Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks: Lack of faith means Britain is ‘losing the plot’

Jewish religious leader blames increasing secularisation for breakdown of institutions

Britain is “losing the plot” because its increasingly secular society has led to a breakdown of trust affecting marriage, child poverty and the economy, the outgoing Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, said on Sunday.

Lord Sacks, who became one of the country’s highest profile religious commentators in 22 years as Chief Rabbi, said in an interview that “individualism is no way to build a society” and that religious faith helped bolster trust in society as a whole.

However, the National Secular Society dismissed the suggestion, saying secularism had led to a fairer, more tolerant society in which people thought for themselves and were “less obedient” to religions.

Lord Sacks, speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme, said that the idea of the “big society” was strongest in the UK’s different religions “because that’s what we do, we care for one another”.

But, asked whether Britain was more or less fractured than it had been, he said: “I think we’re losing the plot actually. I think we haven’t really noticed what’s happening in Britain.”

Lord Sacks pointed to the 2008 banking crisis as one example of the problems caused by a lack of religion. “When you begin to lose faith and society becomes very, very secularised, you first see a breakdown of institutions, whether they are financial, economic or… marriage is an institution,” he said.

“And then you ask why they have broken down and you arrive at one word: trust. Trust means having faith in somebody else to keep their faith with you, so there’s something about religious faith that undergirds trust as a whole in society and when trust breaks down you see institutions break down.

“Individualism is no way to build a society... if people work for the maximum possible benefit to themselves, then we will not have trust in industry, economics and financial institutions, we will not see marriages last.”

He said some non-religious parents wanted their children to attend faith schools because they recognised this and wanted their offspring “to grow up with a strong moral sense”.

Lord Sacks said politicians were “part of the breakdown of marriage in the West” over the past 50 years, but he did not blame them or governments for the general lack of trust. “It’s the fault of what we call culture, which is society talking to itself,” he said.

“The truth is that the breakdown of marriage has meant the creation of an entirely new phenomenon of child poverty affecting three million children in Britain today that we thought had been eliminated. So children get to be the victims.”

The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Rev Nick Baines, agreed with Lord Sacks. “Having moved from a generation that put the common good first, we have now created a culture which puts ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’ first,” he said. “This inevitably has consequences for society and Lord Sacks is right to reiterate what Christian leaders have been saying for years.”

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said Lord    Sacks’ idea that secularisation had led to a decline in trust was “not surprising” but “unfortunate”.

“I think a secular society is a fairer society, where everybody is treated equally, regardless of their beliefs or non-belief,” he said. “I don’t think that the move away from religion is anything to do with trust in society at all. Society, as it has become more educated, has become less blindly obedient, particularly to religion.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)