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

Mapping the Sacred in a Secular Age

Written by: on March 3, 2015

Charles Taylor’s gift as a cartographer takes the reader on a journey to track the move from some elite unbelief in the eighteenth century to mass secularization in the twenty-first century. He does this by introducing religious forms at different stages.  He begins with the “ancient regime” form. This is where there is an inextricable link between religious identity and political identity—“a close connection between church membership and being part of a national, but particularly local community.”[1]  But as Taylor states, “religion of this kind is uniquely vulnerable to the defection of elites, since they are often in a position to restrict, if not put an end altogether to the central collective rituals.”[2] The ancient regime road basically meant that a person’s connection to the sacred entailed that person to belong to a church.

Over time, Taylor recognized that the ancient regime road has been moved and we are now directed toward a new type of religious form. The “Age of Mobilization” now makes its appearance and attempts to mobilize new rituals, practices, institutions, etc… A new road has emerged and this one leads us to “denominational imaginary.”[3] In this road, although you may join the church of your choice, you’re still connected to something bigger—the church, and its heritage, which feeds and fuels the project of the nation.[4]

However, it seems that these two roads provided twists, turns and bumps along the way that were set up for a quick fall in the next age which was beginning to appear at mid-century.[5] But the next age also comes with its own bumps, twists and turns.

Taylor now routes us to our age – “Age of Authenticity”[6]  So what does religion look like in the Age of Authenticity? What is the spiritual life which comes out of this Age of Authenticity? This is the age of “the social imaginary of expressive individualism.” This is the secular age we live in where each person has the right to choose their condition of belief. In the Age of Authenticity, the age of expressive individualist outlook, we have a qualitative shift: “The religious life or practice that I become part of must not only be my choice, but it must speak to me, it must make sense in terms of my spiritual development as I understand this.”[7]

It appears that something has happened in the last half century that has altered the conditions of belief in our societies. The Age of Authenticity is a quest for the individual. It is about the individual and his or her experience. “Many people are following their own spiritual instincts.  Many are looking for a more direct experience of the sacred, for greater immediacy, spontaneity, and spiritual depth. This often springs from a profound dissatisfaction with a life encased entirely in the immanent order. The sense is that this life is empty, flat, devoid of higher purpose.”[8]

It seems that belief in God is no longer accepted. There are alternatives.  Choices tend to be good. However, when these choices impact one’s faith some people may feel overwhelmed, ready to give up and some will never feel the need to believe anything at all. So, I wonder if our focus of “belief” is the wrong focus. I wonder if instead of focusing on belief itself, we might need to ask a deeper question: What do people believe and practice?

I also wonder if the church has forgotten the reason for its existence. The church is still called to be a community of believers compelled by the love of God, a proclaimer of the good news of the Kingdom of God, a living hope of a humanity reconciled through Christ.

Charles Taylor’s account of the secular is an illuminating lens through which to see changes within religious communities, not just the expansion of the areligious. [9]

[1] Charles Taylor, “The Secular Age,” (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Press, 2007), 440.

[2] Ibid., p. 441.

[3] Ibid., p. 450.

[4] James K.A. Smith, “How (Not) To Be Secular,” (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2014), p. 88.

[5] Charles Taylor, “The Secular Age,” (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Press, 2007),pg. 472.

[6] Ibid., 473.

[7] Ibid., 486.

[8] Ibid., 506.

[9] James K.A. Smith, pg. 120.

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Miriam Mendez

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