Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age is a remarkable and ambitious study which explores the world of religions dating back to the 1500 and they coexist in the present times for both adherents of faith and non-believers. With the ongoing discussions of religious affairs in the media and the swelling realities of wars surrounded by terrorism, Taylor’s work material is relevant indeed. Talk of religion and its impact in the world is ubiquitous and one might be inclined to think that it’s always been this way. Taylor asks, “why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?” It is not that the world was void of religiosity prior to 2000 since history clearly shows that notions and beliefs about the existence of a deity and gods have been part and parcel of ancient civilizations. For example the history of spirituality in places in Africa, Asia and Israel’s relationship with Yahweh. Yet belief in God seems to be a reoccurring elephant in the room of today’s public life. Is religion going away any time soon? Should we expect a version of Friedrich nietzsche’ “God is dead” only this time a version in a secular age “religion is dead”? Taylor is out to navigate through the speculative thoughts and curiosities that surrounded the historical rise of modernity with the background of religion.
Last week, I was reminded about the charged interaction between religion and secularity when I saw some of the millions of copies of Charlie Hebdo’s paper on the stand during a recent stop at one of my favorite spots along Hawthorn Street in Portland Oregon.
Even though Taylor addresses a wide range of subjects in his book which is divided into five parts and twenty chapters with an admirable grasp of the historical development of our secular epoch which he names “exclusive humanism”; I found myself making some sense of certain current events through Taylor is idea of “subtraction stories.” According to Taylor:
Stories of modernity in general, and secularity in particular, which explain them by human beings having lost, or sloughed off, or liberated themselves from certain earlier, confining horizons, or illusions, or limitations of knowledge. What emerges from this process—modernity or secularity—is to be understood in terms of underlying features of human nature which were there all along, but had been impeded by what is now set aside.
Scrubbing down modern Christianity of certain elements can be threatening and even viewed as secular in certain denominations, but do such efforts provide relief to people’s social imaginaries and social political orders? In fact the obstacles of perfecting holiness “holier –than-thou attitudes”, alternate reality “make belief spirituality” and authoritarianism found in both the historical and present Christian church among many others, might be areas where people find the need to apply Taylor theme of ‘subtraction’ from their life’s stories. When people start to question particular facets of religion, who knows what their discoveries might lead to? Will there be progress or a backlash? I sometimes wonder whether Taylor’s subtraction model was and continues to play a role in the bold deconstruction expressed in the nature of freedom of speech employed by Charlie Hebdo, Bill Mahar, and John Steward etc. I thoroughly enjoy satire. The kernel in the humor I believe, is the ability and freedom through which satire is able to at times communicate the facts, truth and reality, in ways people can hear and laugh in the face of fear and intimidation. The full effects of the recent clash between religious extremists and the cartoonists in France on global affairs are yet be known. My guess is that people will need both spiritual and secular tools to understand how to prevent such unfortunate events. Love and forgiveness are good places to begin.
 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press,2007), 25.
 Ibid., 22.