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Cycles of Civilization

marriage, Rabbi Sacks, religion No comments

My blog today is the reproduction of part of a speech given by Rabbi Jonathan Saks in July this year.

Jonathan Henry Sacks, winner of the Templeton Prize in 2016, was the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth from 1991-2013, and as such was a member of the House of Lords. He is now the Distinguished Professor of Judaic Thought at New York University and the Professor of Jewish Thought at Yeshiva University, and the Professor of Law, Ethics and the Bible at King’s College London.  I heard him speak at the Humanum Conference at the Vatican in 2014.  Here is an excerpt from his recent New York speech:

 —- We are entering one of the world’s great ages of desecularization and it is the rise of non-Western cultures that will shape the 21st century.

 

The end result is — as Rabbi Soloveitchik and Alasdair MacIntyre and others warned us decades ago — that if you lose religion from the mainstream of society, you will lose the sanctity of marriage.

 

You will lose the bond of community and you will lose the social covenant that says e pluribus unum: we’re all in this together.

 

One thing is clear.

 

Religion is not about to die.

 

The religious have bigger families and stronger communities.

 

They’re going to grow in numbers and confidence in the course of the 21st century.

 

But the secular West is in real trouble.

 

It’s re-enacting a scenario played out many times in the course of history, in Athens and Rome in antiquity, and Renaissance Italy.

 

The same thing happens each time.

 

A culture or civilization at the very height of its affluence and its creativity finds that people are becoming more individualistic. They become more hedonist. They become more skeptical of religious beliefs, and that causes a loss of social cohesion, social energy and social ideals.

 

No one said it better than a great American historian, Will Durant. As a young man he wanted to be a priest but actually became an atheist[1]. So listen to what this atheist says — and it’s unbelievably powerful. After his huge study of the story of civilization, he says:

 

“What happens at a certain point in history is that the intellectual classes abandon the ancient theology and, after some hesitation, the moral code allied with it. Literature and philosophy become anti-clerical. The movement of liberation rises to an exuberant worship of reason and falls to a paralyzing disillusionment with every dogma and every idea. Conduct deprived of its religious support deteriorates into epicurean chaos and life itself shorn of consoling faith becomes a burden alike to conscious poverty and to weary wealth. In the end, a society and its religion tend to fall together like body and soul in a harmonious death. Meanwhile, among the oppressed, another myth arises and gives new form to human hope, new courage to human effort and, after centuries of chaos, builds another civilization.”

 

You can view the whole speech at http://rabbisacks.org/cultural-climate-change/ . This excerpt begins at minute 46.

With an eye to the child – the future of us all.

Pat Fagan

 

[1]Fagan insert:   But in his last days Durant  received the last sacraments of the Catholic Church.:  see New York Times : http://www.nytimes.com/1985/12/08/nyregion/new-jersey-opinion-the-rise-and-fall-and-rise-again-of-willdurant-truth-seeker.html?mcubz=1

 

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