"Not In God's Name" (A book for you)

June 26, 2016

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is a global religious leader, philosopher and author.  He is a moral voice for our time.  A recent book of his, "Not In God's Name - Confronting Religious Violence "(Schocken Books, 2015) is well worth reading.  Here are some thoughts to whet your mind's appetite.

All three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have engaged in violent behaviour from ages past and it continues in some forms even today. Jews fight Palestinians, Christians fight pro-choice advocates, gays and Socialists, while some Muslims fight infidels. All three also fight within their own houses: liberals vs. conservatives,  orthodox vs. non-orthodox, Protestant vs. Catholic, Shia vs. Sunni.

Violence  becomes the accepted option when "pathological dualism" is in play, says Sacks. While not all dualism is wrong or bad, this type certainly is, because it functions within the "Us vs. Them" paradigm, where "violence becomes both a justified revenge and the necessary protection of your group."  Sacks says that pathological dualism does three things: 

1) It makes you dehumanise and demonise your enemies. Dehumanisation destroys empathy and sympathy. It shuts down the emotions that prevent us from doing harm.

2) It leads you to see yourself as a victim. Victimhood deflects moral responsibility. It leads people to say: "It wasn’t our fault, it was theirs."

3) It allows you to commit altruistic evil, killing in the name of the God of life, hating in the name of the God of love and practising cruelty in the name of the God of compassion. It is a virus that attacks the moral sense. Altruistic evil recruits good people to a bad cause. It turns ordinary human beings into murderers in the name of high ideals.

Too bad we forget that all humans are God's offspring.  Too bad we forget that "every human being, regardless of colour, culture, class or creed, was created in the image and likeness of God."  Too bad we forget that Jesus came to break down walls and bring peace.

Will we allow our faith to "strengthen, not damage, our shared humanity?" asks Sacks.  It sounds simple but more often than not, we dehumanize our opponents ("the other"), then call them our enemies, which leads to legitimizing violence for the sake of God and ultimate good.  "Faith," says Sacks, "is God’s call to see his face in the face of the Other. But that needs a theology of the Other" which is what he offers in this book.  Buy it!  Read it!



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