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Questions of Faith: A Skeptical Affirmation of Christianity
 
 

Questions of Faith: A Skeptical Affirmation of Christianity [Kindle Edition]

Peter Berger

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Review

"This book gives us the mature reflection of a really major contributor to issues of faith in our contemporary situation. Peter Berger is a master of the art of communication who educates his readers by including them in his own inner conversation in all its honesty and with repeated flashes of clarification and illumination. Once again his is a voice that has to be attended to." David Martin, Emeritus Professor, London School of Economics <!––end––> "[T]his is a lively work of apologetic that will be found valuable by believers and open–minded seekers alike." Church of England Newspaper

Review

"This book gives us the mature reflection of a really major contributor to issues of faith in our contemporary situation. Peter Berger is a master of the art of communication who educates his readers by including them in his own inner conversation in all its honesty and with repeated flashes of clarification and illumination. Once again his is a voice that has to be attended to." David Martin, Emeritus Professor, London School of Economics <!––end––> "[T]his is a lively work of apologetic that will be found valuable by believers and open–minded seekers alike." Church of England Newspaper

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2242 KB
  • Print Length: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (1 Sep 2003)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S. r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000RMRUA4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #558,709 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a totally personal review 29 Nov 2005
By Linda - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I do not pretend to understand all that I have read. I need to read the book again (and look up some key words). I have not read much theology or philosophy. I do not offer this as a book review, but as a personal reaction to reading this book.

But after my reading, still, the only thing that is for certain is the `hunger for God'. I was wanting more certitude, but, alas, it was not there.

However some big questions remain that still resonate as a mystery even in a time (and a mind--that is my mind) filled with science.

"He has risen." If this event did occur, and as Berger states the apostles certainly believed it did, then....that would alter everything. It is the one event which has to have occurred for Christianity to be anything beyond ethical living and seeking the power of love (as wonderful in themselves as these two things are).

And the question of evil: If there is evil (and not just natural occurrences that are perceived as `evil' because of the pain they cause) -- evil of human beings inflicting pain-causing acts on other humans and on the world in general (e.g., other animals) -- then, can a physical universe really explain such a thing? That haunted me.

And love. Can neurons in our brain really explain such a reality that is not just felt by an individual but experienced by more than one?

I was very struck by Berger's reference to Socrates, and how `death was a friend' and `natural'. That indeed was how I experienced it when I lived with a dying person. I cannot explain it more than that, but it was acceptance of what the reality was. It was not fear or fighting of death (at least not my own). And I do not see death as cruel, it is only death. I do not see it as unacceptable nor do I see that perfection (a world without death) is anything to ever expect from life. Perfection is a construct of the mind, and nothing more. (These thoughts of mine do seem to differ from Berger's.)

Yet Jesus feared death. Why? If he knew death was a pathway, then why? Or did he really just fear pain -- since he certainly endured that.

Socrates taking hemlock is certainly different from crucifixion.

What is the Greek thing anyhow? (The reference to this near the end of the book made me realized I have more reading to do.)

I have more questions than answers, but yet I am thankful for the journey, unsatisfying as it is in terms of reliable answers.

All I know is the hunger.

And the hope:

"Let me, in conclusion, refer to three Aramaic sentences that were transported into the Greek text of the New Testament. The first are words spoken by Jesus as he raised from the dead the twelve-year-old daughter of Jairu: "Talitha, cumi," "Little girl, arise" (Mark 5:41). The second, to which we referred before, are words spoken by Jesus from the cross: "Eli, eli, lama sabachtani?." "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). And the third (probably liturgical text) was introduced into some texts at the conclusion of the last book of the New Testament, which in the usual English translations simply reads "Come, Lord Jesus" -- in Aramaic, "Maranatha," "Come, Lord," or possibly, "The Lord is coming" (Revelation 22:20). One could say that the entire Gospel is contained in these three archaic sentences, dating from the very beginning of Christian history: With Christ an immensely powerful process of redemption has been released into the world. In Christ's suffering and death on the cross, at the extreme point of God's humiliation (kenosis), God both shares all the pain of creation and inaugurates its repair. And Christ will return as victor and restore the creation to the glory for which God intended it." (p.175-76)

So I am left with the longing which really is also the hope. But that is something. I will continue, I am sure, to pray when I need to, and for prayer to be a healing experience.

Berger is a wonderful writer -- really he is a storyteller. You can imagine him in your living room talking the book, as if talking to a friend.
22 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars God Beats Up on Those Who Ask Useless Questions 23 Dec 2003
By Wayne C. Lusvardi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
God Beats Up Those Who Ask Useless Questions
Questions of Faith is a non-conventional commentary of the ancient Christian Apostle's creed. From the table of contents and the chapter subheadings the book appears like another dull commentary not meant to disturb the Christian theologian or the average believer from their faith.
Near the end of Questions of Faith, Berger relates the story of Martin Luther's reply to a young man who asked him how God occupied himself in eternity. Luther replied, "God sits under a tree and cuts branches and rods, to beat up people who ask useless questions." Scattered throughout the book Questions of Faith are what Berger finds to be humanly unacceptable notions about the Christian religion that he believes need to be pummeled (i.e., "beat up") mainly because of their unthinking acceptance of suffering, death, and evil.
Berger calls his book an exercise of free enterprise in "lay theology" that is written for similarly "unaccredited" people. By questioning the theology produced by professional theologians Berger asks probing questions about religion without being bound by tradition, church, scripture, or even personal experience. This is a well-written work that, nonetheless in parts, is not for the unserious reader. A warning must be issued that there are some glaring typographical errors in the book. One may need to look up words not used in ordinary conversation. However, at points Berger flashes a riveting summary of a complex theological issue with an illuminating one-sentence proposition or even a meaningful joke.
Questions of Faith won't likely be attractive to what Berger calls "Golden Rule" Christians who embrace the images of "gentle Jesus," the exemplar and teacher contained in so much Protestant Christian literature. Nor will it appeal to those "New Age" religious seekers of what Berger calls "The Mythic Matrix," defined as a childlike belief in the one-ness of God, nature, and man. Neither would it resonate with those academics and so-called liberals who reduce religion to mere ethics or diversity, to some inner psychoanalytic conversation, or some Marxist egalitarian view of heaven on earth.
Berger's theological method is to weave into his commentary a number of what might be called null hypotheses that he rejects because he finds them inhuman. Below I have excerpted some of the taken-for-granted theological notions that Berger rejects. I will leave it to the reader to find out why Berger rejects these propositions.
1. Religion is supposed to be necessary as the basis for morality.
2. Religion demands submission to God's will, even in the face of the innocent suffering of children.
3. Religion may seek to console us all by saying that eventually we will be absorbed into some ocean of cosmic divinity (i.e., the mythic matrix).
4. Religion offers certainty in scriptures, spiritual experiences, and in institutions from the chaos of life.
5. Religion provides powerful symbols for the exigencies of human existence.
6. High religion says man is saved, not by works, but by God's grace and forgiveness.
7. Both religious and atheistic eschatologies (i.e., world views) often claim to know the course of history.
8. Religionists, particularly of the orthodox and neo-orthodox schools of religion, often claim that God has spoken to them directly -- or through scriptures God has spoken to them directly.
9. Religion must say no to every freedom-denying scientism or any Buddhist understanding that all reality is non-self (an-atta), and which results in a denial of the existence of the autonomous and responsible self.
10. The collection of Jesus' sayings constituting what we know as the Sermon on the Mount forms the moral and ethical basis for the organization of society.
11. The criteria distinguishing true and untrue religion asserted mainly by academics and liberal North American Christians is whether a religious tradition induces its adherents to cultivate selfishness and altruism.
12. Petitionary prayers are selfish and therefore to be eschewed.
13. The atonement is defined in virtually all strands of Christian thought as the process by which God forgives mankind. 14. The conception of original sin is as an inescapable part of the human condition, of which I should feel guilty.
After reading Questions of Faith the reader will likely be left with the lasting impression that the theological thought police and the totalitarian brainwashers didn't have to "beat up" Berger to get him to provide programmed answers to often-useless theological questions. Perhaps it is fitting to close this review with one of Berger's characteristic jokes:
"A Russian legend has it that there were three holy men who lived on an island, engaged in constant prayer and works of compassion. The bishop under whose jurisdiction the island fell was informed that these men were completely ignorant of the doctrines and rituals of the Church. He found this fact scandalous. He visited the island and spent some time teaching these men the basic creeds and prayers of the Church. He then left the island. As his boat was getting away from the island he noticed, to his amazement, that the three holy men were following the boat, walking on the water. They reached the boat and explained that they had forgotten the words of the Lord's Prayer. The bishop told them that they should not worry about this - they did not need these words" (Questions of Faith, page 113).
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking for a group 9 Oct 2009
By Ladybug - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this book for an adult Sunday School class. If we weren't reviewing it in class, I would find it too tedious for any useful reflection. The author is very thorough, and he asks many of the same questions that your average believer asks in the course of a lifetime (although many are unwilling to admit it!) Then he provides some background to consider possible answers or further objections. My biggest objection to his style is that many times he includes the thinking of an individual to illustrate a point. In trying to be concise, he often oversimplifies the individual in question without qualifying his summary perspective as not being comprehensive. Often, in class, we ended up discussing the many other perspectives of a particular individual rather than the point the author was trying to make. What I really DID like, though, is that he never forced answers on the reader. Sometimes, he would come to a conclusion, but he made it very clear this was worked for him personally. Other times, he just left the question open-ended. All in all, though, I would not recommend this book very highly.
4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very persuasive work 8 May 2007
By JOSEPH OLEARY - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I found this book very sympathetic, very honest and very convincing. Berger is a sociologist, a lay theologian, but his reflections are seasoned and tempered, and reflect a quiet scholarship. He gives voice to what might be called the average liberal understanding of the theologically literate Christian, in the wake of Schleiermacher and Bultmann. Accepting that Jesus did not know or say he was God, Berger interprets subsequent church doctrine in a mild and dehellenized way, leaving the divine identity of Jesus rather obscure and ineffable. Zealots will dismiss this as a jaded and out-of-date liberalism, but it seems to me that the effort to banish it totally from the Church in the name of a full-shilling orthodoxy is counter-productive. The most successful theologian of the last century is Rudolf Bultmann, and his ghost will not easily be banished from the palaces of orthodoxy. A revisioning of the Incarnation is needed for many reasons: the results of historical scholarship, the problematization of doctrine as expressed in the language of metaphysics, and the need to set Christ in relation to the religions of humankind. Berger knows the score on all these fronts, and yet he presents a Christ for today who is both reasonably orthodox and credible.
11 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars God Beats Up on People Who Ask Useless Questions 24 Nov 2003
By Wayne Lusvardi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
God Beats Up on People Who Ask Useless Questions (Luther)
Or:
Prolegomena to any Future Eschatology
That may Represent Itself as Humanly Acceptable (Berger)
An interpretive paraphrase of some propositions of religion from a reading of:
Peter L. Berger
Questions of Faith: A Skeptical Affirmation of Christianity
(Blackwell Publishing, 2004)
1. Religion is supposed to be necessary as the basis for morality. No thanks! With admirable exceptions here and there, religions over the centuries have not been famous for their moral excellence. Religion has been shown as not necessary for morality because moral judgment is grounded not in the imperative mode (do this, do that) but in the indicative mode (see this, look at that) [p. 164]. Morality is perceptual. The historical record shows that some of the greatest religious figures engaged in really dubious behavior (Luther the anti-semite), some were downright monstrous (Medici Popes) - while agnostics and atheists have been morally admirable. There are atheist saints.
2. Religion demands submission to God's will, even in the face of the innocent suffering of children. No thanks. This is not humanly acceptable. I submit to God who does not will the death of innocent children.
3. Religion may seek to console us all by saying that eventually we will be absorbed into some ocean of cosmic divinity (i.e., the mythic matrix). No thanks. To absorb those who suffer into an ultimate reality in which all individuality, uniqueness, and the irreplaceableness of persons, and the infinite preciousness of children, is lost is but another version of death.
4. Religion offers certainty in scriptures, spiritual experiences, and in institutions from the chaos of life. No thanks to the certitude purveyors and certainty wallahs. Scripture is inspiring, but not inerrant, religious experience of the holy spirit has been found to be inducible by social manipulation, and totalistic religious institutions can be replaced by totalistic secular institutions (e.g., big tent politics).
5. Religion provides powerful symbols for the exigencies of human existence. No thanks. To be sure, it does, but there are other (competitive) sources for such symbols.
6. High religion says man is saved, not by works, but by God's grace and forgiveness. No thanks. Some notion of damnation is necessary if one affirms the justice of God in the face of evil. Nothing short of damnation will be adequate for the perpetrators of the Holocaust. None of us, and certainly none of the victims, should be urged to forgive them.
7. Both religion and atheism often claims to know the course of history. No thanks. Those who ascribe to the popular eschatology -- rapture, end times -- or who claim to know what the secular course of history is, then proceed to help it along by their own action typically will only add to the endless accumulation of suffering, as seen in the great Marxist experiments.
8. Religionists, particularly of the orthodox and neo-orthodox schools of religion, often claim that God has spoken to them directly, or through scriptures, God has spoken to them directly. No thanks. Most of us may be considered the metaphysically underprivileged, as it were, and must acknowledge that God has not spoken to us in such a direct manner. His address to us, if that is what it is, comes to us in a much more mediated manner. It is always mediated. It is mediated through this or that experience, and most importantly it is mediated through encounters with the scriptures and with the institution that transmits the tradition. To proceed as if one had spoken to God directly is to base one's existence on a lie. It seems plausible to propose that, if God exists, He would not want us to lie.
9. Religion must say no to every freedom-denying scientism or any Buddhist understanding that all reality is non-self (an-atta) denies the existence of the autonomous self, because that is a denial of freedom. In the perspective of the Biblical faith the self is not an illusion, neither is the empirical world, because both are creations of God. It is possible to affirm this faith in a threefold no to the Buddha's Three Universal Truths: All reality is not impermanence, because at its heart is the God who is the plenitude of being in time and eternity. All reality is not suffering because God's creation is ultimately good and because God is acting to redeem (repair) those parts of creation, especially humanity, where this goodness has been disturbed. And all reality is not non-self, because the self is the image of God, not because it is itself divine but because it exists by virtue of God's address.
10. The collection of Jesus' sayings constituting what we know as the Sermon on the Mount forms the moral and ethical basis for the organization of society. No thanks! Any human society that would organize itself on the basis of the Sermon's unrealistic demands would promptly lapse into chaos. For goodness to result we must get our hands dirty and we must recognize that most of our actions have unintended consequences. We may desire good ends and employ good means, and nevertheless the results may be unbearably evil. Jesus as a great teacher and exemplar is eminently uninteresting, and we can do well without him.
11. The criteria distinguishing true and untrue religion is asserted mainly by academics and liberal North American Christians as whether a religious tradition induces its adherents to cultivate selfishness and altruism. No thanks! The weakness of this criterion can be seen by transferring it from religion to, say, physics: is one to accept or reject a discovery in physics on the basis of a physicist's moral qualities? Does the theory of relativity depend on Einstein having been a nice man? If religion has anything to do with reality - transcendent reality - then the test of it being true does not depend on the "saintliness" of its representations.
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