Funerals are for Evangelism?
The church where I serve is large enough to have a Pastor of Benevolence and Care as well as an assistant to that position. Together they handle all requests for help, visitation, bereavement, marriages, funerals etc. I oversee this department – from a distance. So, it was to my chagrin that, instead of just officiating at the funeral, I was thrust into the practical aspects of preparing for the event. The aforementioned pastor was on Christmas vacation in Florida, when unfortunately, the assistant’s father passed away. The duties of planning all aspects of the funeral and helping the bereaved fell to me. What I found interesting and in-line with the readings of Charles Taylor was the wife’s request for a very purposeful salvation message to be given.
I find it perplexing that mediocre Christians, who seldom if ever vocalize their journey of faith, nevertheless want a salvation message shouted from the rooftops when a loved one dies. In the closing pages of A Secular Age, Taylor stresses that we are schizophrenic. We want to keep a “safe distance from religion, yet are moved by dedicated believers,” and although people don’t necessarily “want to follow, they like the idea that the gospel is proclaimed out there.” He would intone that the actions of the bereaved wife made perfect sense.
Taylor, in this marathon writing, seeks to help us understand why we have come to the point of an expressive proliferation of ideas and paths to fullness – other than the orthodox Christian journey. He, in repetition, explains what historical factors have promoted this diversity of believe, those in the West are currently expressing and following.
Taylor charts the course from 1500 to the present day in the first chapters, following the philosophical developments that led to our humanistic outlook on life and lack of dedicated faith. He promotes the idea that as “self-flourishing” becomes practical through humanism rather than a transcendent interaction, one sees opportunities of progress and fulfillment within oneself. Humans begin the task of constructing our place within the universe.
In his thinking, deism is the key to this migration of thought. Deism is the theological concept and link that bridges, for many, the leap from belief in a transcendent God, to belief in a very distant, unapproachable or imaginary force. As god becomes more and more impersonal, humanism rises as the answer to our problems and eventually becomes the source of ethics and morality.
Later, this migration has become accentuated with our individualist and consumerist lifestyles. This breakdown of the sacred has allowed numerous spokes to appear from the hub of belief. These new forms of spirituality, or plurality of faith, although very different from traditional orthodoxy can be good and bad. As they lead to other forms of humanism and expressions that are far from belief, they hurt traditional orthodox society. But if the changes can be seen as new and different forms of sacred expression, bringing the sacred back to areas of life that have been separated in the past, then they can be beneficial. Taylor sees art, music, environment, poetry and other means as ways to experience transcendence in new forms. He believes that God is still present, if we open our minds to these “types of sensibilities, rather than holding to traditional theology.” In essence, God is sanctifying us everywhere.
Taylor uses a term I’d never heard of to express believers in this age – pusillanimous. Defined as lacking the courage and resolution to act on our beliefs, he uses that term to accuse those involved in orthodox religion, reproving us as culpable for much of the abandonment of traditional belief. He goes further to describe the “malaise of immanence” and suggest reasons for the eclipse of traditional Christianity. Maybe today’s believers are infected with pusillanimous. Maybe there are problems with our “theodicy” as he states, which has led us to a rejection of the transcendence. This might be the opportunity for deconstruction.
If faith could be deconstructed, beginning anew, using Deism as a place to begin faith rather than a place where the end of faith begins, we might have hope. Deism believes that “we are endowed with a special bent to act for good on behalf of our fellow beings.” Christ began at that point as well. Then, as God in His transcendence breaks through in little bursts through new forms as Taylor suggests, faith might be seen as desirable, over the multitude of humanistic and spiritual diversions.
Taylor’s book explains a lot about our journey to unbelief. Although he does help us see new possibilities, the answer to my question at the beginning regarding funerals remains unanswered. There are many paradoxes in current Christianity that modern man can use to accuse orthodox believers. Taylor expressively outlines the many reasons why doubt is present. Perhaps we need to embrace these accusations and realities, deconstructing what we believe, so that faith can be reconstructed in an age of secularity, and actually be seen as the key means of fulfillment and personal flourishing.