Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Friday, August 9, 2013

Part 2 - How Modernity's Secularism Changed the World: Charles Taylor, "A Secular Age"

Below is Part 2 of the Series "How Modernity's Secularism Changed the World." In Part 1 we looked at the formation of the biblical tradition received from Augustine and Aquinas, and how this tradition informed the Medieval and Reformation church as it progressed forward in doctrine and dogmas. We also looked briefly at the separate traditions of analytic and continental philosophy that was birthed out of the Enlightenment/Modernistic Eras, and how those disciplines affected subsequent biblical doctrine and study. Today, in the Wikipedia article below I wish to examine more particularly how secularism has affect our societal outlook for Western civilization and what this means for the church as it progresses towards an anti-secular, postmodern mindset. Since I wish to place directional emphasis towards Continental Philosophy, and because Charles Taylor comes from this philosophical branch of study, I believe it may be helpful to our future discussions of Postmodern Christianity. Especially as it relates to the church's hermeneutical traditions as they too will progress away from modernism's influences into postmodernism's narrative readings of Scripture.
R.E. Slater
August 9, 2013
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A Secular Age
by Charles Taylor
Amazon - click here
Author's Bio - click here
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[with select commentary by R.E. Slater]

A Secular Age is a book written by the philosopher Charles Taylor which was published in 2007 by Harvard University Press. The noted sociologist Robert Bellah has referred to A Secular Age as "one of the most important books to be written in my lifetime."[1]
Background and Overview
In recent years, secularism has become an important topic in the humanities and social sciences. Although there continue to be important disagreements among scholars, many begin with the premise that secularism is not simply the absence of religion, but rather an intellectual and political category that itself needs to be understood as an historical construction.
In his book, Taylor looks at the change in Western society from a state in which it is almost impossible not to believe in God, to one in which believing in God is simply one option of many [as a result of secularity].
He argues against the view that secularity in society [has been] caused by the rise of science and reason. He argues that this view is far too simplistic and does not explain why people would abandon their faith.
Taylor starts with a description of the Middle Ages and presents the changes to bring about the modern secular age. The Middle Ages were a time of enchantment. People believed in God, angels, demons, witches, the Church's sacraments, relics, and sacred places. Each of these types of things had mysterious, real effects on individuals and society. The early Middle Ages were content to have two speeds for people's spiritual development. The clergy and a few others were at the faster, more intense speed. Everyone else was only expected to plod along at a slower spiritual speed. The High Middle Ages had a strong focus on bringing everyone along to a higher realm of spirituality and life.
Up until a few hundred years ago, the common viewpoint of the North Atlantic was basically Christian. Most people could not even consider a viewpoint without God. The culture has changed so that multiple viewpoints are now conceivable to most people. This change is accomplished through three major facets of Deism (*the belief that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of God, accompanied with the rejection of revelation and authority as a source of religious knowledge):
(1) an anthropocentric shift in now conceiving of Nature as primarily for people,
(2) the idea that God relates to us primarily through an impersonal order that He established,
(3) the idea that religion is to be understood from Nature by reason alone (Naturalism).
Deism is considered the major intermediate step between the previous age of belief in God and the modern secular age's [skepticism of God].[2]
The book focuses on three modes of secularity:[3]

(1) secularized public spaces,
(2) the decline of belief and practice,
(3) cultural conditions where unbelief in religion is a viable option.

In his previous work, Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity, Taylor focuses on the developments which led to the identity of modern individuals in the West. This work focuses on the developments which led to modern social structures. The content of Sources of the Self is complementary to A Secular Age. Taylor discussed the political implications of A Secular Age in an interview with The Utopian.
Taylor is "telling a story... of 'secularization' in the modern West[,]" and what the process amounts to:. i.e., he describes religion as: "that which is retreating in public space (1), or as a type of belief and practice which is or is not in regression (2), and as a certain kind of belief or commitment whose conditions in this age are being examined (3)."(p15)
Taylor does not believe that the decline in belief occurred because "'Darwin refuted the Bible", as allegedly said by a Harrow schoolboy in the 1890s." So he wants to discuss belief and unbelief "not as rival theories... but as different kinds of lived experience involved in understanding your life in one way or the other[.]"(p5) Where is the place of richness or fullness, and its opposite, the place of absence or exile? There is also the "middle condition," the daily activities between the extremes, and their meaning.
For believers the place of fullness is God (Religion). For unbelievers it is within, the power of reason (Enlightenment) or Nature, or our inner depths (Romanticism). Whereas postmodernism is [skeptical of all things said to bring fulfillment and looks at how society places value on things and between each other].
In the old world people could have a naive belief, but today belief or unbelief is "reflective," and includes a knowledge that other people do not/do believe. We look over our shoulder at other beliefs, but we still each live a "background," with our beliefs "held within a context or framework of the taken-for-granted... tacit... because never formulated."(p13)
Part I: The Work of Reform
"[W]hy was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?"(p25) God's presence retreated in three dimensions. (1) People no longer [were willing to] see natural events as acts of God. (2) Society "could only be conceived as grounded in something higher than human action in secular time."(p25) (3) People lived then in an enchanted world, but now [in Modernism], in disenchantment.
Rejecting the "subtraction" theory of secularization, Taylor believes that a movement of Reform in Christianity, aiming to raise everyone up to the highest levels of religious devotion and practice, [actually propelled] the move to secularization. The disciplined Reformed-self replaced the "porous"-self [which was] vulnerable to external forces, spirits and demons, with a new "buffered-self", a self disciplined by free agent living in a progressively disenchanted world.
The success of Reform and the propagation of successful disciplined selves leads to a disciplinary society that starts to take action against rowdiness and indiscipline: controlling the poor, taming the warrior aristocracy, suppressing "feasts of misrule" like Carnival. Calvinists and Puritans were "industrious, disciplined... mutually predictable... With such men a safe, well-ordered society can be built."(p106) The success of the project encouraged an anthropocentrism that opened the gates for a godless humanism.(p130) "So disengaged discipline frames a new experience of the self as having a telos of autarky."(p138)
Early humans were embedded into the world in three ways: (1) into their small-scale social group in which religious ritual was identical with social ritual; (2) into the cosmos, the enchanted world of spirits and forces; and, (3) the cosmos into the divine, so that the gods are intimately involved with the project of human flourishing. Thus: "Human agents are embedded in society, society in the cosmos, and the cosmos incorporates the divine."(p152)
This embedding is broken, for an elite, by the "higher" religions of the Axial Age:

What Does Jaspers Mean by his "Axial Age"?
by R.E. Slater and Wikipedia
[Though Jasper's subjective observation correlates with historical periods, it is not necessarily a true observation made by other historians who have noted market forces as bare explanations for human societal evolution. As such, it may be considered but an adjectival description much as we would use the term renaissance or enlightenment depicting eras of great change. - R.E. Slater]
... for the German philosopher Karl Jaspers, he posited  three Axial Ages marked as epicenters within China, India, Greece, and Judea, each an epicenter for religious and philosophical creativity. "For China there was Taoism and Confucianism; in India, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism; in Persia, the religion of Zoroaster (which led to monotheism); in Canaan, Judaism; and in Greece, sophism (the teaching of wisdom, esp. as it related to human affairs) and other classical philosophies."

... Anthropologist David Graeber has pointed out that "the core period of Jasper's Axial age corresponds almost exactly to the period in which coinage was invented. What's more, the three parts of the world where coins were first invented were also the very parts of the world where those sages lived...."[15] With the rise of the markets came a rise in the spheres of human enterprise and religious/spiritual thinking that correspondended with the sharing of ideas and the transference of knowledge.

... Religious historian Karen Armstrong explored Jasper's Axial period in her The Great Transformation,[19] and the theory has been the focus of academic conferences.[20] Usage of the term has expanded beyond Jaspers' original formulation. Armstrong argues that the Enlightenment was a "Second Axial Age", including thinkers such as Isaac Newton, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Einstein,[21] and that religion today needs to return to the transformative Axial insights.[22] In contrast, it has been suggested that the modern era [and postmodern eras are] a new axial age, wherein traditional relationships between religion, secularity, and traditional thought are changing.[23]

... Return to Article:

... This embedding is broken, for an elite, by the "higher" religions of the Axial Age: Humans are individuals, no longer embedded in society, God is no longer embedded in the cosmos, but separate, and the notion of human flourishing becomes transformed, e.g., in "a salvation which takes us beyond what we usually understand as human flourishing."(p152) In the Reformation and after this disembedding extended more and more from the elite to the whole population.
More and more, in recent times: "Humans are rational, sociable agents who are meant to collaborate in peace to their mutual benefit."(p159) This modern social imaginary is the Modern Moral Order, and it is a radical break with the two pre-modern moral orders, the idea of "the Law of a people"(p163) or the organization of society "around a notion of hierarchy in society which expresses and corresponds to a hierarchy in the cosmos."(p163)
Taylor sees "three important forms of social self-understanding."(p176) "They are, respectively (1) the "economy", (2) the public sphere, and (3) the practices and outlooks of democratic self-rule."(p176) Both the economy and the public sphere are conceived as existing independent of the political power. In the notion of economy is the "invisible hand" and the exchange of advantages in a relationship of interlocking causes. The state becomes "the orchestrating power that can make an economy flourish."(p178)
This new moral order is no longer a society of "mediated access" where the subjects are held together by an apex, a King, "We have moved from a hierarchical order of personalized links to an impersonal egalitarian one, from a vertical world of mediated access to horizontal, direct-access societies."(p209)
Taylor anticipates that his approach might be attacked as "idealism" against the Marxian requirement of "materialism." But ideas and material conditions are inseparable. "'Ideas' always come in history wrapped up in certain practices[.]"(p213)
Part II: The Turning Point
The program of Reform, by creating a disciplined, ordered society, in which the vulnerable "porous self" became the disengaged "buffered self", created a distance between humans and God. Thus exclusive humanism became an option through the "notion of the world designed by God... God relates to us primarily by establishing a certain order of things... We obey God by following the demands of this order."(p221) A true, original, natural religion, once obscured, is now to be laid clear again.
Christianity always provided for ordinary human flourishing, but included inscrutable divine grace. With Deism grace became eclipsed, for people endowed with reason and benevolence need only these faculties to carry out God's plan. God's Providence, once a mystery, is just God's plan. Eventually we come to Feuerbach: "that the potentialities we have attributed to God are really human potentialities."(p251)
Taylor makes a threefold claim. First, that "exclusive humanism arose in connection with, indeed, as an alternative set of moral sources for, the ethic of freedom and mutual benefit." Second, that "it couldn't have arisen in any other way at the time."(p259) Third, that today's wide range of unbelief still originates "in the ethic of beneficent order."
The usual interpretation of the changing understanding of God in recent centuries is a move from a "supreme being with powers... [of] agency and personality" to God as creator of a "law-governed structure" to "an indifferent universe, with God either indifferent or non-existent."(p270) This the subtraction story. Taylor thinks that it's more complicated than that.
The official Enlightenment story is that "people started using Reason and Science, instead of Religion and Superstition"(p273) to explain the world. The social order can be organized by rational codes, and human relationships which matter are prescribed in the codes. But the motive force behind this development was reformed Christianity and its move to a designer God in the early modern period.
In the new epistemic predicament, humans "acquire knowledge by exploring impersonal orders with the aid of disengaged reason."(p294) They form "societies under the normative provisions of the Modern Moral Order." In the secularist understanding, "human beings discover that they just are humans united in societies which can have no other normative principles but those of the MMO."(p294) "It is a massive shift in horizon."
Part III: The Nova Effect
Taylor sees three stages of a nova effect, an explosion of secularity beginning with "an exclusive alternative to Christian faith"(p299) in the 18th century. It was followed by diversification in the 19th century, even to the Nietzschean break with the humanism of freedom and mutual benefit. Finally in the last 50 years the nova has exploded to reach beneath elites to whole societies and includes "a generalised culture of 'authenticity', or expressive individualism," of doing your own thing.
But there are cross pressures. Against the freedom from "unreasoning fears" there is a feeling of malaise, of something lost. Heroism is lost in the leveling down of aspiration; utilitarianism is thought too flat and shallow. There is no room for death.
Unbelief in the middle to late 19th century began to take up the profound new sense of the universe, its vastness in space and time, and in the lack of a plan. Taylor calls this the modern "cosmic imaginary" (the natural version of the modern "social imaginary"). "Our present sense of things fails to touch bottom anywhere."(p325) Through the idea of the sublime and recovery of the "well-springs of sympathy"(p344) in Herder and Rousseau lost to disengaged reason we reach eventually the Will of Schopenhauer. We experience a universe maybe without a "rational, benign plan", bottomless, and the "locus of our dark genesis."
This leads to the theories of Freud, that the "highest functions, thinking, willing, are... the product of neuro-physiological functions in us."(p348) The new imaginary sustains a range of views, from "the hardest materialism through to Christian orthodoxy."(p351) This has confounded the war between belief and unbelief.
The opening up of different ways in experiencing the world includes a shift in the place of art. Instead of mimesis, the retelling of the Christian world-view through its standard symbols and reference points, we have a creative art that must develop its own reference points. Artists "make us aware of something in nature for which there are as yet no established words... In this 'subtler language'... something is defined and created as well as manifested."(p353) This applies to poetry, painting, and music taking an "absolute" turn, decoupled from story and representation. Yet they still move. But why? The mystery provides a place of the spiritual and the deep for the unbeliever.
Taylor invokes Schiller and his notion of "beauty as an aid to being moral", a "stage of unity as a higher stage, beyond moralism" obtained through play, the way we "create and respond to beauty."(p358) It creates an unspecified space "between religious commitment and materialism."(p360)
In the 19th century two additional factors influenced people in renouncing their faith in God: advances and science and Biblical scholarship, and the new cosmic imaginary.
People came to feel that the "impersonal order of regularities" was a more mature standpoint than the faith in a personal God. The new cosmic imaginary of a universe vast in time and space also argued against "a personal God or benign purpose." A materialist view is adult; faith in a personal God is childish.
Another view is associated with Nietzsche, the "post-Schopenhauerian" vision that notices the "irrational, amoral, even violent forces within us."(p369) These "cannot simply be condemned and uprooted, because our existence, and/or vitality, creativity, strength, ability to create beauty depend on them." This rebels against the Enlightenment in a way that echoes the old aristocratic and warrior ethos, a "revolt from within unbelief... against the primacy of life"(p372) i.e., that "our highest goal is to preserve and increase life, to prevent suffering... Life properly understood also affirms death and destruction."(p373)
Thus it is possible for people to live in a world encountering "no echo outside." This view experiences "its world entirely as immanent."(p376)
After a resurgence of belief driven by the Evangelical movement, by the 1830s elites began to experience again the cross-pressure between "the inescapable idea of an impersonal order"(p378) and the need to avoid a flattened world shorn of the values of Christianity. Carlyle attempted his own faith in "the human potential for spiritual/moral ascent"(p380) in the face of "utilitarian-commercial-industrial society." In Matthew Arnold this becomes a faith in culture, "the best that has been thought and said in the world."(p384) Darwin and evolution changed everything, but the "need to articulate something fuller, deeper"(p391) continues.
The high cultural trajectory was accompanied by the slow replacement of the vertical understanding of society into the modern horizontal idea of rights-bearing individuals related in mutual benefit, a combination of constitutional monarchy, rights and freedoms, Protestant religions, and British "decency", i.e., character and self-control. This strenuous ethic of belief set up "an unbelieving philosophy of self-control"(p395) in Leslie Stephen and John Stuart Mill, a "humanism of altruism and duty."(p398)
But this moralism provoked a rebellion by the young at the end of the century. It was too materialistic and too stifling. The new rebels were opposed not only to the "ethic of self control in its altruistic, public-spirited facet, but also in its individualistic, self-improving, "self-help" aspect."(p401) In one version, with G.M. Trevelyan, it teeters on the edge of the material/transcendent divide, in another, with Walter Pater, it replaces the transcendent with aetheticism.
Bloomsbury was another approach, an ethic of "personal relations and beautiful states of mind."(p405) It carried immanence another step, identifying the intrinsically valuable with the internal experience and sensibility. Then along came the World War I. Here was a war fought for "civilization... the protection of life from violence through order and law."(p407) Yet the war was a "greater negation of civilized life than any foe threatened." Thus Pound's notion of "a botched civilization" and Eliot's "Waste Land." For intellectuals it was impossible to inhabit the mental world of Rupert Brooke. Educated people could not deploy images of dedication and patriotism without distance and irony. "The will was suspect"(p411) a "formula for destruction rather than virtue". We get to the post-war consensus of an interventionist state. There is an option to believe that is wisely refused, and a confident, buffered identity.
The trajectory took different forms in the Catholic cultures. In particular in France the modern order of mutual benefit, in its Rousseau version, becomes Republican and anti-Christian if not always clearly atheist. The notion of humans as innocent and good requires a political order opposed to the Christian original sin. The social imaginary "is grounded in exclusive humanism"(p412) and becomes radicalized in Marxist socialism. Opposed to this imaginary was "Reaction," a vertical hierarchy "where differences of rank were respected"(p413) and each had his place under monarchy, albeit justified by its beneficial consequences rather than an ontic logos.
An ideal order "stressing rights, liberties and democracy, squares off against a counter-ideal which stresses obedience, hierarchy, belonging to, even sacrifice."(p414) But there can be crossovers, with Comte and a scientific "religion to provide social cohesion" and an unbelieving Nietzsche with heroes, suffering as an ineradicable dimension that "heroes learn to face and surmount".(p415) By 1912 Henri Massis and Alfred de Tarde write of a generation of youth needing a new discipline to create order and hierarchy and commitment against the dilettante generation of 1885. This movement was shattered in World War I. Many went into the war celebrating the opportunity for "heroism and dedication" only to be "sent wholesale to death in a long, mechanized slaughter."(p417)
The crisis of civilization dealt a body blow to established Christianity, and provoked "new, unbelieving variants of the vertical ideal of order"(p418) in fascism and Nazism. Thus the struggle between belief and unbelief "has been connected with ideals and counter-ideals of the moral order of society. But this conflict has disappeared, as religion has delinked from society into "a new kind of niche in society."(p419)
Part IV: Narratives of Secularization
To combat the standard narrative of secularization, e.g., Steve Bruce's proposal that the endpoint of secularization is a widespread indifference to religion, and "no socially significant shared religion"(p435) Taylor proposes an age of mobilization, from about 1800 to 1960 where religious forms of the ancien régime type suffered decay, but new forms that fit the age "recruited and mobilized people on an impressive scale."(p471) Churches organized their members' lives and inspired intense loyalty, so that "people would be schooled, play football, take their recreation, etc., exclusively among co-religionists."(p472)
In France this process played out as a direct combat between the ancien régime church and the secular Republicans in which the Church began organizing lay people in new bodies for fundraising, pilgrimages, and "Catholic Action." In the Anglophone world this mobilization occurred through "denominations" (e.g. Methodists) that "are like affinity groups"(p449), an organizing force to help people struggling to find their feet in the market economy.
But with the cultural revolution of the 1960s the age of mobilization came to an end, at least in the modern West. The last half century has seen a cultural revolution in the North Atlantic civilization. "As well as moral/spiritual and instrumental individualisms, we now have a widespread "expressive" individualism."(p473) Taylor calls this a culture of "authenticity," from the Romantic expressivism that erupted in the late 18th century elite, "that each one of us has his/her own way of realizing our humanity, and that it is important to find and live out one's own."(p475)
This affects the social imaginary. To the "horizontal" notion of "the economy, the public sphere, and the sovereign people"(p481) is added a space of fashion, a culture of mutual display. The modern moral order of mutual benefit has been strengthened, mutual respect requires that "we shouldn't criticize each other's 'values'"(p484) in particular on sexual matters. Since "my" religious life or practice is my personal choice, my "link to the sacred" may not be embedded in "nation" or "church." This is a continuation of the Romantic move away from reason towards a "subtler language" (Shelley) to understand individual "spiritual insight/feeling." "Only accept what rings true to your own inner Self."(p489) This has "undermined the link between Christian faith and civilizational order."(p492)
The revolution in sexual behavior has broken the culture of "moralism" that dominated most of the last half millennium. Developing individualism was bound to come into conflict with moralism, but in the mid 20th century the dam broke. Thinkers started to think of sexual gratification as good, or at least unstoppable, especially as "in cities, young people could pair off without supervision."(p501) Now people are not bound by moralism: "they form, break, then reform relationships;"(p496) they experiment.
It is a tragedy, however that "the codes which churches want to urge on people" still suffer from "the denigration of sexuality, horror at the Dionysian, fixed gender roles, or a refusal to discuss identity issues."(p503)
Today, the "neo-Durkheimian embedding of religion in a state"(p505) and a "close interweaving of religion, life-style and patriotism"(p506) has been called into question. People are asking, like Peggy Lee, "Is that all there is?" They are heirs of the expressive revolution, "seeking a kind of unity and wholeness of the self... of the body and its pleasures... The stress is on unity, integrity, holism, individuality."(p507) This is often termed "spirituality" as opposed to "organized religion."
This has caused a breaking down of barriers between religious groups but also a decline in active practice and a loosening of commitment to orthodox dogmas. A move from an Age of Mobilization to an Age of Authenticity, it is a "retreat of Christendom." Fewer people will be "kept within a faith by some strong political or group identity,"(p514) although a core (vast in the US) will remain in neo-Durkheimian identities, with its potential for manipulation by such as "Milosevic, and the BJP."(p515)
Assuming that "the human aspiration to religion will [not] flag"(p515) spiritual practice will extend beyond ordinary church practice to involve meditation, charitable work, study group, pilgrimage, special prayer, etc. It will be "unhooked" from the paleo-Durkheimian sacralized society, the neo-Durkheimian national identity or center of "civilizational order" but still collective. "One develops a religious life."(p518)
While religious life continues many people retain a nominal tie with the church, particularly in Western Europe. This "penumbra" seems to have diminished since 1960. More people stand outside belief, and no longer participate in rites of passage like church baptism and marriage. Yet people respond to, e.g. in France the 1500th anniversary of the baptism of Clovis, or in Sweden the loss of a trans-Baltic ferry. Religion "remains powerful in memory; but also as a kind of reserve fund of spiritual force or consolation."(p522)
This distancing is not experienced in the United States. This may be (1) because immigrants used church membership as a way to establish themselves: "Go to the church of your choice, but go."(p524) Or (2) it may be the difficulty that the secular elite has in imposing its "social imaginary" on the rest of society vis-a-vis hierarchical Europe. Also (3) the US never had an ancien régime, so there has never been a reaction against the state church. Next (4) the groups in the US have reacted strongly against the post-1960s culture, unlike Europe. A majority of Americans remain happy in "one Nation under God." There are less skeletons in the family closet, and "it is easier to be unreservedly confident in your own rightness when you are the hegemonic power."(p528) Finally (5) the US has provided experimental models of post-Durkheimian religion at least for a century.
After summarizing his argument, Taylor looks to the future, which might follow the slow reemergence of religion in Russia in people raised in the "wasteland" of militant atheism, but suddenly grabbed by God, or it might follow the "spiritual but not religious" phenomenon in the west. "In any case, we are just at the beginning of a new age of religious searching, whose outcome no one can foresee."
Part V: Conditions of Belief
We live in an immanent frame. That is the consequence of the story Taylor has told, in disenchantment and the creation of the buffered self and the inner self, the invention of privacy and intimacy, the disciplined self, individualism. Then Reform, the breakup of the cosmic order and higher time in secular, making the best of clock time as a limited resource. The immanent frame can be open, allowing for the possibility of the transcendent, or closed. Taylor argues that both arguments are "spin" and "involve a step beyond available reasons into the realm of anticipatory confidence"(p551) or faith.
There are several Closed World Structures that assume the immanent frame. One is the idea of the rational agent of modern epistemology. Another is the idea that religion is childish, so "An unbeliever has the courage to take up an adult stance and face reality."(p562) Taylor argues that the Closed World Structures do not really argue their world views, they "function as unchallenged axioms"(p590) and it just becomes very hard to understand why anyone would believe in God.
Living in the immanent frame "The whole culture experiences cross pressures, between the draw of the narratives of closed immanence on one side, and the sense of their inadequacy on the other".(p595) Materialists respond to the aesthetic experience of poetry. Theists agree with the Modern Moral Order and its agenda of universal human rights and welfare. Romantics "react against the disciplined, buffered self"(p609) that seems to sacrifice something essential with regard to feelings and bodily existence.
To resolve the modern cross pressures and dilemmas Taylor proposes a "maximal demand" that we define our moral aspirations in terms that do not "crush, mutilate or deny what is essential to our humanity".(p640) It aspires to wholeness and transcendence yet also tries to "fully respect ordinary human flourishing."(p641)
Taylor imagines a two-dimensional moral space. The horizontal gives you a "point of resolution, the fair award".(p706) The vertical hopes to rise higher, to reestablish trust, "to overcome fear by offering oneself to it; responding with love and forgiveness, thereby tapping a source of goodness, and healing"(p708) and forgoing the satisfaction of moral victory over evil in sacred violence, religious or secular.
Taylor examines the Unquiet Frontiers of Modernity, how we follow the Romantic search for fullness, yet seem to respond still to our religious heritage. We replace the old "higher time" with autobiography, history, and commemoration. Many moderns are uncomfortable with death, "the giving up of everything"(p725)
"Our age is very far from settling into a comfortable unbelief."(p727) "The secular age is schizophrenic, or better, deeply cross-pressured."(p727) Against unbelief, Taylor presents a selection of recent spiritual conversions or "epiphanic" experiences in Catholic artists and writers, including Václav Havel, Ivan Illich, Charles Peguy, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. The path to the future is a rich variety of paths to God in a unity of the church and a new approach to the question of the sexual/sensual. The disciplined, disengaged secular world is challenged by a return to the body in Pentecostalism. There is a "profound interpenetration of eros and the spiritual life."(p767) "[I]n our religious lives we are responding to a transcendent reality."(p768) Our seeking for "fullness" is our response to it.
Secular belief is a shutting out. "The door is barred against further discovery."(p769) But in the secular "'waste land'... young people will begin again to explore beyond the boundaries."(p770) It will, Taylor thinks, involve a move away from "excarnation," the disembodying of spiritual life, and from homogenization in a single principle, to celebrate the "integrity of different ways of life."(p772)
Epilogue: The Many Stories
In a brief afterword Taylor links his narrative to similar efforts by e.g., John Milbank and the Radical Orthodoxy movement.
A Secular Age has been reviewed in newspapers such as The New York Times[4] and The Guardian,[5] magazines such as The New Republic[6] and The American Prospect,[7] and professional journals such as Intellectual History Review,[8] Political Theory,[9] Implicit Religion,[10] the European Journal of Sociology,[11] and in many other publications.[12]
  1. ^ The Immanent Frame » Blog Archive » Secularism of a new kind
  2. ^ p 221
  3. ^ p 20
  4. ^ John Patrick Diggins (16 December 2007). "The Godless Delusion"
  5. ^ Stuart Jeffries (7 December 2007). "Is that all there is?"
  6. ^ Charles Larmore (2008, April 9). "How Much Can We Stand? [review of A Secular Age by Charles Taylor]". The New Republic (Chris Hughes). ISSN 0028-6583.  (accessed 2 Jan 2013)
  7. ^ Aziz Huq (2007, October 2). "Keeping God Out of It [review of A Secular Age by Charles Taylor]". The American Prospect (Jay Harris). ISSN 1049-7285.  (accessed 2 Jan 2013)
  8. ^ Bill Cooke (2009). "Charles Taylor and the return of theology-as-history". Intellectual History Review (Routledge) 19 (1): 133–139. doi:10.1080/17496970902722999. ISSN 1749-6977. 
  9. ^ Elizabeth Shakman Hurd (2008). "Books in review: A secular age, by Charles Taylor.". Political Theory 36 (3): 486. doi:10.1177/0090591708315144. ISSN 0090-5917. 
  10. ^ Vaughan S. Roberts (2009). "A Secular Age by Charles Taylor". Implicit Religion 12 (1): 121. doi:10.1558/imre.v12i1.121. ISSN 1743-1697. 
  11. ^ Craig Calhoun (2008). "A Secular Age [review of book by Charles Taylor]". European Journal of Sociology (Cambridge Journals Online) 49 (03): 455–461. doi:10.1017/S0003975609000186. ISSN 0003-9756. 
  12. ^ For listings of many additional reviews, see a Google Scholar search.


Part 1 - How Modernity's Secularism Changed the World: An Introduction to Postmodern Hermeneutics

Several years ago I began writing about theology to bridge the gaps between my past generation and the newer, younger generations of today. Little did I realize to what extent my faith group had lagged behind in this effort... nor how little yielded they were in plumbing the depths of the gap that has since arisen over my brief 30-year span since leaving its traditions and regalia. Thinking back, I suppose that even in my day we were too little concentrated on maintaining relevancy to the generations to come.... Mostly, I think, we were more interested in inducting future generations into our way of thinking, rather than preparing them to think independently as future Christian exegetes.
However, as secular modernism has swept through the church another counter movement has arisen known as (anti-secular) postmodernism. Though slow to grasp its formative disruption, I have since reawakened to examine what this has meant for the church of the 21st Century... and have steadily been writing about it these past two years. First to deconstruct my modernistic churched past during my first six months of blogging - both theologically as well as my socio-religious group. Then I went about trying to reconstruct it based upon postmodernism's more contemporary insights which has involved these past two years of writing. Now, at the last, I have come to examining where we might go from here into a kind of post-postmodernism (but for short I'll call it postmodernism). But to do that I must continue to examine modernistic thought - but at its philosophical level and no longer on its pragmatic, church, or theological levels. Thus in today's article I chanced upon Charles Taylor (see Part 2 of this post) and came to understand Taylor's connection to this summer's past study on Radical Theology (which I have yet to explain except to say that I will in future commentaries when I begin to examine it).

I must first begin by stating my interest in moving beyond my Reformed tradition's usage of creedal formulas as a way to draw nearer to God. Though helpful as statements of faith, it is also being used by the church to protect its Reformed traditions about God, man, and the church, without allowing further examination of orthodoxy beyond its modernistic expressions. For myself, I have found the gospel of Jesus to be lost in today's societal postmodernism. And in an effort to better speak my Christian faith to the generation of the 21st Century I have steadily been working towards a re-expression of Christianity through the language of Emergent Theology and Postmodern Orthodoxy.
As such, I am also finding a postmodern, anthropologic hermeneutic to be helpful in discerning how our words have replaced God's words in modernism's regress of biblical truth. Belatedly, the church is beginning to wake up and recognize this error as it reacts by seeking God in its newer liturgies and songs, theologies and worship, prayers and recitations of God's faithfulness, goodness, mercy and love. Which also means that the Protestant and Catholic traditions must now decide how to relax their past doctrines and as they transition forwards.
What began all this was my belated realization that my Reformed tradition had spawned two separate thought streams - one of secularity (as shown in Part II of today's article), and the other as Analytic thought (using logical positivistic thought and creedal syllogisms for theologic formulation) based upon the Enlightenment's perchance for exquisite statements about God:
[Wikipedia] Analytic philosophy is often understood in contrast to other philosophical traditions, most notably continental philosophy, and also Indian philosophy, Thomism, and Marxism.[14]
Similar to building a computer language that uses a defined syntax to structure human ideas and language, so analytic philosophy goes about its task of restructuring human language into less ambiguous syntax and more meaning-infilled dialogue. A good example of this would be our early days in geometry where we worked our lessons towards a solution based upon mathematical axioms and geometric laws. Similarly, Reformed (and perhaps, Catholic) theology has leaned into this direction, though not wholly, but in its most ideal expressions of its dogmas using pithy creedal confessions and theologically-informed syntax to create fully formed ideas of Christian expression. Expressions that have become the standard bearers of biblical truth against the fluidity or the narrative language of the Bible which we read and study. Thus compiling and composing it into its own religious language and set of instructions for worship and belief, mission and living.
Opposite to this endeavor is that of Continental Philosophy (begun in Germany and France and now transposed across Europe, the UK, and North America). Continental philosophy includes the following movements:
Here one works at deriving meaning from words and human thought forms as relative to the speaker or to the group. To understandably allow for the ambiguity and syntactical fluidity of the human language as an imprecise expression of ideas through narrative and story, experience and opinion. As such, movements like historical criticism, or redactive thought, have sought to examine why a biblical passage was written as it was; by a speaker measured within his/her's own cultural and time periods; what those time periods may have meant for that speaker, or to that society they spoke to; the meaning of the redactive placement of biblical passages and texts within-and-outside of the Bible's historical commentaries and subjective imposition; how those passages and texts carried meaning to later societies as they embraced those words in newer ways - even as we now embrace them through our own private readings and joined church experiences.
Out of this was born Liberal Christianity with an emphasis on the interpretive exegesis of the biblical text as against a more literalistic reading. A literal reading that assumes the bible may be read as one would read a computer code - without historic, linguistic, or cultural ambiguity - by using reasoned logic for theological interpretation. To the degree that interpretation bore well with conservative orthodoxy it was accepted... but to the degree that it diverged form cherished church traditions it was not. Thus liberal theology took a quick dive towards either neo-orthodoxy or paganism and the orthodox church assumed it was ok to disregard textual study and interpretation.
Asked another way, we might ask "What then is the orthodox church's philosophical tradition based upon? It must have one, doesn't it?" Well yes, it seems that it does, having been steadily built eon-after-eon primarily upon either Aristotelian thought, with its emphasis on deduction and investigation of concrete, and particular, things and situations. Or upon Platonism which affirms the existence of abstract objects. Objects that "exist" in a "third realm distinct both from the sensible external world and from the internal world of consciousness, and is the opposite of nominalism.
Notably then, the Christian orthodox tradition arose from Western Greek thought as opposed to its Eastern compliment that kept to its Semitic and African roots through the time of Roman imperialism (in an admixture of West meets East). The Medieval period of the church saw two traditions arise around two primary figures: that of the 4th Century Early Church Father Augustine, who favored Neo-Platonism; and that of the 13th Century Scholasticist, Thomas Aquinas, who favored Aristotle. From Aquinas flowed the philosophies of naturalism (sic, Natural Theology) and Thomism (named after the same):
[Wikipedia] St. Thomas Aquinas believed that truth is true wherever it is found, and thus consulted Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Muslim philosophers. Specifically, he was a realist (i.e., he, unlike the skeptics, believed that the world can be known as it is). He largely followed Aristotelian terminology and metaphysics, and wrote comprehensive commentaries on Aristotle, often affirming Aristotle's views with independent arguments. Thomas respectfully referred to Aristotle simply as "the Philosopher."[4] He also adhered to some neoplatonic principles, for example that "it is absolutely true that there is first something which is essentially being and essentially good, which we call God, ... [and that] everything can be called good and a being, inasmuch as it participates in it by way of a certain assimilation..."[5]
And so, in summary address, we might say (as respecting only the Western traditions of the church and not its Near-Eastern nor Asian influences) that classic church orthodoxy has been built around Greek thought - primarily that of either Aristotle (384-322 BC) or Plato (428-328 BC). It is from these traditions that the 15th Century Renaissance and 16th Century Reformation arose. To this tradition was an action (the Enlightenment period which gave birth to Modernism) and a reaction (the Continental philosophy of German Idealism which gave birth to Liberal Theology). From which resulted a synthesis between Analytic Philosophy on the one hand, and Continental Philosophy on the other. Each presently couched within a postmodern reflective period as they intersected and bisected with one another.
For myself, I am more interested in Postmodern Christianity's embrace of Continental Philosophy which is giving birth to a more progressive area of study known as Radical Theology. A developing tradition that relies on Continental Philosophy as begun under the Kantian and Hegelian traditions. But in the form that I wish to address, it will be conservative as respecting both (1) past church traditions and historic doctrine, and (2) faithful exegesis to the Bible.... Of course, exegesis will spin around one's idea of interpretation, or hermeneutic - either preferencing secularity or anti-secularity as found respectively in modern and postmodern thought. However each enterprise will be done in the hopes of not straying overmuch into the deep waters of philosophical thought unmoored from the deeper waters of biblical witness. Additionally, I also wish to utilize a neo-orthodox approach to liberal theology that emphasizes God's Word over our own words when properly separated out from church dogmas and restrictive religious folklore. Meaning that I wish to push the envelop of modernistic church interpretive tradition built on Greek/Reformed/Catholic thought to one built on an admixture of Jewish/Semitic thought (e.g., the New Perspective of Paul: see sidebar) combined with a postmodern, emergent perspective. And, as an added direction, I would like to speak to a Christian faith that is apocalyptic and accompanied by a Weak Theological perspective of God (see sidebar Index - Phase III). This last effort must necessarily include Relational-Process Theism and Open Theism (sic, see sidebars again). In conclusion, I will leave below several helpful charts of philosophy's inter-relations, along with an article related to those charts, pertaining to the importance and centrality of one's philosophy to politics, economy, and the social-community life of society.
R.E. Slater
August 9, 2013 
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The complete history of philosophy
visualized in one graph
Simon Raper of Drunks&Lampposts has compiled a mesmerizing graph that charts the entire history of philosophy. By extracting information from the "influenced by" sections in Wikipedia, he was able to visually convey an overarching web of philosophical traditions. And by adding extra weight to the most influential philosophers, Raper was able to produce a compelling graph that offers some fascinating insights into the formation and development of various schools of philosophical thought.
The first thing you notice when looking at the graph is that there are six primary philosophers who take center stage in terms of their influence, namely Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche (the last one being a bit of a surprise — though Nietzsche's writings have certainly returned to vogue in recent years).
Conspicuous by his absence is Descartes, but Raper offers a possible explanation: The chart only measures direct influences, and it's likely that Descartes's tremendous contribution has trickled through second and third degree associations. Alternately, it could also be the fault of strictly using associations established by Wikipedia editors.
Other highly influential philosophers (rightly) include Kierkegaard, Husserl, Heidegger, Leibniz, Rousseau, Hume, Wittgenstein, and even Noam Chomsky.
The graph also shows a certain amount of "clumping" that one would expect — a logical grouping of philosophers within their respective traditions, and in close relation to their precursors and eventual offshoots. The ancient philosophers are nicely represented in green at the top-left corner. The continental tradition is shown through the initial grouping of Hegel and Nietzsche, leading into Heidegger and Sarte, and then into the "isms" of the 20th century. The graph also shows the analytic school of Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein, along with the American pragmatists.
Click to Enlarge
For Original Charts website - Click here