Not In the Name of #God #Violence #Christian

Rabbi Sacks opens the book with a familiar passage from Blaise Pascal: "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious convictions." Sacks’ own opening sentence is arguably even more powerful, and it sets the tone for the entire book: "When religion turns men into murderers, God weeps." From the pages of the Bible to the pages of today’s newspaper, religiously justified violence meets our gaze. Despite the claims of divine sanction made by those who commit these acts, Sacks writes, "God speaks, sometimes in a still, small voice almost inaudible beneath the clamor of those claiming to speak on his behalf. What he says at such a time is: Not in My Name." (p. 3)

Not in God’s Name is a passionate exploration of the religious sources of violence, warning people of faith of the danger of legitimizing their own lust to destroy while appealing to divine endorsements. While it is all too easy for us to see motes in the eyes of adherents of other faiths, we continue to resist seeing the beams in our own eyes. Rabbi Sacks provides a mirror so we can take another look at ourselves. And, by doing so, he helps us understand the tragedy of our world’s religious justification of violence. As he says in this new book: "To invoke God to justify violence against the innocent is not an act of sanctity but of sacrilege. It is a kind of blasphemy. It is to take God’s name in vain." (p. 5)

Sacks uses the term "altruistic evil" to describe violence committed for religious reasons while recognizing that the term includes causes of evil that go beyond religion. All sorts of movements, for example, which see themselves as ultimately benevolent (especially those Utopian ideologies that promise a perfect society in the long-run) have justified all sorts of cruelties, repression and violence in the short-term. His discussion of the most common three ways in which violence is linked to religion de-mythologizes some secular arguments against religion as the principal cause of violence in the world today (in fact, studies show that religion is not by any means the primary cause of violence), while it also corrects misguided and inaccurate arguments that try to minimize any connection between the motives of certain military and terrorist groups and their religious faith. He also critiques the "in-group biases" that operate within us all: "Groups, like individuals, have a need for self-esteem and they will interpret facts to confirm their sense of superiority." (p. 11) This is as true for religious groups as for any other. Sacks’ discussion of this bias may help us comprehend how it is possible (according to a study not cited in Sacks’ book) for only 11% of Kuwaitis and 3% of Pakistanis to believe that those who carried out the 9/11 attacks were Arab Muslims. Of course, Christians have our own biases. Rabbi Sacks reminds us that such biases run deep and can affect people of any faith including his own Judaism.

Throughout this book, Sacks’ analysis reflects an erudite mind fully engaged with philosophy, politics and social studies of the most rigorous kind. It is when he turns his attention and all of these resources to a theological engagement with the connection between religious faith and violence that he makes, what I believe is, his greatest contribution in this book. After reflecting on a variety of ways that various people and states have attempted to intervene in the violence of our time, the spread of religious and racial hatred, he says, "The work to be done now is theological." (p. 20)

He continues:

"As Jews, Christians and Muslims, we have to be prepared to ask the most uncomfortable questions. Does the God of Abraham want his disciples to kill for his sake? Does he demand human sacrifice? Does he rejoice in holy war? Does he want us to hate our enemies and terrorize unbelievers? Have we read our sacred texts correctly? What is God saying to us, here, now? We are not prophets but we are their heirs and we are not bereft of guidance on these fateful issues." (p. 21)

I cannot think of a more important new book for people of faith to read and study together than this book. It is so important, in fact, that I am tempted to walk through its contents. But a blog of thousands of words is no longer a blog, and you would be better off investing your time in reading Sacks’ book anyway. I do encourage you to read this book, especially Jonathan Sacks’ exploration of why the relationship between Judaism, Christianity and Islam has been so often so toxic and how the very texts that divide us can provide a solution to the problem.

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