Colloquy on: “European Culture: Identity and Diversity”
8-9 September 2005
“European culture, identity and diversity”
Chief Rabbi RenÚ Gutman
Like science, technology, culture, philosophy and politics, our social structures have clearly become secular, in the sense that religion no longer regulates them – but this does not mean that the modern world has lost all sense of the sacred. Indeed, the ideologies reflected in talk of the “end of religions” and “death-of-God theology” are starting to seem poor tools for tackling the complexities of life today. Perhaps they really reflect our inability to decipher signs of a return to the sacred - disillusioned as we are by the crisis of religious practice, and the idea that the sacred is no longer our monopoly.
Religion today is a protest, not so much against our Western societies’ indigence, as against their lack of meaning - so much so indeed that it sometimes looks like a kind of counter-culture. Perhaps it embodies, not absence and outworn apprehensions, but a new creativity? To the extent that religion no longer necessarily expresses the quest for false security, but rather – on the profoundest level - man’s longings, and also his transcendence of those longings, we must now put a rather simplistic faith/religion antithesis behind us.
Does secularisation mean that the human and divine projects now coincide to a point where religion has a utopian function? In one sense, secularisation may mean disenchantment, since it leaves us alone in a world stripped of the sacred. In another, however, it means re-enchantment, since it makes the world a less frightening place, leaving us full masters of our destiny, but without the hope of some ultimate straightening of accounts. Can we combine the benefits of secularisation and religion by removing the drawbacks of each (lack of transcendence and fear of a last judgment)? For Judaism, this should be no problem, since our relationship with God and our relationship with other humans are never seen as separate. The sacred is not all-consuming, it does not put the faithful on a higher plane, and it is not the prisoner of human religious observance – it is truly present only when we recognise others and welcome them.