Charles Taylor’s book “A Secular Age” is a large volume that is somewhat of a historical narrative which examines the variety of processes involved in the realization of Western secularism. He explains, “So what I want to do is examine our society as secular…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.” (3)
Throughout his book Taylor weaves several concepts and I have chosen one of these for this writing. It is a concept he calls “excarnation”. He defines it as, “…a transfer out of embodied, ‘enfleshed’ forms of religious life, to those which are more ‘in the head’. (554) And he expounds on how Christianity has gone through the process of “excarnation”. He states, “…breakthroughs – like the long process of Reform in Latin Christendom which I’ve been dealing with here – were carried through in such a way (and perhaps it couldn’t have been otherwise) that they crushed or sidelined important facets of spiritual life, which had in fact flourished in earlier ‘paganisms’, for all their faults. The repression and marginalization of one such facet is the process that I’ve been referring to here as ‘excarnation’, the steady disembodying of spiritual life, so that it is less and less carried in deeply meaningful bodily forms, and lies more and more ‘in the head’. It’s not that I’m trying to say that Christianity, for instance, is inferior to paganism in that, whatever else it has, it lacks the full sense of embodiment of the earlier forms it displaced. Rather I am saying that Christianity, as the faith of the Incarnate God, is denying something essential to itself as long as it remains wedded to forms which excarnate. Excarnation is also connected to a fear and therefore repression of sexuality, and hence an avoidance, or too timid treatment of questions of sexual identity, as I argued I the previous section. (771) “The point is, once more, not that we need to leaven Christianity with a dose of paganism, but that our Christian life itself has suffered a mutilation to the extent that it imposes this kind of homogenization. The Church was rather meant to be the place in which human beings, in all their difference and disparate itineraries, come together; and in this regard, we are obviously falling far short. (772)
So, what has been the result of “excarnation”, the removal of spirit from flesh?” Taylor explains that we have lost the sense of Agape and also the meaning of the Incarnation and resurrection. I would like to add to these that although the Catholic tradition honors Mary the mother of Jesus with deeper respect and celebration than Protestants, the homogenized system Christianity has ended up with lacks two vital elements needed for balance, health, and an understanding of incarnation, the feminine/female and the natural world. The mutilation has been a severing of these elements by associating them as being too closely related with paganism and sexuality. The Church now honors a male God, male angels, male writers, male priests and elders; and a domination of the animal kingdom and the Earth that has put both in crisis. Thankfully, there are changes to reincorporate these two elements within churches today and because of this Christianity has a chance to become healthy again. However, the fear that surrounds steps in this direction is tangible, especially in Evangelical churches today. By removing rituals, ceremonies, rites of passage and the practices that help Christians engage in the beliefs, Christianity has been removed from the Christian. By ignoring the feminine aspects of God Christianity has lost the sensual and creative elements. By being ignorant or too fearful of animistic accusations to examine the idea that all creation is alive with the presence and breath of a Creator, Christianity has objectified itself as something higher and outside of the Earth. Some Christians have forgotten the meaning of the Incarnation. Flesh has erroneously become synonymous with sin, and self-denial has resulted, with its myriad of obsessions and compulsions. The resurrection has become a theologized argument about bones rising in the sky instead of a simple realization of the natural process of the death, burial and resurrection of seeds and humans and animals; and the joy and hope of life after death.
So, where does Christianity go from here? How can Christianity once again find meaning in the Incarnation? How does it recover from the mutilation and severing of the feminine/female and the natural world?
Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007