THE OTHER SIDE OF GOD: A Polarity in World Religions by Peter L.--Ed. BerBer

THE OTHER SIDE OF GOD: A Polarity in World Religions

Email this review


Is God to be sought in a shattering confrontation with the Totally Other or in the quiet depths of one's own self--or both, or neither? A dozen members of a high-powered seminar led by sociologist Peter Berger grapple with this large, rich, and ultimately unmanageable issue, offering the reader a vast amount of expert (and often contradictory) testimony. In his introduction Berger sketches out his working dichotomy between a form of religious experience (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) where ""the divine and the human are sharply polarized"" and a mystical form, best exemplified perhaps in Buddhism, where the divine and the human are a seamless unity. Berger's fellow-scholars then take over and criticize this traditional dyad in the light of their own research. Elaine Pagels is about the only one to accept it, arguing that the canonical Christian gospels interpret Jesus' teaching, e.g., the Kingdom, in confrontational terms, whereas the Gnostic gospels view the Kingdom as a symbol for the transformation of individual consciousness. On the side of the group's disputatious majority, Michael Fishbane rejects the supposedly clear-cut distinction between pure Yahwism and pure Baalism, noting that the Kabbala works out a ""spiritual syncretism,"" borrowing the Canaanite notion that there is no ultimate differentiation separating the gods (God), man, and the world. Arthur Green points out that Hasidism pressed the doctrine of emanation so far that the Torah and institutional religion of any sort threatened to disappear. In one of several essays on Eastern religions, Taitetsu Unno suggests that Shin Buddhism transcends the opposition between the schools of Pure Land (confrontation) and Zen (interiority). And so on. The scholarship of Berger & Co. is first-rate, and the writing above average. No student of comparative religion should overlook this remarkable symposium.

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 1981
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday