Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chief Rabbi Sacks on the Malady that Afflicts Britain and the West

In the Wall Street Journal, Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, writes that the recent London riots are attributable to the moral disintegration that began in the 1960s in Great Britain, the United States and virtually every other Western society. Rabbi Sacks writes:

Britain is the latest country to pay the price for what happened half a century ago in one of the most radical transformations in the history of the West. In virtually every Western society in the 1960s there was a moral revolution, an abandonment of its entire traditional ethic of self-restraint. All you need, sang the Beatles, is love. The Judeo-Christian moral code was jettisoned. In its place came: whatever works for you.

Rabbi Sacks notes that as a result of the collapse of the authority of Judaeo-Christian values in Britain, today over 40% of children are born out of wedlock, and "whole communities are growing up without fathers or male role models," so that many British young men are socialized in gangs. He cites the evergrowing list of social maladies resulting from the same source:

They are the victims of the tsunami of wishful thinking that washed across the West saying that you can have sex without the responsibility of marriage, children without the responsibility of parenthood, social order without the responsibility of citizenship, liberty without the responsibility of morality and self-esteem without the responsibility of work and earned achievement.

The most interesting insight of Rabbi Sacks is that this has happened before, in Great Britain and the United States in the 1820s, when the great migrations from the countryside to the cities sparked by the Industrial Revolution led to a breakdown of traditional institutions of religious and civil authority. Broken families, alcoholism and violent crime abounded. Here, Rabbi Sacks writes, is what turned the tide:
What happened over the next 30 years was a massive shift in public opinion. There was an unprecedented growth in charities, friendly societies, working men's institutes, temperance groups, church and synagogue associations, Sunday schools, YMCA buildings and moral campaigns of every shape and size, fighting slavery or child labor or inhuman working conditions. The common factor was their focus on the building of moral character, self-discipline, willpower and personal responsibility. It worked. Within a single generation, crime rates came down and social order was restored. What was achieved was nothing less than the re-moralization of society—much of it driven by religion.

Rabbi Sacks argues that now, as then, the cure for the social disease afflicting the West is not government. Rather, "It needs religion: not as doctrine but as a shaper of behavior, a tutor in morality, an ongoing seminar in self-restraint and pursuit of the common good."

The question, Rabbi Sacks poses, is whether the West will apply the cure before its moral and societal disintegration is irreversible.


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