving itself open to continuous extortion.

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Read more at Israel Institute for Strategic Studies

More about: Israeli Security, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror