Monday, December 28, 2015

'Not in God's Name: Confronting Religious Violence'

I purchased Not in God's Name: Confronting Religious Violence because one writer says it is "one of this decade’s most important books." After reading it, I heartily second that assessment.

If you care about the future of peace, religion and religious freedom, or if you are interested in Old Testament exegesis, this book is so worth your time. 

Below are some of my favorite passages:

Science, technology, the free market and the liberal democratic state ... do not and cannot answer the three questions every reflective individual will ask at some time in his or her life: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? ... The 21st century has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.  p. 13

Violence is born of the need for identity and the formation of groups. These lead to conflict and war. But war is normal. Altruistic evil is not normal. Suicide bombings, the targeting of civilians and the murder of schoolchildren are not normal. Violence may be possible wherever there is an Us and a Them. But radical violence emerges only when we see the Us as all-good and the Them as all-evil, heralding a war between the children of light and the forces of darkness. That is when altruistic evil is born.  p. 48

As Jews, Christians and Muslims, we have to be prepared to ask the most uncomfortable questions. Does the God of Abraham want his disciples to kill for his sake? Does he demand human sacrifice? Does he rejoice in holy war? Does he want us to hate our enemies and terrorize unbelievers? Have we read our sacred texts correctly? What is God saying to us, here, now?

When people accuse others of seeking to control the world, it may be that they are unconsciously projecting what they themselves want but do not wish to be accused of wanting. If you seek to understand what a group truly intends, look at the accusations it levels against its enemies.  p. 83

The face that is truly ours is the one we see reflected back at us by God. ... Peace comes when we see our reflection in the face of God and let go of the desire to be someone else. p. 138-139

Love is not unproblematic. Given to one but not another, to one more than another, it creates tensions that can turn to violence. ... the message of Genesis is that love is necessary but not sufficient. You also need sensitivity to those who feel unloved. p. 145

On the surface, Genesis is a series of stories in which the elder is supplanted by the younger. Beneath the surface, in a series of counter-narratives, it tells the opposite story, subverting the whole frame of mind that says, 'Either you or me. if you win, I lose. If I win, you lose.' That may be true of scarce goods like wealth or power. It is not true of divine love, which is governed by the principle of plenitude. p. 172

A humanitarian as opposed to a group ethic requires the most difficult of all imaginative exercises: role reversal—putting yourself in the place of those you despise, or pity, or simply do not understand. … Empathy across boundaries can sometimes threaten religion at its roots, because one of the sacred tasks of religion is boundary maintenance. … Biblical ethics is a prolonged tutorial in role reversal. … Memory and role reversal are the most powerful resources we have to cure the darkness that can sometimes occlude the human soul.  p. 183-84, 88

When a single culture is imposed on all, suppressing the diversity of languages and traditions, this is an assault on our God-given differences. p. 193

A chosen people is the opposite of a master race, first, because it is not a race but a covenant; second, because it exists to serve God, not to master others. A master race worships itself; a chosen people worships something beyond itself. p. 198

You cannot love God without first honoring the universal dignity of humanity as the image and likeness of the universal God. … Search for the trace of God in the face of the Other. Never believe that God is defined by and confined to the people like you. p. 200, 203

For all the natural pride we feel in being part of our group—the people of the covenant, a holy nation—we are brought face to face with the fact that others may sometimes respond to the word of God better than we do. p. 204

Religion is at its best when it relies on strength of argument and example. It is at its worst when it seeks to impose truth by force. … Religion — as understood by Abraham and those who followed him—is at its best when it resists the temptation of politics and opts instead for influence. For what it tell us is that civilizations are judged not by power but by their concern for the powerless; not by wealth but by how they treat the poor; not when they seek to become invulnerable but when they care for the vulnerable. Religion is not the voice of those who sit on earthly thrones but of those who, not seeking to wild power, are unafraid to criticize it when it corrupts those who hold it and diminishes those it is held against. p. 234, 236

If vengeance belongs to God, it does not belong to us. p. 247

The entire ethical-legal principle on which the Hebrew Bible is based is that we own nothing. Everything — the land, its produce, power, sovereignty, children and life itself — belongs to God. We are mere trustees, guardians, on his behalf. We possess but we do not own. That is the basis of the infrastructure of social justice that made the Bible unique in its time and still transformative today. p. 254

Altruism misdirected can lead to evil: that has been the thesis of this book. That is why the West must recover its ideals. p. 256

Hate harms the hated but it destroys the hater. There is no exception. p. 261

We must put the same long-term planning into strengthening religious freedom as was put into the spread of religious extremism. … We must train a generation of religious leaders and educators who embrace the world in its diversity, and sacred texts in their maximal generosity. p. 262

We are each blessed by God, each precious in his sight, each with our role in his story, each with our own song in the music of humankind. To be a child of Abraham is to learn to respect the other children of Abraham even if their way is not ours. We know that we are loved. That must be enough. To insist that being loved entails that others be unloved is to fail to understand love itself. p. 264


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