UK

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

  • 25 August 2013
  • From the section UK
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Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks
Image caption Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks was granted a life peerage four years ago

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."

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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