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on 30 June 2011
It takes a great mind to reset the at times wearisome debate between science and religion. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks magnum opus achieves this in a book that points primarily to the future of the human race whilst incidentally shedding light on the nature of science and religion and how they can get more into partnership. His prime thesis builds from the widely recognised division of the brain into left and right, analytic and synthetic. This illuminates the separate processes of science, which takes things apart to see how they work, and religion, which puts things together to see what they mean. That insight is harnessed to the conviction that, just as a healthy brain requires the balance of analysis and synthesis, so a right-minded world requires the coming together of science and religion.

Quoting Einstein, `Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind', Sacks tackles both irrationally based religion and the overstepping arrogance of some scientists, appealing for a new alliance of believers and sceptics for the good of humanity. For the sake of our children and their children it is imperative we build the stable families and communities essential to political, economic and environmental sustainability. Religious people have no monopoly on morality, contrary to the views of a minority of religious zealots. Rather, through the humility essential to their vision, people of faith should be ready partners with people of goodwill of all faiths or none in building a healthier world.

The Great Partnership is a deep book, passionate, detailed and yet returning from different routes to the simple and compelling thesis of its title. It is eloquent about what society loses when it turns its back on God: the sense of human dignity, a strategy for the common good, the morality of obligation and responsibility, respect for marriage and parenthood and something of the meaningfulness of life.

Sacks identifies and engages with three main contemporary challenges to faith communities: Darwin, the problem of evil and bad religion. He identifies literal fundamentalism, the tendency to move from text to application without interpretation, as a major threat to the health of religion alongside dualistic and messianic tendencies, the misuse of power by religion and its unreadiness to compromise with other world views. This tendency is also found among contemporary atheists.

The book ends with a brilliant `Letter to a Scientific Atheist' that admits the limits of any knowledge of God whilst affirming the need for `sacred discontent' if there is to be real impetus to get the world from where it is to where it ought to be. There is some impatience with Richard Dawkins definition of faith as the refusal to ask questions. Sacks sets this definition alongside those of Planck, Einstein and Nietzsche who define faith as the very determination to press on asking questions. This, he points out, is not so far from the spirit of Abraham, father of faith, who pressed on to an unknown destination.

From a Christian vantage point the book appears lacking in its engagement with divine intervention and the revelation of the resurrection. The Chief Rabbi seems critical of an implied Christian otherworldliness. For all of this his book will go on my shelf as the best response yet to The God Delusion of Richard Dawkins. It has the advantage of being a gracious and easily readable book that stretches both mind and heart and one that most helpfully deals with the God questions in parenthesis. The discussion about God comes as part of a wider examination of issues that are as real for atheists as they are for theists because they seem vital for the future of the world. Those questions about building stable communities and a sustainable global environment will not go away.
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on 30 September 2012
I have always been impressed by Jonathan Sack's attempts at moderating the extreme views expressed by both Science and Religion. He, quite rightly in my opinion, concerns himself about their vitriolic attacks that can be so dangerous. He would like to see a world where both sides are far more conciliatory which is a view I would subscribe to, so I found this book a welcome 'middle ground' read. Rabbi Sack's message is that both sides have a part to play in understanding our world and neither need to be threatened by the other. I'm not sure if this book would convince any of the hardliners on either side, but if you consider yourself a moderate in the Science verse Religion arena then I highly recommend this book.
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on 14 December 2011
Well worth the read for anyone who takes religion and science seriously; doesn't matter whether you're affiliated with Judaism.

Rabbi Sacks's central thesis is that no system contains meaning inherently; it is imposed from without. In this context, he takes it to mean that the physical universe (as governed by laws of nature, which he apparently takes for granted as autonomous) is in itself meaningless; it is only outside agents of sentience (such as religion) which ascribe meaning to it. All attempts to derive meaning from scientific inquiry are thereby futile, and tend to end up in destruction.

The author sees the rationalist effort to "square up" reason with God's apparent position and action opposite us and the universe, as misguided, a development not authentic to Abrahamic monotheism, but rather imported from the culture of ancient Greece. He loosely associates these worldviews with right- and left-brain thinking respectively, and argues that shedding this insistence on linear logic (such as is manifest in the discussion of theodicy) will resolve theo-philosophical tensions.

The author sees the current-day picture of aggressive atheists and stubborn fundamentalists angrily opposing each other as related to messianic politics, and cites the French, Russian and Nazi revolutions as examples of the failure of messianic thinking in treating worldly problems.

This was the best exposition of separate-realm thinking (science and religio-spiritual) that I have read, and through it I was finally able to understand that model. What bothered me most about Rabbi Sacks's approach is his focus on pragmatism as a justification or role-definition for religion. He argues for religion mostly as something to fill the void of meaning-making, and only after concluding his arguments, describes how he rationally sees God in the universe. To my ear this was a hollow treatment of religion, casting it primarily as utilitarian, and leaving God himself as a mere afterthought. That itself strips the meaning of religion for me. I presume that this imbalance may simply have been a side effect of the focus of the book; I have not read the author's other books.
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on 4 January 2012
I've just finished the book and wanted to take a look at the responses it's received on amazon. Quite frankly, I'm rather disappointed.

The criticisms of the lower grade reviews for this novel are taken wildly out of context. I was particularly shocked at reading those from someone supposedly from the University of Cambridge whose review was startingly simplistic and manages to misrepresent Sacks's words with real panache, while simultaneously giving the rather meaningless conclusion: "Like all propaganda, readers' reactions to this book will vary widely depending on the extent to which it chimes with their pre-existing states of mind."

Not only could this phrase essentially apply to anything (rendering it pointless), but it is in itself 'propaganda' to view someone's take and expression of beliefs on the universe and personal journey, who provides a beautifully wide variety of sources and opinions on discussions, as intentionally misleading. It is also a falsehood. The tone of the book is not that of a preacher, it is one of a discussion, one that is led by someone who comes across as well-informed, open-minded and appears very well educated. Sacks's voice is one of tolerance, not seclusion. Of encouraging discussion and debate, rather than wishing to silence. That is the antithesis of propaganda.

Within the book, Sacks gives his opinion to why not only science and philosophy can synthesise with religion, but discusses why he views that both are essential components of the human condition. It is a discussion that is articulated brilliantly and it is consistently engaging for the reader. I would thoroughly recommend it, and advise against being misled by people who are actively seeking to demonise what any open-minded person would regard as a brilliantly written work. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 August 2012
Well, a lot really.

This book about the relationship between God, science and the search for meaning is largely going to appeal to religious readers or people of faith I suspect, which is a shame as it deserves as wide as possible a readership in my opinion. However, as the book itself makes clear in its introduction, this is written in the aftermath of the rise of the so called "new atheism" which is unremittingly hostile towards religion, all religion without exception, and which seems to have a compelling grip upon its acolytes in a way in which in times past manias or zealotry afflicted believers.

Sacks writing is very measured, reasonable and even handed as he outlines the role religion has played in bequeathing many benefits to mankind, I really enjoyed this because with rare exceptions who are often forgotten themselves there are not many sources which do so, then the challenges to religion and acknowledges when religion itself goes wrong. I know that there are many who will consider this a ploy but I see no way that it can be, while being clear about his own beliefs, which are Judaic and in this book more broadly monotheistic, Sacks has not written some sort of covert evangelistic or proselytizing read.

There is a content page, the book is structured well and the structure is explicitly explained and outlined in the introduction, there is no index but there are endnotes and pages of recommended reading broken down into categories, there is by way of an epilogue a letter to a scientific atheist (suggesting that we join hands and work for a more hopeful future) and finally an appendix on Jewish sources on creation, evolution and the age of the universe.

In many ways I found this book in its style and pace resembled others by Jewish authors which I appreciated equally, such as Erich Fromm's You Shall Be As Gods (although Fromm is a "non-theistic atheist" and Sacks is a believer), it is bound to be enjoyed by anyone who vexed by the ways in which religion and its positive legacies are downplayed or dismissed by some pretty angry and irritable atheists. That is not to say it should be read more widely but I suspect it will not be and that is unfortunate.

The chapters breakdown as follows:-
God and the Search for Meaning: The Meaning Seeking Animal; In Two Minds; Diverging Paths; Finding God;
Why It Matters: What We Stand to Lose; Human Dignity; The Politics of Freedom; Morality; Relationships; A Meaningful Life;
Faith and Its Challenges: Darwin; The Problem of Evil; When Religion Goes Wrong; Why God?
Epilogue: Letter to a Scientific Atheist
For Further Reading
Appendix: Jewish Sources on Creation, the Age of the Universe and Evolution

A great book for anyone who is thoughtful about the meaning of their life and what really has been a firm foundation for generations and generations past of western civilisation and a source of continuing hope for a much better world to come tommorrow.
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on 31 October 2011
Recently, one of the top listed books taken to summer recess by MPs was "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins. I've read it, and it is challenging, but not particularly insightful in the way we should live!

From Proverbs 18:17 "In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right,
until someone comes forward and cross-examines."

The Great Partnership is a wonderful cross-examination of the `New Atheists' tirade. It is arguably one of the best presented so far from a religious perspective. I hope it reaches the reading lists of all, including MPs this coming summer. It deserves wide hearing and respect.

I'm a Christian, but have a high level of respect for the genuine integrity of the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. Although I differ in many of his arguments, I believe that this book will go down as one of the strongest advocacies of `Abrahamic' religions ever produced in recent times.

Every thinking Christian should read it, sit up, and take notice. But more than that - respond with open arms of embrace, despite on-going disagreements or differences.

As the book is `one long argument' it would be perhaps unwise to extract a single paragraph to illustrate its content, but I can't resist it. So, for me, this is one to savour, taken from his Chapter 14 (page 285) Why God?
"The mutual hostility between religion and science is one of the curses of our age, and it is damaging to religion and science in equal measure. The Bible is not proto-science, pseudo-science or myth masquerading as science. It is interested in other questions entirely. Who are we? Why are we here? How then shall we live? It is to answer those questions, not scientific ones, that we seek to know the mind of God. But there is more to wisdom than science. It cannot tell us why we are here or how we should live. Science masquerading as religion is as unseemly as religion masquerading as science."

Jonathan Sacks is someone I would love to meet.
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on 2 July 2011
...because it is the discovery of meaning that creates human freedom and dignity. Finding God's freedom, we discover our own." So Rabbi Sacks in ending his Introduction.

A deeply satisfying and much needed book, this is a sharp and intelligent response to the depressingly dry arguments of the "new atheists". The author is disappointed by these and dismisses their simplistic debates, asserting that there is no need to choose between science and religion. He writes that science is one of God's great gifts. Science and religion go together like the left and right lobes of the brain. Or, as he likes to quote from Einstein in one of the book's epigraphs:"Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind."

Rabbi Sacks draws comparisons from different cultures and delves deeply into the history of language and of western civilisation in order to show that the battle between science and religion need not occur, being based on a false dichotomy.
I love the way he writes... "the new atheists do no one a service by their intellectual inability to understand why it should be that some people lift their eyes beyond the visible horizon or strive to articulate an inexpressible sense of wonder; why some search for meaning despite the eternal silences of infinite space and the apparently random injustices of history; why some stake their lives on the belief that the ultimate reality at the heart of the universe is not blind to our existence, deaf to our prayers and indifferent to our fate; why some find trust and security and strength in the sensed, invisible presence of a vast and indefinable love."

Besides its perfect description of man's quest for a reason, this is sheer poetry. And I couldn't agree more with our lyrical Rabbi: I feel exactly as he writes, especially when he affirms that in the great opera of life, science provides the words, religion the music. And who would want a life that is merely a libretto?

It ain't over till the fat lady sings...

This is a magnificent book, a book you feel pulsating through your veins, going right across your heart to the brain of emotions. It tells you to appreciate life, value the Other, love Creation and the created within - no matter *how* it was created.

It's more than a book, in fact, it's a proposition to renew existence in the ancient Abrahamic perspective of the Divine, "ancient" because neglected in this post-modern world of nihilism and egotistical greed. Let's not surrender to the selfish gene, but re-appropriate our lost religious individuality through our love for life, community, family, children, God.

This is what Rabbi Sacks is proposing, a return to God via the Other, as the Other is an image of God. And it's the only image of Him we're going to get, at least in *this* life.

A magnificent book. Believe me.
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on 19 April 2013
A Christian Priest recommended this book in the "Times" newspaper as good Lenten reading. Having read other books by the Chief Rabbi, I bought this one. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this down to earth, salted with humour and well reasoned book. I recommend it without reservation to all willing to approach with open minds the apparent conflict between science and religion.
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on 11 March 2013
Written in very clear english and from a man of great spiritual value. All the time you are sure that you are reading not though from some arrogant learned person, but all is given meaning and rational thought by a clear and sincere believer who has nothing to prove. Very satisfying.
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on 16 May 2016
Jonathan Sacks is always such good company that this book like his others is a pleasure to read whatever one's starting point. He has some wonderful insights, e.g. the Greeks being left-brained and the Jews right-brained, hence the contrasts between the two ancient cultures. He is also extremely well versed in old testament history and able to interpret it in a new and relevant way without doing violence to modern sensibilities or (seemingly) to the original text. I definitely recommend this to anyone with an interest in philosophy, religion and/or science.
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