A sociologist who turned to God, but never understood faith: Peter Berger, March 17, 1929-June 27, 2017.
When I was in graduate school many years ago, The Social Construction of Reality, by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, published in 1966, was my bible, and I was not alone. Berger and Luckmann argued that what we experience as reality is socially constructed by men and women. Over time, this construction is forgotten and the reality taken as given. It’s a good argument, but it doesn’t work very well with God. Berger acknowledged as much in a book written a few years later, A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural, published in 1970.
Where Berger was right
Berger seems right that what has failed in modernity is not a belief in God, but belief in “another reality.” Some theologians seem to have gone along with this. Paul Tillich understood the task of theology in terms of the “method of correlation,” by which he meant the interpretation of Christianity in the language of philosophical and psychological thought (p 11).
Rudolf Bultmann exaggerates, but has the right idea when he says that no one who uses electricity and listens to the radio can any longer believe in the miracle world of the New Testament. His response was to translate the Christian tradition into the contemporary language of existentialism (p. 41).
Bultmann’s definition of the disease has proven useful. Today many of us are enthralled with the things humans have made, like smart phones. (Confession: I bought my first smart phone a couple of weeks ago, and something about it is compelling.) So how should religion respond?
Berger’s answer is that we should not capitulate to modernity, but anchor belief in God in human experience. Good diagnosis, poor remedy.
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