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The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning Paperback – September 2, 2014
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
“A figure of great stature and sometimes the center of controversy in England, where he has served as chief rabbi for two decades, Rabbi Sacks is certain to add to both his stature and the controversy that surrounds him with the publication of The Great Partnership. . . . Society needs both religion and science, Sacks argues in this innovative, articulate, and well-documented book. He effortlessly includes statistics and history, personal stories and culture-wide experiences, all of it making clear the differences he sees between the Weltanschauung of his world and that of the atheist.”
—The Jewish Week
“The Great Partnership is illuminating and sometimes genuinely moving, because of the erudition and the warm personality with which Rabbi Sacks unrolls his credo. . . . It makes a persuasive case that the bloody rhetorical war between ‘science’ and ‘religion’ is not just unnecessary; it is foolish. . . . A humane, learned cri de coeur.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“In prose that is both stately and accessible, Rabbi Sacks offers an examination of the most profound issues of faith and science that is both intellectually rigorous and generous in spirit. With an impressive range of scholarship that extends far beyond the Jewish tradition, he marshals an array of arguments for the proposition that ‘we need both religion and science.’ ”
“In clear language Sacks sets forth the arguments put forward by atheists, respectfully demolishing them in favor of the religious stance that he forthrightly espouses. The range and depth of his familiarity with authorities in both camps are most impressive [and] his erudite position is largely compelling. . . . Essential reading because of Sacks’s splendid range of knowledge and his powerful ability to tackle tough issues.”
“A brilliant exposition of the possibility of science and religion, each in its own way, contributing to a better world.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“There is a warm, accessible scholarship about Rabbi Sacks; it’s easy to see why he is such a popular sage. The Great Partnership will only burnish this reputation. After several years in which the new atheists—Dawkins, Hitchens, Hawking—have made all the running, Sacks offers an intelligent, optimistic credo that allows for the happy coexistence of science and religion. . . . For those people who know that science is right but still want to believe, this cake-and-eat-it argument is made with erudition, scholarship, and charm.”
—The Times (London)
“The learned and humane Sacks normally speaks from within the Jewish tradition. But here he is much more inclusive, drawing from Judaism, Christianity and, he claims, Islam . . . His erudition is extensive [and he] is engaging and thought-provoking throughout. His exploration of the deep differences between classical Greek and Hebrew thought is quite brilliant. . . . Without a doubt he is a wise thinker and a national treasure.”
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
One of the most admired religious thinkers of our time, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is the award-winning author of more than two dozen books, is heard regularly on the BBC, and has received many international awards and honorary degrees from universities around the world. From 1991 to 2013 he served as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. He was made a Life Peer and took his seat in the House of Lords in October 2009.
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Some people regard religion as an important element in their lives (necessary for determining the meaning of life) and others do not. Religion is just one way to reach out to the rest of existence (i.e. to a sense of meaning). People who do not use religion that way usually seem to have found one or more of the other ways to look beyond themselves, here and now, to other people, other things, other places and environments, and other times, past or future. Religion does not dictate behavior so much as categorize the questions one asks of life.
The meaning of something, whether, a rock, a person, or the universe, must be determined by something external to the entity whose meaning or significance is being sought. (The possible exception to this is God, who could be defined as the ultimate Source of Meaning.) To really have significance or meaning, I must have a relationship to something external to me. I have meaning to my family, since my family is external to me and collectively, my family regards me (I hope) as significant.meaning something, good, bad, or just a disappointment. Do I have meaning to my community, that is, a level of organization beyond my family? I might, either because I have done or I am doing something that is regarded as significant by the community, or because my family or other members of my family are significant, and I derive significance that way.
Some people might be concerned about the difference in viewpoint or outlook between those who prefer a more materialistic evaluation and those who look for a religious or spiritual understanding. Some people have a personal relationship with the Supreme Being and always worry about whether they are doing enough of what they should do. Others find life complicated enough without worrying about the requirements of a (possible) Supreme Being. Some people (of either kind) end up worrying about whether their life or decisions have any significance or meaning.
For those who aren’t dependent on a supreme being belief, the danger is not having the established relationship to support you when you really need it. There may be non-religious people who can turn to God on the spur of a very bad moment, and there are definitely religious people who fail to turn to God when they really need to, but most of us need to develop our emotional and mental reflexes to (perhaps) have the supporting belief there when we really need it.
For those who have a well-established supreme being belief habit, the danger is confusing what you believe with what is real. Whether you are talking science or religion, there must always be a distinction between what you understand and the reality towards which you are trying to advance your understanding. In science, failure to maintain this distinction results in being left behind with phlogiston and other inadequate theories. In religion, failure to maintain this distinction results in idolatry (worshipping the symbol instead of the reality). And fanaticism. We all need some humility.
Some people reach a decision about whether life has meaning or does not have meaning, and then get cross with those who have reached the opposite conclusion on the same question (and on much the same evidence). (Why should you be happy when I’ve decided that everyone should be depressed?) This is a mistake IMHO. Each of us have meaning and significance, our decisions are important, and the making of the effort to determine meaning is more important than which answer we come up with. After all, if you believe God made everything as it is, then God made everything to be hard to reach an understanding about. This is edging towards theodicy, and God’s motivations for our confusion and suffering. Part of it may be from God’s wish to not dictate what decisions we make about reality but to go through the exercise ourselves, without authoritative support. And God made us all different, and wants us to each develop in that different context of experience and potential.
So this book. I do not agree with the author on every point, but there is enough corroboration and congruency that reading it was like exploring my own mind, discovering ideas that seemed to match certain notions in my own thoughts.
The important part for me is that though the author also believes that human beings matter, he also seems to believe that atheists and materialists have some reason for what they believe and can reach conclusions that are worthy of respect, even if one disagrees with those conclusions.
There is TRUTH and then there are varieties of not-truth. We cannot (correctly) imagine a line running from untruth to TRUTH and imagine that each person must be more truthful or less truthful than any other person on that line.
All too often the truths we hold onto for dear life are metaphors we have constructed to give us a handle on reality. They enable us to cope, to make judgments, to approximate reality, but if we mistake them for TRUTH we make an important mistake that may even come to distract us from TRUTH. We have to be ready to dump the metaphor when it no longer really helps our understanding.
There are some questions that cannot be answered by science, and there are questions that should not be answered by religion. These questions may still be important, but If one has focussed all one’s life on either science or religion, but not both, we may have a problem in reaching a correct and appropriate understanding, let alone communicating that understanding to someone who lived with a different focus.
If you are one of those people who believes in both Science and Religion, I hope this book will help you realize how right you are, reinforcing your awareness of the myriad avenues of TRUTH. If you do not believe in both, I hope this book will show you that there are serious minded people who think otherwise, and that if, God forbid, you should find yourself in difficulties, unable to cope with the kind of question with which you are being confronted with, I hope this book will help you realize that you have a whole alternate set of tools by which one can examine and evaluate reality, and use to reach conclusions and understandings that you didn’t have before.
Rabbi Sacks quotes religious sources to affirm the validity of a materialistic outlook, and atheistic sources to affirm the validity of a religious or spiritual outlook. Every time he does this, it cheers me up no end, because I want all of my friends and relatives, no matter what their outlook, to work together in the same way, looking at the different ends of the same elephant.
This book will not prove the existence of God. I believe God wants each of us to reach our own conclusions, which is why God makes it so difficult to prove one way or the other, and so easy to reach contradictory conclusions. It is not whether we reach the exactly right answer so much as whether we think the question and the answer, and therefore we, matter, that matters.
By way of full disclosure I am a retired married Catholic priest / psychologist, active in promoting interfaith understanding for four decades. I still lead workshops integrating psychology and spirituality, and blogs regularly on wellness, braid research and faith. For integrative studies, holistic thinker and those who are concerned about cultural values, this book is a treasure.
Anyone interested in interfaith dialogue will find this book full of insights and quotable statements. Those seeking to deepen the understanding of their own faith tradition will find this book transforming. Scientists, skeptics and agnostics will find this book helps understand the cultural value of the Abrahamic traditions: Hebrew, Christian and Muslim. The book ends with a well written Epilogue for atheists.
Many people of faith do not know or want to know the enormous harm done in God's name for several thousand years. Rabbi Sachs faces the world as it is, and addresses this "power over" human temptation and abuse with adequate discussion of remedies. "Men never do evil so comfortably and cheerfully as when they do it from religious confection." Blaise Pascal.
In the main, Rabbi Sachs shows how science and religion need one another, and how either by itself, is incomplete. I can hardly recommend this book highl6 enough. I made over 200 notes on my kindle while reading this. I look for his other writings. For its purposes, scope, scholarship, readability and relevance, this book is a winner.
Paschal Baute, Ed. D.
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