Throughout history we’ve seen the dichotomy of the younger generation resisting or rejecting the ways of the previous generation, both within families and society as a whole. There’s always some pushback as well as some “younger” folks who gravitate and affirm the ways of the elders. In a sense, we are in the midst of a mega-generational shift, or, as Charles Taylor suggests, an entire shift of ages. It’s not a snowball individual gathering strength rolling downhill (me versus my parents), or even an avalanche of a generational shift (the 60s counterculture), but a massive upheaval of a giant iceberg breaking off an ice shelf, bobbing out of the water and flipping over (the Age of Authenticity, or a Secular Age).
History has flowed from what Taylor terms the ancien régime to the Age of Mobilization to where we are in the present, the Age of Authenticity. While I’m interested in comparing the various ages, how the idea of “secular” has been understood in each, and some of the clashes occurring in the transition between one social imaginary and the next, I primarily want to focus on understanding our current age, in order to engage better with those in my community.
Much of the Age of Authenticity has been portrayed with hyper individualism, or self-expression for the masses (beyond the elite and intellectuals), or “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, as against surrendering to conformity with a model imposed on us from outside.” This is manifested, for instance, in “the consumer revolution”. Taylor’s description of this need for the (individual) pursuit of happiness via consumption aligns with Heath and Potter’s primary thesis in The Rebel Sell and Miller’s Consuming Religion.
While this shift has eroded community and the “mechanical” or structural systems that have maintained community (especially the institution of church), I do not believe this is inherently bad, but has mixed effects. (Taylor posits that this shift is neither solely good nor bad; for instance, “people discovered the hard way that there were dangers as well as liberation in throwing over the codes of their parents”—especially in the sexual revolution). What the church is challenged to rethink in this secular age is the assumption of a mechanical system over against the organic nature of the church (“religion” vs. “Jesus-follower”). Thus creativity and imagination would take precedence over imitation and predictability. The instrumental, rote, and trivialization of church practices give way to experiential moments of passionate, holistic (whole-body), and personal meaning.
The reality is that “choice” is not going away anytime soon. How do we respond to that? Churches can recognize that “one’s path [of personal spiritual development] can range through those which require some community to live out… but it can also range beyond those which require only the loosest affinity groups.” In other words, people may or may not be seeking their personal fulfillment through being a part of a community. For those who do desire fulfillment through community, discipleship or external tools for transformation may be resisted: “the need to train character has receded even farther into the background, as though the morality of mutual respect were embedded in the ideal of authentic self-fulfillment itself.”
Another characteristic of this age is collective “moments of fusion,” where a crowd becomes a common agent, sharing, not so much a common action, but “an emotion, a powerful common feeling.” These festive moments occur at rock concerts and sporting events, women’s marches and meta-topical spaces (ie. hashtags and memes). I suggest that these moments of “collective effervescence” and shared feeling are what draw people to large concert-style worship services. I am part of something bigger than myself (a sense of fullness) and it moves me. Others, though, may choose to follow the more contemplative experience, relying on intimacy and sensory approaches to the sense of fullness for their spiritual path.
Finally, so much of Taylor’s text is analogous to texts from last spring. I’m primarily thinking here of a thread in our conversations on the Calvinist/ Puritan/Evangelical doctrine of assurance (à la Bebbington) that seems to perpetually underlie our spiritual quest. Taylor suggests that we all vacillate between conditions of exile, absence or ennui (“the dark night of the soul”) and a place of fullness, a place, “activity or condition [where] life is fuller, richer, deeper, more worthwhile, more admirable, more what it should be.” (To use other terms, perhaps “heaven”, shalom, the Garden of Eden, thin places, etc.). The reality, according to Taylor, is that most of our lives are spent in a middle place, between these two extremes (exile and fullness), with ordinary happiness and routine order. In this middle place, during earlier ages the emphasis was a “threat… attach[ed] to very clearly defined failures. Do this, or else (damnation will follow).” This moral code of the previous ages emphasized “what we should do/and or… believe, to the detriment of spiritual growth.” We’ve moved now to an emphasis on freedom to pursue (individual) happiness (without harming others), disconnected from institutionally ordained (or even “biblical”) checklists to affirm salvation.
We do a much better job of navigating change as outsiders looking in; but in this case we ourselves are in the midst—and products of—this secular age. It’s nothing to be frightened of, but rather to realistically face the implications for ourselves, our neighbors and churches, and the future.
 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007, 440. This is where where secular1 was dominant. Taylor also identifies this age as Durkheimian, or proto-Durkheimian, 442, 455.
 Ibid., 445ff. Secular2 prevailed; this age is characterized as having neo-Durkheimian social forms, 455.
 Ibid., 473ff. Secular3 aligns here; characterized as post-Durkheimian, 487.
 I do believe it’s important, thought, to understand the Age of Mobilization and secular2, especially when navigating with those of the previous generation (including my parents and the seniors of our church), and those of the current generation whose social imaginary remains in that paradigm (Taylor 488).
 Ibid., 475.
 Ibid., 474.
 Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter. The Rebel Sell: How the Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture. The Rebel Sell: How the Counterculture Became Consumer Culture, (Chichester: Capstone, 2006), 10. (Their book was published a year before Taylor’s; I’d be curious how/if they’d revise anything after reading A Secular Age.) cf. Vincent Miller, Consuming Religion : Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (New York: Continuum, 2004).
 Taylor, 502.
 Ibid., 490.
 Ibid., 485.
 Ibid., 482.
 I’ve already referenced The Rebel Sell and Consuming Religion above. See also Benedict Anderson on Imagined Communities (Taylor 713).
 See D.W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A history from the 1730s to the 1980s, London: Routledge, 1989, 43ff.
 Taylor, 5.
 Ibid., 497.
 Ibid., 498.