In yesterday’s New York Times, Rabbi Sacks is a featured Op-Ed contributor. His article, The Moral Animal has been at the top of the Most Emailed and near the top of the Most Viewed lists for a couple days now.
It’s a beautifully written article. I think Rabbi Sacks is really onto something here. He basically argues that the survival of good, kind, compassionate religion is a function of a quasi-evolution. We are hard wired for empathy and altruism. But we are also hard wired to survive and act selfishly. Religion functions as a way of helping us maintain balance or even tip the scales in favor of empathy and altruism.
He uses some fancy neuroscience to support his premise and I am certainly not qualified to comment on that aspect of the article.
Rabbi Sacks concludes that “religion is the best antidote to the individualism of the consumer age” and we cannot allow the West to “lose their sense of God”. Rabbi Sacks is correct that good religion is good for society. We need to foster and promote that kind of religion. Kind, compassionate, caring about everyone and greasing the wheels of humanity to push the world forward. Sometimes religion does the opposite of that. Rabbi Sacks is trying to showcase the softer, more humanistic side of religion and I support that completely. We need to emphasize that kind of religion in our religious communities and in the public eye.
Also, as Rabbi Adlerstein pointed out, there is no fear of science detectable in Rabbi Sacks’ article. Everything science teaches us can be used to glorify God and increase our appreciation for the world God gave us.
I really like the article and only have one small complaint.
I wish that Rabbi Sacks would open the door for non-believers to be included in his article. In other words, Rabbi Sacks is implying that those without religion are doomed because their selfishness is bound to control them and eventually it could control and ultimately destroy society.
I don’t think we need to be so apocalyptic.
The mission of the Jewish People is to be a light to the nations. I think it is fallacious to assume that this requires everyone to be religious or Christian, or Muslim, Hindu, or even Jewish. It means that the lessons of good, empathetic, progressive religion are universal and should become the standard for the entire world. But with good religious people leading the way, it is not necessary for everyone else to be religious to integrate those important lessons. Good, kind, atheists also need to be part of the conversation.
We should be saying something very similar to what Rabbi Sacks is saying, but a little bit broader. We should be saying that all people must find ways to develop their empathy and altruism. If religion is your path, that’s great. If you choose another path, that is also fine. Our primary concern is not the religious choices or observances, but that the lessons and strength of good religion should not become extinct. It’s clear that non-religious people will be a huge part of the future and I think it is a mistake to exclude them from this conversation.
I love Rabbi Sacks’ message, I just think it needs to be a bit broader.
Stay tuned tomorrow for a post that investigates this issue a bit further.
UPDATE: Read this post – Religion for Atheists | Book Review
Link: NY Times