Europe is “dying” because the continent’s secular culture has made people too selfish to have children, the Chief Rabbi has said.
Lord Sacks said European society’s focus on consumerism and instant gratification had left little room for the sacrifice involved in parenthood.
Describing this as “one of the unsayable truths of our time”, he warned: “We are undergoing the moral equivalent of climate change and no one is talking about it.”
The Chief Rabbi’s provocative comments came as he delivered the annual lecture for theology think-tank Theos in central London last night.
He argued that neo-Darwinian attacks on religion – typified by Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion – were leading to a population crisis in Europe.
Lord Sacks pointed out that Europe was the most secular region in the world, and also the only continent experiencing population decline.
He said: “Wherever you turn today – Jewish, Christian or Muslim – the more religious the community, the larger on average are their families.
“The major assault on religion today comes from the neo-Darwinians.”
The Chief Rabbi said being a parent involved a “massive sacrifice” of money, attention, time and emotional energy.
Referring to an ancient Greek historian to make his point, he questioned where this selflessness could be found in modern Europe.
“In that culture, where will you find space for the concept of sacrifice for the sake of generations not yet born?” he said.
“Europe is dying, exactly as Polybius said about ancient Greece in the third pre-Christian century.”
Lord Sacks added: “Albert Camus once said, ‘The only serious philosophical question is why should I not commit suicide?’.
“I think he was wrong. The only serious philosophical question is, why should I have a child? Our culture is not giving an easy answer to that question.”
Lord Sacks, 61, has been Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth since 1991.
He was knighted in 2005 for services to the community and interfaith relations and awarded a peerage in July this year.