Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has made a brilliant analysis in the Wall Street Journal of the riots in the UK recently. He writes: “It took everyone by surprise. It should not have. … Britain is the latest country to pay the price for what happened half a century ago in one of the most radical transformations in the history of the West. In virtually every Western society in the 1960s there was a moral revolution, an abandonment of its entire traditional ethic of self-restraint.”
He refers among other things to the breakdown of families, absent fathers and lack of good male role models. He observes that is has been a “tsunami of wishful thinking that washed across the West saying that you can have sex without the responsibility of marriage, children without the responsibility of parenthood, social order without the responsibility of citizenship, liberty without the responsibility of morality and self-esteem without the responsibility of work and earned achievement.”
Sacks asks if this has happened before, and if there is a way back.
“The answer to both questions is in the affirmative. In the 1820s, in Britain and America, a similar phenomenon occurred. People were moving from villages to cities. Families were disrupted. Young people were separated from their parents and no longer under their control. Alcohol consumption rose dramatically. So did violence. In the 1820s it was unsafe to walk the streets of London because of pickpockets by day and “unruly ruffians” by night.
What happened over the next 30 years was a massive shift in public opinion. There was an unprecedented growth in charities, friendly societies, working men’s institutes, temperance groups, church and synagogue associations, Sunday schools, YMCA buildings and moral campaigns of every shape and size, fighting slavery or child labor or inhuman working conditions. The common factor was their focus on the building of moral character, self-discipline, willpower and personal responsibility. It worked. Within a single generation, crime rates came down and social order was restored. What was achieved was nothing less than the re-moralization of society—much of it driven by religion.”
Religious people in general and Christians in particular are often looked down upon in Europe and among liberal elites in America. But Sacks refers to Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam who wrote in the book “American Grace” about the importance of social capital created by Christians and other religious people:
“Religious people, he discovered, make better neighbors and citizens. They are more likely to give to charity, volunteer, assist a homeless person, donate blood, spend time with someone feeling depressed, offer a seat to a stranger, help someone find a job and take part in local civic life. Affiliation to a religious community is the best predictor of altruism and empathy: better than education, age, income, gender or race.”
The Chief Rabbi draws attention to what a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences had learned when tasked with finding out what gave the West its dominance: “At first we thought it was your guns. Then we thought it was your political system, democracy. Then we said it was your economic system, capitalism. But for the last 20 years, we have known that it was your religion.”