Not In God’s Name: Con­fronting Reli­gious Violence

  • Review
By – May 20, 2015

Rab­bi Lord Jonathan Sacks is the lead­ing pub­lic Jew­ish intel­lect of our times. His bril­liant ora­to­ry, his con­tem­po­rary ren­der­ing of clas­sic Jew­ish thought into scin­til­lat­ing books, and his orig­i­nal inter­pre­ta­tions of ancient texts, have cast him as a spokesper­son for Judaism and Jew­ish val­ues in a world gone amok. Not in God’s Name is his attempt to grap­ple with the cur­rent rise in vio­lent killings based on reli­gious beliefs. Peo­ple have been killing each oth­er for cen­turies in the name of reli­gion. One might have hoped that in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry such bar­barism might have ceased. The real­i­ty that it has not ebbed but rather now resurges has gen­er­at­ed this recent Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award-win­ning text.

Rab­bi Lord Sacks is a philoso­pher. As such he goes on at great length to ana­lyze the roots of reli­gious vio­lence. He cites great thinkers from many dis­ci­plines — phi­los­o­phy, soci­ol­o­gy, his­to­ry, and psy­chol­o­gy as well as the arts and sci­ences. He is well versed in a mul­ti­tude of fields and all of this depth and breadth of learn­ing is brought to bear on an analy­sis of the whys and where­for­es of reli­gious vio­lence. He offers nov­el inter­pre­ta­tions of Bib­li­cal texts, par­tic­u­lar­ly the Joseph nar­ra­tives, and has a felic­i­tous style of writ­ing. His vocab­u­lary is dra­mat­ic and ebul­lient. The Jew­ish peo­ple, upon enter­ing Israel, are described as an amph­ic­ty­ony — a loose fed­er­a­tion of tribes led at times of emer­gency by charis­mat­ic fig­ures known as judges.

Reli­gion leads to vio­lence when it con­se­crates hatred. After thir­teen chap­ters ana­lyz­ing the roots of reli­gious vio­lence, the last two chap­ters offer lit­tle more than stan­dard ideals. Love your ene­my, let go of the hatred in your heart, and acknowl­edge that only God can mete out vengeance. Wars may be won with weapons but only ideas can win a peace. Ter­ror is idol­a­try. The vic­tims are the val­ues upon which a free soci­ety is built. Hon­or God’s Name by hon­or­ing His image, humankind.

The analy­sis is most insight­ful, though no prac­ti­cal solu­tions to the issues addressed are offered. Maybe that in itself is the essence of the prob­lem. Reli­gious­ly moti­vat­ed vio­lence,” Rab­bi Lord Sacks observes, must be fought reli­gious­ly as well as mil­i­tar­i­ly, and with pas­sion­ate inten­si­ty, for this will be one of the defin­ing bat­tles of the twen­ty-first century.”

Wal­lace Greene, Ph.D., has held sev­er­al uni­ver­si­ty appoint­ments, and cur­rent­ly writes and lec­tures on Jew­ish and his­tor­i­cal subjects.

Discussion Questions