Clare Myers, Staff Writer
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks called on Christians and Jews to work together in order to give meaning to an increasingly secularized world in a lecture at the University of Dallas last Wednesday.
Rabbi Sacks, who served as chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013, was the 2014 Eugene McDermott lecturer. He delivered a talk on UD’s campus on the topic, “The Future of Faith: The Judeo-Christian Ethic in the 21st Century,” the night before the public McDermott Lecture.
“Why is this era different from all other eras?” he asked a mostly full Lynch Auditorium. The question was in reference to the traditional question that begins the Jewish Passover, asked by the youngest child at the Seder meal, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” It was also the beginning of Sacks’ examination of modern culture in the West, a culture he believes is abandoning its Judeo-Christian ethic.
“Europe [and the West] is now post-Christian,” he said.
Rabbi Sacks outlined several dangers the culture will face if it loses the Judeo-Christian ethic, beginning with the sense of human dignity. From there, he predicted, society will progressively lose the idea of the sanctity of life, free will, a free society and the understanding of the sacredness of marriage. All of this will cause individuals to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, instead “outsourcing” it to the state. This, he said, will lead to “perhaps the most profound of all losses: the loss of meaning.”
Rabbi Sacks explained that the Judeo-Christian tradition was the solution to this.
“The Judeo-Christian heritage is the principled rejection of tragedy in the name of hope,” he declared.
He argued that these faiths have the tools to survive in a post-Christian world. They possess a sense of memory that preserves identity. They participate in a “guilt” culture rather than a “shame” culture; in other words, there is a distinction between the sinner and the sin, which makes redemption possible. And they are based on the concept of covenant, which can always be renewed.
The Judeo-Christian ethic is vital to the modern age, Rabbi Sacks explained, because it provides the meaning that man seeks.
Junior Aaron Hegemann, who attended both lectures, called Rabbi Sacks “a very engaging and likable speaker.”
“He presented a message of hope,” he said.
Roughly 150 students and faculty attended the on-campus lecture, which focused on the theory of the Judeo-Christian relationship. The official McDermott Lecture on Thursday at the Dallas City Performance Hall focused on its application. The public lecture was entitled, “To Heal a Fractured World: The Challenge to Faith in the 21st Century.”
On Wednesday night, Rabbi Sacks suggested that people of faith work together to meet that challenge.
He called the actions of the past four popes to reestablish good relations between Jews and Christians “extraordinary.”
Since the historic meeting between Pope John XXIII and the Jewish, French historian Jules Isaac, he said, “We now meet as friends, and perhaps more than that … perhaps as a family, as brothers and sisters … Let us walk through the wilderness together, hand in hand … to be agents of hope.”