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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.