Britain's Chief Rabbi Calls Europe to Rediscover Its Soul

Speaks on the Market’s Purpose at Gregorian University Conference

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ROME, DEC. 15, 2011 ( «Humanity was not created to serve markets. Markets were created to serve humankind.» With these words Lord Jonathan Sachs, Britain’s chief rabbi, concluded his address at a conference held Monday at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.

In his address, Sachs gave a detailed explanation of how the free market and democratic capitalism were fostered by the Judeo-Christian culture. Given this origin more attention needs to be paid to capitalism’s religious roots if we want to have a healthy economic, political and cultural future in Europe, he said.

To paraphrase a famous Christian text: What will it profit Europe if it gains the whole world yet loses its soul? Europe is in danger of losing its soul, he warned.

Sachs prefaced his lecture with a note about the relationship of the Catholic Church and the Jews, not always a happy or easy one, he said.

Just over half a century ago a substantial change was set in motion when the French Jewish historian Jules Isaac met with Pope John XXII. Isaac, Sachs explained, presented the Pope with a dossier of materials he had gathered on the history of Christian anti-semitism. One of the results of this was the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate, «as a result of which, today, Jews and Catholics meet not as enemies, nor as strangers, but as cherished and respected friends.»

«For half a century Jews and Christians have focused on the way of dialogue that I call face-to-face,» said Sachs. «The time has come to move on to a new phase, the way of partnership that I call side-by-side.»

Not only did Christianity and Judaism play a crucial role in bringing about the market economy, they also pointed to its limits. Capitalism, he said, «might be the best means we know of for generating wealth, but it is not a perfect system for distributing wealth.»

«The concept of welfare — distributive justice as opposed to legal or retributive justice — is Judaic in origin and flows ultimately from the same generative principle as the free market itself, the idea that every individual has dignity in the image of God and that it is our task to develop social structures that honor and enhance that dignity,» said Sachs.


He also noted that, as commentators have pointed out, the market does not create a stable equilibrium. Instead, it has a sort of creative destruction, or as Daniel Bell put it, cultural contradictions.

«Specifically, as is manifest clearly in contemporary Europe, it erodes the Judeo-Christian ethic that gave birth to it in the first place,» he said.

Lord Sachs went on to analyze some of the causes behind the current economic crisis. He singled out factors such as the enormous growth in debt, people being pushed to take out mortgages they could not afford, and the complexity of the financial instruments utilized, such that even bankers did not fully understand the risks and possible dangers.

Another cause was the breakdown of trust. He commented that the keywords of the market are full of religious meaning. «Credit» comes from the comes from the Latin «credo» meaning «I believe.» «Confidence» comes from the Latin meaning «shared faith.»

«In the end we do not put our faith in systems but in the people responsible for those systems, and without morality, responsibility, transparency, accountability, honesty and integrity, the system will fail. And as it happens, the system did fail,» he concluded.

Good conduct, Sachs observed, in the end does not depend on laws and governments, it comes from listening to the voice of God in our heart. «Those who believe that liberal democracy and the free market can be defended by the force of law and regulation alone, without an internalized sense of duty and morality, are tragically mistaken,» he warned.

«The time has come for us to recover the Judeo-Christian ethic of human dignity in the image of God,» said Sachs. «When Europe recovers its soul, it will recover its wealth-creating energies.»

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