Taking the wanting out of waiting

FAITH IN THE FUTURE by Jonathan Sacks Darton, Longman & Todd £11.95

RELIGION, like philosophy, has always begun with questions. Who are we? Where do we come from? What are we here to do? When we forget to ask these questions, or worse still think we have all the answers, our lives begin to lose their meaning. Jonathan Sacks argues that Britain is not asking the right questions.

We have vigorous debates in Britain about the relationship between growing crime and the economy, or between growing crime and the lack of law enforcement, "but the debate we have not had is about the relationship between crime and the devasted moral landscape we have created for our children." Faith in the Future is about that moral landscape, how it became devastated and what we might do about it.

Never forgetful of the "underclass", assaulted by poverty, lack of education and crime, Sacks speaks with equal concern about the "poverty of moral imagination" that afflicts our middle classes. He looks for reasons to explain the family and community breakdown and the despair amongst the young, and finds them within the ethic of secular individualism and the philosophy of moral relativism. The credit card that "takes the waiting out of wanting" becomes his metaphor for the culture of instant and uncommitted gratification. Nietzsche's claim that all truths are equal and therefore none are true becomes the basis of a moral timidity that fears to discriminate between good and bad or between right and wrong.

But Jonathan Sacks is no mere Jeremiah. He believes we can rebuild our moral and social landscape, and outline a "map of meaning with which our children can chart their way through a confusing and chaotic world". He believes that we can rebuild our families and our communities and find some renewed guidance in religious faith.

Jonathan Sacks is the Chief Rabbi of Britain's United Hebrew Congregations. His own vision is inspired by Judaism's long moral and social tradition, yet his appeal is to any citizen of the Western world who feels we have lost our way. He speaks with an urgency bred of "street wisdom" - problems with raising his own children, divorce, the personal experience of being mugged - rather than from some distant pulpit. He appeals to the voice of tradition, yet his vision is not nostalgic. His faith is in the future, not in the past.

Yet in Sacks's call that we move from a social contract of limited self- interest to a moral convenant of shared meaning and value, there are two problems he does not fully articulate. Covenants, he rightly says, are agreements guaranteed "by a higher moral force, traditionally God". He sees family, community and religious faith as the "agents of moral change" that might transform society. Yet while these change-agents are still in reasonable shape within Judaism, they are less so within nominally Christian Britain, where many find the traditional language of the Church so meaningless they have ceased to care.

The other problem is that of social pluralism. Jonathan Sacks sees that a call to rebuild community might result in an unwanted return to nationalism, fundamentalism and intolerance. He urges instead that we build a "community of communities" that recognises the value of all Britain's distinct groups. But what is the basis of the moral covenant that underpins this meta-community? Liberalism's answer was the value-neutral social contract that allowed everyone to go their own way so long as they did not interfere with each other. Sacks acknowledges that this has not worked, but what universal spiritual values might we discover that speak to all while silencing none?

Jonathan Sack's book does not have answers to these questions, but it makes it impossible for us not to ask them. No short review can do justice to the importance of this book. I wish the Chief Rabbi's publishers would bring out a simple-language edition that I could share with my children.

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform