April 13, 2014


How the Bible has shaped the West : Rabbi Jonathan Sacks detects seven key ideas in Judaeo-Christian culture which explain why the West is unique. (Michael Cook | 24 March 2014, MercatorNet)

Speaking to a packed lecture theatre, Lord Sacks highlighted seven propositions drawn from Biblical ethics which help to understand why the West developed market economics, democratic politics, human rights and the free society.

'The historian Niall Ferguson quotes the verdict of a member of the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences, tasked with finding an explanation for why the West overtook China in the sixteenth century and went on to industrial and scientific greatness. At first, he said, we thought it was because you had better guns than we had. Then we thought it was your political system. Next we thought it was your economic system. But for the past twenty years we have had no doubt: it was your religion.'

The first three characteristics he identified were: human dignity; freedom and responsibility; and the sanctity of life - a central principle because human beings are in the image of God, therefore human life human life itself is sacred.

Citing American anthropologist Ruth Benedict, Lord Sacks said the fourth aspect was the concept of guilt as opposed to shame.  Articulating the difference between a guilt culture and shame culture, he drew on Sir Bernard Williams' observation that shame cultures are visual cultures; whereas a guilt culture is a hearing culture. Giving the example of the story of Adam and Eve, he said:

'It is an extremely significant point that the Hebrew Bible introduced a guilt culture to a world that only knew shame cultures, because guilt cultures make a distinction, and shame cultures do not, between the sinner and the sin. What is wrong is the act not the person.'

His fifth principle was the significance of marriage as the matrix of society, 'The family is sacred', he said. 

Sixth, he said, society is covenantal - threaded by the covenant that binds people together and to God in a covenantal bond.

Finally, he said his seventh aspect was a basic principle of Judaism: since every society is the result of the covenant, it means all human power, all political authority, is subject to the transcending authority of the Divine. There are moral limits to power, he asserted: 'Right is Sovereign over might.'

Posted by at April 13, 2014 4:18 AM

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