Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Entertainment or Internal Longing?

Written by: on January 17, 2020

Our American culture seems to have a fascination with the supernatural, the other-world. Whether vampires, zombies, fairies, or superheroes, Hollywood and much of the media continues to produce stories for us to be enchanted by. Even as I write this post Maleficent is playing on the screen in the airplane. The trailer says, “A vengeful fairy is driven to curse an infant princess, only to discover that the child may be the one person who can restore peace to their troubled land.”[1] Is this the search? Someone to bring peace, solutions, leadership for these complex times?

In James K.A. Smith’s book, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor he walks the reader through the dense but critical work of Charles Taylor’s, A Secular Age. Taylor is a Canadian philosopher and professor emeritus at McGill University in Montreal and Catholic in his religious beliefs. Smith’s preface sets the stage for why Taylor’s work matters. We live in a “pluralized, pressurized moment…where believers are beset by doubt and doubters, every once in a while, find themselves tempted by belief.”[2] The space we find ourselves is not neatly defined by the maps of meaning purported on both sides of the argument whether by atheists or religious fundamentalists. It is this unique place where Taylor’s arguments make room for a third consideration.

The secular age has been a common conversation among philosophers for decades with typically two causes being blamed: the separation of church and state, the sacred from the secular (Taylor calls this secular 1) and society’s diminishing religious engagement (secular 2). Taylor’s thesis is that neither of these are adequate to describe secularism. He argues secular 3 has been created by the pluralism of choice. Christianity is now just one belief among many human possibilities as is exclusive humanism. His focus is not regarding belief or not, but rather than conditions of belief. “Why 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?”[3] Taylor’s premise is, “For the first time in history a purely self-sufficient humanism came to be a widely available option. I mean by this a human is, accepting no final goals beyond human flourishing, nor ay allegiance to anything else beyond this flourishing. Of no previous society was this true.”[4]

One premise Taylor spends a significant time discussing in regard to exclusive humanism is transcendence versus an immanent frame. Transcendence deals with the supernatural, the world of enchantment, that which is beyond human limits. Immanence is framed by reason and disenchantment. The interesting argument Taylor makes is that we all live in this immanent frame, some just do so with openness while others do not. If exclusive humanism is confined to reason and everything found within the human then why the continual need for imagination, fantasy, and the other-world? This has been true for generations whether through oral story, television and radio, the screen, stage or now the internet, people are still drawn to the supernatural. There is much research by human development experts regarding “magical thinking” in children from preschool through early elementary ages. It is natural to their cognitive development to believe in something beyond what they can see.[5] If an immanent frame is all that is needed and human flourishing the ultimate goal, why the childhood and adult intrigue with the supernatural?

Though many Christians see secularism as the dystopian reality of our day, Taylor believes this is “misguided and misses the point.”[6] Because this is an age with belief conditions which allow anything to be acceptable, “a secular society could undergo religious revival where vast swaths of the populace embrace religious belief.”[7] Though some believed in the early 1960’s that religion would die globally by the turn of the century, in fact the opposite was true and the global south has experienced an unprecedented openness and engagement with Christianity. Taylor would say, this still does not change the fact that this is a secular age. The human choice of belief, which belief, and/or no belief at all are acceptable perspectives.

What does secularization mean for the Church? This is the most pertinent question of all for spiritual leaders. Is the fascination with the supernatural simply societal entertainment or is there a deep inner knowing that humans are creatures that cannot be limited to an immanent frame? Must we have more to life than a few decades of flourishing only to become dust and memories? Was it truly that mankind simply progressed until we no longer needed spirits and gods and demons? Did we become so rational that we can explain with naturalist reasoning what we used to attribute to the spirit world? Taylor is critical reading for today’s leaders of the Church to rethink how we live and the mission of the Church midst the society we find ourselves. It cannot be business as usual and yet what a wonderful opportunity for creative imagination

[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1587310

[2] James K.A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 2.

[3] Ibid., 19.

[4] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 18.

[5] https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/ages-stages-how-children-use-magical-thinking

[6] Ibid., 20.

[7] Ibid., 23.

About the Author

Tammy Dunahoo

Tammy is a lover of God, her husband, children and grandchildren. She is the V.P. of U.S. Operations/General Supervisor of The Foursquare Church.

8 responses to “Entertainment or Internal Longing?”

  1. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Hi Tammy. Isn’t interesting that 13 years after Taylor’s work was published we read it and wonder why it wasn’t required reading back then? Taylor posits a grand idea that rather than rebel against secularisation we should embrace its existence as a child of our own making. In that sense there there is a praxis to secularism that may be instructive to our future thinking as leaders. I came across taylor back in 2001 in his Journal article, Two Theories of Modernity. Back then I was impressed with his lucid perspective on secular development. If I remember correctly, one of his concerns was that secularism opens the door to totalitarian leadership. As people focus inwardly confusion reigns and they look for a strong man/woman to step in to the confusion and offer clarity. Certainly we see it unfold in politics but I also wonder if we are seeing it in the church? Authoritarian leaders are enticing in confused spaces but they are a dangerous antithesis to Kingdom Polity. Good stuff for leadership training me thinks. Thanks for the review.

    • Tammy Dunahoo says:

      Thanks, Digby. I am surprised to see the totalitarian leadership making a return but in fact, I do see it in some places. I honestly thought we were moving to a more relational, communal, Kingdom approach to leadership and we are in some places. But, there has definitely been a rise of the “star on the stage” in American celebrity church culture. It is an important study in how culture sets the stage for leadership styles.

  2. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Tammy – love this. I kept thinking about Taylor’s use of the secular world as “haunted”. Yes, many have chosen to reject transcendence but that there is still a sense of something missing or being haunted. This has given me a point of prayer and handles for engagement with those uninterested (seemingly) in spiritual matters. I love your point about the cultural fascination with the supernatural in our entertainment mediums – it is ironic, isn’t it? And hopeful I think.

    • Tammy Dunahoo says:

      Thanks, Andrea. I appreciate those who have the ability to discuss supernatural things and live supernatural lives while making it seem quite natural. Spirituality without weirdness, it is possible! I do think there are many opening to that expression.

  3. Mary Mims says:

    Hi Tammy, I loved your post. I also picked up on the fact that the supernatural in movies has increased to new levels. If we have disenchanted our world, we somehow find the need to re-enchant it back. Secularization does not remove the need for God and something beyond ourselves. I think Taylor at least gives us an explanation for what’s going on today.

    • Tammy Dunahoo says:

      Thanks, Mary. Taylor was very helpful for me to have a broader understanding on what is happening around us and the posture we can take in it. Rather than being concerned and fearful, we can see it as an amazing opportunity if we really believe what we preach. 🙂

  4. Jenn Burnett says:

    Thanks for your post Tammy! I appreciate your raising the question of how innate our desire for transcendence is and what implications that may have. I find that modernity has proven insufficient in addressing so much about the world and human needs. I felt like Taylor approached the current age with much hope for the church rather than grief for the passing of Christendom. How do you think it might change the church if we were persistently committed to seeing the opportunities in the current age rather than lamenting the passing of the ‘glory days’ of Christendom?

  5. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Tammy, Excellent post! I loved your quote, “The space we find ourselves is not neatly defined by the maps of meaning purported on both sides of the argument whether by atheists or religious fundamentalists. It is this unique place where Taylor’s arguments make room for a third consideration.” As a both/and neo-pentecostal, I love third-way options. Your summary of Taylor, your pentecostal heritage, and your leadership development mindset give me great hope of applying your findings. You concluded with, ” It cannot be business as usual and yet what a wonderful opportunity for creative imagination.” You are so spot-on, what we have is a wonderful opportunity for creative imagination! Lord, give us your artistic imagination and unfettered joy to serve your world now! Thanks, Tammy, you are an amazing leader.

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