Monday, January 2, 2012

"Things fall apart..."

"Jonathan Sacks has been Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth since September 1991...." according to the biography at The Office of the Chief Rabbi. In "The Limits of Secularism" he argues that not only does religion address fundamental questions that secularism cannot but that it is important for the survival of society. A few excerpts from a much longer article:
.... Religion survives because it answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? We will always ask those three questions because homo sapiens is the meaning-seeking animal, and religion has always been our greatest heritage of meaning. You can take science, technology, the liberal democratic state and the market economy as four institutions that characterise modernity, but none of these four will give you an answer to those questions that humans ask.

Science will explain how but not why. It talks about what is, not what ought to be. Science is descriptive, not prescriptive; it can tell us about causes but it cannot tell us about purposes. Indeed, science disavows purposes. Second, technology: technology gives us power, but it does not and cannot tell us how to use that power. Thanks to technology, we can instantly communicate across the world, but it still doesn't help us know what to say. As for the liberal democratic state, it gives us the maximum freedom to live as we choose, but the minimum direction as to how we should choose. The market gives us choices but it does not tell us what constitutes the wise or the good or the beautiful choices. Therefore, as long as we ask those questions, we will always find ourselves turning to religion. ....

The fundamental argument that I make in my book The Great Partnership, subtitled "God, Science and the Search for Meaning", is that science and religion are extreme cases of two different ways of thinking about the world. .... To summarise 120,000 words in a single sentence: "Science takes things apart to see how they work; religion puts things together to see what they mean." ....

.... We need religion and we need science. We need science to explain the universe and we need religion to explain the meaning of human existence. We stand to lose a great deal if we lose religious faith. We will lose our Western sense of human dignity. I think we will lose our Western sense of a free society. I think we will lose our understanding of moral responsibility. I think we will lose the concept of a sacred relationship, particularly that of marriage, and we will lose our concept of a meaningful life. I think that religious belief is fundamental to Western civilisation and we will lose the very heart of it if we lose our faith. ....

...[I]ndividuals may live good lives without religion — the moral sense is part of what makes us human — but a society never can, and morality is quintessentially a social phenomenon. It is that set of principles, practices and ideals that bind us together in a collective enterprise. The market and the state may be driven by the pursuit of interests but societies are framed by something larger and more expansive, by a shared vision of the common good. Absent this and societies begin to fragment. People start thinking of morality as a matter of personal choice. The sense of being bound together — the root meaning of "religion" — in a larger enterprise starts to atrophy and social cohesion is lost. The West was made by what is nowadays called the Judeo-Christian heritage which gave it its unique configuration of values and virtues. Lose that and we will lose Western civilisation as we have known it for the better part of two millennia. ....

I once defined faith as the redemption of solitude. It sanctifies relationships, builds communities, and turns our gaze outward from self to other, giving emotional resonance to altruism and energising the better angels of our nature. These are some of the gifts of our encounter with transcendence, and whether it is love of humanity that leads to the love of God or the other way round, it remains the necessary gravitational force that keeps us, each, from spinning off into independent orbits, binding us instead into the myriad forms of collective beatitude. A society without faith is like one without art, music, beauty or grace, and no society without faith can endure for long. [read it all]
The Limits of Secularism | Standpoint