Peter Berger on Gynecologists and Biblical Scholars

Eminent sociologist of religion Peter Berger has penned a very interesting post at The American Interest asking, parabolically, how gynecologists can enjoy intercourse.  More to his point: how can a biblical scholar who examines the Bible according to historical-critical method also be a person of faith.  Bart Ehrman has failed at holding these tensions together, as have several of my closest friends.

I have not.  In fact, I would find it disconcerting if the Bible were less parabolic, obtuse, and paradoxical than real life is.  And life is, if nothing else, parabolic, obtuse, and paradoxical (at least in my experience).

Berger goes on to muse about the Society for Biblical Literature, now under the leadership of my friend, John Kutsko.  John is sailing the SBL through some choppy waters these days.  There was the divorce and then impending remarriage with the American Academy of Religion.  And now a high profile Jewish scholar has publicly resigned because he feels that the encroachment of evangelicals threatens the “critical” nature of the SBL’s scholarship.

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Peter Berger on Postmodernity

“Under modern conditions, where almost everyone lives in communities in which diversity has taken the place of consensus, certainty is much more difficult to come by. Relativism can be described as a world view that not only acknowledges but celebrates the absence of consensus. So-called post-modernist theorists like to speak of narratives and, in principle, every narrative is as valued as any other. The moral end result of this world view can be captured by imagining a television interview with a cannibal. “You believe that people should be cooked and eaten. I certainly don’t want to be judgmental, but the audience will be interested. Tell us more.” (Laughter.) This is not all that fictitious.


Fundamentalists respond to the same situation of certainty-scarcity by seeking to regain absolute certainty about every aspect of their world view. No doubt is permitted. Whoever disagrees is an enemy to be converted, shunned or, in the extreme case, removed. The last two centuries of history have made it very clear that there are secular as well as religious fundamentalisms. Both relativism and fundamentalism threaten the basic moral order without which no society, least of all a liberal democracy, can exist: relativism because it makes morality a capricious game, fundamentalism because it balkanizes society into mutually hostile camps that cannot communicate with each other,” – Peter Berger, in a dialogue on Relativism and Fundamentalism: Is There A Middle Ground?

I think he wrongly equates postmodern theory with radical relativism.  But, I should know, that’s a common misperception.

HT: Andrew Sullivan