Review of “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Categories: Book Talk, Letters From Leadership
“Not in God’s Name:  Confronting Religious Violence” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Review & Commentary by Yoel Magid

“The Encyclopedia of War” surveys over 1800 conflicts and finds that less than 10% had any religious component.   Stalin and Mao and Hitler, not religious men acting in God’s name, were mass murderers of tens of millions.  But knowing that doesn’t help our ability to comprehend today what we feel when confronted by Islamic jihadists who commit barbaric atrocities in the name of their God.


Although we still may not know exactly how to wage war successfully against these religious extremists today, most of us agree that we have to do something to stop the sickening violence.  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks understands that weapons win wars, and that we must defeat ISIS, but as a rabbi and teacher he also understands that only ideas can win peace.  Rabbi Sacks has written a brilliant and amazing book about how to educate for peace, forgiveness and love because, as he says, tomorrow’s world is born in what we teach our children today.  Only religious education can conquer the desecration of religion by those who turn to what he calls “altruistic evil” — evil committed in the name of a sacred cause.


Rabbi Sacks begins by discussing clearly and eloquently the sources of hatred and violence from psychological, historical, philosophical and sociological perspectives.  Pathological dualism — seeing the world as a struggle between us and them, between light and dark, between good and evil — becomes, according to Sacks, both a religious and ideological base for mass murder.  By dehumanizing the other/the evil ones/the Satan/ the scapegoat/the Jew/the Christian/the Muslim, anyone can justify killing them without feeling guilt.


Since each of the major Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam considers itself the legitimate heir to Abraham’s promise, Sacks’ answer to pathological dualistic thinking comes through an analysis of sibling rivalries in Genesis — Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers.  While most of us remember these stories as unremitting, destructive conflicts between siblings fighting for parental love, Sacks’ twenty-first century rereading of these rivalries resets our focus to the end of the stories — to reconciliation and, what he calls, the “rejection of rejection”.  Isaac and Ishmael stand together at Abraham’s grave. Jacob returns to Esau what is his inheritance because after wrestling with an angel/God/himself, Jacob understands that he himself has a different kind of inheritance and future. Joseph makes his brothers go through a role reversal of being victims in order to feel slavery and fear, and what they did to their brother.  Later, Moses tells the Israelites not to look back and hate the Egyptian but rather to accept the stranger because the Israelites were strangers in Egypt.  In all the stories, hatred gives way to reconciliation.  We must not forget, but we must not let memory become unbridled hatred.


The stories are important to Jews, Christians and Muslims because all three want to see themselves as the rightful descendants of Abraham.  Sacks’ re-reading of these stories emphasizes the acceptance of diversity, that we are all related even if each one believes his/her own way is the right way.  Once you understand that sibling rivalry can be resolved by reconciliation rather than hate, you can move forward free of binding hatreds.  Once you understand that stories upon which you base your religious identity call perhaps for living together with your own tribe while accepting the legitimate existence of other tribes and children of God, you will not be able to dehumanize and kill the outsider/the other/the follower of other religions or ideologies.


This is a must-read book.  We are not going to defeat ISIS today by reading a book or simply extolling the virtues of loving one’s neighbor and justice, but we have a chance to change the future of religious fanaticism if we can get rabbis, preachers, imams, religious teachers to read and understand an extraordinarily powerful counter to the fanatic, exclusionary interpretations of religious traditions as expressed in the sibling rivalries of Genesis.


So please read “Not in God’s Name”, and go a step further if you find it as convincing as I did. Send it to fellow Jews, send it to non-believers, but most importantly send copies to someone you know who may be of a different religion, hopefully someone who is religious in some way and who can pass it on to religious leaders, teachers and friends.  In the age of social media and twitter messages that pass for intelligent discussion, we can still invite dialogue about serious books and serious issues.  Let’s convince the foundations of the world to go even further and send the book to religious leaders world-wide, and let’s ask these leaders to make sure that the book’s message reaches teachers of all religions.


Instead of just fearing future fanaticism, let’s try to make the future by disseminating good ideas to counter all the bad ones out there.  Let’s recapture religion from those who kill in God’s name and make God, and all of us, weep.

About Joel Magid

Joel Magid, former world secretary of Habonim-Dror, lived for 25 years as a member of Kibbutz Be’eri, close to the Gaza border where one of the tunnels was discovered. His daughter and her family live on Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, just north of Gaza, and had to abandon their home during part of the hostilities.
This entry was posted in Book Talk, Letters From Leadership. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Review of “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

  1. you have a great blog here! would you like to make some invite posts on my blog?

  2. htzlcfhqxk says:

    Review of “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks | Ameinu

  3. It’s really a nice and helpful piece of information. I am glad that you shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I am no longer certain where you are getting your info, but good topic. I needs to spend a while studying more or understanding more. Thank you for wonderful info I used to be in search of this information for my mission.

  5. Pretty! This was a really wonderful post. Thank you for your provided information.

  6. Please let me know if you’re looking for a author for your site. You have some really great posts and I feel I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d love to write some content for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine. Please shoot me an e-mail if interested. Kudos!

  7. Isa Blaha says:

    An interesting discussion is worth comment. I think that you should write more on this topic, it might not be a taboo subject but generally people are not enough to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers

  8. I just want to say I am beginner to weblog and absolutely enjoyed your page. More than likely I’m going to bookmark your website . You certainly come with superb articles. Thanks a lot for sharing with us your web site.

  9. But wanna say that this is very beneficial, Thanks for taking your time to write this.

  10. I like this post, enjoyed this one thanks for putting up. “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” by M. Kathleen Casey.

  11. I’ve been absent for some time, but now I remember why I used to love this blog. Thanks, I?¦ll try and check back more frequently. How frequently you update your site?

  12. Some truly prize posts on this web site, bookmarked.

  13. Melani says:

    Do you mind if I quote a few of your posts as long as I provide credit and sources back to your weblog? My website is in the exact same niche as yours and my users would certainly benefit from a lot of the information you present here. Please let me know if this ok with you. Many thanks!

  14. Jesse says:

    You completed various nice points there. I did a search on the issue and found nearly all people will consent with your blog.

  15. I was just looking for this information for a while. After 6 hours of continuous Googleing, at last I got it in your website. I wonder what is the lack of Google strategy that don’t rank this kind of informative websites in top of the list. Normally the top websites are full of garbage.

  16. electronics says:

    I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own weblog and was curious what all is needed to get setup? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very internet smart so I’m not 100 certain. Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

  17. I just wanted to post a word to be able to thank you for some of the unique tips you are writing at this website. My prolonged internet search has finally been recognized with pleasant suggestions to talk about with my visitors. I ‘d express that we readers are undoubtedly blessed to dwell in a perfect network with many awesome people with very beneficial basics. I feel somewhat happy to have used your site and look forward to plenty of more cool moments reading here. Thanks once more for everything.

  18. lighting says:

    I happen to be writing to let you know of the terrific discovery my wife’s daughter developed studying the blog. She noticed lots of details, not to mention what it is like to possess an amazing teaching character to have other individuals with no trouble know precisely specified grueling things. You actually exceeded our desires. Many thanks for delivering those beneficial, dependable, explanatory and cool tips about your topic to Lizeth.

  19. Hello there, I found your web site via Google while searching for a related topic, your site came up, it looks good. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.