The introductions, in and of themselves, were more than enough to stimulate reflective thinking.
Charles Taylor, and James Smith as his interpreter, open to us a new way of looking at and regarding our society today, in their books (respectively) A Secular Age and How (Not) to Be Secular.
Taylor gives his research question in the first line of the Introduction: “What does it mean to say that we live in a secular age?”  He then proceeds, echoed by Smith, to show three ages in which we see various kinds of secularity, or stages of what it means for society to be secular.
The first state of secularity relates to “common institutions and practices,” when organizations were “…“in some way connected to, based on, guaranteed by some faith in, or adherence to God, or some notion of ultimate reality…”  Secularity would be understood “in terms of public spaces.”  A second age “consists in the falling off of religious belief and practice, in people turning away from God, and no longer going to Church.” 
Taylor concentrates his study in a third age or sense of being secular. “This would focus on the conditions of belief.” Whereas at one time religious faith was common and generally supported by society, we have moved “from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed unproblematic, to one in which it is understood to be one option among others, and frequently not the easiest to embrace.” 
This makes sense of reports from our church youth pastors who relate how difficult it is for high school teens to hold to a Biblical faith in an adolescent culture that adamantly supports a non-Biblical view of sexuality, or wherein our youth have friends who struggle with same-sex attraction. Our youth aren’t just allowed to believe, if that’s their orientation. The very choice of Christian faith is strongly challenged because segments of society have now painted Biblical morality as being “unloving” since it dares to identify some lifestyles as not being appropriate.
After identifying these three stages or ages, Taylor states his purpose. “So what I want to do is examine our society as secular in this third sense.” He sees that society has changed in that at one time “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.” 
As often happens for D.Min – LGP we hear echos in our present volume of previous reading. In his book Consuming Religion Vincent Miller writes, “A consideration of the impact of the Disney Corporation…illuminates the problem theology faces.”  Miller goes on to point out that modern marketing has taught our children (and adults) that life is a smorgasbord, and that we are free to walk down the line and choose or reject any food/product at will. Without getting sidetracked into a “chicken or egg” debate, as to whether this phenomenon contributed to our current Secular Age, or whether the smorgasbord is a result of the Secular Age, the “pick and choose” mentality at least seems parallel to what Charles Taylor brings to us in A Secular Age.
Taylor says of our current society, “Belief in God is no longer axiomatic. There are alternatives. And this will also likely mean that at least in certain milieux it may be hard to sustain one’s faith.” 
Taylor and Miller give language and concepts to frame what has been apparent for some time: it appears to be increasingly common that Christians pick and choose which portions of Scripture to obey. I illustrate this current reality with one simple example. I am personally close to no fewer than three young couples wherein the young man and/or woman were raised in the church, growing up in a context of Biblical world view, but who have chosen to live together before marriage. In this secular age, when faith is no longer easy, they have chosen which part of a Biblical life-style to adopt.
In the Northwest of the United States, a region which “boasts” the lowest per capita church attendance in the U. S, alternate spiritualities are legion. In fact our Northwest culture becomes increasingly intolerant of traditional evangelical theology. (This intolerant attitude is always cloaked in the language of “tolerance.”) One of my musings regarding Taylor’s thesis relates to the unforgivable sin named by Jesus: that of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. While the definition of this sin has been debated, I accept it as being so darkened spiritually that not only do we refuse the saving work of Jesus, but also that good and evil get switched, whereby what God would call “good” becomes regarded as “evil.” In the American Secular Age, with a plethora of choices of spirituality, we no longer have a consensus of what the Bible would assume to be “good.”
In his commentary on A Secular Age James K. A. Smith refers several times to the phrase “cross-pressured.” Of Taylor he says, “His account of our ‘cross-pressured’ situation – suspended between the malaise of immanence and the memory of transcendence – names and explains vague rumblings in the background of our experience for which we lack words.” [ 9]
Smith also says, “…I believe Taylor’s analysis can help pastors and church planters understand better the context in which they proclaim the gospel. In many ways, Taylor’s Secular Age amounts to a cultural anthropology for urban missions.” 
These books are confirming what I have suspected for quite some time: living in one’s own native country requires cultural intelligence , as if living in a foreign land. Smith writes, “where ‘the secular’ and ‘the religious’ haunt each other in a mutual dance of displacement and decentering.”  At one time America may have enjoyed a Judeo-Christian consensus in terms of world view and values. If this were the case, it is no longer. Therefore those who do hold to belief in God do so in a context that becomes increasingly foreign. This is why I am designing our international learning community always to include training in cultural intelligence.
1. Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 1.
3. Ibid., 2.
5. Ibid., 3.
7. Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion (New York, NY: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, 2005) 5.
8. Taylor, 3.
9. James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), Kindle Loc 88.
10. Ibid., Kindle Loc 108.
11. Ibid., Kindle Loc 171.