WHY RELIGIOUS CONVICTIONS CAN LEAD TO EVIL ACTS: A BOOK REVIEW OF “NOT IN GOD’S NAME”.

As the politicians argue for increased military power to fight the war against terrorism, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggests a different approach– study and understand the vicious issues that divide the combatants. He says that fundamentalists have misinterpreted the holy scripts and lays out a starting point for restoring peace.

In the book, “Not in God’s Name”, the author convincingly argues the violence that develops directly from religious beliefs is not only blasphemous and altruistically evil, it also cuts against God’s basic commands of love for all humans. Mr. Sacks injects philosophical and psychological concepts to explain why and how humans start with “kin” and then socialize to form tribes and nations. Active group opinions are formulated. Different groups often collide with one another. Because there is extra bravery in numbers, and because one-on-one contact is diminished, violent acts are easier to commit. The different tribes develop a “Us versus “Them” – it is my way or the highway, mentality with little room for compromise. The concept of “dualism” (two opposed positions), sibling rivalry, role reversal (walking in the other person’s shoes), and “scapegoat” (feuding tribes agree to punish a third group or concept to deflect animosity from themselves– analogous to a “straw-man” argument) are introduced to show why “bad faith” exists between humans. Sacks’ discusses how Judaism, Christianity and Islam are the major Abrahamic Faiths (Abraham and his descendants are the major role models for spiritual development) who all share the belief that there is one God (“Monotheism”). He quotes heavily from various sacred texts and basic ideas (stories of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel and Joseph and his brothers), and then opines that much of the angst between the religions is based on misreadings of the documents. He attacks the “liberal democracy” of Western Civilizations (including the USA) where the “group was dethroned” for “individual rights”. Sack’s argues that this Western policy has led to “the collapse of the traditional family, the erosion of community”, and “the loss of national identity.” He suggests that religious extremists prey on the young people who are seeking identity and “community.” In the end, Sacks argues that there “is no route from terror to a free society” and that “altruistic evil is still evil” and that all the religions should “let go of hate.” Some may consider this to be a tough task, but Sacks sets out his position very well. I recommend this book.

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