The Times has taken a bold line on Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks's lecture at the Theos debate last night:
“Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks: Europe is dying from secularism”
I didn’t see Ruth Gledhill there last night (but it doesn’t mean she wasn’t) – she must have downloaded the podcast online. (You can read her piece here: http://tinyurl.com/yfb5tpu)
Chief Rabbi Sacks didn’t say Europe was dying from secularism. What he actually said was: “It may not be religion that is dying. It may be liberal democratic secularism that is in danger.”
He argued that tolerant religiosity needed to be promoted over fundamentalism and that the problem that can occur with liberalism is its inability to defend its own values (i.e. cultural relativism). He also stressed that believers, atheists and agnostics were in this together and that religious people must be prepared to enter into respectful conversation with secular humanists over the nature of society. I didn’t have an argument with any of that. I admired the fact that he laid down some cards rather than holding them back and doing that liberal thing of asking lots of academic questions but never having a stab at the answers.
I also liked the fact that he defined faith as the courage to live with uncertainty. I was less enthused about the reason for his desertion of philosophy: “The search for meaning is in itself meaningless”. Religion is not the only space to discover meaning; love creates meaning, but Rabbi Sacks didn’t touch on that at all.
I also would have liked to have heard some unpacking of why he thought it was that a religious family was more likely to have more children than a secular family. The answer may not have been a pretty one. Also, if Rabbi Sacks was prepared to turn our attention to population decline in Europe and population growth in the world, I think it was a little feeble of him to steer clear of questions concerning immigration.
But, all in all, I liked Jonathan Sacks and enjoyed his lecture.
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