NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—World-renowned author, philosopher, and religious leader, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks gave a talk on November 16 at the Douglass Student Center at Rutgers University, exploring the connection between violence across the world and the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

This event was held by The Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life, part of Rutgers University.

Sacks, the author of more than 25 books, spoke about his latest book entitled “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence,” which explains the causes of violence in the name of God and the solutions for peace in the 21st century.

A professor of Jewish thought and studies at New York University and Yeshiva University, Sacks also serves as a Professor of Law, Ethics, and the Bible at King’s College in London.

Sacks served as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth between 1991 and 2013. 

He began by addressing the recent ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris, France as an example of religiously motivated violence that occurs in modernity.

Sacks also discussed historic events of 1989, including the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the decline and eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.

Sacks said that because the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, jihadist fighters were determined and confident in their ability to defeat another world superpower.

The Rabbi covered the biological function of mirror neurons, which have been studied extensively in the field of Neuroscience as a biological explanation for violence in the name of God. 

“Mirror neurons give human beings our feeling of empathy, which is the ablility to feel pain that others are experiencing,” said Sacks.

Sacks stated that dualism is one of the main reasons why the human mind can become deficient of this biologically hard-wired feeling of empathy, which doesn’t necessarily come as a result of psychopathology.

He stated that monotheism may give rise to dualism, but that dualism isn’t necessarily a result of religion.

Sacks asserted the authoritarian regimes of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as examples of dualism that were not religously motivated.

Dualism was described by Sacks as having two main tenets:

  1. Dualism makes you dehumanize your opponents who then become enemies of God. When you see your enemy as less than human you lose empathy and they become a cancer which must be removed from the face of the earth.
  2. Dualism defines you as a victim so that you remove yourself from moral responsibility. This allows you to ask the question, “Who did this to me?” creating an “us vs. them” mentality.

Sacks said we shouldn’t be surprised that violence in the name of religion exists in the world, as even historical figures of the Bible have flaws.

The Rabbi was confident that in the future, religious fundamentalism and violence in the name of God will come to an end as people who would otherwise commit such acts of atrocity finally come to their senses.

“One day Islamic Fundamentalists will sit down and come to the conclusion that this is not what Allah wants and that religious fundamentalism doesn’t work,” said Sacks.

After the Rabbi’s speech, the event transitioned to the question and answer session, followed by a book-signing.