Sunday April 03, 2016

Religion doesn't cause religious violence - a conversation with Rabbi Sacks

Listen to Full Episode 54:00

He has been called a brilliant philosopher and an enlightening presence for the whole world. 

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and the 2016 winner of the Templeton Prize - an honour previously given to Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. Rabbi Sacks won the award for his work in two areas: affirming the spiritual dimension of life and working to end religious violence.

Britain Templeton Prize

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (The Associated Press)

Rabbi Sacks has written 27 books, including Not In God's Name: Confronting Religious Violence. In it, he emphatically rejects the idea that religion does more harm than good, as many atheists contend.

"Forgive me. I respect atheists and secular humanists and I love them with an undying love, but let us not be that naive. The cause of violence is not religion. The cause of violence is the human heart."

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Mary Hynes

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks with Mary Hynes at the CBC in Toronto.

In his feature interview with Mary Hynes, Rabbi Sacks traces the idea of religious tolerance and free speech through many philosophers from various faiths who have advocated for it throughout the centuries: starting with Muslim philosopher Averroes in the 12th-century, Jewish Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel in the 16th-century, Christian John Milton in the 17th-century, through to secular humanist John Stuart Mill in the 19th-century.

Rabbi Sacks says if we do not learn from history we are doomed to repeat it. 

"Let us not act as if what's happening in the 21st century has no precedent... The great use of history is that we can see what happened: we can see what led to the conflict, we can see what the conflict cost in terms of human lives, and we can see what ended the conflict."

Once we've deepened our understanding of religious violence, Rabbi Sacks urges everyone - regardless of religious belief - to take action.

"The truest faith is protest at the evil and the violence and the injustice in the world. And therefore to be religious is to right those wrongs."

Rabbi Sacks has a degree in philosophy from the University of Cambridge, an MA from Oxford, a PhD from King's College London, and he holds fifteen honorary degrees. He was knighted by the Queen in 2005 and is a member of the House of Lords.

Rabbi Sacks is a curious blend of the very old and the new. He says keeping the Sabbath used to mark freedom from the Pharaoh; now, observing a day of rest means freedom from your smart phone. On one of the other six days of the week, you can check out the Rabbi's podcast.

stories from this episode