Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks says society is 'losing the plot'

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks was granted a life peerage four years ago

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Society is "losing the plot" as it becomes more secular and less trusting, the UK's outgoing Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has said.

Lord Jonathan Sacks told the BBC the growth of individualism over the past 50 years was responsible for a pervasive breakdown in trust.

He highlighted the 2008 financial crisis and the declining marriage rate.

The National Secular Society said the decline of religious authority had led to a "more tolerant and equal society".

Lord Sacks, 65, is to step down next month after 22 years in office. He will be succeeded by Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, an ex-chief rabbi of Ireland.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme, he said: "I think we're losing the plot actually. I think we haven't really noticed what's happened in Britain."

He added: "If people work for the maximum possible benefit for themselves then we will not have trust in industry, in economics, in financial institutions, we will not see marriages last."

He also said institutions, including marriage, broke down "when you begin to lose faith and society becomes very, very secularised".

'Stable association '

"It's not the fault of one government or another, and it's not even the fault of government," he added.

"It's the fault of what we call culture, which is society talking to itself."

Start Quote

It's not without good reason that most people no longer trust religious leaders or turn to them for 'moral guidance'”

End Quote Stephen Evans National Secular Society

Lord Sacks has been chief rabbi of the UK and Commonwealth since 1991.

The role is traditionally seen as the figurehead of British Jews, although it is only officially representative of the United Synagogue, the biggest wing of orthodox Judaism in the UK.

Lord Sacks announced in 2010 that he would stand down this year.

In the interview he argued that the breakdown of marriage had exacerbated child poverty in the UK, "so children get to be the victims".

Although he said he had no desire to be "prescriptive" about potential solutions, he offered: "I think a situation where children grow up in stable association with the parents who brought them into being is probably the biggest influence on the eventual shape of a society."

Lord Sacks called on all political parties to work more with faith communities on "how can we educate people for a sense of the importance of enduring relationships".

He said: "If you're looking for Big Society, it's strongest in those church or mosque or temple communities, or synagogue communities, because that's what we do. We care for one another."

'Trust in God'

Religious faith "undergirds trust as a whole in society" but is misunderstood by many people, he said, to mean "something I believe without evidence".

"It doesn't mean that at all," he continued.

"Faith, at least Jewish faith, means having trust in one another, and that trust being based on trust in God."

However, Stephen Evans, a spokesman for the National Secular Society, said the importance Lord Sacks attached to religion was "vastly overblown".

"It's not without good reason that most people no longer trust religious leaders or turn to them for 'moral guidance'," said Mr Evans.

"The decline of religious authority and its ability to influence society brings with it a more tolerant and equal society, and we're perfectly capable of being decent and trustworthy people without it," he said.

In an article for the Times newspaper, Lord Sacks recently urged ministers to do more to encourage marriage and support stay-at-home mothers.

The government "should certainly recognise marriage in the tax system", he wrote.

Chancellor George Osborne has already promised a tax break for married couples in his Autumn Statement but his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, are opposed to the move.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    OH so it's because of "individualism" that people have lost trust. . Not because we've been lied to and let down our entire lives by those in power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    "If people work for the maximum possible benefit for themselves then we will not have trust in industry, in economics, in financial institutions, we will not see marriages last."

    "It's not the fault of one government or another, and it's not even the fault of government,"

    The most blatant contradiction I've ever read & Thatcher's most infamous legacy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Why is that this guy gets such a voice in the media?
    Because just like everyone else he has the right to express an opinion whether you agree with him or not. And the fact that he was appointed to the House of Lords doesn't make that opinion less valid.

    I'm not religious but I do believe that "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is not a bad philosophy in life.

  • Comment number 55.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    It is the evils associated with Thatcherism and the control of every aspect of our economy and political life by neoliberal 'monsters' that are doing more harm to our society than the failure to kneel and bow to bishops and others in the religous trade who clearly have a vested interest in maintaining the nonsense.
    Any evidence that praying has helped anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    He is right & I thank him for saying it. Culture is important; great culture cannot thrive if the measure is conventional capitalist profit-squeezing. Case in point: 50 Shades of Misogyny. Someone made the decision to waste forests to publish this corrosive piece of amateur scribbling. Someone else chose to film it. It will make big bux for sure. It also does vast damage esp to psyches ofDaughters

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    How can you lose the plot if you have never had it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    I don't buy Lord Sacks' confusion of religious faith and the ability to trust other people. The latter derives from how you are brought up as a child, and this has a lot to do with love, respect, acceptance and kindness, and little or nothing to do with religion. I prefer humanists to religious folk, convinced of their own righteousness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    The secular opinion on this forum is, as usual, aggressive, sure of itself and downright idiotic. This is a man who should be listened to, whatever your faith or beliefs. British society is sick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    He's largely right: everyone today is out for themselves, whether they be bankers, businessmen or benefit claimants. But the loss of trust is due to urbanisation, not secularisation - the complexity of modern life it allows has destroyed community self-help and caused the human race to de-link itself from nature and its lessons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Actually, even despite the fact that I am an atheist, religion has given us more than just violence and blood shed; for instance organised schooling, improved literacy, as well as a basis for today's law.

    The real problem is good old fashioned greed. Some people are willing to trample others into the dust to make a quick bit of cash. Worst offenders ignore the fact that they've done it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Religion is a good enough cauldron of human flux to test people. The naivety of atheists is their downfall and why they lack stage presence. Maybe they need a secular holy day to come together & chill, and flying spaghetti monster to discuss? Maybe there is no flying spaghetti monster but society is real enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Part of human nature is to care for the group so the group thrives and survives and another part is tribal so we want to fight other groups. It's hard wired into humanity. We mistrust what's different. We find reasons we can justify in our frame of reference but the instincts are primal. Our glorious leaders know this so it's easy for them to manipulate us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Just reading through these early comments proves exactly what the man is saying. 'Its the Govts fault', 'What right has he to say these things?', 17. Trs ' ...look what they are doing to the Palestinians', (as if they are completely innocent!).
    The fault is ours, we ARE now nation of sneering people who blame anyone but ourselves. Perhaps if we were a more proactive nation we might do better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    @ 31 Paul "secularism is the only hope for our future. It is the only way tolerance and justice can prevail"

    Mmm-hmm...Russia? China? North Korea? Where there are people, there'll be injustice. Lumping it all at the door of religion is just a little bit simplistic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    hardly an unbiased view from him. Can we have a follow up to this from a humanist please

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Violent crimes have decreased, robbery has decreased, burglary has decreased, murder rate is always decreasing, knife crimes are down, and the number of rapes is also down (although I realise there are issues surrounding rapes going unreported - but the stats are encrouaging).

    Yeap. Our society is down the toilet :-/

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Millions of innocent people were tortured and murdered by peace loving religious fanatics over the centuries

    Thank goodness more and more people are waking up to the superstitious NONSENSE that religion is

    The sooner the silly, hypocritical, sham dies out altogether the better

    Myth. That the slaughter in the Roman Colosseum stopped post Christianity

    Truth. It went on for another 300 years

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I agree with his conclusion, I however disagree that religion is the sole arbiter of morals and ethics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    People have lost the plot ,they have lost it for years. They don't know how to live anymore. They are THE LOST GENERATION.


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