On March 2nd, Lord Jonathan Sacks was awarded the 2016 Templeton Prize, which “honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.” He is a most deserving recipient.
The John Templeton Foundation, which awards the prize, is at the forefront of advancing spirituality, intellectual rigor, and an integration of science and religion. They support projects such as the World Science Festival, the 92nd St. Y’s “7 Days of Genius,” and academic explorations of generosity, hope and humility. And when my organization, Sinai and Synapses, launched our project Scientists in Synagogues to explore the relationship between Judaism and science, we were honored to receive funding from them, as well.
Given what the Templeton Prize and the Templeton Foundation support, Rabbi Sacks was an excellent choice, following in the footsteps of the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and another former Chief Rabbi of England, Lord Jacobovitz.
Sacks’ passion is in bringing Jewish wisdom to the world and building bridges across disparate communities. His latest book, Not in God’s Name, argues that just as religion can create violence, it can also create wholeness and peace, so we need to ensure that religious people are using religion as a force for good.
In his remarks upon receiving the Prize, Rabbi Sacks notes that scientific knowledge presents some of the greatest challenges we face as a species. Religion, when used in a productive way, can help us address them. As he says:
I believe that religion, or more precisely, religions, should have a voice in the public conversation within the societies of the West, as to how to live, how to construct a social order, how to enhance human dignity, honour human life, and indeed protect life as a whole from environmental hazard.
We are about to be challenged by huge questions. How shall we use the ever greater power of medical technology through active intervention in the human genome? How shall we structure a global economy without generating almost unbearable inequalities within and between nations? How shall we confront the challenge artificial intelligence will pose to traditional patterns of employment? And so on.
Our powers are growing almost faster than we can understand, let alone control, and we need not just intelligence, artificial or otherwise, but also wisdom. If nothing else, the world’s great faiths are among our richest heritages of wisdom. Religion must have a voice in the public conversation, but it must be a reasoned and reasonable voice and one that makes space for other voices also.
Indeed, the most important questions we deal with in life aren’t scientific questions, and they aren’t religious questions. They are human questions.
And, as both the Templeton Foundation and Rabbi Sacks would argue, that’s why we need all the sources of wisdom we can find.