Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lucia We lose our soul, we lose our future

On Monday 12 December, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks met with Pope Benedict XVI before going on to deliver a talk at the Pontifical Gregorian University on the European crisis around the Euro, focusing on if Europe has lost it's soul.

What I hope to show in this lecture, is first, the religious roots of the market economy and of democratic capitalism. They were produced by a culture saturated in the values of the Judaeo-Christian heritage, and market economics was originally intended to advance those values.

Second, the market never reaches stable equilibrium. Instead the market itself tends to undermine the very values that gave rise to it in the first place through the process of “creative destruction.”

Third, the future health of Europe, politically, economically and culturally, has a spiritual dimension. Lose that and we will lose much else besides. To paraphrase a famous Christian text: what will it profit Europe if it gains the whole world yet loses its soul? Europe is in danger of losing its soul.


For the task ahead of us is not between Jews and Catholics, or even Jews and Christians in general, but between Jews and Christians on the one hand, and the increasingly, even aggressively secularising forces at work in Europe today on the other, challenging and even ridiculing our faith.

If Europe loses the Judaeo-Christian heritage that gave it its historic identity and its greatest achievements in literature, art, music, education, politics, and as we will see, economics, it will lose its identity and its greatness, not immediately, but before this century reaches its end.

When a civilisation loses its faith, it loses its future. When it recovers its faith, it recovers its future. For the sake of our children, and their children not yet born, we – Jews and Christians, side-by-side – must renew our faith and its prophetic voice. We must help Europe recover its soul.


That is by way of introduction. Let me begin with a striking passage from Niall Ferguson's recent book, Civilizatation. In it he tells of how the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences was given the task of discovering how the West, having lagged behind China for centuries, eventually overtook it and established itself in a position of world pre-eminence. At first, said the scholar, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we concluded it was because you had the best political system. Then we realised it was your economic system. "But in the past 20 years, we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don't have any doubt about this.”

It was precisely the breakdown of trust that caused the banking crisis in the first place. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that the market is a shrine to materialism, forgetting that its keywords are deeply spiritual. “Credit” comes from the Latin “credo” meaning “I believe.” “Confidence” comes from the Latin meaning “shared faith.” “Trust” is a word that has deeply religious resonance. Try running a bank, a business or an economy in the absence of confidence and trust and you will know it can’t be done. In the end we do not put our faith in systems but in the people responsible for those systems, and without morality, responsibility, transparency, accountability, honesty and integrity, the system will fail. And as it happens, the system did fail.

With this we come to perhaps the most profound truth of the Judeo-Christian ethic. That ethic, based on justice, compassion and respect for human dignity, took moral restraint from “out there” to “in here.” Good conduct was not dependent on governments, laws, police, inspectorates, regulatory bodies, civil courts and legal penalties. It was dependent on the still, small voice of God within the human heart. It became part of character, virtue and an internalised sense of obligation. Jews and Christians devoted immense energies to training the young in the ways of goodness and righteousness. A moral vision, a clear sense of right and wrong, was present in the stories they told, the texts they read, the rituals they performed, the prayers they said and the standards the community expected of its members.

In one of the fastest secularising countries in West, we here in New Zealand need to take notice of what Lord Sacks is saying. The New Zealand of the future will no longer exist if we too lose our faith at the rate we have been. We will be unrecognisable and not in a good way.

Read the whole speech: Lord Sacks: "Has Europe Lost its Soul?" ~ Cranmer

3 comment(s):

Andrei said...

Yes, yes, yes!

We live in a culture that has lost its way. And is absolutely clueless as to the real purpose of life - why so many people take anti depressants do you suppose?

Men like this Rabbi, Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kirill stand against the darkness but are usually drowned out by the noise of the trash culture that prevails.

I'm scared for my kids

Moneo said...

I've been reading Pat Buchanan's "Suicide of a Superpower' recently.

The chapter on the decline of the Catholic Church in America and Europe, both in numbers and integrity, is pretty eye-popping.

I am not a Catholic, but more and more I'm coming to appreciate that Catholics are the frontline of the war against Christianity, just because they are the biggest target.

Lucia Maria said...


The future is definitely scary - I honestly try not to think about it too much. In the meantime, I feel the imperative to teach my children every thing I know that is important. Ultimately, we can do what we can do and the rest is in God's hands.

Moneo (Latin - I warn / good name!),
There's a reason why we're the biggest target. :)

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