Violence in the name of God and religion often arises from the way human beings find their identity in groups, competing with one another out of sibling rivalry, but the voice of love should speak louder than the voice of extremism according to Rabbi Lord Sacks FKC, PhD alumnus and Emeritus Professor of Law, Ethics and the Bible at King’s College London. Speaking at ‘Not in God’s Name?’, a special panel event at King’s earlier this week Rabbi Sacks discussed the impact of his analysis outlined in his book of the same title and the consequences for Biblical studies, Islamic Studies, research into radicalisation and extremism and social, historical and political policy making. Rabbi Sacks maintains that religion is an essential part of the solution to the problems of extremism and violence carried out in the so-called name of God, as well as being its cause.
Joining Rabbi Sacks on the panel were Douglas Alexander, former Secretary of State for International Development and more recently Shadow Foreign Secretary, and now a Visiting Professor in the Policy Institute at King’s, along with Dr Meg Warner, who teaches on the Old Testament and Hebrew Bible, and Dr Carool Kersten, Lecturer in Islam and the Muslim World (both of the Theology & Religious Studies Department at King’s). The event, which was designed as an open forum, was introduced by the Principal, Professor Ed Byrne, and chaired by the Dean of King’s College London, the Revd Canon Professor Richard Burridge, and audience members put questions to Rabbi Sacks and other panel members about his work and the issues addressed by the panel.
Rabbi Sacks said: ‘Sometimes you write a book, not just for academic purposes but to help people think things through and that is one of reasons that I wrote this book. I tried to think about the root of religious extremism and secondly we are under enormous pressure to come up with a quick fix so we need to think long. I wrote the book not to answer any questions, but to start a conversation because all of us are smarter than any of us.
Talking about his experiences of interfaith meetings and dialogues during his time as Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks spoke how inspiring he found it sharing prayers with Imams, Rabbis and Christian priests at Ground Zero in New York. It was, he said, the perfect illustration of the juxtaposition of the good and bad of religion in one place.
Published in 2015, Rabbi Lord Sacks’ book Not in God’s Name offers an in-depth examination of the issues and questions raised by religious extremism as well as the violence committed in the name of God. Sacks argues that if religion is perceived as being part of the problem, then it must also form part of the solution.
Drawing on arguments from evolutionary psychology, game theory, history, philosophy, ethics and theology, Sacks shows how a tendency to violence can subvert even the most compassionate of religions. Through a close reading of key biblical texts at the heart of the Christian, Islamic and Jewish faiths, Sacks then challenges those who claim that religion is intrinsically a cause of violence, and argues that theology must become part of the solution if it is not to remain at the heart of the problem.
The Revd Canon Professor Richard A. Burridge, Dean of King’s College London and Professor of Biblical Interpretation said: ‘I’m honoured that Rabbi Lord Sacks discussed and responded to the issues outlined and explored by our colleagues’ reviews of his book. We are seeing an increase of religious extremism and violence supposedly in the name of God and Rabbi Lord Sacks tackles the question of what it is that actually connects religion and violence as well as the history of the tensions between the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, while providing very important pointers towards a solution of love. It was a joy to see the large auditorium full of students, staff and visitors of all beliefs and backgrounds and we had a healthy, peaceful and rational debate. ‘
Rabbi Sacks concluded that he tries to speak to people beyond his community saying ‘Let the voice of love speak as loudly as the voice of extremism’.