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The second question that I then want to ask is: why has it happened? Here I want to turn to two extraordinary prophets who saw it happening long before the rest of us did. One of them was Alasdair MacIntyre, the great philosopher, once a Marxist, today a Catholic. In 1981 Alasdair MacIntyre published one of the great books of the 20th century, After Virtue. For me and many others it was a life-changing book. Its argument was that the Enlightenment attempt to build morality on rational foundations, the Enlightenment Project, had, in fact, failed. We were now, he said, entering a new dark age or, as he put it, it’s not the case that the barbarians are at the gates. Actually the barbarians have been governing us for some time. The only thing to do, he said, was to retreat into closed communities and do what Saint Benedict did in the sixth century, build monasteries.

That has become known this year, actually, as the Benedict Option. Some of you will have seen or read the book with that title by Rod Dreher, and other Catholics like Charles Chaput have written the same thing. His book is called Strangers in a Strange Land. Alasdair MacIntyre saw this happening in 1981. The second one was 16 years earlier, by a great rabbi, no longer alive: Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. (Alasdair MacIntyre is alive and we wish him good health, or as we Jews say, “May you live to be 120.” Although my grandmother, my bubbe, used to go around wishing everyone, “May you live to be 120 and three months.” They used to ask, “Why the three months?” “I don’t want you to die suddenly,” she said.) In 1965, Rabbi Soloveitchik published a book called The Lonely Man of Faith. He argued that the two accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are not simply different documents: they are two different dimensions of the human condition.

The humans of Genesis 1, made in God’s image, were told to “fill the world and subdue it.” That is what he called “majestic man”, what we would call secular humanity, the dominating nature. In Genesis 2 the humans are created from the dust of the earth into which God breaths life. They’re placed in the Garden of Eden not to subdue it and conquer it, but to guard it and protect it, and that Rabbi Soloveitchik called “covenantal man”. So he said these are always present in us, the secular urge to dominate and control nature and the religious urge to be in awe of nature.

Everyone read that bit of The Lonely Man of Faith, and they all assumed that Rabbi Soloveitchik was what we call a Modern Orthodox Jew. He was saying: that’s good stuff. But always read the last chapter of any book. People got him completely wrong because in the last chapter he said that until now, those two elements have always been part of each of us and we wrestle with them. But today, he said, the majestic, secular man of Genesis 1 is so powerful, so dominant, that the covenantal, spiritual man of Genesis 2 simply can’t compete any more. Therefore, if you want to keep your spirituality intact, you have to withdraw from the world. That was the Jewish account 16 years before Alasdair MacIntyre. Jews wouldn’t call it this, but it was the Jewish equivalent of the Benedict Option: withdraw from the world if you want to keep your faith. These were real prophets because they saw it coming a long time in advance.

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amcdonald
October 5th, 2017
11:10 AM
The Woody Allen joke describes the Tory Party. When Religion advocates £10 per hour minimum wage ,building thousands of council houses,a Labour Manifesto etc then Religion would `value` people . Capitalism is not secular it`s pagan. Socialism is not secular it`s pagan. Pagan logic,pagan science. Christianity,Islam etc have lost to pagan popular culture and continue to do so. The victory of 17.4 million Brexiteers is a great pagan victory.

Dissapointed
September 12th, 2017
5:09 AM
What starts as an interesting article descends into the classic 'it doesn't matter if you believe it or not, but it's better to believe' acts of proselytization.

Jose Carp
September 9th, 2017
9:09 AM
Rav Sir Jonathan Sachs who I admire immensely, omits the fact that the world population has quadrupled in the last 40 years. This has certainly contributed to more ignorance and the dispersion of religions into various sects (some more redical than others).

J Dale Debber
September 8th, 2017
2:09 PM
Rabbi Sacks has put words and meaning to the identification of precisely what is happening In the 21st century world. Moreover he outlines the choice of paths that both societies and individuals have.

North West Johnny
September 1st, 2017
1:09 PM
Rabbi Jonathan Sachs is seriously one of the greatest thinkers of our time. He needs to come home to the UK and speak from every corner of our island to give the silent majority a voice and some direction. The decades to come are going to be dark if we do not break the growing threats to our society.

ron hurtAnonymous
September 1st, 2017
4:09 AM
Quite brilliant analysis. Reminds me of the late Francis Schseffer

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