All in the Family: Sibling Rivalries

A note from our pastor:

Many of us are worried about the world we live in. There are so many divisions, divisions that often lead to violence. And it’s not just at a distance. The divisions and tensions are in our community and sometimes even in our families.

One of the most helpful books I’ve read in trying to understand why division and hostility seem so deeply embedded in human life is Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religion Violence by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Sacks gives a brief summary of his argument:

1. Violence exists because we are social animals. We live and find our identity in groups. And groups conflict. They fight over the same resources: food, territory, other scarce goods. That is our nature and it leads to all that is best and worst in us: our altruism toward other members of our group and our suspicion and aggression towards members of other groups. Religion plays a part in this only because it is the most powerful source of group identity the world has yet known. Every attempt to find a substitute for religion has resulted in more violence. The idea that we can abolish identity altogether by privileging the individual over the group is the West’s current fantasy that has led to the return of religion in its most belligerent form.
2. Group identity need not lead to violence, but there is a mutant form, pathological dualism, that divides the world into two – our side, the children of light, and the other side, the children of darkness. If there is evil in the world, it is because of Them, not Us. This mode of thinking leads to some of the worst crimes in history because it causes people to demonize their opponents, see themselves as victims and convince themselves that evil committed in a good or sacred cause is justifiable, even noble.
3. If there are internal resistances to such murderous and suicidal simplifications, they can be overcome by the invention of the scapegoat. Paranoia will do the rest. This is politics of hate, and large parts of the world in the twenty-first century are awash with it.

Sacks turns from this analysis of our problem, a problem humanity has wrestled with from the beginning, to a deep reading of the opening chapters of Genesis which include a series of stories about sibling rivalries: Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, and Joseph and his brothers. Sacks finds here not just a profound reflection on the human situation, but also good news about how God is at work to bring reconciliation.

On Sunday, October 8, we’ll begin a four week sermon series focused on these stories called “All in the Family: Sibling Rivalries.” I hope it will help us better understand what is going on in our community, nation and world, and how we can be a part of God’s great work of reconciliation. I hope you will join us in worship.