Faith in Doubt
In Praise of Doubt
by Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld
HarperOne, 192 pp., $23.99
The Jerusalem silicon kerfuffle was just one episode in last autumn’s harvest of religious conflict in Israel. Religious demonstrators showered rocks on cars making use of a city-owned parking lot, recently opened on the Sabbath. In November, a young woman was arrested for wearing a tallit, or prayer shawl, traditionally worn only by men, and carrying a Torah beyond the restricted zone that Israel’s Supreme Court has delegated for non-orthodox prayer at the Western Wall. That weekend, four thousand Israelis rallied in downtown Jerusalem, demanding to “take back the city for secular Jews” and put an end to the coercion of fundamentalist “Ayatollahs.” (My fourteen year old daughter, who herself can sometimes be found wrapped in a prayer shawl cradling a Torah scroll, traveled an hour to be among them.)
Everyday events in Jerusalem constantly force those of us who live in Israel to consider just what is the rightful place of religious convictions, and other strongly held beliefs, in the public square. This is the sort of question that Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld set out to answer in their brief but ambitious new book, In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions without Becoming a Fanatic. Berger has been an intellectual celebrity among sociologists and others since at least 1967, when he and Thomas Luckmann published an extraordinary book called The Social Construction of Reality. He is also a distinguished Lutheran lay leader. Zijderveld is a Dutch sociologist, philosopher, journalist, and political consultant. As an adviser to his country’s center-right Christian Democratic Appeal party, he insisted that Holland seek to better integrate Muslims, who in turn must seek to become better integrated. He is also an atheist.
Together, Berger and Zijderveld are a potent pair: two supple intellectuals, believer and non-, scarred by the tumultuous half-century over which their scholarly careers have stretched, who have witnessed the death and rebirth of fundamentalist Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in the very different contexts of the United States and Europe. They make a dream team for tackling perhaps the issue in the West today: how can people (and peoples) of diverging beliefs live together peaceably?
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