Charles Margrave Taylor—Secular Age
Canadian born Charles Margrave Taylor is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at McGill University and the author of several books. He is highly esteemed in the academic community for his intellectual endeavors pertaining to philosophy in the political, social science, historical, and intellectual arenas. He is the recipient of various awards of distinction for his contributions to philosophical thought and is a practicing Roman Catholic.
Taylor relates, “The story of what happened in the secularization of Western Christendom is so broad, and so multi-faceted, that one could write several books this length and still not do justice to it. This is the more so that my chosen area, Latin Christendom, is not homogeneous. As we will see below, there is more than one path here, and different nations and regions have trodden their own way at different speeds and times.”  His focus is on three major characterizations of secularity: (1) the lack of reference to God or ultimate reality in public and social spaces; (2) the abandonment of religious beliefs and practices and turning away from the church and God; (3) the conditions of belief that shifted focus from belief in God to one in which it is one option among others. “Belief in God is no longer axiomatic; there are alternatives.” 
Taylor states, “The change I want to define and trace is one which takes us from a society in which it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is one human possibility among others.”  He takes us back to the time in history when ancient societies did not make distinctions as we do in our contemporary culture “between the religious, political, economic, and social aspects of society. In these societies religion was ubiquitous and interwoven into all aspects of life. The ancients lived in the “enchanted world of spirits, demons, and moral forces.”  Disbelief in God was not an option in the enchanted world because God was the dominant spirit and the only guarantor of good triumphing over evil. Taylor points out that one of the differences between earlier times and our secular age is that, “A secular age is one in which the eclipse of all goals beyond human flourishing become conceivable; or better, it falls within the range of imaginable life for masses of people. It is a matter of the whole context of understanding in which our moral, spiritual or religious experience and search takes place. An age or society would then be secular or not, in virtue of the conditions of experience of and search for the spiritual.” 
Taylor indicates we can understand secularity from the standpoint of public spaces because they are seemingly devoid of God or any reference to ultimate reality. He further states, “As we function in various spheres of activity—economic, political, cultural, educational, professional, recreational, the norms and principles we follow, the deliberations we engage in, generally do not refer to God or any religious beliefs.”  According to Taylor this form of secularity is in stark “contrast to earlier periods, when Christian faith laid down authoritative prescriptions, often through the mouth of the clergy, which could not be easily ignored in any of these domains.”  Taylor accounts for the differences in these two eras to a primary shift in the understanding of what he calls “fullness between a condition in which our highest spiritual and moral aspirations point us inescapably to God on the one hand, and to one in which they can be related to a host of different sources, some of which deny God on the other hand.”  Taylor attributes alternatives to the God-reference of fullness to science because it was a catalyst in disenchanting the universe, thereby contributing to the ushering in of exclusive humanism. Exclusive humanism is defined by James Smith as, “A worldview or social imaginary that is able to account for meaning and significance without any appeal to the divine or transcendence.”  Taylor states many people are content living for goals which are purely immanent and have no concern for the transcendent.
There emerged a new sense of the self and its place in the cosmos: “not open, porous, or vulnerable to a world of spirits and powers, but what Taylor calls buffered.”  But, he remarks it took more than disenchantment to produce the buffered self, it was also necessary to have confidence in one’s own ability of moral ordering. The buffered self enables a disengagement from the cosmos and God, which in turn makes exclusive humanism a viable option. This crucial change put an end to the concept of transcendence, or the goals which go beyond human flourishing for some people.
After Taylor takes us through an esoteric journey of understanding secularization showcasing his knowledge in the classical languages, he puts things in the right perspective by concluding this work with what is really important for the whole exercise. For Christians our religion continues to be defined in terms of transcendence. “Our relationship is with a transcendent God who has been displaced at the center of social life and public spaces (secularity 1); it is the belief and practices of faith in this God whose decline is tracked in secularity theories (secularity 2); (secular 3) consists of new conditions of belief about morality and spirituality.”  In our Judaeo-Christian tradition loving God is our ultimate end.
But, I am concerned about those in Western societies that do not have a relationship of love with God and embrace the culture of authenticity or “expressive individualism” in which they are encouraged to chart their own way, discover their own fulfillment, “do your own thing.”  The buffered, anthropocentric identify provides a sense of power, in being able to order our world and ourselves. Or perhaps a sense of pride in having gained knowledge and understanding, and in escaping vulnerability. The tragic thing about living in the disenchanted world is the tendency to no longer believe on the power of God and holding to a false sense of increased self-worth. Additionally, the buffered identity is deeply anchored in a malaise sensing the world as flat and empty. There is a search for something beyond the world to compensate for the meaning lost with transcendence. According to Taylor, it is the youth in particular who suffer from a lack of strong purposes in their lives.
- Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007) 29.
- Ibid., 3.
- Ibid., 25.
- Ibid., 3, 19.
- Ibid., 2.
- Ibid., 26.
- James Smith, How Not to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids: Eerdman Publishing, 2014), 141.
- Taylor, Secular Age, 27
- Ibid., 20-21.
- Ibid., 299.