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219 CONCLUDING REFLECTIONS Jonathan Sacks Listening to the multiplicity and variety of voices in this volume, one can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of the forces operating in the phenomena of religiously motivated violence and terror. Is religion itself dividing the world into believers and infidels? Are sacred texts to blame, with their call to holy war? Or does violence always have other causes, psychological, political, economic, or even—­ as Eliza Griswold suggests in her essay—­ climate change and the movement of populations it brings about? The truth is that, often, all or most of these factors are involved. After all, for much of the time, people of different faiths have learned to live peaceably together. It is only when circumstances change, the prevailing order is challenged, and people feel threatened and destabilized that they turn to the available maps of meaning to make sense of what is happening, often imposing dangerous simplicity on history’s complexity. Those maps can be secular, as they were in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—­ nationalism, racism, or Marxism—­ or they can be religious, as they often are today. It is not religion as such that leads to violence. That is embedded as a permanent possibility within human nature itself. But when it is involved and used as a vindication of violence, then we cannot ignore or deny that fact, saying instead that religion is a force for peace. Sometimes it is, but sometimes it is not, and we must be honest enough to 220 JONATHAN SACKS admit that when it is not, it is part of the problem. That is what several of these essays have been about. But only part: hence the other essays, several of the most powerful of which came from people in the field as observers, analysts, or as individuals involved in conflict resolution. It was this variety of perspectives that made our encounter so rich and enlarging. Often, when all the speakers represent a single discipline, you can feel that a problem is intractable because you are conscious of the factors not being addressed. That was not the case in our gathering. The very fact that we were able to communicate across so many disciplines was itself a signal of hope. 1. Hope Indeed, hope was the first outcome I sensed in our deliberations. Hope is not optimism. Optimism is the belief that things will get better. Hope is the belief that if we work hard enough together, we can make things better. It needs no courage, only a certain naiveté, to be an optimist, but it often needs a great deal of courage to maintain hope. No one with a sense of history can, in this turbulent age, be an optimist; but no one with deep religious faith can be without hope. Hope itself can be a transformative force in long-­ standing conflicts where the participants are coming close to despair. One of the gifts of Abrahamic monotheism to the world has been the story of the exodus, which, for many oppressed peoples, has become the West’s metanarrative of hope. The faith it engenders has often led to real, historic change: the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, and so on. Hope is a signal of transcendence because it testifies to a conviction that history is not what Joseph Heller called it—­ “a trash bag of random coincidences torn open in a wind.”1 There is a larger providence at work. In Theodor Parker’s words, made famous by Martin Luther King Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”2 Apocalyptic violence is often the fruit of despair, and its antidote is hope grounded in real political and existential possibility. Violent religiosity can and often does give way to moderation and realism once true believers become fully aware of the failures of extremism and its desecrations. So it happened in Europe in the seventeenth century. So it happened in Al-­ Andalus in Islam. So it happened in rabbinic Judaism after the failures of several revolts against Rome in the first and second century. Concluding Reflections 221 2. Wisdom The second feeling I sensed in the course of our deliberations was the presence of the ancient yet still compelling idea of wisdom. All the great faiths—­ indeed almost all civilizations—­ have wisdom literatures, represented in the Hebrew Bible, for example, by books such as Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. Wisdom traditions tend to be the most universal...


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