Epistemological Modesty: An Interview with Peter Berger

Epistemological Modesty: An Interview with Peter Berger

The history of Protestantism has shown that real faith, which has to do with God and Christ and redemption and resurrection and sin and forgiveness, is not just a psychological or a political activity, and also that you can have real faith without being in some sort of narrow orthodox mold…

Schleiermacher has always been a theological model not so much in the content of his thought as in his basic approach to faith, …with the understanding that one cannot simply swallow the tradition but has to enter into a reasonable dialogue with it. In one of my books I call this the “heretical imperative”–you have to choose….

…Epistemological modesty means that you believe certain things, but you’re modest about these claims. You can be a believer and yet say, I’m not really sure. I think that is a fundamental fault line.

Having read Berger’s book The Heretical Imperative more than thirty years ago (and Schleiermacher near the same time) my current observation is that even within a given congregation there are essentially two kinds of religious enthusiasts, and the difference turns on this question of tolerance for uncertainty: Some find paradox intriguing, while others find it appalling. Maybe this is what separates faith from fundamentalism. The fundamentalist has a driving need, a fear-driven need I would say, to know for sure.

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