The Relevance of the Bible for Law and Ethics in Society Today

This inaugural lecture was delivered by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, on 13 March 2014 to mark his appointment as Professor of Law, Ethics and the Bible at King’s College London.

About the lecture

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.

What was it about the Judeo-Christian ethic that led the West to develop market economics, democratic politics, human rights and the free society? The lecture will look at seven aspects of biblical ethics, each of which played a part in this development: human dignity, freedom and responsibility; an ethic of guilt rather than shame; the family as the matrix of virtue, love as the basis of ethics and covenant as the basis of society. It will argue that all seven are currently under threat, and that the Bible remains an important voice in the public conversation about ethics and law.

Read a full report of the lecture on the King’s College London website here.

Filmed by and published with the kind permission of King’s College London.


Rick Trainor’s introduction:

Good evening. I’m Rick Trainor, Principal of King’s College London. And it is my very great pleasure to welcome you all here this evening, to this inaugural lecture of Professor Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, as Professor of Law Ethics and the Bible at Kings College London.

And as many of you will know, in academic life there’s a variable amount of time between the taking up of an appointment and the giving of an inaugural lecture. Sometimes this stretches into years, even decades, but it’s characteristic of the professor who we’re inaugurating this evening that his inaugural lecture has come out remarkably quickly, because he took up this appointment only in January.

I’m very pleased indeed about this inaugural lecture and indeed about the appointment itself. And I’d like to ask myself probably the easiest question I’ve ever posed to myself in public. Why am I pleased about it? One aspect of my pleasure and the college’s pleasure in this lecture and in this appointment, is that Lord Sacks, very happily for us, is one of our own if I may put it that way. He’s in the alumnus of the college, having earned his PhD here in 1981. And moreover, he’s a fellow of the college from 1993 and a visiting professor, and a visiting professor who has actually visited regularly since 1998.

Secondly, to put it mildly, he is a very high achiever. When I was perusing his CV. I noted, and I found this discouraging in this context, that he and I were born in the same year. And I could only marvel at how much more he’s achieved in the interim than I have. To cite just a few things, he has of course been Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and filled that important and testing role for no fewer than 22 years, until September of last year. He was made a Life Peer in 2009, only a few years after being knighted, and has a truly phenomenal number of honorary degrees and fellowships. I think maybe that the CV I have is a little bit out of date, but even on this slightly dated version, I counted at least 19 of these very well merited honours.

And he has a truly daunting number of significant publications. Leaving aside his articles and pieces for the press, he’s the author of at least 26 books, including really major publications like The Great Partnership, God Science and The Search for Meaning.

He’s both a scholar whose scholarly credentials are impeccable and also a leading public intellectual. And in a sense, Lord Sacks has transcended the traditional distinction between a scholar on the one hand and a communicator with the public on the other, through his books, his articles, his pieces and newspapers, and not least his broadcasts. He’s proven that it’s possible to engage with a broad public across a very wide range of major issues, and yet to be faithful to scholarship and specialised knowledge at the same time.

And a further reason why we’re delighted that he’s now a professor of Kings’ College London is that he professes so very well. He is a superb lecturer and seminar leader, as I’ve experienced it first-hand. He has shown himself in many, many contexts, an excellent teacher, but not least in his role as visiting professor in this college.

And if I may say so, if we need a final reason for pleasure in the inaugural lecture and in the appointment, he’s a person of great wisdom as well as great knowledge and great distinction who speaks persuasively and with authority on a very wide range of issues.

So for all these reasons, I find this occasion one of the most significant, certainly one of the most gratifying, of my nearly 10 years now as principal of King’s College London. So in a moment, I’m going to invite Lord Sacks to speak to us on the relevance of the Bible for law and ethics in society today. But in advance, I want to introduce the no fewer than three respondents that we will have this evening. It’s a sign of the breadth of his knowledge, the breadth of the chair and the breadth of this lecture that we require three respondents to attempt to do justice to it.

So as we’ll have no separate introductions, I’ll tell you in advance who our responders will be. Responding with particular reference to the Bible first of all, will be Professor Paul Joyce, who is the Samuel Davidson Professor of Old Testament, Hebrew Bible and Head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies.

He’ll be followed by Professor David Caron, a noted international lawyer who will be talking about the law in his response. In addition to being a professor here, he’s the Dean of our Dickson Poon School of Law. And the final respondent, speaking with particular reference to ethics, will be Reverend Canon Professor Richard Burridge, Dean of the College and Professor of Biblical Interpretation.

But without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to ask Professor Lord Sacks to deliver his lecture. Lord Sacks.

Rabbi Sacks’ lecture: 

Sir Richard, thank you so much. It is an incredible honour and privilege to be part of the faculty of an institution that I love so much. And I want just to begin by paying tribute to you Sir Rick for the incredible job you’ve done in these almost 10 years, really lifting an already great college to world excellence, and we salute your leadership.

We wish you every happiness in your new home in Exeter College, Oxford. But to thank you for all you’ve done for King’s and to wish you well in the future. Thank you so much.

It is such an honour to be with my old and beloved friend the Dean, where is Richard? Where are you? Oh, there you are. He’s taking notes already and I’m only giving the thanks. I’ll tell you when I’m ready, Richard. May we salute you, congratulate you for being the first non-Roman Catholic ever to receive what is called “the Nobel Prize of the Roman Catholic Church”, the Ratzinger Prize in 2013. And to congratulate and wish Mazal Tov, if I may, whatever the Anglican equivalent is, to you and Meg for your forthcoming wedding. Congratulations.

It is such an honour to give this lecture and to have three respondents. And we thank not only the Dean, but also Professor Paul Joyce and Professor David Karen. And thank you King’s, for arranging, for me to lose 3-1 in advance, exactly like Arsenal in the European Cup.

And to say thank you to Clare Dowding, who has been so helpful in arranging for this relationship and a very, very special thanks from Elaine and myself to the co-sponsors of this chair: To Sir Michael Heller, we thank you Sir Michael for your support, and in absentia Lord Stanley Kalms. So thank you very much, indeed and it’s a privilege to be with you.

Friends, I have been given a small topic to address today. The relevance of the Bible to law and ethics in contemporary society. For this, I have the magnificent allotted time of one half an hour. And it reminds me very much of the occasion in which George Bernard Shaw was invited to deliver a lecture on English literature. And when he asked, “How long do I have?” Was told, “Ten minutes.” And he said, “How am I supposed to say all I know about English literature in ten minutes?” to which the reply came back, “Speak very slowly.”

So, speaking very slowly, I begin with this absolutely fascinating little episode in Neil Ferguson’s book Civilization. He records the response of a member of the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences. The Academy was tasked with finding out the answers to how was it that China, which had led the world in so many fields until the 15th century, was then overtaken by the West in the 16th century and simply left behind. And the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences were given the task of finding what was it about the West that gave it the critical advantage over China. And the academicians said, “At first we thought it was your guns. You had better guns than we had. Then we studied a bit deeper and we came to the conclusion that it was your political system. You had democracy and we didn’t. Then we studied deeper still, and we came to the conclusion that it was your economic system. You had a free-market, and we didn’t. But finally,” he said, “for the last 20 years, we have no doubt. It’s not your guns. It’s not your democracy. And it’s not your free market economics. It was your religion. That is what gave the West the political advantage.” What, today we tend to call the Judeo-Christian heritage. And that is a fascinating, and I think compelling insight.

What is also interesting, which Neil Ferguson doesn’t mention is that the country, the place in the world where Christianity is growing fastest today is China. And this quite extraordinary, there are more Christians at Church in China today on a Sunday than there are members of the Communist Party and this in the country where Chairman Mao fifty years ago declared to be God free.

So, and fascinating that Christianity is growing at pace in China, amongst the most affluent and upwardly mobile of the population. So this is a very interesting insight. What I want to do is to examine what was it about that Judeo-Christian ethic that made the difference. I will not argue, I have never argued, the proposition loosely attributed to Dostoevsky that if God does not exist, all is permitted.

We know that there have been great ethical systems that had nothing to do with the Bible. There were the great Hellenistic traditions of Plato and Aristotle and the Stoics and the Epicureans. There were the great traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism, the great wisdom traditions of China, Taoism and Confucianism. Ethics is a code of conduct that allows members of society to live constructively together and flourish together, and it is a universal property of human groups.

We now know through evolutionary biology, that there are some kinds of quasi-ethical behaviour that you will find in social animals, (among the primates), empathy, reciprocal, altruism, and so on. So you do not need religion, you do not need the Bible to be moral. But I will argue that there are seven features of the Judeo-Christian ethic that are distinctive, that are unusual, that are responsible for its major contributions to law and ethics. And if we lose them, life will not be the same. And I will argue that we will be morally, as well as spiritually, diminished.

What are those seven propositions? Number one, the unprecedented dignity attached by the Hebrew Bible in its first chapter to the human person. The statement that, in effect, regardless of class, colour, culture, or creed, every one of us is in the image and likeness of God and therefore in possession of non-negotiable dignity.

The phrase that a human being, the idea that a human being could be in the image and likeness of God was not original to the Bible. On the contrary, as many biblical scholars have pointed out, it was almost a cliche in the ancient world that there were human beings who were in the image and likeness of God. Who were they? Mesopotamian Kings, Egyptian Pharaohs, Assyrian Emperors.

The truth is that being in the image of God was the standard description of royalty. What is unique about the Bible is its insistence that that royalty, that dignity attaches to every one of us. That is absolutely fundamental.

Secondly, together with that, is the insistence on human freedom. This, too, flows from Abrahamic monotheism. It’s a little difficult for us to understand this, but let me put it simply. The gods of the ancient world, the gods of the cosmological imagination were within nature. They were part of nature itself. Whereas the God of the Hebrew Bible transcends nature because He created nature. It therefore follows that God is free. And we, created in His image, are likewise free.

The early stories of Genesis are all about that freedom. God tells Adam and Eve not to eat from that particular fruit tree. Of course, they immediately do so, but God doesn’t prevent them from doing so. Of course, as soon as their sin is uncovered, they deny responsibility, man blames the woman (I suppose we’ve done that ever since). The woman blames the serpent, and the result is paradise lost. ‘Please sir, it wasn’t me.’

But that is the drama of human freedom. The drama deepens with the story of Cain and Abel. God seems to sense that Cain already harbours murderous intentions toward his brother. And warns him, “If you do well, it will be well with you. But if you do not then sin crouches at the door. It desires to have you, but you can master it.” An ultimate statement of human freedom.

God does not prevent Cain from murdering Abel. Cain immediately denies responsibility. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” But again, that responsibility is inescapable. And that emphasis on human choice reaches its culmination in Moses’s great speech at the end of Deuteronomy, when he says, “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse, therefore choose life.”  The moral life is a matter of choice.

And that insistence on freedom, that insistence that we can choose to act this way, rather than that, it’s axiomatic and fundamental to our idea of moral responsibility. And from that to our concept of retributive justice. And above all to the idea that God reveals Himself in the form of law. That is central to Judaism because we are free, we are responsible for what we do. And since the only way in which we can achieve collective freedom is if we voluntarily assent to law, then it is law that allows us to construct a free society. That is the second principle.

The third principle, the sanctity of life. This becomes the essential principle of what we call in Judaism ‘the Covenant’, or ‘the Noachide covenant’, the covenant with Noah and through him with all humanity. In Genesis 9:6, this wonderful chiasmus, this ABC-CBA, “He who sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God did God create man.” Because human beings are in the image of God therefore, human life itself is sacred. That is the third principle.

The fourth principle. It’s a difficult idea. And we owe this fourth idea, really more than most to an American anthropologist called Ruth Benedict. It’s absolutely fascinating, in the Second World War, after Pearl Harbour, the Americans realised that they were going to have to fight a nation that they didn’t understand. Asked Ruth Benedict to explain for them who are the Japanese. And in her explanation, which was published after the war as a book called The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, Ruth Benedict pointed out the very significant difference between what we call a ‘guilt culture’ and a ‘shame culture’. Or to put it positively the difference between a culture of righteousness and a culture of honour.

Why do I say this? I say this because I don’t believe anyone has yet given a straight explanation of one of the most famous passages in the Bible. Namely, Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit. If you look very carefully… let me precede this with a remark made by my own doctoral supervisor, the likes of Bernard Williams, who points out in his book, Shame and Necessity, that shame cultures are visual cultures. Does that make sense to you? When you feel shame, you imagine what it would be like to be seen by others. How do I seem in other people’s eyes. Whereas a guilt culture has to do more with hearing than seeing. In guilt, you hear the inner voice of conscience. As Bernard William says, “When you feel shame, you want the ground to swallow you up. You want to sift through the floor.” The trouble is, if you believe in a guilt culture, disappearing through the floor doesn’t help you, because the voice keeps going.

So you have these two very different cultures. Judaism is a guilt culture, and not a shame culture. Unless you’ve had a Jewish mother, guys, you really don’t understand. And it is really fascinating that if you look carefully at the story of Adam and Eve, very closely at the text, you will see: number one, it begins because with them being naked and unashamed. And then, Eve sees the fruit that “ta’avah hu la’eynayim” [Genesis 3:6], it’s beautiful to see. Then they eat it, and the eyes of both of them are opened, and they then seek to cover their nakedness. And when they hear God, they try to hide.

All of these are unmistakable signs of a shame culture. In other words, the story of Adam and Eve has got nothing to do with original sin as such, it is their willingness to follow their eye, rather than their ear. Now it is an extremely significant point that the Hebrew Bible introduces a guilt culture to a world that only knew shame cultures. That is extremely significant, because guilt cultures make a distinction, as shame cultures do not, between the sinner and the sin. What is wrong is the act, not the person. That is something that guilt cultures distinguish that shame cultures don’t. Shame cultures see a sin as a stain on your person that is, pretty much, ineradicable.

If we lose guilt culture, then we lose that distinction between the person and the act, and that has enormous consequences. The fact that the Hebrew Bible introduces a guilt culture, introduces the concept of repentance and the concept of forgiveness. You do not get those in shame cultures.

So, that is the third point. That’s the fourth point, sorry. We’ve said human dignity, freedom, sanctity of life, and the idea of guilt as opposed to shame.

Fifth: Now, this is very interesting. Read through the book of Genesis, and you will see something extraordinary. Here it is, the prime text of Abrahamic monotheism, and there’s nothing about monotheism in Genesis. Not one word about, I mean, other than the creation narrative, but once Abraham is on the scene, not one statement of monotheism, not one critique of idolatry. There’s nothing of the theological agenda of Deuteronomy in Genesis.

But there is a recurring theme, and it’s very interesting. It happens at least six times in Genesis. When any member of the covenantal family, Abraham, Sarah, and their children, step outside of covenantal space, they immediately encounter a world of sexual ignominy; of sexual freedom. So, three times. Twice with Abraham, once with Isaac. They are afraid that if they leave their home, and they go into Egypt, or to Gerar, in the land of the Philistines, they will be killed, so that their wives can be taken into the royal harem.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah: Angels come to visit Lot, and immediately the town surrounds him, trying to commit an act of homosexual rape. Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, is raped and neglected. Joseph is almost seduced by Mrs. Potiphar, and, oh, he just manages to remember who he is.

So, here we have six episodes, which are telling us something very significant. That is that the fundamental idea in Genesis, of what we call emunah, the word translated into English as faith, is indissolubly connected with the concept of fidelity, as in a marriage.

In other words, there is a fundamental connection in the biblical mind between monotheism and monogamy. There is a fundamental connection between sexual fidelity and religious fidelity. It is as if our relationship with God is like the relationship with husband and wife, as it is for all the Prophets. Hosea speaks about this very powerfully. God says to the Israelites, “I betroth you to Me forever. I betroth you to Me with tzedek umishpat, righteousness and justice, love and compassion. I betroth you to Me forever, and you will know the Lord.” It is the standard metaphor in all the Prophets, in Ezekiel, in Isaiah, that the relationship between God and Israel is the relationship between husband and wife.

Hence, my fifth point, the significance of marriage as the matrix of society. The family, for Genesis, for Judaism, for the Bible, is sacred. It is the human example par excellence of the covenantal relationship. And, similarly, the conversation between parents and children is a holy task. That great theme of our holiest prayer, Shema, “You shall speak about these things repeatedly to your children, when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” The family as the matrix of society, number five.

Number six: the covenantal basis of society. Society is formed, according to the Hebrew Bible, in Exodus, chapters 19 to 20, when God makes a covenant with the Israelites at Mount Sinai, turning them from a group of escaping slaves into an edah, into a congregation, into a body politic. And that covenant binds them to God, and to one another, in a moral bond. The result is that, and that covenant is renewed, repeatedly, by Moses at the end of his life, Joshua at the end of his life, by Josiah, Hezekiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah, et cetera, et cetera.

This has implications for politics. It means, number one, that on the biblical view of society, we are collectively responsible. We are, as the Americans put it, “one nation under God”. Bound to one another, responsible for one and another’s welfare. Number two, a free society is, on the biblical view, a moral achievement, not just a political one. And, number three, the fate of a society is dependent on how it treats its most vulnerable and marginal members.

Ultimately, how a society fares in history is dependent on whether it is committed to justice, to compassion, to caring for the poor, and the widow, and the orphan, and the stranger, and Levite, and that is everything that we associate with the ethics of the Prophets.

So, society is covenantal. It’s not merely a political achievement, it’s not merely a sociological fact, it is a moral aspiration. And, finally, a basic principle of Judaism, that since every society is the result of the covenant, it means that all human power, all political authority, is subject to the transcending authority of the Divine. That is to say, that there are moral limits to power; that right is sovereign over might.

Those are the seven features that, I think, make biblical ethics different from any other ethical system. It is, obviously, the only ethical system in which love and forgiveness are at the very heart of a moral life. It seems to me that all seven of those beliefs are currently at risk.

Number one, human dignity. Read the writings of any evolutionary biologist, and the first thing you will note is that we share 98% of our genes with the apes, and that there is nothing sui generis about Homo sapiens. Nothing. As a group of distinguished scientists said, in 1997, I think I quoted it in my book, The Great Partnership: “The highest aspirations and thoughts of human beings are nothing other than electrical impulses in the brain.” Human dignity cannot survive the loss of the concept of the image of God.

Number two, freedom. I have not yet seen a neuroscientific account that makes space for human freedom. I had a long conversation with Colin Blakemore, a professor of neuroscience at Oxford, who is a hard determinist, who actually holds that we can’t choose anything. And I asked him, “If that is so, then why on Earth should anyone wish to have a system of laws, courts and trials? If you find somebody breaking the law, perform neurosurgery. Give them psychotropic drugs.” And he said, “Well, I can see how, in totalitarian societies, you might be tempted to do that.” The truth is there is no reason not to do it in any society. If there is no such thing as human freedom, then there is no reason to desire, or seek, a free society. That is a contradiction that will, in the end, be exposed. Whereas, I happen to believe, with the Yiddish novelist, Isaac Bashevis Singer, he says, “We must be free; we have no choice.” So, we will lose freedom.

Thirdly, we will, then, lose the sanctity of life. We are already beginning to lose it. I saw a very fine op-ed on the subject in the Times, this morning. We have already lost the sanctity of life in respect of abortion. We are going to lose it in assisted dying. This will be an inevitable consequence of losing our sense of human dignity, and our sense of human freedom.

Number four, we have already moved from a guilt morality to a shame morality. Today, trial by the media is entirely trial by public shaming. And, in a shame morality, the only ultimate command is ‘Thou shalt not be found out.’ It is very difficult to create space for confession, for repentance, for forgiveness, for rehabilitation, in a shame society. Once you’ve been shamed, that’s the end of you. And we are in that shame ethic, now.

Number five, what will go is the family, the sanctity of marriage. It’s already gone. In a situation in which, in Britain and America, 50% of children are born outside of the marriage, 50% of marriages end in divorce, then we are already in a difficult situation, and the collateral damage is immense through a 300% to 1000% rise in the space of two generations in drug abuse, alcohol abuse, devious orders, depressive, and stress-related syndromes, especially among the young children. The biggest casualty is the new forms of child poverty that are resistant to any government action. The government has sincerely tried to help, and still we have 3.4 million children in Britain living under the poverty level, and this is one of the results of the collapsed marriage.

Sixth: The covenantal basis of society is very, very hard to sustain. In a book I wrote called The Home we Build Together, I argued that the concept of society as a home we build together has been displaced by the concept of society as a hotel, where we each have our particular room. We can do whatever we like, so long as we don’t scare the horses or wake the neighbours. We pay a certain amount to the government, we get in return our room, all the services.But the concept that we are bound with bonds of moral loyalty to the other members of society is one that is becoming more and more frayed, and which is part of the creation of the creative destruction of a market economy when it loses its moral base.

And finally, I think we are in grave danger of forgetting the moral limits of power. Today, it is all too easy to move from the question of, “I have a right to do X,” to saying, “I am right to do X.” That whatever is not forbidden by law is morally permissible, and therefore morally reasonable.

If we no longer make a distinction between law and morality, if there is no work for morality to do, if we depend entirely for the governments of society, on the market economy, on laws, and on regulatory bodies, we will have the kind of economic malfunctioning that we have today with greater and greater inequalities, and economic behaviour that should be frankly unacceptable. So the idea that society is a moral achievement, the idea that there are moral constraints on the things we legally are entitled to do but morally should not do, is also one that’s getting very difficult.

I say, therefore, that we are beginning to lose all seven elements that made the Judeo-Christian ethic distinctive, that gave the West its extraordinary ability to value the individual, to the value the covenantal bonds between us as a society, to value as a sacred covenant the love that binds husband and wife, parent and child, and the result will be difficult and dangerous. The end result is that we will not cease to be moral, but we will move to a moral system very similar to the one that prevailed in third century pre-Christian Greece, the morality of the Epicureans and the Stoics, or the morality of first century Rome, by which Livy said, “We can no longer stand either our vices, or their cure.” And that is difficult, because third century pre-Christian Greece and first century Rome, were societies is in a state of decline.

And what made the Judeo-Christian ethic so extraordinary, is that in the 16th and 17th centuries, so more to the West on this trajectory of growth in every conceivable sense; moral, intellectual, as well as economic and political. So I think that growing societies will always love the Judeo-Christian ethic, and declining societies will be irritated by it. And that is what gives me some qualms about the future. This means that we need places like King’s, where totally daydreaming academics like me can sound off, and at least remind us that there is an alternative; that there is a biblical set of values that may be very difficult in some respects, but in others are incredibly enabling and empowering.

I end with my simple story. I’m afraid I’ve told you this before, so forgive me if you’ve heard it. But I did acquire, many years ago, a wonderful tutor in the art of hope. And this tutor I acquired about 10 years ago, it was called a satellite navigation system. Have you ever used one of these things? They’re absolutely fascinating; they are almost as good as Siri on my iPad in having a long philosophical conversation on my way here this evening, but doesn’t give much away. Have you ever tried asking Siri a personal question? “We are here to talk about you, not about me.”

But I love this satellite navigation system, because I learnt so much from it. You know, the principle is this: You key in your destination and this very polite lady says, “Go 300 yards straight ahead and then turn right.” And the thing that absolutely fascinates me about this device is that whoever invented it never, ever can have met a Jewish driver. Because all you need is a nice lady telling you, “Go 300 yards straight and turn right.” And any Jewish driver says, “What does she know? I lived here 50 years, I know you go 300 yards and then you turn left.”

And what fascinates me is to look at what happens with this little sat nav system, when it only does what you asked it to do in the first place, and then you absolutely, flagrantly ignore its instructions. It never loses its cool. It’s absolutely amazing; the most un-Jewish thing I ever saw in my life. And then it gets very quiet, and then it sends up a little signal saying, “Recalculate the route.” And then low and behold, it shows you that this crazy mess that you have got yourself totally lost in… So long as you know where you’re trying to get, then this sat nav system tells you that however lost you are, if you know where you want to be, there is a route from here to there. So if that is not a signal of hope, I don’t know what is. So I hope I’ve given you a little signal that maybe we’re a little lost, but there is still a route for morality.

Rick Trainor’s closing words:

Well, in closing I think I have to say that part of this evening has probably been a rather frustrating one for our new professor, because as you know, there are few people anywhere, more skilled in learned and incisive responses than Lord Sacks, and our format tonight is denying him the right to respond to those three rather insightful responses. But he’s showing great forbearance, and I hope that in most respects this has been for him, as I think it has been for the rest of us, a very satisfying evening.

First of all, there are few people anywhere who could have evoked three such distinguished and eloquent responses to an inaugural lecture as we have this eventing. Secondly, I don’t think there’s anyone who could have assembled a group quite like this one, as the audience. Very numerous; as we’ve heard, everyone’s got to squeeze up together to get more people in. But not just numerous, but distinguished, diverse, in the best tradition of inaugural lectures, bringing a group of people together from all sorts of places outside, as well as within the institution. And commendably, unless I’ve got this audience very wrong, including many of our students.

But also, I think it can’t be any inaugural lecture anywhere who has received a reaction like the one that Lords Sacks had to his talk, and the one that’s been echoed in the responses of two or three people who have come afterward.

Professor Caron evoked the original motto King’s College London, holiness and wisdom, and rightly so in relation to tonight’s occasion. There is a more modern secular version of that in the service of society, which indicates that for King’s, the core of its mission is to use learning that is both teaching and research in the service of the broader society. And I think there can have been few events in the 185-year history of King’s College London that have fulfilled that motto and that slogan better than this evening. So, in conclusion, I would like you once again to show your appreciation for the respondent.