Sermon for 3 Epiphany Yr C

Read my sermon for January 23, 2022 here:

Sermon for 2 Epiphany Yr C

Book Review: Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence

Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence

Author: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Publisher: Schocken Books, paperback, 305 pages, including Acknowledgements, Endnotes and Bibliography

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

The Author

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, at the time this volume was published, was the award-winning author of more than 30 books. He was a frequent contributor to his own website, radio, TV, and the press around the world and taught at universities in Britain, the United States, and Israel. Rabbi Sacks received many awards for his work, including the Jerusalem Prize, and the Templeton Prize. He served as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013. 

Contents

This volume is made up of three parts, each containing four to six chapters. Each chapter begins with a quotation from someone, which highlights the chapter’s theme. Part One is titled Bad Faith, and includes the following chapters: 1 Altruistic Evil, 2 Violence and Identity, 3 Dualism, 4 The Scapegoat, 5 Sibling Rivalry. Part Two is titled Siblings, and includes the following chapters: 6 The Half-Brothers, 7 Wrestling with the Angel, 8 Role Reversal, 9 The Rejection of Rejection. Part Three is titled The Open Heart, and includes the following chapters: 10 The Stranger, 11 The Universality of Justice, the Particularity of Love, 12 Hard Texts, 13 Relinquishing Power, 14 Letting Go of Hate, 15 The Will to Power or the Will to Life. 

Brief Observations

Over the course of several years, I have been a frequent reader of Rabbi Sacks’s website and have listened to his talks and watched his videos. I have always found his knowledge, wisdom and insights inspiring and profound. Rabbi Sacks is indeed a most erudite scholar. This volume is one of those rare books that should not be read in haste. The contents of this volume are very profound. My experience of reading this volume was discovering fascinating insights on almost (a little hyperbole here, but not much!) every page! Rabbi Sacks had the gift of communicating complex theological, philosophical, and historical content in such a manner that inspires readers from almost every background—whether lay, clergy or academic. Sadly, Rabbi Sacks died on November 7, 2020, aged 72. 

So, to spark interest among readers of this review, I’ve chosen several insightful quotations—hoping that readers will be motivated to purchase their copy of this volume, or borrow it from the library. 

Quotations

“A society is judged by the way it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members. Life is sacred. Murder is both a crime and a sin.” (p. 4)

“A century ago Christians made up 20 per cent of the population of the Middle East. Today the figure is 4 per cent. What is happening is the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing.” (p. 7) 

“Because the world is changing faster than at any time in history, and since change disorients, it leads to a sense of loss and fear that can turn rapidly into hate.” (p. 21)

“Tomorrow’s world is born in what we teach our children today. That is what this book is about. It begins with the simplest of questions: What makes people violent in the first place?” (p. 26)

“Vast research since the events of 11 September 2001 has shown that jihadists and suicide bombers…are suffering…from what they see as the emptiness, meaninglessness, materialism and narcissism of the contemporary West and the corruption of secular regimes in the Islamic world.” (p. 42)

“Pathological dualism does three things. It makes you dehumanise and demonise your enemies. It leads you to see yourself as a victim. And 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.” (p. 54)

“Antisemitism is important because it illustrates more clearly than any other phenomenon the psychological and social dynamic of hate. It is, as it always has been, the first warning signal of a world order in danger of collapse. Today the Arab and Islamic world is awash with Judeophobia. An Anti-Defamation League study released in May 2014 found…that 74 per cent of those surveyed in the Middle East and North Africa held antisemitic attitudes” (p. 70)

“Our most primal instincts of bonding within the group occur when it confronts an external enemy. The hate that begins with Jews never ends with them. No free society was ever built on hate.” (p. 85) 

“Group identity need not lead to violence, but there is a mutant form, pathological dualism, that divides the world into two—our side, the children of light, and the other side, the children of darkness.” (p. 101)

“Long before the birth of Islam, many rabbis in the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods, from the first century CE onwards, were called Ishmael, hardly likely—indeed impossible—if Ishmael were a rejected figure in Judaism. At the core of the Bible’s value system is that cultures, like individuals, are judged by their willingness to extend care beyond the boundary of family, tribe, ethnicity and nation.” (p. 123)

“There is no need to want someone else’s blessing. We each have our own.” (p. 170)

“A master race produces monumental buildings, triumphal inscriptions and a literature of self-congratulation. Israel, to a degree unique in history, produced a literature of almost uninterrupted self-criticism.” (pp. 198-199)

“Hard texts need interpreting; without it, they lead to violence. That is why fundamentalism is so dangerous and so untraditional. It refers to many things in different contexts, but one of them is the tendency to read texts literally and apply them directly: to go straight from revelation to application without interpretation.” (p. 208)

“R. Samuel Edels said that the revelation at Sinai took place in the presence of 600,000 Israelites because the Torah can be interpreted in 600,000 different ways.” (p. 218) 

“Religion seeks truth, politics deals in power. Religion aims at unity, liberal democracy is about the mediation of conflict and respect for diversity. Religion refuses to compromise, politics is the art of compromise. Religion aspires to the ideal, politics lives in the real, the less-than-ideal. Religion is about the truths that do not change, politics is about the challenges that constantly change.” (p. 229)

“Hate harms the hated but it destroys the hater. There is no exception.” (p. 261)

“Today Jews, Christians and Muslims must stand together, in defence of humanity, the sanctity of life, religious freedom and the honour of God himself.” (p. 262)

Biblical scholars and clergy as well as laity will also appreciate Rabbi Sacks’s masterpiece interpretations of several biblical texts. 

This volume should be in every theological school, and included as a major resource in interfaith courses and dialogues. Highly recommended! 

Sermon for Baptism of Our Lord Yr C

Read my sermon for January 9, 2022 here:

Sermon for Christmas Eve Yr C

Read my sermon for December 24, 2021 here:

Sermon for 2 Christmas Yr C

Read my sermon for January 2, 2022 here: