A remarkable exploration of the reasons behind religious violence and solutions for stopping it.
Sacks (The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning, 2012, etc.), a British rabbi and member of the House of Lords, tackles one of history’s intractable questions: why have the world’s three monotheistic religions always been in conflict? More importantly, what can be done about it? In the first third of his work, the author uses psychology, sociology, and philosophy to tease out an answer. He explains the problems of altruistic evil and of unrestrained dualism before exploring René Girard’s theories of sibling rivalry, concluding, “[the three religions’] relationship is sibling rivalry, fraught with mimetic desire: the desire for the same thing, Abraham’s promise.” What follows is a fascinating and ingenious reinterpretation of the book of Genesis, with an emphasis on the many sibling relationships in the book. Sacks argues that, repeatedly, Scripture sets up classic mythic scenarios only to foil each expected conclusion with an unexpected reconciliation. He concludes that the whole of Genesis points to a “rejection of rejection,” an affirmation that all people are recipients of God’s love and blessing. This leads to the last and most difficult third of the book, concerning the implementation of this knowledge in solving the problem of religious violence. Sacks notes that seeing the world through the eyes of “the other” is the surest way of creating peace. He also points out the futility of continued hatred and urges others to trust in God’s ability to judge, not in our own. However, some readers may be left wondering how Sacks’ conclusions could ever be seriously heard by the world’s staunchest fundamentalists. Nonetheless, the author has contributed an artful and meaningful work on interfaith dialogue. His treatment of Scripture alone is worth a close read.
A humane, literate, and sincere book, one with something truly new to say.