Several weeks ago, the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, Jonathan Sacks, gave this cogent, indeed quite remarkable, address in Rome on the same day he met with Pope Benedict XVI. (That event is seen in the photo here today.)
It could have sounded like an angry, unfocused shout at the evils of both modernity and post-modernity. But it didn't come off that way at all.
Rather, it struck me as an enlightened, thoughtful and balanced description of how Europe got to be modern Europe and why Europe today risks losing its own soul.
About that, Sacks was forthright: "Europe is in danger of losing its soul," he declared.
My only small complaint about what Sacks said is that he seemed to minimize the brutal way that for century after century Christianity mistreated Judaism, dismissing this murderous oppression simply by saying that "The history of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jews was not always a happy or an easy one." (For my own essay on this lamentable and sad anti-Judaism in Christian history, look under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.)
And then I thought he was overly generous in how the Christian-Jewish relationship is going today: ". . .today Jews and Catholics meet not as enemies, nor as strangers, but as cherished and respected friends." Well, that's the hope -- and at certain levels it happens -- but it's not always the reality.
That said, Sacks' analysis of religion's role in creating modern Europe is quite intriguing and on target.
I especially liked this passage about Europe today:
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 smartphones, whose result is to leave us “alone together.”
Well, give Sacks' rather long lecture a read and see if you detect parallels between Europe and the U.S. today.
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KNOWN BY THE COMPANY THEY KEEP
It's hard for me to understand why some GOP presidential candidates -- Rick Santorum, in this case -- want to hang out with people who are so divisive and full of what strikes me as hate. But Santorum just visited with the Rev. O'Neal Dozier, who has said, among other outrageous things, that homosexuality makes God want to vomit.