In the 1930s, 98% of Jamaica (my birth country) subscribed to a Christian culture because most of those people were descendants of slaves. However, in that same era, the Rastafarian movement arose as this new group started to worship Haile Selassie (born Tafari Makonnen Woldemikael), the emperor of Ethiopia. The Rastafarians worshiped him as the incarnate god because, in their minds, Selassie represented the messianic figure who would bring peace and prosperity. While Christians believed in the invisible or unknowable God, the superstitious group felt that it made sense to believe in the visible or knowable god. What was amazing is that Rastafarianism rejects Christianity because of the rigidity but chose to follow a more rigorous belief.
Over the last few weeks, my doctoral class has been reading books that challenge Christian intellect, and there’s no doubt this week’s readings also reveal agnosticism. In How (Not) To Be Secular, the goal was to provide a “concise commentary, identifying the thread and logic of Taylor’s” book, A Secular Age (Taylor, 116, Kindle). Let’s create an analysis of this commentary:
- “On the one hand, this is a book about a book – a small field guide to a much larger scholarly tome” (Taylor, 75, Kindle).
- “On the other hand, this is also meant to be a kind of how-to manual – guidance on (how) not to live in a secular age” (Taylor, 75, Kindle).
- “This is a philosophical handbook intended for practitioners. To translate and unpack the implications of Taylor’s scholarly argument for practice – especially ministry” (97, Kindle).
- “The core of this book emerged from one of the highlights of my teaching career: a 2011 senior seminar devoted to close (and complete!) reading of Taylor’s Secular Age” (126, Kindle).
In Benedict Anderson’s book, Imagined Communities, he stated that “Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined” (Anderson, Imagined Communities, p. 6). The question we have to ask ourselves is, did our forefathers imagine the society in which we live or did this happen by accident? The opening paragraph of this blog tells how many Jamaicans were locked into one belief system (Christianity) until the emergence of Rastafarianism in the 1930s challenged the belief in an invisible God. Hence, we could argue that the Jamaican society became secular because “A society is secular insofar as religious belief or belief in God is understood to be one option among others, and thus contestable and contested” (Taylor, 22). Smith calls this, “social imaginaries” to suggest that new belief systems supplanted the traditional worldviews.
In Smith’s writing, the reader is challenged to not only be grounded in faith but consider whether or not our convictions are believable. I grew in an era where miracles were the reasons for the subscription in Christianity but living in the United States, witnessing organic miracles (blind eyes opening, mute speaking, etc.) are almost extinct. I’m still not sure if I should be embarrassed for the lack of faith or the reality that I did not have the intellect to explain (and even worse, defend) my belief. The microwave society where technology and science make Christianity less believable, has put a strain in how ministry leaders engage communities. As a result, the idea of disenchantment becomes evident in Taylor’s account as he suggested that “Significance no longer inheres in things, rather, meaning and significance are a property of minds who perceive meaning internally” (Taylor, p. 29). Smith believes however that the modern “buffered self” creates its own meaning through things such as science and technology, which causes us to be “aware of the possibility of disengagement” (Smith, p. 31).
In Smith’s book, Desiring The Kingdom, he asked: “What sort of person will I become after being immersed in this or that cultural liturgy?” (Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, p. 1486). The reality is that we are never fully aware of how we will behave with cultural influences, although we know how we should or want to behave. Our desire becomes governed by these social imaginaries, even with misguided tendencies. Taylor suggests that people in the West eventually leave old ways behind and subtract things from our vision. This is the idea of “stories of subtraction, ” but Smith looks at it from the position of us evolving out of religious faith because of “scientific exorcism of superstition.” There are many complexities in our secular age, and according to Taylor, we can’t undo the secular. However, we have a responsibility to ensure we don’t transfer the reverence we have to God and offer it to humanism. Both books provide a challenge in that we’re challenged to analyze how we behave and caution how we may behave in the evolution process.