This is by one particular of our Northern (MA New Testament) students, Ben Davis, who leads a pastors group in Wichita KS.

Synopsis of A Secular Age

 Charles Taylor’s book, A Secular Age, is a sweeping narrative covering much more than 500 years of philosophical, theological, political, and cultural history in an work to answer this singular query: “Why was it practically not possible not to think in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, when in 2000 [or 2019] several of us uncover this not only simple but even inescapable?” (25). By answering this important query, Taylor’s narrative tends to make clear that secularism was not determined just before the foundation of the universe. Rather, what gave rise to our secular age was a series of contingent historical events whose benefits could have been otherwise. To be clear: secularism is a matter of decision not fate.

Initially, it is essential to realize the nature of the secular as Taylor defines it. The thesis of his book is predicated on 3 elements of the secular that are listed in turn:

  • Secular: Like the sacred, the secular is a way of marking time. For instance, Sunday’s Eucharist or morning and evening prayer mark sacred time when function, consuming meals, or going to festivals mark secular time.
  • Secularism: Post Enlightenment, the secular becomes secularism. For the 1st time it signifies a lack of belief in God and religious practice. For instance, the nation-state becomes a secular (i.e. ‘neutral’) institution exactly where religious belief and practice are severely restricted if not prohibited completely.
  • Secularity: “The shift to secularity in this sense consists, amongst other issues, of a move from a society exactly where belief in God is unchallenged and certainly, unproblematic, to one particular in which it is understood to be one particular solution amongst other individuals, and regularly not the easiest to embrace.”

Second, it is essential to don’t forget that Taylor is telling a story. What follows, then, is a tenuous work to sketch the broad contours of that narrative as Taylor tells it.

(1) Taylor contends that for most of human history the planet was enchanted: “The all-natural planet. . . testified to divine goal and action . . . storms, droughts, floods, plagues, as effectively as years of exceptional fertility and flourishing, we observed as acts of God. . .” (25). In this enchanted planet, not only was God (or some thing like God) assumed, but private identity was conferred, not made. Persons understood themselves to be one particular hyperlink in the chain of the wonderful Order of Getting, moving effortlessly in between the borders of the all-natural and the supernatural realms. Accordingly, persons have been porous – open and connected to the spiritual planet surrounding them. Their social imaginary presumed that reality was saturated by meta-physical forces haunting creation, interacting with them in a dynamic matrix that was indisputable.

(two) Then some thing changed. Reform moved via western Europe with a blustering force, profoundly altering the religious and political landscape with dramatic impact. 1 consequence of Reform was the proliferation of confessional identities that (re)defined the borders of Europe. Whilst the essence of the Reformation(s) was fantastic and indispensable to righting the course of the Church’s history, it left some devastating if unintended consequences in its wake. For instance, rival ecclesial bodies – Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Huguenot (Reformed), and Anabaptist – vied to solidify political energy and violence inevitably ensued, resulting in what is identified now as the “Wars of Religion.”

(three) Exhausted by interminable war(s) and unable to safe the grounds for truth amongst competing theological factions, a new movement came to birth mostly in France, Prussia (Germany), and England which sought to uncover a way forward beyond theological and ecclesial foundations. This movement is identified as the Enlightenment. What is essential to realize about the Enlightenment is that it was in portion the solution of theological motivations. Apostles of cause such as Immanuel Kant and John Locke have been arguably severe Christians who espoused faith in the Christian God as a matter of 1st value. Component of their Enlightenment project, nevertheless, was to ground claims of truth and information – particularly truth and information about God — someplace other than in religious sources, such as the Bible, which had turn out to be a touchstone of controversy. For the sake of peace and tolerance, they believed, society necessary to uncover a much more theologically ‘neutral’ signifies by which to adjudicate competing notions of truth and authority. This transition leads to what Taylor calls excarnation – the notion that, primarily based on cause alone, religion is reducible to competing systems of belief that one particular merely comprehends rationally but does not know imaginatively, sacramentally, or virtually (via embodied practice). Every program of belief is then measured according to its veracity vis-à-vis cause alone, isolated from any notion of history, tradition, or neighborhood of practice.

Therefore: as the heart of Reformation doctrine came to be summed up in the 5 Solas, so the heart of Enlightenment doctrine came to be summed up in just one particular: sola ratio. Cause alone would be the fulcrum about which human understanding turned. Either religion is rational – justified by cause alone – or it is absolutely nothing much more than superstition.

(four) But more than time even cause proved to be also fragile a basis on which to safe peace and unity for an increasingly diverse, beleaguered society. With the fast rise of all-natural science, financial industrialization, and the secular nation-state, the planet became much more disenchanted. As the crust of the immanent frame hardened more than religious, political, and social order, several people today eschewed the doctrine of sola ratio, hunting for intimations of the sacred in locations such as art, poetry, and nature. According to Taylor’s story, it is the era of Romanticism that hastens the nova impact. The nova impact posits 3 distinct options:

  • Secularism morphs into secularity. Disbelief becomes a viable force against Christian belief and practice, and public space is increasingly stripped of any overt religious symbolism.
  • Option techniques of getting other than Christian multiply and challenge standard belief and practice. Atheism becomes not merely disbelief in God but rather a complete framework by which to realize reality.
  • As new horizons of freedom open up, the age of authenticity is born.

Considering the fact that one’s identity was no longer conferred by God, or positioned in the Order of Getting, then one particular was totally free to (re)build it according to one’s will. On that score, person autonomy, self-expression, and feeling turn out to be moral ideals. As Taylor aptly puts it: “the understanding of life which emerges with the Romanic expressivism of the late-eighteenth century, that each and every one particular of us has his/her personal way of realizing our humanity, and that it is essential to uncover and reside out one’s personal, as against surrendering to conformity with a model imposed on us from outdoors, but society, or the earlier generation, or religious or political authority.” (475)

Beneath the cloud of Romanticism belief in God was not unthinkable certainly, it is precise to say that a majority of people today in the West at the advent of the 19th and 20th centuries nonetheless maintained a semblance of belief in God if not a robust Christian faith. But for the 1st time in history disbelief in God was a viable solution for people today who sought which means elsewhere. Two more options also became considerable at this time. (1) The self – when porous in a planet of enchantment – was now buffered and enclosed. Reality could be solely understood in a all-natural, scientific register. (two) A captivating narrative emerges that Taylor calls the subtraction story. In quick, the subtraction story suggests that as modernity progresses and solidifies in our social imaginary, religious belief is subtracted from our lives altogether. Therefore:




religion < MODERNITY


(five) Currently — just after two Planet Wars, the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of globalization, and the fast expansion of technologies – the planet is a profoundly various spot than it was 500 years ago. Belief in God – or some type of transcendence – nonetheless exists, to be certain. It is the situations of belief that have changed, nevertheless. Now, even these who espouse sturdy, steady religious convictions are squeezed by what Taylor calls cross-pressures (e.g. science, technologies, competing ‘life-styles’), dilemmas (e.g. evil, suffering, gratuitous violence) and option narratives of flourishing that contend for one’s allegiance and shape one’s understanding of God and the planet.

In the immanent frame, seemingly every person is aspiring toward some notion of fullness but it can no longer be assumed that fullness is necessarily or mostly discovered in God. Several people today are comfy locating fullness in humanitarian relief, technological innovation, political progress, or theories of self-improvement. There are as several paths of which means now obtainable to pick out from as there are flavors of ice cream. But the malaise of modernity persists. It is a palpable awareness that some thing is missing from our lives. This heavy sense of loss and equally deep sense of longing are opposite sides of the similar reality in our fractured, secular age. Ironically, as modernity expands, its subtraction story turns out to be a myth the search for the sacred remains inescapable. But the single path when set just before our distant ancestors has now splintered in several disparate, irreconcilable directions.

To say it once again: our secular age is not a permanent fixture of history. The subsequent chapter in the story of human events could witness its collapse – or its stratification. We have each and every cause to believe religious belief and practice will continue. But what kind it will take is unknown.