DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Between Demons and A Secular Age

Written by: on January 15, 2020

A scream of abject fear rang out around our house. It was two in the morning, within seconds we were all awake and within a couple more minutes we had all gathered on my parents bed. My sister, the source of the scream, told us how she had awoken to a demon dancing in her shoes. My father sought to claim authority in Jesus name over the house and cast out whatever demonic force had taken to dancing in my sister’s shoes. We were all scared, whether demons were real or not was not a question on any of our minds in that moment. The running theory in the house was that my sister was under attack because she was reading a book on spiritual warfare that revealed the secret activities of Satan and the demonic forces on earth. The next few days saw various spiritual leaders coming to our house and anointing the windows and doorways to create some sort of force field against any demonic force that would try to attack. We were told that demons could only come in if we let them, I guess they are a little like vampires in that way. We were all on edge for a while, then it passed, but for those few days the spiritual realm was quite real and very scary.

Charles Taylor is a political scientist and philosopher from Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He has taught at some of the most prestigious universities in the world including Oxford, McGill, and Northwestern. In his book A Secular Age he argues that we are living in an extraordinary time because the type of secularism has shifted from a worldview where faith was almost undeniable to where faith is one option among many.1 Taylor argues that the move to our current worldview has taken several stages.

  1. The first stage is characterized by the withdrawal of the religious world-view from the public sphere. This is the result of much more than just the rise of scientific world-view. This is the disenchantment of the cosmos. Secularism is the move from the enchanted reality to the de-enchanted reality – this freed science to follow its own trajectory. In an enchanted worldview science, politics and religion all shared the same world view. When that enchanted world-view disappeared science became free to follow its own rationale.
  2. The second stage is seen in the decline in personal religious practice and commitment. This is a individual’s withdrawal from the community. People shift the source of meaning away from external ‘eternal’ sources to more personal choices.
  3. The third stage is the most recent development, which has caused a fragmentation of our ideas of social order. This is the shift in the culture away from assuming Religious Faith is the norm, or the default expectation of how to live your life. Faith is now one option among many2

There are some very good indicators that Taylor is onto something with this analysis, but what I find interesting is how much of the Christianity of my youth tried to live within a pre-secularized view of life. That is to say that there was an assumption of “enchanted” reality, where demons were waiting to capture you around every corner and you had to stay pure so they would not have anything to grab onto. While a large portion of cosmopolitan culture has moved on to stages two and three there are significant chunks of the church and the world that have striven to stay connected to a pre-secularized worldview. Unfortunately this struggle to not progress into secularism has also provided an opening to authoritarianism, superstition, and skepticism. These tendencies allow for leaders to make grand proclamations as to what one has to do to be a Christian that are not necessarily tied to scripture or the faith tradition whatsoever.

Taylor, a devout Catholic, is optimistic about the life of faith in a secular age, but rather than say that we must conform to all that stage three secularism prescribes he argues that the work of faith is learning how to generate communities of living concern.3 These communities are not based in what the secular code says they should be and they are not driven by authoritarian concerns, they are rather driven by a deep care for the other. In essence he is arguing for a greater sense of hospitality to overcome the weaknesses of secularism (a sense that the only thing true is ones experiences) and authoritarianism (the belief in an enchanted world).4 In learning to love deeply we find the connection that is missing in late stage secularism and freedom from the fear of the world and what it might do to us. As Taylor says, “Authentic freedom, which links us to and continues our past, is seen as freedom. It is the highest freedom to be moved by one’s mystique (one’s experience of the Holy Spirit) as against being organized and mobilized and constrained by political authority to follow the rules.”5

I have found this to be true in my own life. Moving away from the enchanted worldview that terrified us all that night to a place of love and welcome of the other has increased my ability to love and walk in faith. It is only in hospitality that the via media between late stage secularism and spiritual authoritarianism is overcome.

————

1 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 26.

2 James Murray and George Hermanson,Synopsis of Charles Taylor’s, “A Secular Age” (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), https://www.davidewart.ca/Charles-Taylor-Secular-Age.pdf

3 Taylor, 743.

4 James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 66.

5 Taylor, 749.

About the Author

mm

Sean Dean

An expat of the great state of Maine where the lobster is cheap and the winters are brutal I've settled in as a web developer in Tacoma, Washington. As a foster-adoptive parent of 3 beautiful boys, I have deep questions about the American church's response to the public health crisis that is our foster system.

10 responses to “Between Demons and A Secular Age”

  1. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Very thoughtful. Have you considered writing fantasy thrillers? I think you’d be good at it. Demons and evil things leaping out at unexpected moments.
    If I remember rightly, Taylor thinks secularisation is fodder for authoritarianism which is why he laments it’s current state. As people lose god their world narrows to the imminent, faith evaporates, confusion reigns and the strong man steps in. It’s the mirror image of the transcendent fear mongering of the ill educated centuries ago. It’s interesting that both states can produce the same outcome. What do you think?

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      I think he sees it both ways. The “enchanted” world is easily manipulated such that a strong man can claim to have all the answers. While late stage secularism lacks a solid objective footing and provides the opening you describe.

  2. Thanks for this Sean. I have to admit, it was a little difficult for me to sustain the train of Taylor’s thoughts as he wove antecedent ideas to its conclusions. But that just a reflection of the intellectual giant that he is compared to the phrenic pygmy that I am.

    Those stages you mentioned, would you mind letting me know the page numbers of each of those stages? Those three look more like the different kinds of secularizations he mentions and not so much how we get from 1 to 3, at least that’s how I understood it. It’s still helpful to know the differences.

    I could say more, but just interested to know what you thought of my question.

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      They may not be stages – I could have gotten my phrasing wrong. But I got them from a synopsis of the book put out by the publisher. I footnoted where they came from, so you should be able to get them there.

  3. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    I wonder if what you have discovered is still an enchanted worldview, only one that is not as scary, but is more supportive and full of hope and love.

    Thank you Sean!

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      You may be onto something. One of the things that frustrates me about the worldview I was raised in is that it is largely based in fear. The idea that what I moved toward wasn’t a dis-enchanted world, but rather one based in hope and love makes some good sense. I’ll need to think about it.

  4. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Sean,

    It seems some of us grew up in the same church probably reading “This Present Darkness” as was the phenomenon of that era. I remember reading “Screwtape Letters” for the first time by C.S. Lewis and thinking, “This isn’t nearly as scary and certainly seems more plausible.” I agree with you that much of the disdain for the previous way of thinking was the fear it invoked which always seemed odd to me. Especially while they quoted, “Greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world.”

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      I had forgotten about “This Present Darkness,” which was definitely read by my mom and all of my sisters. Pentecostalism in the 90’s was quite a thing. I had never thought of contrasting TPD with the Screwtape Letters even though the pairing makes total sense and I agree with your point about it.

      If you have a chance you should check out the recording of Screwtape read by John Cleese – it’s exactly the way I always imagined Screwtape speaking.

  5. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Sean, Thank you for a very thoughtful and insightful post. Your summary of Taylor’s thinking linking your childhood experiences and now your passion for genuine hospitality is extraordinary. I applaud your digestion and connection of Taylor’s arguments to your research passion. Thanks again for sharing your experience and your thoughts for the future.

  6. mm Sean Dean says:

    Thanks Harry. It didn’t come to me that there was a connection until I was about 3/4 of the way done the post. It was an odd conclusion but it seems to fit.

Leave a Reply