The Magazine

Reason for Faith

The case for the peaceful coexistence of science and religion.

Oct 1, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 03 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
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If that’s a little simplistic, the basic idea is clear: Science aims at chopping things up to learn how they work, while religion aims at joining them together to learn what they mean. And we need both, Sacks insists, if we are to locate ourselves in the universe. When one side is suppressed, as the political culture of Europe is determined to suppress religion, the result is our lostness: We wander without meaning in a landscape without horizons.

In the last portions of the book, Sacks undertakes a rapid survey of the problems of evolution, the existence of evil, and the damage of religious fanaticism. Religions need to be open and accountable, he insists.

When they develop into closed, totalizing systems and sectarian modes of community, when they place great weight on the afterlife or divine intervention into history, expecting the end of time in the midst of time, then they can become profoundly dangerous, for there is nothing to check their descent into fantasy, paranoia, and violence.

What’s interesting in all this is not Sacks’s particular analyses, all of which are fairly typical of modern apologetics, but the clear indication, lurking just beneath the unruffled prose, that the author is growing worried. The moderate Jewish form of the Anglicanism in which he has lived all his life—the sense that we needn’t worry too much, for the center will hold no matter how wide the gyre around it opens—no longer feels existentially safe. From that young man traveling around the United States on a bus to learn the content of his rabbinical faith, Jonathan Sacks has lived long enough to see himself and his well-centered faith redefined as the radical fringe in Europe.

One wishes an actual Anglican in authority—the Archbishop of Canterbury, say—had as much sense. But for all of them, Christian and Jew alike, their calm and very British sense of being reasonable must feel increasingly threatened. A curious time we live in, when a tone of moderation and sensible balance is forced to feel itself the lonely voice of a prophet, crying in the wilderness.

Joseph Bottum is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.