Solomon Schimmel is professor of Jewish education and psychology at Hebrew College. He is the author of a number of books, including The Seven Deadly Sins: Jewish, Christian and Classical Reflections on Human Psychology, and numerous articles and book chapters on Jewish thought, psychology of religion and Jewish education. His newest book is The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs: Fundamentalism and the Fear of Truth (Oxford University Press).
In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Schimmel discusses how and why, even as a complete skeptic of theological claims, he still practices Orthodox Judaism. He talks about the benefits that religion, including fundamentalism, may bring a believer, such as caring and supportive communities, ethical codes, means of coping with stress and loss, celebrations of rites of passage, and a hope for life after death. He explores ways that people can experience these benefits while rejecting the unreasonable claims of religion, which he argues are especially pronounced in fundamentalism. He challenges Sam Harris’s view regarding moderate religionists making room for fundamentalism. He examines many of the ways that Christian, Jewish and Islamic fundamentalism harms society, and argues that it should be challenged in public and in private, for the sake of democracy, scientific progress and the welfare of society. And he details some strategies to encourage people to give up their harmful and false beliefs and fundamentalist commitments.