In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic
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In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic

by Peter Berger, Anton Zijderveld
     
 

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“A book of great practical wisdom by authors who have profound insight into the intellectual dynamics governing contemporary life.”
—Dallas Willard, author of Knowing Christ Today

 

In In Praise of Doubt, two world-renowned social scientists, Peter L. Berger (The Homeless Mind, Questions of Faith) and Anton C.

Overview

“A book of great practical wisdom by authors who have profound insight into the intellectual dynamics governing contemporary life.”
—Dallas Willard, author of Knowing Christ Today

 

In In Praise of Doubt, two world-renowned social scientists, Peter L. Berger (The Homeless Mind, Questions of Faith) and Anton C. Zijderveld (The Abstract Society, On Clichés), map out how we can survive the political, moral, and religious challenges raised by the extreme poles of relativism and fundamentalism. A book that asks and answers Big Questions, In Praise of Doubt offers invaluable guidance on how to have convictions without becoming a fanatic.

Editorial Reviews

John Wilson
“We need more books like this: books that advance an argument, and do so concisely, wittily, with great learning lightly worn.”
Dallas Willard
“IN PRAISE OF DOUBT is a book of great practical wisdom by authors who have profound insight into the intellectual dynamics governing contemporary life..”
Os Guinness
“Brilliant yet clear, highly illuminating and often humorous, this is vintage Berger spiced with Zijderveld’s philosophical perspectives. In Praise of Doubt is essential reading for people of all faiths - and not least secularists.”
Albert Mohler
“Peter Berger along with co-author Anton Zijderveld has written… the kind of book that, well, just from the cover I would have to buy it and read it. And then to see Peter Berger’s name on it, that just clinches the deal…. he is literally without peer.”
Los Angeles Times
“This is . . . a serious attempt to explain how to find middle ground between conviction - religious and otherwise - and doubt. . . . In fact, Berger and Zijderveld argue that doubt — especially as expressed in the idea of a loyal opposition — is at the heart of a democratic system.”
Trenton NJ Times
“In his new book In Praise of Doubt, sociologist Peter Berger discusses the dangers of absolute certainty and [quotes] Oliver Cromwell: ‘I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.’ That seems an appropriate caveat in the matter of the sanctuary as well.”
Wall Street Journal
“The best parts of In Praise of Doubt explore the cultural battlegrounds where a consensus has broken down or not yet coalesced . . . Messrs. Berger and Zijderveld are optimistic: They believe that moral progress is on the march and that moderation is a virtue everyone can agree on.”
Reference & Research Book News
“This book addresses, both broadly and individually, how to balance dedication to strong religious and moral beliefs, while simultaneously being objective and discerning. This book grapples, in a thoughtful, entertaining way with these and other meaty philosophical questions.”
Publishers Weekly

Sociologists Berger (The Social Construction of Reality) and Zijderveld (The Abstract Society) inveigh against the dogma of "isms" that replace humor with certainty and thoughtfulness with blind action. Between the extremes of fundamentalism and moral relativism sits the doubter, perched on liberal democracy, which the authors describe as a three-legged stool, balanced on the state, civil society and the market economy to promote debate and dissent. Berger and Zijderveld illustrate the obvious perils of extremism, but are less adept at navigating moderation. They apply their "doubt" premise to abortion, capital punishment and immigration policy, and come to inoffensively moderate political positions, but their tepid recommendations lack appeal; as the authors admit, "The agnostic position is by definition a weak one." What recommends doubt as a concept is that it defies stringent characterization. Yet in both style and approach, the authors belie the vigorousness of their position-and an important position it is. (Aug.)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061778179
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
09/07/2010
Pages:
189
Sales rank:
605,154
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

In Praise of Doubt
How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic

Chapter One

The Many Gods of Modernity

Just before the dawn of the twentieth century, in tones of passionate conviction, Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God. Today, a little over a hundred years later, this prophecy hardly seems plausible. Whether God does or does not exist in cosmic reality is another question. And this question cannot be answered by the empirical sciences: God cannot be the object of an experiment. But in the empirically accessible reality of human life today, there is a veritable plenitude of gods competing for the attention and allegiance of people. Nietzsche thought that he stood at the beginning of an age of atheism. Right now it seems that the twenty-first century is marked instead by polytheism. It looks as if the many gods of antiquity have returned with a vengeance.

The more radical thinkers of the Enlightenment, particularly in France, anticipated the demise of religion in a spirit of gleeful anticipation. Religion was perceived as a grand illusion, one that had given birth not only to a multitude of superstitions but to the most monstrous atrocities. The wars of religion that followed the Protestant schism in Europe certainly gave credence to this view. Thus Voltaire's cry, "Destroy the infamy!" applied not only to the Catholic Church-in his experience, the mother of all atrocities-but to religion in general. Protestants continued to execute heretics and burn witches with all the enthusiasm of their Catholic adversaries. Nor could one find more appealing religious traditions outside divided Christendom.

The instrumentthat was to destroy religion was, of course, reason. In reason's cool light, the illusions of religion would evaporate. This expectation was dramatically symbolized when the French revolutionaries enthroned the goddess of reason in the Church of the Madeleine in Paris. This Enlightenment faith did not end with the French Revolution. Indeed, in different versions it has continued to this day. In the nineteenth century that faith was particularly invested in science. Reason, it was thought, would find an inerrant methodology to understand the world and, ultimately, to construct a morally superior social order. In other words, Enlightenment philosophy had morphed into empiricist science. The prophet of that mutation was Auguste Comte, whose ideology of positivism had an immense influence on the progressive intelligentsia of Europe and beyond (notably in Latin America, where the Brazilian flag is still emblazoned with the Comtean slogan "order and progress"). It was Comte, not so incidentally, who invented the new science of sociology.

As that science developed, it bore less and less resemblance to what Comte had had in mind. It increasingly saw itself not as a system of philosophy, but as a science based on empirical evidence and subject to empirical falsification. Three thinkers are commonly seen as the founders of modern sociology-Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber. There were great differences among these three. But when it came to religion, each one, albeit for different reasons, believed that modernity was bringing about a steady decline. Marx and Durkheim, both children of the Enlightenment, welcomed this alleged development. Weber, on the other hand, contemplated it with melancholy resignation.

In the sociology of religion, as it developed in the twentieth century, this association of modernity with a decline of religion came to be known as "secularization theory." This theory proposed that modernity, both because of the spread of scientific knowledge and because modern institutions undermined the social bases of religious faith, necessarily led to secularization (understood as the progressive decline of religion in society and in the minds of individuals). This view was not based on some philosophical rejection of religion, but on various empirical data that seemed to support the view. (Significantly, many of these data came from Europe.) It should be emphasized that this theory was "value-free" (to use a Weberian term). That is, it could be held both by those who welcomed it and by those who deplored it. Thus there were any number of twentieth century Christian theologians who were far from happy about this alleged process of secularization, but who took it as scientifically established fact with which both churches and individual believers had to come to terms. A few theologians found ways of actually embracing it (such as the proponents of the briefly fashionable "death of God theology" in the 1960s-a wonderful case of "man bites dog").

What Is the Current State of Secularization in the World?

It's fair to say that secularization theory has been massively falsified by the events of the decades since World War II (which, of course, is why most sociologists of religion, with a very few holdouts, have changed their mind about the theory). As one looks over the contemporary world, it's not secularization that one sees, but an enormous explosion of passionate religious movements. For obvious reasons, most attention has been given to the resurgence of Islam. But the militant advocates of holy war, who are causing the attention, are only a small (though very worrisome) component of a much larger phenomenon. Throughout the vast Muslim world-from North Africa to Southeast Asia, as well as in the Muslim diaspora in the West-millions of people are looking to Islam to give meaning and direction to their lives. And most of this phenomenon has little to do with politics.

Arguably an even more spectacular development is the global expansion of Evangelical Protestantism, especially in its Pentecostal version. In 1906 a revival took place in Los Angeles-the so-called Azusa Street Revival-led by a charismatic black preacher whose fiery sermons rapidly built an interracial congregation. Soon members of that congregation began to "speak in tongues" (the defining marker of Pentecostalism). As missionaries from Azusa spread out across the United States and abroad, Pentecostalism gave birth to a number of growing American denominations. But the most dramatic explosion of global Pentecostalism occurred after World War II-in Latin America, in Africa, and in various parts of Asia. Today it's estimated that there are about 400 million Pentecostals worldwide. This is surely the most rapid growth of any religious movement in history. In addition to the growth of Pentecostal churches proper, there's also what has been called "Pentecostalization"-that is, the growth of charismatic "speaking in tongues," healing, and other "gifts of the spirit" in various Protestant and even Catholic churches. Nor is Pentecostalism the only form of Evangelical Protestantism that has been spreading globally. It's been estimated that there are about 100,000 Evangelical missionaries active worldwide-many from the United States, but others from Latin America, Africa, South Korea, and elsewhere in the world. There's also the broader category of "popular Protestantism"-that is, groups that aren't commonly perceived as Protestant, but whose religious and social characteristics have a Protestant flavor. The most successful of these are the Mormons, who have also grown rapidly in many developing societies around the world.

In Praise of Doubt
How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic
. Copyright (c) by Peter Berger . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are saying about this

Dallas Willard
“IN PRAISE OF DOUBT is a book of great practical wisdom by authors who have profound insight into the intellectual dynamics governing contemporary life..”
Albert Mohler
“Peter Berger along with co-author Anton Zijderveld has written… the kind of book that, well, just from the cover I would have to buy it and read it. And then to see Peter Berger’s name on it, that just clinches the deal…. he is literally without peer.”
John Wilson
“We need more books like this: books that advance an argument, and do so concisely, wittily, with great learning lightly worn.”
Os Guinness
“Brilliant yet clear, highly illuminating and often humorous, this is vintage Berger spiced with Zijderveld’s philosophical perspectives. In Praise of Doubt is essential reading for people of all faiths - and not least secularists.”

Meet the Author

Peter L. Berger is an internationally renowned sociologist and faculty member at Boston University, where in 1985 he founded its Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs. He is the author of The Social Construction of Reality, The Homeless Mind, and Questions of Faith.

Anton C. Zijderveld holds doctorates in both sociology and philosophy. He is on the faculty of Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Among his many books are The Abstract Society, On Clichés, and Reality in a Looking Glass.

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