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Religion and the Common Good

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On 14 November 2013, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks spoke at Eastern University, a Christian non-denominational school in suburban Philadelphia, to a packed audience of students which also included a large segment from a local modern Orthodox school, Kohelet Yeshiva High School. The subject of the talk was: “Religion and the Common Good.”  It was presented by the Agora Institute for Civic Virtue and the Common Good, the Templeton Honors College at Eastern University, along with the Tikvah Program and the Beit Midrash program at Kohelet Yeshiva High School.

According to a report in the Jewish Press about the lecture: “Rabbi Sacks forcefully delivered his take not only on religion and the common good, but his view that religion is for the common good.  He compared his views with that of philosophers such as John Rawls, who believed that there could be a language of public reason which all could share, “so long as religious conviction was left out.”  Sacks also mentioned the anti-religionists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, both of whom view “religion not just as irrelevant, but also harmful.” But for Sacks, once the public discussion begins to lose its mooring in religion, the strong sense of the common – as opposed to individual – good is lost.  The focus then becomes, eventually, “what is in it for me, instead of what is in it for the common good.” It is in such a society, Sacks said, that Hobbes’s realization of life as being “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” is inevitable.  For that is what becomes of a society based on a social contract, rather than on a societal covenant.”

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