Keeping Faith – A message for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year on BBC One
In Keeping Faith – Rosh Hashanah 2007 on BBC One, Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks brings viewers a message for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
He offers a spirited defence of religion, demonstrating how it still continues to offer meaning, inspiration, emotional support and a sense of belonging to individuals and communities across Britain.
The film follows the Chief Rabbi through a series of encounters with a broad range of people – from Tony Blair to John Humphrys; from a British Library curator to a group of primary school children – all of whom become, perhaps surprisingly, allies in his defence of faith.
Sir Jonathan says: "These days, it often feels as if faith is under attack. We're told that God is a delusion and religion a divisive, even a destructive, force. But as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, I want to show another side of faith and the role it plays – or could play – in Britain today."
The Chief Rabbi's journey begins with his appearance on BBC Radio 4's Today programme – a secular news programme, which nonetheless, for two minutes and 45 seconds during its peak listening period, turns its studio into a pulpit for religious voices.
That may seem odd, but John Humphrys reveals what happened when one editor tried to change things: "You'd have thought he'd suggested turning Britain into a republic and having Adolph Hitler as the Pope or something. It was a disaster; people went mad!"
Humphrys is a devout agnostic, who nonetheless reveals how he is still "in search of God". He hasn't found him yet and isn't exactly sure what he's looking for, but since science and reason can't answer his nagging questions about the meaning of life, he keeps finding himself drawn to the religious dimension.
As Sir Jonathan puts it: "Science, history, sociology, anthropology. They tell us how, but not why; what is, but not what ought to be. And that is one of the reasons religion never will be obsolete. Because we are meaning-seeking animals. We are the one life form known to us capable of asking the question: Why?"
If John Humphrys is an agnostic who wants to talk about God, then Tony Blair is the opposite – a believer who, for ten years as Prime Minister, followed a spin doctor's advice: "We don't do God." Except that, knowing Tony Blair personally, Sir Jonathan knows that he does "do God".
In the programme, Tony Blair speaks openly about these issues and reveals the role religion played in Government policies such as the Make Poverty History campaign and the Northern Ireland peace process.
He talks about how his own faith sustained him "all the way" during ten years in Downing Street; and he describes the role he sees for religion – both on the international stage and under his own roof:
"My view is that faith is a vital part of future, that it is something that is modern that is part of progress and that it should not be either an interesting part of our tradition or history or the property of fanatics. And I think there is a danger that faith becomes like that."
For Sir Jonathan Sacks, a good test of religion is what we teach children. His final stop is King David School in Birmingham, a Jewish primary, where, over half the pupils are Muslim.
It is a unique situation which has arisen simply because there are not enough Jews in this community to fill the school. What is surprising, however, is that so many parents of other faiths would rather send their children to a Jewish school than to any secular alternative. Faith matters to them.
The Chief Rabbi hears from children, parents and teachers about the value of religious education and he hears them singing a song about something that all the children believe in, regardless of their faith – peace.
"The children here are learning to sing a song about shalom, salaam, a word that means peace and more than peace... It means the ability to live together despite our differences," says Sir Jonathan.
"Because if we were completely different we couldn't communicate; And if we were completely the same, we'd have nothing to say. These children are learning to become what God wants us all to be – agents of hope."
Keeping Faith – Rosh Hashanah 2007, Sunday 9 September 2007, 11pm, BBC One