(Any underlines are mine.)
FINDING PEACE WITHIN THE HOLY TEXTS, by David Brooks
It's easy to think that ISIS is some sort of evil, medieval cancer that somehow has resurfaced in the modern world. The rest of us are pursuing happiness, and here comes this fundamentalist anachronism, spreading death.
But in his book "Not in God's Name: Confronting Religious Violence," the brilliant Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that ISIS is in fact typical of what we will see in the decades ahead...
...Humans...are meaning-seeking animals. We live, as Sacks writes, In a century that "has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning." The secular substitutes for religion--nationalism, racism and political ideology--have all led to disaster. So many flock to religion, sometimes--especially within Islam--to extremist forms.Here I think he has made an overly wide generalization and in doing so has overlooked the brand of racism currently flourishing in this country, not in the secular community, but within the demographic that self-identifies as conservative, evangelical and Christian. We may not have experienced the degree of violence radical Islam has produced, but looking at American mass shootings and American church burnings, and you cannot ignore the evidence of racism.
Carrying that further, in the U.S. that brand of racist, anti-women, anti-gay (anti-us) Christianity has found a home within one political party where religion is part and parcel to the way the party is viewed and embraced. That party's political ideology is not a secular substitution for religion, but in fact encompasses a conservative, insular brand of Christianity as a basic tenet.
...Religion fosters groupishness, and the downside of groupishness is conflict with people outside the group. Religion can lead to thick moral communities, but in extreme forms it can also lead to what Sacks calls pathological dualism, a mentality that divides the world between those who are unimpeachably good and those who are irredeemably bad...
...This leads to acts of what Sacks calls altruistic evil, or acts of terror in which the self-sacrifice involved somehow is thought to confer the right to be merciless and unfathomably cruel.
That's what we saw in Paris last week.
Sacks correctly argues that we need military weapons to win the war against fanatics like ISIS, but we need ideas to establish a lasting peace. Secular thought or moral relativism are unlikely to offer any effective rebuttal. Among religious people, mental shifts will be found by reinterpreting the holy texts themselves. There has to be a Theology of the Other; a complex biblical understanding of how to see God's face in strangers...
...Sack's great contribution is to point out that the answer to religious violence is probably going to be found within religion itself, among those who understand that religion gains influence when it renounces power.
It may seem strange that in this century of techonology, peace will be found within these ancient texts. But as Sacks points out, Abraham had no empire, no miracles and no army--just a different example of how to believe, think and live."...to see God's face in strangers." To accept that we are all different but equally important, that it is our differences that give us worth, that it is our equality that grants us the right to live under laws that see us all as strangers. What a beautiful idea.
You can read Mr. Brook's full text here