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Living Well Together: Insights from a Philosopher, a Theologian and a Legal Scholar

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Why Religion? Towards a Critical Philosophy of Law, Peace and God

Part of the book series: Law and Religion in a Global Context ((LRGC,volume 2))

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Abstract

The writings of a legal scholar (Harold Berman), a philosopher (Charles Taylor) and a theologian (Rabbi Sacks), are used to illuminate the relationship among jurisprudence, religion and peace. These authors negate the assumption that religion is disappearing from the world, or at least from Western civilization. All three contend that religion, understood broadly as a yearning for transcendence, continues to resonate in today’s world. This yearning is deeply relevant to questions of peace. Of course, religion’s influence is not always benign, and these authors assert that since religion has sometimes been used to fuel and justify violence, religious voices must offer alternative, peace-affirming understandings of faith. For some among the faithful, it seems likely that voices speaking from within their religious tradition will carry more weight than secular pleas for peace. Berman, Sacks and Taylor also emphasize that both law and religion speak to how we are to live in community. Moving away from violence will require a re-orientation towards peace in domestic and international law and in the law that is written upon our hearts—that is, in our fundamental understandings of how we are to live and flourish together. Neither Berman, Sacks nor Taylor are naive about the challenges involved in this task of re-orientation, but reading these three authors in concert illuminates the possibility of a positive relationship among jurisprudence, religion and peace.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Philosopher, professor emeritus at McGill University, former holder of the Chichele Professorship of Social and Political Theory at Oxford, and 2007 winner of the Templeton Prize which “honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.” http://www.templetonprize.org/abouttheprize.html.

  2. 2.

    Former Principal of Jews’ College, later the London School of Jewish Studies, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth between 1991 and 2013, winner of the 2016 Templeton Prize.

  3. 3.

    Professor, Harvard Law School and Emory University School of Law, described in a New York Times obituary as having “altered thinking about Western law’s origins”. Martin (2007).

  4. 4.

    Berman (1974).

  5. 5.

    Berman (1974), p. 12.

  6. 6.

    Sacks (2015).

  7. 7.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 1, p. 47.

  8. 8.

    Taylor (2007).

  9. 9.

    Morgan (2008).

  10. 10.

    Berman’s definition of “the West” is helpful here; he characterizes the West as made up of “those civilizations which see Israel, Greece and Rome as their “spiritual ancestors”. Berman (1983), p. 2.

  11. 11.

    Taylor (2007), p. 427.

  12. 12.

    See Footnote 11.

  13. 13.

    Taylor (2007), p. 3.

  14. 14.

    Taylor (2007), p. 530.

  15. 15.

    Calhoun (2008).

  16. 16.

    Wordsworth (1807).

  17. 17.

    Berman (1983), p. 12.

  18. 18.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 1, p. 48.

  19. 19.

    Sacks (2002), p. 4.

  20. 20.

    See Footnote 5.

  21. 21.

    Taylor (2007), p. 510.

  22. 22.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 1, p. 47.

  23. 23.

    Taylor (2007), p. 49.

  24. 24.

    Berman (1983), p. vii.

  25. 25.

    Berman (1983), p. 25.

  26. 26.

    Indian Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. I-5).

  27. 27.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 14, p. 15.

  28. 28.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 1, p. 51. Sacks also argues that “Most conflicts and wars have nothing to do with religion, whatsoever. They are about power, territory and glory, things that are secular, even profane. But if religion can be enlisted, it will be.” Sacks (2015), Chap. 2, p. 55.

  29. 29.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 1, p. 49.

  30. 30.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 1, p. 31. Sacks does not claim that all such evil stems from religion. He recognizes that nonreligious ideologies can also lead to atrocities, citing regimes under Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.

  31. 31.

    In fact, Taylor thinks it unlikely that “any general theory can truly be established in this climate.” Taylor (2007), p. 679.

  32. 32.

    Sacks (2002), p. vii.

  33. 33.

    See Footnote 19.

  34. 34.

    See Footnote 19.

  35. 35.

    See Footnote 19.

  36. 36.

    See Footnote 19.

  37. 37.

    Sacks (2002), p. 180.

  38. 38.

    Sacks (2002), p. 178.

  39. 39.

    See Footnote 37.

  40. 40.

    Sacks (2002), p. 179.

  41. 41.

    Sacks (2002), p. 181.

  42. 42.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 8, p. 61.

  43. 43.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 5, p. 65.

  44. 44.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 2, p. 14.

  45. 45.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 10, p. 11.

  46. 46.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 11, p. 52.

  47. 47.

    See Footnote 32.

  48. 48.

    Sacks (2002), p. 5.

  49. 49.

    Sacks (2002), p. 201.

  50. 50.

    See Footnote 32.

  51. 51.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 10, p. 14.

  52. 52.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 11, pp. 23–24.

  53. 53.

    Bible, Genesis, 6: 5–8. 5The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

  54. 54.

    Bible, Genesis 11: 1–8 “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 3They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” 5But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”8So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.9

  55. 55.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 11, pp. 13–14.

  56. 56.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 11, p. 21.

  57. 57.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 11, p. 53.

  58. 58.

    A Secular Age is described in the Economist as “A vast ideological anatomy of possible ways of thinking about the gradual onset of secularism”. Para 5. Taylor begins by setting out three general characterizations of secularity: (1) the emptying of common institutions (particularly political/state ones) of religious content; (2) the general decline in conventional religious beliefs and practices, and (3) the conditions of belief, which Taylor describes in more detail as “the whole context of understanding in which our moral, spiritual, or religious experience and search takes place.” Taylor (2007), p. 3.

  59. 59.

    Taylor (2007), p. 11.

  60. 60.

    One of Sacks’ strengths is that he does not shy away from the fact that “The sacred literatures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam all contain passages that, read literally, are capable of leading to violence and hate.” Sacks (2015), Chap. 12, p. 55. These texts in his view are neither to be excised nor to be read literally (Sacks makes the wry comment, “Fundamentalism reads texts as if God were as simple as we are. That is unlikely to be true.” Sacks (2015), Chap. 15, pp. 2–3); instead, his constant theme is that they must be re-interpreted.

  61. 61.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 1, p. 94 (emphasis in the original).

  62. 62.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 9, p. 54.

  63. 63.

    See Footnote 62.

  64. 64.

    Sacks (2002), pp. 4–5.

  65. 65.

    Berman (1983), p. 15.

  66. 66.

    Sacks argues that the “new atheists”, emerging after 9/11 to decry religious extremism, “ruined their case by caricature, making the claims, palpably false, that all religion leads to violence and most violence can be traced back to religion”. Sacks (2015), p. 54.

  67. 67.

    Sacks (2015), Chap. 1, p. 94.

  68. 68.

    Bible, Jeremiah 31:33 “‘This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people’.” See also Hebrews 10:16.

  69. 69.

    Berman (1974), p. 11.

  70. 70.

    Berman (1974), p. 13.

  71. 71.

    See Footnote 5.

  72. 72.

    Berman (1974), p. 24 (italicized in original).

  73. 73.

    See Footnote 72.

  74. 74.

    See Footnote 69.

  75. 75.

    See Footnote 5.

  76. 76.

    Taylor (2007), p. 158.

  77. 77.

    Sacks (1974), Chap. 15, p. 45 (emphasis in original).

  78. 78.

    Sacks distinguishes between hope and optimism as follows; “Optimism is the belief that things will get better. Hope is the faith that, together, we can make things get better.” Sacks (2002), p. 206.

  79. 79.

    Martin Luther King Jr. (1963).

  80. 80.

    Berman (1974), p. 14.

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Ginn, D., Lewis, E.R. (2020). Living Well Together: Insights from a Philosopher, a Theologian and a Legal Scholar. In: Bunikowski, D., Puppo, A. (eds) Why Religion? Towards a Critical Philosophy of Law, Peace and God. Law and Religion in a Global Context, vol 2. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-35484-8_5

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