Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Great Partnership by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

I may have to buy The Great Partnership by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. I almost never buy books, but I could have highlighted this whole book.

He states, “I want, in this book, to argue that we need both religion and science; that they are compatible and more than compatible. They are the two essential perspectives that allow us to see the universe in its three-dimensional depth. The creative tension between the two is what keeps us sane, grounded in physical reality without losing our spiritual sensibility. It keeps us human and humane.”

Throughout the book he repeats his central mantra, “Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean.” 

Part one of the book begins with, "God and the Search for Meaning". We are, definitionally, meaning-seeking animals. Only humans, above all other creatures, driven by curiosity, ask, “Why?” This curiosity leads to science and science “leads to questions unanswerable by science.” These questions lead to God. Without a creator God who stands outside the universe wishing to bring it into being for what can only be because He wanted to and for only one compelling reason, because He loves us, we cannot we find meaning. Without God existence is a cruel, meaningless joke. “The meaning of a system lies outside the system. Therefore, the meaning of the universe lies outside the universe.”

Can we prove there is a God scientifically? No. But many fundamental beliefs we hold cannot be proven. In fact, science itself rests on the faith that “God does not play dice with the universe.” For science to exist at all, it must take as a matter of faith that the laws of the universe which it seeks to unveil are unchanging and immutable. 

So how do we “find God” if He does not exist in the material realm? Sacks begins with a story of a poor man in India who met another poor soul, yet something about the stranger indicated he had been in the presence of greatness. Sacks began looking for God in people in whom he had seen the imprint of God. 

He came to this conclusion, “Everything I have learned about faith in a lifetime tells me that the science of creation -- cosmology -- wondrous though it is, takes second place to the sheer wonder that God could take this risk of creating a creature with the freedom to disobey him and wreck his world. There is no faith humans can have in God equal to the faith God must have had in humankind to place us here as the guardians of the vastness and splendor of the universe. We exist because of God’s faith in us. That is why I see in the faces of those I meet a trace of God’s love that lifts me to try to love a little as God loves... God lives wherever we open our eyes to his radiance, our hearts to his transforming love.”

Part 2 of his book begins, “Why It Matters”. “The absence of God, when consistently upheld and throughly examined, spells the ruin of man in the sense that it demolishes or robs of meaning every we have been used to think of as the essence of being human...” (Leszek Kolakowski) Civilizations end with a whimper and can die so slowly very few notice. But without God, they will surely die.
Sacks states five imperceptible, yet inexorable changes within society with the death of God:
  1. Loss of belief in human dignity and sanctity of life - people become vulnerable and alone.
  2. Loss of the societal covenant which believes we have a collective responsibility to each other - replaced by contract with the government as the supplier.
  3. Loss of morality - words like duty, obligation, honor, integrity, loyalty and trust are lost. Why do the “right” thing if there is no obvious reward?
  4. Loss of marriage - relationships are no longer holy and consecrated lifelong commitments.
  5. Loss of the possibility of a meaningful life - no calling or mission or purpose, no reason at all for my existence.
The author goes on to detail each of these five losses further in subsequent chapters. 

The third part of the book deals with “Faith and its Challenges”.

The first challenge addressed is that of Darwin. Because Rabbi Sacks believes in the natural intersection of science and religion, he does not see a conflict. Rather, taking evolution as a given, he sees the beauty of a God-ordered and ordained system that led to the final destination of humans made in the image of God. He likens evolution to the free-market capitalist system. Both seemingly function in random ways with no apparent direction, yet both inexorably lead to the best possible outcome. He marvels at a God that could creates such a system.

The next challenge is the problem of evil. The only answer for why does evil exist remains human free will. Without free will, we are not human. Yet God has asked us to not only forsake evil, but to actively protest against it. Those people who have faith in God are called to live in another way that will eventually change the world. God clearly recognizes that evil exists, but challenges us to combat it.

He then asks, “Why God?” and proceeds to offer “proof” and arguments from a scientific position that argue for a belief in God. 
  1. The improbability of the universe
  2. The improbability of human life
  3. The improbability of Jewish history
  4. The improbable strength of believers in God
  5. The improbability of happiness without God
  6. The improbability of the refusal of religion to die
Sacks was prompted to write this book by an advertisement stating, “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” The “probably” stumps him. We do not live in the probable but in the possible. He exerts, “Faith is the defeat of probability by the power of possibility.” God, Himself, defies probability and predictability. We live in an improbable world. Everything about our very existence is improbable. It’s time to stop thinking we can live in the probable and live in the possible. Without God, it is impossible to “stop worrying and enjoy... life.” Only with God does life and therefore science itself have any possible meaning at all. Without God, there is no life to enjoy.

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