Monday, December 12, 2011

Lord Sacks: "Has Europe Lost its Soul?"

Every so often a sermon or lecture is delivered which merits being published in its entirety. In truth, the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks delivers them all too frequently, but the pithy brevity of the blog is hardly the optimum medium for dissemination. This one, on the question of 'Has Europe Lost its Soul?' was delivered today at The Pontifical Gregorian University. It is replete with wisdom and insight (for those who don't have the time to read it, His Grace highlights some salient points). Lord Sacks' grasp of history, theology, philosophy, politics and economics is profound. His address is to the Roman Catholic Church, and his appeal is to their partnership. Yet in talking of the market and capitalism, he ignores the fact that the EU was founded upon (and is steeped in) Roman Catholic Social Doctrine which is not quite synonymous with 'markets with morals'. He said:

As the political leaders of Europe come together to try to save the euro, and with it the very project of European Union, I believe the time has come for religious leaders to do likewise, and I want to explain why.

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.

I want to preface my remarks by thanking His Eminence Cardinal Koch for not only inviting me to deliver this lecture, but being so graciously helpful throughout my trip and private audience with His Holiness.

I want to thank Father Francois-Xavier Dumortier, Rector of the Gregorian University for his kind words of introduction as well as Father Philipp Renczes of the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies and Dr. Ed Kessler of the Woolf Institute in Cambridge for hosting this lecture and for all their support in arranging this visit. These two institutions represent the best of European thought, wisdom and spirituality. Through collaborative work, my hope is that these two institutions will help build a European platform to showcase and apply the resources that this continent with its rich heritage has to offer to build a better future for the world.

I am also honoured to see a number of Ambassadors and many other distinguished guests join us here this evening; I thank you all very much for coming.

I want to begin by saying a word about the relationship between the Vatican and the Jewish people.

The history of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jews was not always a happy or an easy one. Too often it was written in tears. Yet something extraordinary happened just over half a century ago, when on 13 June 1960 the French Jewish historian Jules Isaac had an audience with Pope John XXIII and presented him with a dossier of materials he had been gathering on the history of Christian antisemitism. That set in motion the long journey to Vatican II and Nostra Aetate, as a result of which, today, Jews and Catholics meet not as enemies, nor as strangers, but as cherished and respected friends.

That is one of the most dramatic transformations in the religious history of humankind and lit a beacon of hope, not just for us but for the world. It was a victory for the God of love and forgiveness, who created us in love and forgiveness, asking us to love and forgive others.

I hope that this visit, this morning's audience with His Holiness, and this lecture might in some small way mark the beginning of a new chapter in our relationship. For half a century Jews and Christians have focused on the way of dialogue that I call face-to-face. The time has come to move on to a new phase, the way of partnership that I call side-by-side.

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, Civilisation. 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.

The Chinese scholar was right. The same line of reasoning was followed by the Harvard economic historian, David Landes, in his magisterial The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. He too pointed out that China was technologically far in advance of the West until the 15th century. The Chinese had invented the wheelbarrow, the compass, paper, printing, gunpowder, porcelain, spinning machines for weaving textiles and blast furnaces for producing iron. Yet they never developed a market economy, the rise of science, an industrial revolution or sustained economic growth. Landes too concludes that it was the Judeo-Christian heritage that the West had and China lacked.

Admittedly the phrase “Judeo-Christian tradition” is a recent coinage and one that elides significant differences between the two religions and the various strands within each. Different scholars have taken diverse tracks in tracing the economic history of the West. Max Weber famously spoke about The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, with special emphasis on Calvinism. Michael Novak has written eloquently about the Catholic ethic. Rodney Stark has pointed out how the financial instruments that made capitalism possible were developed in the fourteenth century banks in pre-Reformation Florence, Pisa, Genoa and Venice.

Those who emphasised the Jewish contribution, from Karl Marx to Werner Sombart, tended to do so in a spirit of criticism. Nonetheless it cannot be pure coincidence that Jews, numbering less than a fifth of a per cent of the population of the world, have won more than 30 per cent of Nobel Prizes in economics and include such contributions as John von Neumann’s invention of Games Theory, Milton Friedman’s monetary economics, Joseph Stiglitz’ development economics, and Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s behavioural economics and the less-than-fully-rational way in which we make market choices. The biblical Joseph may have been the world’s first economist, having discovered the theory of trade cycles – seven years of plenty followed by seven lean years. The financial state of Europe would be better today if people knew their Bible.

There is, though, enough common ground to speak, at least here, of shared values. First there is the deep biblical respect for the dignity of the human individual, regardless of colour, creed or class, created in the image and likeness of God. The market gives more freedom and dignity to human choice than any other economic system.

Second is the biblical respect for property rights, as against the idea prevalent in the ancient world that rulers were entitled to treat property of the tribe or nation as their own. By contrast, when Moses finds his leadership challenged by the Israelites during the Korach rebellion, he says about his relation to the people, “I have not taken one ass from them nor have I wronged any one of them.” The great assault of slavery against human dignity is that it deprives me of the ownership of the wealth I create.

Then there is the biblical respect for labour. God tells Noah that he will be saved from the flood, but it is Noah who has to build the ark. The verse “Six days shall you labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God” means that we serve God through work as well as rest.

Job creation, in Judaism, is the highest form of charity because it gives people the dignity of not depending on charity. “Flay carcasses in the market-place,” said the third century teacher Rav, “and do not say: I am a priest and a great man and it is beneath my dignity”.

Equally important is Judaism’s positive attitude to the creation of wealth. The world is God’s creation; therefore it is good, and prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing. Asceticism and self-denial have little place in Jewish spirituality. By our labour and inventiveness we become, in the rabbinic phrase, “partners with God in the work of creation”.

Above all, from a Jewish perspective, the most important thing about the market economy is that it allows us to alleviate poverty. Judaism refused to romanticize poverty. It is not, in Judaism, a blessed condition. It is, the rabbis said, “a kind of death” and “worse than fifty plagues”. At the other end of the spectrum they believed that with wealth comes responsibility. Richesse oblige. Successful businessmen (and women) were expected to set an example of philanthropy and to take on positions of communal leadership. Conspicuous consumption was frowned upon, and periodically banned through local “sumptuary laws”. Wealth is a Divine blessing, and therefore it carries with it an obligation to use it for the benefit of the community as a whole.

The rabbis favoured markets and competition because they generate wealth, lower prices, increase choice, reduced absolute levels of poverty, and extend humanity’s control over the environment, narrowing the extent to which we are the passive victims of circumstance and fate. Competition releases energy and creativity and serves the general good.

***

So the market economy and modern capitalism emerged in Judeo-Christian Europe and not in other cultures like China that were more advanced in other ways. The religious ethic was one of the driving forces of this once new form of wealth creation.

Equally however, this same ethic taught the limits of capitalism. It might be the best means we know of for generating wealth, but it is not a perfect system for distributing wealth. Some gain far more than others, and with wealth comes power over others. Unequal distribution means that some are condemned to poverty. And poverty is not just a physical disaster for those without the means to sustain themselves. It is a psychological disaster. Poverty humiliates. It can also force the poor into a cycle of dependence. They may be forced to borrow. They might in biblical times be forced to sell themselves into slavery.

The Hebrew Bible refuses to see as an inexorable law of nature, a Darwinian struggle in which, in Thucydides’ words, “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” That is the ethics of ancient Greece not the ethics of ancient Israel.

And so we find in the bible an entire structure of welfare legislation: the corner of the field, the forgotten sheaves, and other parts of the harvest, left for the poor, together with the tithe on certain years; the sabbatical year in which all produce is available for everyone, debts cancelled and slaves set free; and the jubilee year in which ancestral land returned to its original owners.

This is a highly sophisticated system, aimed at two things: first that the poor should have means of a livelihood, and second that there should be, every seven and fifty years, periodic redistributions to correct the inequalities of the market and establish a level playing field. And what was done in biblical times in a largely agricultural economy was done in post-biblical times through a vast extension of the tzedakah, the word we usually translate as charity, though it also means justice.

Every Jewish community in the Middle Ages had an elaborate system of tzedakah that amounted to nothing less than a mini-welfare state. There was a chevra, a fellowship, gathering and distributing funds for every conceivable purpose: for poor brides, for the sick, for education, for burial, so that no one was deprived of the means of a dignified existence. What made this structure remarkable, indeed unique, was not only that it was the first of its kind, the precursor of the modern welfare state, but also that it was entirely voluntary, the collective decision of a community with no governmental power and often no legal rights.

In a recent and impressive study Harvard political philosopher Eric Nelson has shown that it was the Hebrew Bible, as read by the Christian Hebraists in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, that was the source of the idea that today we take for granted that it is part of the business of a society to engage in the redistribution of wealth through taxation to ensure the welfare of the poor. Such an idea could not be found in the Greek or Roman classics that inspired the Renaissance. The concept of welfare – distributive justice as opposed to legal or retributive justice – is Judaic in origin and flows ultimately from the same generative principle as the free market itself, the idea that every individual has dignity in the image of God and that it is our task to develop social structures that honour and enhance that dignity.

So not only is the market the outcome of a Judeo-Christian ethic. So too is a keen sense of the limits of the market and the need to supplement it with a system of welfare itself funded by the market.

***

However as the critics of capitalism pointed out, the market does not create a stable equilibrium. It engages in creative destruction, or as Daniel Bell put it, capitalism contains cultural contradictions. It tends to erode the moral foundations on which it was built. Specifically, as is manifest clear in contemporary Europe, it erodes the Judeo-Christian ethic that gave birth to it in the first place.

Instead of seeing the system as Adam Smith did, as a means of directing self- interest to the common good, it can become a means of empowering self-interest to the detriment of the common good. Instead of the market being framed by moral principles, it comes to substitute for moral principle. If you can buy it, negotiate it, earn it and afford it, then you are entitled to it – as the advertisers say – because you’re worth it. The market ceases to be merely a system and becomes an ideology in its own right.

The market gives us choices; so morality itself becomes just a set of choices in which right or wrong have no meaning beyond the satisfaction or frustration of desire. The phenomenon that uniquely characterises the human person, the capacity to make second-order evaluations, not just to feel desire but also to ask whether this desire should be satisfied, becomes redundant. We find it increasingly hard to understand why there might be things we want to do, can afford to do and have a legal right to do, that none the less we should not do because they are unjust, or dishonourable, or disloyal, or demeaning. When Homo economicus displaces Homo sapiens, market fundamentalism rules.

There is a wise American saying: Never waste a crisis. And the current financial and economic crisis affords us a rare opportunity to pause and reflect on where we have been going and where it leads.

***

Let’s begin with the current crisis and what led to it. First the sheer complexity of the financial instruments involved in subprime mortgages and the securitization of risk, was so great that for many years their true nature eluded the regulatory authorities, who continued to give the firms involved Triple A ratings, despite the fact that as early as 2002 Warren Buffett described them as weapons of mass financial destruction. Governments, and sometimes even the bankers themselves, did not fully understand the risks involved nor the way in which failure in any part of the banking system could cause the entire system to collapse.

This was in clear contravention of the principles of transparency and accountability. The book of Exodus devotes astonishing space to a detailed set of accounts as to how every item donated to the building of the Tabernacle was spent, to establish the principle that those in charge of public funds must be transparently above suspicion.

Second, many people, especially in America but also in Europe, were encouraged to take out mortgages, often with low initial repayment rates, that they could not repay, and that those encouraging them should have known they could not repay except under the most optimistic and unlikely scenarios of continued low interest rates and continually rising house prices. This is forbidden in Jewish law under the biblical prohibition: “You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind.”

Third, the bankers themselves not only awarded themselves disproportionately high salaries but also, by providing themselves with “golden parachutes”, insulated themselves from the very risks to which they were exposing both their customers and their shareholders. Almost two thousand years ago the rabbis established a series of enactments precisely to avoid the possibility that someone could benefit from failure or dereliction of duty.

Fourth, no one who reads the Bible with its provisions for the remission of debts every seventh year could fail to understand how morally concerned it is to prevent the build up of indebtedness, of mortgaging freedom tomorrow for the sake of liberty today. The unprecedented levels of private and public debt in the West should have sent warning signals long ago that such a state of affairs was unsustainable in the long run. The Victorians knew what we have forgotten, that spending beyond your means is morally hazardous, however attractive it may be, and the system should not encourage it.

There are larger issues. There is the fundamental question of who can control the modern international corporation and to whom is it accountable. In medieval times, however much the owners of land abused those who worked for them, there was an organic connection between them. The landowner had some interest in the welfare of those who worked for him, for if they were well and reasonably happy, they worked reasonably well. Likewise in the nineteenth century, industrialists may have created appalling working conditions, but at least some enlightened employers, like Robert Owen or the Cadburys and Rowntrees, knew that satisfied employees produced good work. Their example, together with the great nineteenth century social reformers, eventually led to more humane working conditions.

To whom is an international corporation answerable? Often they do not employ workers. They outsource manufacturing to places far away. If wages rise in one place, they can, almost instantly, transfer production to somewhere else. If a tax regime in one country becomes burdensome, they can relocate to another. To whom, then, are they accountable? By whom are they controllable? For whom are they responsible? To which group of people other than shareholders do they owe loyalty? The extreme mobility, not only of capital but also of manufacturing and servicing, is in danger of creating institutions that have power without responsibility, as well as a social class, the global elite, that has no organic connection with any group except itself. As for moral responsibility, it seems that that too can be outsourced. It is someone else’s problem, not mine.

This has profound moral consequences. George Soros writes of how in his early years as an investment manager he had to spend immense time and energy proving his credentials, his character and integrity, before people would do business with him. Nowadays, he says, deals are transactional rather than personal. Instead of placing your faith in a person, you get lawyers to write safeguards into the contract. This is an historic shift from a trust economy to a risk economy. But trust is not a dispensable luxury. It is the very basis of our social life. Many scholars believe that capitalism had religious roots because people could trust other people who, feeling that they were answerable to God, could be relied on to be honest in business. A world without trust is a lonely and dangerous place.

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.

If you were Jewish, you knew what it felt like to be a slave in Egypt, eating the bread of affliction and the bitter herbs of slavery. You knew what it felt like to be homeless for forty years as you wandered through the desert. You knew the call of Isaiah, “Learn to do good, seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” You had social justice engraved in your neural pathways. When I asked the developmental economist Jeffrey Sachs what motivated him in his work, he replied immediately, tikkun olam, the Jewish imperative to heal a fractured world. Christians did likewise. They did not need regulatory bodies to ensure that they worked for the common good. They knew they were morally responsible, even if they were not legally liable, for the consequences of their decisions for the lives of others.

Economists call this social capital, but it is not a given of the human condition. Societies where self-interest trumps the common good eventually disintegrate. That is why societies at the peak of affluence have usually already begun on the downward slope to decline. The fourteenth century Islamic thinker Ibn Khaldun argued that when a civilization becomes great, its elites get used to luxury and comfort, and the people as a whole lose their asabiyah, their social solidarity. Giambattista Vico described a similar cycle: “People first sense what is necessary, then consider what is useful, next attend to comfort, later delight in pleasures, soon grow dissolute in luxury, and finally go mad squandering their estates.”

This was said first and most powerfully by Moses long ago. The theme of his great speeches in the book of Deuteronomy is that it is not hardship that is the real trial, but affluence. Affluence makes you complacent. You no longer have the moral and mental energy to make the sacrifices necessary for the defence of freedom. Inequalities grow. The rich become self-indulgent. The poor feel excluded. There are social divisions, resentments, injustices. Society no longer coheres. People do not feel bound to one another by a bond of collective responsibility. Individualism prevails. Trust declines. Social capital wanes. When that happens, you will be defeated.

Those who believe that liberal democracy and the free market can be defended by the force of law and regulation alone, without an internalised sense of duty and morality, are tragically mistaken.

***

At the most basic level, the consumer society is sapping our moral strength. It has produced a society obsessed with money: salaries, bonuses, the cost of houses, and expensive luxuries we could live without. When money rules, we remember the price of things and forget the value of things, and that is dangerous.

The financial crisis was caused, at least in part, by banks and mortgage brokers lending people so much money at such low interest rates to buy houses, that house prices rose rapidly until investing in a house seemed the best you could make. More people borrowed more money and house prices rose yet higher, until everyone felt that they were richer. But in real terms we weren't. Ignoring values and concentrating on price, we mortgaged our future to feed a fantasy. Like other historic bubbles, it was a moment of collective madness, of the essentially magical belief that there can be gains without losses; forgetting that the larger the gain, the bigger the risk, and that the price is often paid by those who can least afford it.

In general, the build-up of personal debt happened because the consumer society encouraged people to borrow money they didn’t have, to buy things they didn’t need, to achieve a happiness that wouldn’t last. The sages of the ancient world said: Who is rich? One who rejoices in what he has. The consumer society says the opposite. Who is rich? One who can buy what he does not yet have. Relentlessly focussing on what we lack and what others have, it encourages feelings of inadequacy that we assuage by buying a product to make us happy, which it does until the day after, when the next best thing comes along and makes us feel inadequate all over again.

It is no accident that despite the fact that until recently we were affluent beyond the dreams of previous generations, we were not measurably happier. We turned children into mini-consumers, giving them mobile phones instead of our time. The result, in Britain, is a generation of children more unhappy, more prone to depression, stress, eating disorders, and drug and alcohol abuse than they were fifty years ago. The consumer society turns out to be a highly efficient system for the creation and distribution of unhappiness.

It goes deeper still. We know – it has been measured in many experiments – that children with strong impulse control grow to be better adjusted, more dependable, achieve higher grades in school and college and have more success in their careers than others. Success depends on the ability to delay gratification, which is precisely what a consumerist culture undermines. At every stage, the emphasis is on the instant gratification of instinct. In the words of the pop group Queen, “I want it all and I want it now.” A whole culture is being infantilised.

My late father, coming to Britain at the age of six fleeing persecution in Poland, knew poverty and lived it. But he and his contemporaries had a rich cultural, communal and spiritual life. He enjoyed classical music and the great painters. He loved synagogue and his faith as a Jew. The Jewish communities of the East End, like some Asian sub-communities today, had strong families, supportive networks, and high aspirations, if not for themselves then for their children. Of the gifts of the spirit they had an embarrass de richesse. Can we really say that the world of brands and status symbols, of what you own rather than what you are, is better? What of the future if we really are fated to years of recession? What will that mean for a culture where happiness is defined by material possessions? It will mean the maximum of disappointment with the minimum of consolation. Whether our social structures are strong enough to survive this is wholly open to doubt.

***

A good society has its own ecology which depends on multiple sources of meaning, each with its own integrity. I want to draw attention briefly to five features of Judaism, largely shared by Christianity, whose role over the centuries has been to preserve a space uninvaded by the market ethic.

The first is the Sabbath, the boundary Judaism draws around economic activity. The Sabbath is the day we focus on the things that have value but not a price, when we neither work nor employ others to do our work, when we neither buy nor sell, in which all manipulation of nature for creative ends is forbidden and all hierarchies of power or wealth are suspended.

It is the still point in the turning world, when we renew our attachment to family and community, living the truth that the world is not wholly ours to bend to our will but something given to us in trust to conserve for future generations, and in which the inequalities of a market economy are counterbalanced by a world in which money does not count, in which we are all equal citizens. The Jewish writer Achad Ha-am said that more than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews. It is the one day in seven when we stop making a living and instead simply live.

The second: marriage and the family. Judaism is one of the great familial traditions. Many of its supreme religious moments take place in the home between husband and wife, parents and children. Marriage is where love and loyalty combine to bring new life into the world. If Jews have survived tragedy, found happiness, and contributed more than their share to the human heritage, I suspect it is because of the sanctity with which they endowed marriage and the way they regarded parenthood as their most sacred task.

Third: education. Since the days of Moses Jews have predicated their very survival on education. They were the first civilization to construct, two thousand years ago, a universal compulsory education, communally funded, to ensure that everyone had access to knowledge. They even said that study is holier than prayer. Jews are the people whose heroes are teachers, whose citadels are schools and whose passion is the life of the mind. Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, once said that he came from one of those Russian-Jewish families where they expected even the plumber to have a PhD. Jews did not leave education to the vagaries of the market. They made the market serve the cause of education.

Fourth: the concept of property itself. Deeply embedded in the Jewish mind is the idea that we do not ultimately own what we possess. Everything belongs to God, and what we have, we hold in trust. There are conditions to that trust. As the great Victorian philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore put it, “We are worth what we are willing to share with others”. Hence the long tradition of Jewish philanthropy that explains how Judaism encouraged the creation of wealth without giving rise to class resentments.

Finally, there is the Jewish tradition of law itself. It was William Rees-Mogg who first drew attention to a connection between Jewish law and economics I had never thought of before. In a book he wrote about inflation, The Reigning Error, he said that inflation – like high levels of debt – is a disease of inordinacy. It happens because of a failure to understand that energy, to be channelled, needs restraints. It was the constant discipline of law, he says, that provided the boundaries within which Jewish creativity could flow. It taught Jews self-restraint, and it is the failure of societies to practice self-restraint that leads to inflation or unsustainable debt.

So the Sabbath, the family, the educational system, the concept of ownership as trusteeship, and the discipline of religious law, were not constructed on the basis of economic calculation. To the contrary, they were ways in which Judaism in effect said to the market: thus far and no further. There are realms in which you may not intrude.

The concept of the holy is precisely the domain in which the worth of things is not judged by their market price or economic value. This fundamental insight of Judaism and Christianity is all the more striking given their respect for the market. Their strength is that they resisted the temptation to believe that the market governs the totality of our lives, when it fact it governs only a limited part of it, that which concerns goods subject to production and exchange. There are things fundamental to being human that we do not produce; instead we receive from those who came before us and from God Himself. And there are things which we may not exchange, however high the price.

When everything that matters can be bought and sold, when commitments can be broken because they are no longer to our advantage, when shopping becomes salvation and advertising slogans our litany, when our worth is measured by how much we earn and spend, then the market is destroying the very virtues on which in the long run it depends. That is the danger that advanced economies now face. At such times the voice of our great religious traditions needs to be heard, warning us of the gods that devour their own children, and of the ruins of once-great buildings that stand today as relics of civilisations that once seemed invincible.

***

I have argued that the market economy originated in Europe in the fertile environment of Judeo-Christian values sympathetic to hard work, industry, frugality, diligence, patience, discipline, and a sense of duty and obligation. Capitalism was seen by its early proponents as a profoundly moral enterprise. It generated wealth, softened manners, tamed unruly passions, and diminished the threat of war. Two adjacent nations could either fight or trade. From fight both lost. From trade both gained.

The market’s “invisible hand” turned the pursuit of self interest into the wealth of nations, and intellectual property fuelled the fires of invention. Capitalism has enhanced human dignity, leaving us with more choices and a longer-life expectancy than any generation of those who came before us.

But there is no such thing as a stable equilibrium in human affairs. There is a natural tendency for institutions in the ascendancy to invade territories not rightly or fully their own, with disastrous consequences. In religious ages, the culprit was usually religion. At times it sought political power and became an enemy of liberty. At other times it sought to control the dissemination of ideas and thus became an enemy of the unfettered collaborative pursuit of truth.

Today, in a Europe more secular than it has been since the last days of pre-Christian Rome, the culprits are an aggressive scientific atheism tone deaf to the music of faith; a reductive materialism blind to the power of the human spirit; global corporations uncontrollable by and sometimes more powerful than national governments; forms of finance so complex as to surpass the understanding of bodies charged with their regulation; a consumer-driven economy that is shrivelling the imaginative horizons of our children; and a fraying of all the social bonds, from family to community, that once brought comfort and a redemption of solitude, to be replaced by virtual networks mediated by smartphone, whose result is to leave us “alone together.”

What can we do, we who, because we have faith in God, have faith in God’s faith in humankind? There is a significant phrase that Pope Benedict XVI has often used: creative minority. If there is one thing Jews know how to be it is a creative minority. So my proposal is that Jews and Catholics should seek to be creative minorities together. A duet is more powerful than a solo. Renouncing any aspiration for power, we should seek to encourage the single most neglected source of energy in a consumer-driven, profit-maximising society, namely the power of altruism.

We should enlist business leaders to help us teach that markets need morals; that without a strong ethic, there may be short term success but no long term viability; and that conscience is not for wimps, it is the basis of trust and confidence on which business, financial institutions and the economy as a whole depend.

We should use this moment of recession to restore to their rightful place in society the things that have value but not a price: marriage, the family, home, dedicated time between parents and children, the face-to-face friendships that make up community, the celebration of what we have not the restless pursuit of what we don’t, a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving, and a willingness to share some of God’s blessings with those who have less. These are the true sources of lasting happiness and have been empirically proved to be so.

We should seek to recover the alternative world created by the Sabbath, one day in seven in which we set limits to the power of the market to enslave us with its siren song, and instead give our relationships the chance to mature and our souls the pure air they need to breathe. We should challenge the relativism that tells us there is no right or wrong, when every instinct of our mind knows it is not so, and is a mere excuse to allow us to indulge in what we believe we can get away with. A world without values quickly becomes a world without value.

Economic superpowers have a short shelf-life: Spain in the fifteenth century, Venice in the sixteenth, Holland in the seventeenth, France in the eighteenth, Britain in the nineteenth, America in the twentieth. Meanwhile Christianity has survived for two thousand years, and Judaism for twice as long as that. The Judeo-Christian heritage is the only system known to me capable of defeating the law of entropy that says all systems lose energy over time.

Stabilising the Euro is one thing, healing the culture that surrounds it is another. A world in which material values are everything and spiritual values nothing is neither a stable state nor a good society. The time has come for us to recover the Judeo-Christian ethic of human dignity in the image of God. When Europe recovers its soul, it will recover its wealth-creating energies. But first it must remember: humanity was not created to serve markets. Markets were created to serve humankind.

38 Comments:

Blogger Dr Parsley said...

Brilliant! I'm afraid it will only be heard, however, by those who have ears to hear.

12 December 2011 at 21:14  
Blogger AncientBriton said...

>>We should seek to recover the alternative world created by the Sabbath, one day in seven in which we set limits to the power of the market to enslave us with its siren song, and instead give our relationships the chance to mature and our souls the pure air they need to breathe.<<

Practising what he preaches, the noble Lord made his excuses when he spoke in the Lords debate on Christians in the Middle East on 9 Dec:
" My Lords, I must begin with an apology for the fact that I must infringe the convention of this House by not being here at the end of this debate. As darkness falls early in these winter months, the Jewish Sabbath enters very early and I must have ceased work in time to observe it."
Excellent.

12 December 2011 at 21:47  
Blogger non mouse said...

Yes, Your Grace - it is brilliant. I look forward to reading it more thoroughly, as soon as I have time.

12 December 2011 at 21:48  
Blogger Dodo the Dude said...

This is a brilliant analysis of modern capitalism.It is also a deeply insightful presentation of Old Testament socialethics and morality.

How Mr Cranmer can say:

" ... Roman Catholic Social Doctrine ... is not quite synonymous with 'markets with morals'."

From reading the text, it is clear there is much greater continuity between Jewish Social Doctrine and Catholic Social Doctrine than between it and the 'Protestant Ethic'.

But then Jesus was Catholic!

12 December 2011 at 23:09  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

Thank you, Your Grace for this and the previous post. Quite a bit of press we're getting today on an Anglican website!

AncientBriton, how interesting that in this long article you noticed the Sabbath. As one of two or three Orthodox long distance truck drivers in North America, I have to work around my schedule so that I'm either at home (preferably), or at a motel safely before our Shabbat begins. Showered, dressed formally, with two candles lit, a silver cup of red kosher wine or grape juice, two challahs and a meal that is better than a weekday meal, all prettily arranged on a white table cloth over the room's desk is how I greet our Shabbat. It's not easy to arrange, it creates logistical nightmares on the road and makes it a bit harder to find contracts. It's also lonely without being at the synagogue with my family and friends and spebding the afternoon visiting or having guests over, but it can be done, must be done, and I couldn't imagine missing a single Sabbath.

My extended family includes Christians, one of whom was raised as a Presbyterian in Scotland. She recalls how her grandmother observed Sunday as a day of rest in a similar way to our Jewish Sabbath, although without many of the strictures we have. I occasionally team-drive with a very religious Pentecostal chap, a pleasant, always happy and smiley fellow who makes me feel like curmudgeon in comparison. He takes his Sundays seriously, so I take over and drive and keep the radio off and the cabin curtain drawn so that he can spend the Sunday in the sleeper in rest, snoozing, prayer and study.

It's not for me to advise on such matters, but I wonder if a restoration of the traditional Christian Sunday would not benefit many of you modern Christian folks. Imagine, staying off the phone and the computer, getting all gussied up for church and then lounging about with family and friends with no appointments, assignments, schedules or errands. Do this for a month or two and there's no going back to the old hectic ways.

12 December 2011 at 23:32  
Blogger AncientBriton said...

Avi Barzel, the Lord's Day Observance Society, now incorporated into OneDay [http://www.lordsday.co.uk/keeping_the_lord's_day.htm] used to be mocked for their activities. They may have been too strict for many tastes but Sundays in most of Great Britain have now become the day when 'Christian' children train/take part in sporting activities rather than attend church unless required to get them into the 'right' school. Restoration of the traditional Christian Sunday would benefit many of our modern Christian folks but sadly religion has already lost any meaning for them although there are some attempts to move 'Sunday Schools' to weekdays. You are indeed fortunate despite the difficulties you describe.

13 December 2011 at 00:30  
Blogger Manfarang said...

DoDo the Dude

Jesus was Jewish!
Luke 23 KJV
38And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

13 December 2011 at 04:20  
Blogger Manfarang said...

Ancient Briton
My Seventh Day Adventist friends observe the Sabbath.

13 December 2011 at 04:31  
Blogger IanCad said...

Ancient Briton wrote;
"traditional Christian Sunday"

This is not The Sabbath of The Lord Our God. To embrace Sunday as a false sabbath is to declare that man has the power to "Change times and Laws" It is to me quite astonshing that Sunday Worship has become ubiquitous in the Protestant denominations. There is no biblical mandate for the change. One can read the great Protestant divines and they hold to a man that it was changed from the Seventh Day to the First but offer not a whit of biblical evidence. I cannot but have more respect for our Catholic friends. At least they have the honesty to admit, more like boast, that they changed it.

The enforcing of this false belief has cost the lives of countless souls throughout the ages. It has been accomplice to so much of the vile anti-semitism that stains history.

Now, watch Europe. Already it is illegal for many businesses to open on The Day of The Sun. Under the guise of "employee welfare" there is strong agitation to make it a compulsory "rest day". This policy may have legs. Oppose it with all that is in you.

Thanks for the early morning light reading YG.

13 December 2011 at 07:53  
Blogger Roy said...

The Archbishop of Canterbury has some good qualities but he could certainly learn some lessons in how to communicate from the Chief Rabbi who never seems to mistake obscurity for profundity.

As St Paul put it:

"For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?"

13 December 2011 at 09:02  
Blogger AncientBriton said...

IanCad, in referring to the "traditional Christian Sunday" I was quoting from Avi Bazel's interesting response. To worship on Sunday as a day set apart must be good for Christians and even non-believers but to worship Sunday goes against "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27)

13 December 2011 at 09:20  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

AncientBriton, there seems to be "weekend scam" going on then! When fellow Jews explain to me that they can't take Sabbath "off" because Jonathan has soccer, karate and drums on Saturdays, it seems that Christian parents claim that it would be hard to "do church" because Pierce has his...soccer, karate and drums on Sundays. Someone's making a killing out there with all those sport things, and I'm in the wrong business.

IanCad, you're right, the Christian Sabbath was changed to Sundays, most likely to distinguish it from the the Jewish Shabbat, which begins on Friday evening, as our days start with sun-down. Muslims chose Fridays. My guess would be these choices were made to actually reduce the potential conflict of all the different adherents rushing off to their houses of worship on the same day, and to keep people from mingling too much with the "wrong kind."

Today all three follow the current Christian and international calendar, as our Jewish Shabbat, even with a different calendar system, always begins on Friday evening. Not being a scholar, not wanting to put my head into inter-religious buzz-saws and being a bit daft with numbers, calendars and such, I'd say the commandment simply insists on marking the seventh day, period, while the decision on what day it should fall (and what we should call these days) appears to be left up to us, our communities and traditions.

I should add, though, that to me the beauty and peace of the Shabbat is dependent on it being wholly voluntary. I think that in our times measures to enforce Sabbath regulations, be they Sunday laws in Europe, or public street closings in Jerusalem, are not just bad things, but desacrations of G-d's name.

13 December 2011 at 12:08  
Blogger Preacher said...

Lord Sacks & Avi Barzel make quite a team. Profound wisdom from both. In todays world we are driven by the busy, busy, pressure cooker of modern society. But a day of rest, is not a choice it's a neccesity. The results of abstaining from it are obvious as more & more people suffer mental health & other associated problems.
Spiritual health & vitality also suffer & morality is a casualty.
I believe that years ago some work horses were denied a day off, they became sick & lethargic, but were restored to health as soon as the day of rest was reinstated.
A time in a retreat is better than a spell in a health farm. Just a few days & the change is awesome. No television, phone, (mobiles included), just rest, fresh air & good food. You don't even have to belong to any faith to participate. recommended to put the roses back in your cheeks & the spring in your step.

LOL WV "tents"

13 December 2011 at 12:58  
Blogger peggy38 said...

My understanding is that Sunday became the Christian Sabbath because the Lord rose on that day of the week. That is why each Sunday is considered a weekly version of the Feast of the Resurrection. In the same way Friday has significance as a day to fast from meat as the weekly observance of Good Friday.

In short, it was not arbitrarily changed by the Church. According to Christian theology, Jesus, by rising on the third day on the first day of the week, changed the whole world. So Christians have celebrate on Sunday the end of the work of Christ and dawn of the new creation.

I agree that we must reclaim a day of rest for all from labour and acquisition. It is sane. It recognizes the dignity of all people. But before we can reclaim Sunday, we will have to fight back on our major feast days. I for one am sick of having Mom or Sis having to go off to work on Easter or Christmas Day as if the world simply cannot go one day without an open Walmart or clothing store. Soon there will be no day on the calendar that is any different from all the others full of mindless consumption for the fortunate and back breaking labor for those who aren't.

Personally, I refuse to shop on our holidays. I don't care what the sales are. I don't care if there is a great movie opening. I don't care if my family is driving me nuts and it would be so much easier to escape to the local shops. I am not going to start. My goal is to stop shoppin on Sunday also but at my age I have never known a time when Sunday was not a business day. So there is a lifetime of habit still to overcome there.

If we as Christians want to see the change, we can't wait around for someone to pass a law. We need to start the change by changing our habits first.

13 December 2011 at 14:48  
Blogger AncientBriton said...

It's all part of of the slippery slope Avi. Give an inch and people will take a yard. In Christian terms the Biblical day of rest has become so relaxed that it is indistinguishable from other days for most of us in the UK.

The original intention in relaxing Sunday restrictions was to allow people to relax how they wished in parallel with religious observance but relaxation has taken the place of religious observance for the majority of people as exemplified by the figure that only 15% of the population here attends church at least once a month!

Sports practice for children on a Sunday is now so widespread it has become a convenient excuse for not going to church resulting in the dillution of the nation's Christian heritage and all that that entails.

13 December 2011 at 15:19  
Blogger Mr Integrity said...

Your Grace,
This is possibly the best read I have seen on this blog. One might be forgiven for thinking that Lord Sacks was a Christian.
One of the earliest comments I left on these pages was to do with achieving a Judeo/Christian Government in order to set a lead and example for society. To create an environment whereby evangelism amongst the people, with God’s blessing, would face the community with the challenge of the Gospel.
I have selected a few pieces that I feel most relevant in this context;
‘If Europe loses the Judaeo-Christian heritage that gave it its historic ...... it will lose its identity and its greatness’.
‘When a civilisation loses its faith, it loses 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.’
‘The financial state of Europe would be better today if people knew their Bible.’
‘in the rabbinic phrase, “partners with God in the work of creation”’. We Christians say we are co-workers with God in that he uses us to fulfill his purposes.
Wealth is a Divine blessing, and therefore it carries with it an obligation to use it for the benefit of the community as a whole.
‘There is a wise American saying: Never waste a crisis’
....After the 1987 crash Robert Beckman in his book ‘Crashes’ wrote; The reason crashes happen is because we learn nothing, which is why they will they will continue in the future just as they have in the past. It would seem that in most areas of life and politics, the past is ignored.
‘people could trust other people who, feeling that they were answerable to God, could be relied on to be honest in business’
‘without morality, responsibility, transparency, accountability, honesty and integrity, the system will fail’
Can anyone point to a political party today that demonstrates these qualities?
‘Good conduct.............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’.
‘Affluence makes you complacent......The rich become self-indulgent. The poor feel excluded. Who is rich? One who rejoices in what he has.’
I have argued that the market economy originated in Europe in the fertile environment of Judeo-Christian values sympathetic to hard work, industry, frugality, diligence, patience, discipline, and a sense of duty and obligation.
‘So my proposal is that Jews and Catholics should seek to be creative minorities together. A duet is more powerful than a solo’.
‘restore to their rightful place in society the things that have value but not a price: marriage, the family, home, dedicated time between parents and children, the face-to-face friendships that make up community, the celebration of what we have not the restless pursuit of what we don’t, a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving, and a willingness to share some of God’s blessings with those who have less. These are the true sources of lasting happiness and have been empirically proved to be so.’
‘The time has come for us to recover the Judeo-Christian ethic of human dignity in the image of God’.

13 December 2011 at 15:56  
Blogger Anglican said...

Another really excellent piece by Lord Sacks is his article in Standpoint magazine, Sept 2011, entitled 'The Challenge of 9/11', about how the West needs to re-moralise itself, or it will continue down a path of cultural weakness and decline.

13 December 2011 at 18:18  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

His Grace he (Lord Sachs) ignores the fact that the EU was founded upon (and is steeped in) Roman Catholic Social Doctrine

I say Archbishop, your customary distrust of Rome comes to the fore again, what !

Rather a lot of RCs on the continent. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the EU, the founders and administrators had the good sense to make it a Christian setup, which should be rather pleasing to us believers. Rather a shame the Anglican communion doesn’t have a similar positive influence on social policy in the UK. As we know, much of it is of a godless basis, and some of it could have emanated from the very Devil himself !

There, that’s all the Inspector wishes to say on the subject…

13 December 2011 at 18:30  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

One word: superb.

I wonder if Rabbi Sacks would be interested in becoming Archbishop of Canterbury?

13 December 2011 at 19:08  
Blogger Mr Integrity said...

Inspector Excepting the last fifty years maybe, the CofE had a profound effect on the development of this country over the previous four centuries from the early 1500's. The Calvinist work ethic filtered in to create the industrial revolution.

13 December 2011 at 19:16  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Mr Integrity. As you know, the people are facing a sharp decline in living standards. Many are to know real hardship (...including cold...) for the first time. The Inspector hopes that Williams’ successor is a clean shaven right winger, to provide these souls with leadership. Cosseted liberal theologians are going to receive a rough ride in the next few years (...we hope, and deservedly so...).

13 December 2011 at 19:46  
Blogger Preacher said...

Forget the denominations, chuck it all overboard with the squabbles & the sniping.
God stands outside of our wrangles, He is neither Catholic nor Protestant, Baptist or Methodist, Pentecostal or Orthodox. We are Judeo/Christians.
We can join God, He will not join any of our denominations.
Joshua 5:13-15 makes the position clear: "Who are you for, us or our adversaries?" asks Joshua.
"NEITHER, But as the captain of the Lords hosts" comes the reply.
Thank you Lord Sacks for showing how close Jew & Gentile are to the same God if only we will open our eyes & see.

Blessings.

13 December 2011 at 19:53  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

IanCad,

The young lady, Peggy38 provides a good argument for the reason behind the Christian change to Sundays, one of which I was unaware when I made guesses. I hope I did not offend anyone.

You also make a good argument for retaining the original day. Me, I'm thinking that with all the calendar changes and adjustments, we've all kind of lost count and today could be Thursday, for we know. Believe me, a switch to a Saturday for the Christian Sabbath would be boon for me, as I wouldn't have to be such a stick in the mud all the time, but this is a matter for you Christian folks to resolve.

I wish you fortitude in your determination, young Miss Peggy38; take the plunge (keeping the honor-your-parents bit in mind as well). The plunge, I learned, is easier than the gradual approach, and you'll have to stand fast in the face of difficulties and opposition. Eventually you won't imagine how you did things any other way, people will accept your choice and your phone will stop ringing on Sundays.

AncientBriton, I was "privileged" to observe the slide down the old slippery slope while in Canada, and over a period of about two decades. The Conservative Judaism denominations decided to allow driving on the Sabbath...but only to synagogue and home, without handling money or doing any other workday activities. Life in suburbia made it impossible for people to walk to their synagogue and besides, what if you prefer another rabbi across town? But then, people need to get gas now and then and while getting gas, a coffee won't hurt, since the wallet's out anyway. After synagogue it's traditional to visit or invite, but with everyone living all over the city, it makes more sense to eat out. Of course, there are no kosher restaurants open on the Sabbath, so something "kosher-style" (interpreted as no bacon or cheese on the hamburger) must be found. Of course, the really important thing is to keep a kosher home. Right. Well, to fast-forward the process, once people started buzzing around in cars with money in their pockets, munching on treif because G-d forbid their blood sugar should go down, there're the good sales which can't be ignored. And since the Sabbath ends late in the summer, and the kids are bored, going for an early movie is a true, sanity-saving necessity. Somewhere along all this, keeping a kosher kitchen became too troublesome...anyway, they eat out, so why be a stickler or a hypocrite. This can happen in less than a generation.

Preacher, you flatter me; Lord Rabbi Sachs is, for this Modern Orthodox at least, one of our greatest sages of our generation. Not all in our Orthodox sector agree and he is criticised on a number of issues from the traditionalist sectors, but to many of us, he represents an old and admirable tradition of an authentic Judaism engaged in the world, interested in learning about it, and one which reaches out to non-Jews in friendship. I can't say I agree with all of his politics, but I bow to his great learning, wisdom and generosity of spirit, knowing I'm not even good enough to even be his student .
Must be off for now, folks, as I'll be driving my 18 wheels in NY City soon, and my hair's turning white just thinking about all those low bridges, narrow ramps and suicidal taxi cab maniacs.

13 December 2011 at 20:03  
Blogger len said...

Well said Preacher!.(19:53)

13 December 2011 at 20:09  
Blogger Dodo the Dude said...

Mr Integrity said ...

"The Calvinist work ethic filtered in to create the industrial revolution."

Have you read the article by the Rabbi, particularly those sections regarding poverty and the redistribution of wealth?

Protestantism and particularly Calvinism placed responsibility squarly on individuals for their material wealth and down played the worth of charitable giving. Surplus wealth was instead invested. Not much chance of a 7 year amnesty or a 50 year clearing of debt there!

13 December 2011 at 22:28  
Blogger Mr Integrity said...

Whilst the leadership of the churches today have lost their influence, there is still a moral majority out there that don't want the secular influence affecting society. Cold, Inspector is not something new to my generation. If we did not have fuel for the fire we put more clothes on.

13 December 2011 at 22:44  
Blogger Richard Alastair said...

'The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.' ...
There are many good points in the article and in the comments.
While religious leaders have sometimes been too secular and not spiritual enough for some of their followers, good leaders often labor without notice. Some of our Christian 'leaders' have often been more interested in speaking to the world than in ministering to their own people. Ideally, pastors should counsel their flock, teachers should be responsible for and to their students, healers should tend to the sick and evangelists should speak to the world. Bishops or 'Elders' should be seeing to it that all these others are at their proper tasks. Leaders only lose influence when they stray beyond their assigned roles. The Learned Rabbi sounds to me like he has the makings of a good evangelist.

14 December 2011 at 02:12  
Blogger IanCad said...

Peggy wrote

"My understanding is that Sunday became the Christian Sabbath because the Lord rose on that day of the week."

Sunday never became the Christian Sabbath. It became the Christian day of worship. The Sabbath is a Commandment of God. Given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, it is for all time. It is the Seventh Day, from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. At no time was it revoked. Our Saviour showed us how it should be observed as a day of joy and praise. He magnified it after The Crucifixion by resting on it.
Granted, your quote above reflects the understanding of most people who profess the Christian faith, but there is no biblical basis for conflating The Resurrection with the Sabbath. For the former we have Holy Communium but even in that memorial it is celebrated only in part, leaving out the obligations set forth in the thirteenth chapter of the gospel of John. Allow me to also point out that the dates of both Christmas and Easter are of entirely pagan origin.
To plead to the government to mandate a compulsory day of rest--if that is what you are alluding to--suggests to me that we have embraced the notion that we no longer have a will of our own. We are at perfect liberty to worship on any day we please. That is how it should be. We are also able to shop, play and work as we please. Government should not concern itself with such matters.

14 December 2011 at 09:33  
Blogger peggy38 said...

IanCad,

No I was not suggesting a government mandated day off. I was suggesting personal action. If enough people embrace the idea of not shopping on holidays and on Sundays then the shops won't find it profitable to open. And maybe my mum and sis won't have to work on holidays because someone with a better job than them has to get that deal on a Playstation. I won't be holding my breath of course but if someone gives a damn, they might join me in refusing to be a part of such a system.

It is a simple fact that our freedom to shop any day that we please leads to the kind of inequality where the poor don't have a choice but to work while the fortunate get their shopping in (because they dont have to work) at the expense of the poor.

I think its a matter of common decency to be more considerate of people who work hard but are trapped in low wage jobs out of necessity.

As for the Christian Sabbath. I used that term in two senses. Since I was responding to someone whom I am fairly confident is Jewish, I used the term that he is familiar with to draw a parallel between the two observances. Also, I used the term in the sense that in the old days, Sunday was also a day of rest for Christians as well. The term Sabbath applies nicely. Further, Christians have long used the term when referring to Sunday.

I am not sure what your beef when you refer to Christians changing the date the Sabbath. I was not addressing that issue whatever it means in your mind nor do I want to. For me, Christian Sunday and Jewish Saturday are entirely separate observances. The one is not some illegitamate usurper of the other.

14 December 2011 at 16:32  
Blogger AncientBriton said...

I am with you on this peggy38. I voluntarily do not shop on Sundays save for buying a newspaper and occasionally the odd item that was not in stock or forgotten about, eg beef without horseradish sauce wouldn't be the same for me or pork without apple sauce on our day of rest but if the shops didn't open, fair enough. I find it particularly sad on Good Fridays when the liturgy is interrupted by noises coming from the commercial activities of people outside but then that would have been the same when Christ died on the Cross.

14 December 2011 at 17:49  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

The Inspector remembers the campaign led by the big supermarkets to open on Sunday. He recalls a policy of defiance of the existing shopping laws for that day as a significant ploy. However, while they were defying that law, they were extremely concerned that another law be upheld. The law covering shop lifting !

It’s a funny old world, what !

14 December 2011 at 18:53  
Blogger Shacklefree said...

Rabbi Sachs has written a very good article about the danger of losing our Judaeo/Christian heritage. This is the heritage of truth given to us by our Creator. He quotes a Chinese academic who came to realise that the strength of Western civilization was Christianity and Rabbi Sachs concurs with this view and suggests that we are in danger of losing our heritage. How right he is and he recommends that Jews and Christians walk side by side in the face of a hostile world. However the problem with modern western culture is that we have tried to walk side by side with Muslims and Hindus and Rastafarians and a whole plethora of religions and have now reached a point where it is mandated that we must regard all religions as being equal. I suspect Rabbi Sachs would not concur with that view and if so I would agree with him. However, he is saying the same thing in a slightly different form. The disciples of Jesus were astounded when the Holy Spirit descended on gentiles but they came to realise that God’s salvation was for all.

Europe was disastrously weakened by the Reformation which destroyed the unity of Christendom and we can see that the weakness of Christianity in the face of the Muslim onslaught is because of this division. The Jews are our cousins in a way Muslims can never be but to suggest we walk side by side is to suggest that two different philosophies are equally valid. If there is one God, there can only be one true religion and to suggest that there is a religion which applies to only one race is to challenge God’s love for all mankind and to suggest that there are different versions of the truth. Either Christianity is the one true religion or Judaism is – they can’t both be equally valid.

14 December 2011 at 20:37  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

Shacklefree, neither R'Sacks nor others like him among those Jews and Christians who've worked hard on reconciliation and building friendships suggest that we "walk side by side" theologically. In that department we have beliefs and substantial differences we cannot compromise on. As you are obviously aware, there are quite serious and incompatible theological differences within the various Christian and Jewish denominations themselves and a reunification would require a literal miracle...or G-d forbid,

Nor does reconciliation and common goals, or even a stance that differences may be valid on a level we do not comprehend, demand that we view all religions as equal. I know I don't; I would certainly not equate Hinduism and Buddhism, whose followers never systematically pursued or killed my kind, with Islam, no matter how peaceful or decent many of its individual adherents may be.

15 December 2011 at 17:40  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

PS, at the end of my first paragraph I meant to write inter-or intra-religious conflict. Don't know where that one went.

15 December 2011 at 19:21  
Blogger SouthernBelle said...

I am enthralled by Lord Rabbi Sack's speech to the point of falling in love! I will not try to find adjectives sufficient to praise this speech beyond gloriously wise. God grant that we come together to form the greatest creative minority in existence and overcome the evils of our nature and culture....while there is time.
Thank you, Preacher: words we should heed. To argue over which day should be the Sabbath for Christians is to strain at a gnat. Let's just observe it without quibbling further.
My first visit to the Archbishop will be one of many. So glad I followed Joanna Bogle's guide on EWTN.
As an 17 year old Protestant girl I wrote my high school senior thesis on the Exodus of the Jews. My English teacher, immigrant from Germany, who often told me what a fine blonde, blue-eyed Anglo-Saxon I was (I am Celt) did not bat an eye at this unexpected interest of mine. Now, as an aging Catholic convert, I am still a passionate friend of Israel and God's chosen people and am delighted to walk side by side with them.

15 December 2011 at 23:42  
Blogger Dodo the Katholikos Dude said...

AVI

All religions are not equal. Only two follow the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - another thinks it does. Judaism and Christianity worship the one, true God. In fact, in one sense, Christianity is a Jewish sect.

The rest are not 'equal' to these faiths. On this there can be no compromise. Between Jew and Christian there is a wide gulf over whether Mosaic law remains operative and whether the Messiah has already come. Islam is a confused mix of the two. Very substantial but still within the same religious genre. There is no such commonality with other world religions.

16 December 2011 at 00:28  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

Dodo, that is what I just said; all religious are not equal. However, we don't judge or grade others solely by whether they are "Abrahamic" or not...that seems to be a Muslim obsession, based on their claim that they too are "people of the Book." The Noahide Laws apply to everyone equally, including Jews of course, and while idolatry is the prime sin, conduct is extremely important. Otherwise, I'd have to believe the unlikely, that a strict monotheist like Osama bin Laden is in a "better place" than a poor Indian woman who treats everyone with kindness and generosity, but lights incense sticks to Ganisha. Our traditions passed on by Moses, the Oral Torah, our Talmud, make it clear that the just, wise and good among the Nations have an honoured place in the World to Come.

I side with the position that since idolatry is a serious, cardinal offense, it should not be flung lightly at people whose cultures we may not understand. This is why in this case especially, a cautious, more literalist and minimalist approach is called for. Idolatry then, would be that which the Torah specifically described, named and prohibited, such as the religions of the Egyptians, Canaanites and others, as well as specific practices which have also been named and described. Modern Hindus, Buddhists and many others do not resemble those religions, mainly in that they do not literally worship idols as objects with powers or identities, do not sacrifice people, and do not persecute Jews. For Jews, though, the "margin of error" is extremely slim and so, a Jew who adopts another religion, even an Abrahamic one, or in some way involves himself with rituals and ritual objects of others undeniably and unambiguously commits avodah zarah, becoming a de facto idol worshipper. It is this apparent "relativism" which causes some confusion.

Above all, though, ours is a G-d of love, mercy and justice. I think that all we can do is attempt to fulfill our assigned part ...it's big enough task as it is... remembering that all our interpretations on this matter are ultimately postulations and that the power of judgment belongs solely to Him.

wv: "unati"

16 December 2011 at 13:38  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

SouthernBelle wrote, "Now, as an aging Catholic convert, I am still a passionate friend of Israel and God's chosen people and am delighted to walk side by side with them."

Honoured to walk beside you, SouthernBelle.

16 December 2011 at 14:36  

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