From the atrocities in New York and Washington, DC on 11 September 2001 onwards, with the unrelenting, religiously laced violence in the Middle East and elsewhere, and acts of religiously fuelled terrorism worldwide, a virtual cottage industry has developed around studies on the relationship between violence and religion. Anticipated by Mark Juergensmeyer’s influential and widely translated (into French, Italian, Spanish, German, Japanese) edited volume Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise in Religious Violence, 3rd edn (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000, 2003), the post-9/11 period has seen a proliferation of books with titles like Sacred Fury: Understanding Religious Violence, by Charles Selengut (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira/Bowman and Littlefield, 2003); The Demonic Turn: The Power of Religion to Inspire or Restrain Violence, by Lloyd Steffen (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim, 2003); The Destructive Power of Religion: Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, 4 vols, edited by J. Harold Ellens (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004); Religion, Terrorism and Globalization. Nonviolence: A New Agenda, edited by K. K. Kuriakose (New York: Nova Science, 2006); Religion and Violence in South Asia: Theory and Practice, edited by John R. Hinnells and Richard King (London: Routledge, 2006); Gewalt als Gottesdienst: Religionskriege im Zeitalter der Globalisierung, by Hans G. Kippenberg (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2008), translated by Brian McNeil as Violence as Worship: Religious Wars in the Age of Globalization (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011); Religion, Fundamentalism, and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue, edited by Andrew L. Gluck (Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press, 2010); and Princeton Readings in Religion and Violence, edited by M. Juergensmeyer and Margo Kitts (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011). To this by-no-means exhaustive list the prolific Jonathan Sacks’ engaging volume, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, must be added, albeit with two immediate qualifications. First, Sacks draws upon none of those other listed volumes, with the exception of the two by Juergensmeyer. Instead, in discussing the relation of violence to ritual sacrifice, he makes significant use of several earlier works of René Girard, particularly his classic Violence and the Sacred, translated [from the French] by Patrick Gregory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977). This first qualification is related to the second. The distinctively rabbinic approach Sacks takes to the subject distinguishes his book from all the above-listed volumes. Here ‘rabbinic’ is meant in its richest, traditional sense inasmuch as Sacks not only draws routinely upon talmudic texts, Rashi, and Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah to make his points, but he follows their hermeneutic example of appealing first and foremost to the Hebrew scriptures for the narrative paradigms that form the framework for his analysis of the fateful propensity that monotheistic religion often displays of leading its adherents to commit violence. Like Girard, whose investigation of the ‘sacrificial crisis’, and whose theorization of religiously motivated fraternal strife, involved appeals to the Cain–Abel and Jacob–Esau myths alongside a host of Greek, Roman, and other comparably archetypal examples, Sacks looks to the conflicts between brothers recounted in the book of Genesis to explain the tension between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In his view, this tension did not arise with the historical emergences of the latter two traditions in their ‘competition for “most favoured faith in the eyes of Abraham’s God”’ (p. 102); rather, the tension was present from the start, pre-programmed long before Christianity or Islam emerged, in the scriptural dramas of Cain versus Abel, Isaac versus Ishmael, Jacob versus Esau: ‘What if the Hebrew Bible understood, as did Freud and Girard, as did Greek and Roman myth, that sibling rivalry is the most primal form of violence? … What if it turned out to be God’s way of saying to us what he said to Cain: that violence in a sacred cause is not holy but an act of desecration? What if God were saying: Not in My Name?’ (p. 103; emphasis added). For all the considerable merits of Not in God’s Name, including the manifestly good will with which it is written (e.g. ‘Hate makes us slaves; therefore let it go’; p. 251), one reads it with the sad hunch that it will never affect, let alone be read by, those who would benefit the most from contemplating its reconciliatory and pacifistic message. This is true of supersessionist Christians, but even more so of extremist Islamists who are trained to dismiss the same Hebrew scriptures on which Sacks relies (not to mention the Gospels as well) as having been corrupted through taḥrīf (alteration, forgery; e.g. Qur’ān 2:75; 4:46; 5:13). It also seems premature and hyperbolic to pronounce Pope Francis, among all the popes, the greatest improver of Jewish–Christian relations, ‘greater even than’ John Paul II (p. 261), on the basis of a statement by Francis on 12 September 2013, thanking the Jews for having maintained their faith in God through all their trials over the centuries. This was not, as Sacks suggests, ‘the first time that a pope has publicly recognised that in staying true to their faith, Jews were being loyal to God’ (p. 262). John Paul—of whom the Anti-Defamation League declared, upon his death, that ‘more change for the better took place in his 27 year Papacy than in the nearly 2000 years before’—spoke even more boldly in his 13 April 1986 speech in the Rome synagogue, which he was the first pope ever to visit: ‘The Jewish religion is not “extrinsic” to us [i.e. Christians], but … is “intrinsic” to our own religion’. …You are our dearly beloved … elder brothers,’ and so the Jewish–Christian relation should ‘not be a mere “co-existence” … but [rather] be animated by fraternal love’. It is surprising that Sacks should overlook this landmark speech, given its direct pertinence to the interreligious ‘sibling’ theme at the heart of his book. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press 2017 This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial reproduction and distribution of the work, in any medium, provided the original work is not altered or transformed in any way, and that the work properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact email@example.com
Literature and Theology – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 22, 2017
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