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

Is This All There Is?

Written by: on January 10, 2018

even as faith endures in our secular age, believing doesn’t come easy. Faith is fraught; confession is haunted by an inescapable sense of its contestability. We don’t believe instead of doubting; we believe while doubting. We’re all Thomas now.”[1]

Is this all there is? A question some ponder daily and one that some only reflect upon in time of death or hardship. Is there something more? What are the conditions of our beliefs? What is the background that shapes the way in which we think and therefore the “how” in which we engage in our world. A world that has progressively shifted in religious and social order within the context of secularism in western modernity. These questions and more are explored in James K.A. Smith’s book How (Not) to be secular: Reading Charles Taylor.

Charles Taylor wrote a book entitled A Secular Age. In it he challenges the “smug confidence of the secularist spin[2] To layout his argument Taylor defines the term secular in 3 separate definitions- The first a classic definition (sacred vs. secular work[3]) versus the second a modern definition (areligious, unbiased, neutral[4]). The third definition is Taylor’s way of explaining what he deems a secular age (the secular as an age of contested belief, where religious belief is no longer axiomatic. It’s possible to imagine not believing in God[5]). Taylor is not focused on our set of beliefs but more so the conditions of our beliefs. Within this secular age, Taylor asserts that we all inhabit an immanent frame and therefore he is concerned about how we inhabit this space. Smith states that the immanent frame is the sensed context in which we develop our beliefs[6]. In his introduction, he writes “your neighbors inhabit what Charles Taylor calls an “immanent frame”; they are no longer bothered by “the God question” as a question because they are devotees of “exclusive humanism” — a way of being-in-the-world that offers significance without transcendence. They don’t feel like anything is missing.[7] This is a metaphoric concept that contrasts the natural order against the supernatural order. This exists whether or not a person believes in transcendence. The way in which an individual inhabits an immanent frame is determined by the how they construe transcendence. Within the immanent frame there are two separate construal’s of life —Spin and Take both of which can be expressed as closed (immanent) or open (Transcendence). The “Spins” how settles on the fact that “it is what it is” an obvious notion that the frame is open or closed without allowing any objections. While a “Takes” how acknowledges the crux of the cross pressure (simultaneous pressure of various spiritual options; or the feeling of being caught between an echo of transcendence and the drive toward immanentization[8]) and is not absolute but recognizes the unformulated reality we live in. Smith highlights that Taylor is asserting an open “take” stance in his argument. He refutes secularist spin who position their way of thinking is more rational and enlightened.  He affirms that “take is not something reasoned to as much as it is something we reason from…[While there can be increases in confidence,] “we never move to a point beyond all anticipation, beyond all hunches, to the kind of certainty we can enjoy in certain narrower questions, say, in natural science or ordinary life[9].

Taylor concludes by addressing the notion of conversion. A person who shifts from closed to open within the immanent frame. He talks about the longing for some that desire social order. That somehow, they are motivated and driven by their nostalgia and open to include a way of thinking/living that invokes human flourishing.  Which can be found in their reconsideration and recognition of transcendence. Challenging the statement “this is all there is” with the question “is there something more?”.

In reading Smith, I was a little overwhelmed by the depth of the questions posed by Taylor. It was definitely a “mind warp” from a philosophical perspective. I feel like I have only scratched the surface in my attempt to fully engage and understand the concepts and arguments laid out by Taylor and summarized by Smith. What I did gather is that:

  1. There ultimately cannot truly be a definitive position in the immanent frame due to awareness of cross pressure and its effect on our ability to engage in the secular age (whether someone chooses to acknowledge it or not).
  2. When it comes to conversion- because Taylor’s concern is on the condition of beliefs and not the believability of a deity, he places emphasis on rules and order and therefore the longing or desire the compels someone to convert is about gravitating towards rituals that resonate with ones beliefs and not the purpose behind those rituals as a means to supernaturally engage with the divine.

I am almost frightened about having to read Taylor’s 800 page book next week due to the complexity of his discussion while trying to wrap my head around the way he lays out his argument and the interaction of all the terms he uses. All is all, it is a very interesting discussion to say the least ?

[1] James K. A. Smith, How (not) to be secular: reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015), 4.

[2] Ibid.,92.

[3] Ibid.,141.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 142.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.,44.

[8] Ibid.,140.

[9] Ibid.,95.

About the Author

Christal Jenkins Tanks

5 responses to “Is This All There Is?”

  1. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Great minds think alike Christal- it felt like I was reading similar elements of my post! The same quotes stuck out to both of us.
    Yes, the book was a mind warp. It took every element of my philosophical thinking to comprehend the book and several re-reads on most sentences. I share the same concern on the next book. Maybe the 800 pages will give more elementary explanations for the less than philosophical reader. One can hope.
    The God-question was a good point. Do you see people less concerned about God and His presence in their lives? As mentioned, they seem to get more interested in His role when things are going bad. Must be hard to be God sometimes. I often find it finds it’s way into therapy at some point, and we sift through the thoughts, beliefs, and questions about God, who He is and His role in their lives.
    Thanks for your post.

  2. Lynda Gittens says:

    This book was an introduction to what was to come. similar to a trailer for a movie. The trailer can either entice you to see it or it could discourage you from seeing. That’s how I am feeling at this time similar to you, I am hesitant on reading the Secular Age.

    • Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

      Lynda yes agreed. our intimidation will have to have its day. however it does make you think that you can impact the conversation

  3. Mary says:

    I am hoping that we can get the ‘nuggets’ out of a Secular Age without having to spend 25 hours on it! What Smith’s book did for me was to get the main points to look for. It should make the reading faster than it would have been.
    Your ‘take’ on Taylor’s position is very helpful. I was sometimes confused about what sort of God Taylor believes in. Is God for him the all-powerful Yahweh Who can change hearts?
    What about the Holy Spirit? If the Spirit really acts in time and space then you would think that solves the question of transcendence.
    Looking forward much more to the conversation on Taylor than reading the book!!!

  4. Jim Sabella says:

    Like you, I too feel like I have only scratched the surface in engagement and understanding. I am looking forward to the time when I can sit down are read Smith and Taylor with plenty of time on my hands—like 12 months! The one thing that stood out to me is the concept of the immanent framework within which truly secular people find their answers. It’s not that there is no need for a transcendent God; within the immanent framework, God becomes just one choice out of many, which may or may not include the choice not to believe. Very interesting! Enjoyed your post, Christal.

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