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

Related Stories

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.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Years ago I went into my job of working with disabled people because I got such a buzz from seeing them realise their potential and my own feeling of doing something valuable to the wider community. It wasn't for the money!
    But now my employers are a private company and return for shareholders is the priority. We are all devalued as a result. This is happening everywhere now. Did we vote for this?

  • 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 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 24.

    I think people should not use his religious beliefs as a reason to not listen to his point of view..

    We all feel a lack of community, the need to hide behind locked doors, to stand idly by when we see acts of crime or bad behaviour - to tolerate. It took the Olympic Games for us to demonstrate what we are capable as a community. But we are capable of that all the time, not just every four years.


Comments 5 of 6


More UK stories


Features & Analysis

  • Signposts showing the US and UK flagsAn ocean apart

    How British misunderstanding of the US is growing

  • Before and after shotsPerfect body

    Just how reliable are 'before and after' photos?

  • Mukesh SinghNo remorse

    Delhi bus rapist says victim shouldn't have fought back

  • A cow wearing sunglasses overlaid with the phrase 'Can't touch this'Cow row

    Thousands rally against the ban on beef in India

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • StudentsBull market

    Employers are snapping up students with this desirable degree


  • Former al-Qaeda double agent Aimen DeanHARDtalk Watch

    Islamic State is about revenge says former al-Qaeda member turned spy Aimen Dean

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.