Part of the blame is he says, down to secularism, and he is right to be worried. After all, what’s a chief rabbi to do with himself if he’s got no-one to be religious to? The Archbishop of Canterbury is worried too, saying that he is “…trying to find new ways in which this country, despite the secular age, can give its allegiance to God.”
Spare a thought too for Popes, Ayatollahs – in fact any person of the cloth presiding over a flock of whatever persuasion. How silly will they feel if they are only left to represent themselves?
The flaw in Lord Sacks’ reasoning is that a society can be cohesive without reference to religion, and in fact is stronger when the motivation for that cohesion is based on a strong sense of love for thy neighbour, without fear of divine judgment. In my tiny town there will be soon a Beer ‘n’ Bangers festival, organised by a community minded bunch with a deserving cause to raise funds for (Mountain Rescue) and a keen sense of what makes a small society tick. It’s all good Big Society stuff, not that it needs David Cameron’s approval nor any hint that it’s his idea.
Societies and communities coalesce around loads of things – scouts, brass bands, Rotary Clubs (they chink their glasses for God and Queen, but it’s rather tokenistic). Even football provides community focus without people attempting to kill or abuse eachother or their opponents, but then football has apparently replaced religion as the new “…opium for the people”.
And of course, opium breeds creativity, and what is humankind’s greatest creation if not religion? Look at the teaching, look at the guidance. See those inspirational buildings, but look also at the oppression, the wars (stop it!!), the jumble sales (better). Religion has a long-standing role in marking the year and providing guidance when knowledge was less developed or accessible. It wasn’t devotion to community sausage grilling that lead children to be torn from their unwed mothers, nor intellectuals to fly planes into buildings. It was religion, and just sometimes, such extreme deeds put some people off.
We know that it’s banks that are to blame for people hating banks, and journalists behaving despicably makes a population loathe journalists. So when faiths have behaved badly, they may have contributed to society’s indifference, or at worst, hostility to their words and actions. Hopefully Lord Sacks realises that secularism is not merely down to current social fripperies, but is combined with a deeper-rooted scepticism for society’s institutions, which includes the excesses of religion.
God knows how to fix society’s moral problems.