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Secularism = Disenchantment = Non Transformation

Written by: on January 16, 2019

“We haven’t yet solved the problem of God,” the Russian critic Belinsky once shouted across the table at Turgenev, “and you want to eat!” [1] This phrase puts into simple perspective my reading of A Secular Age by Canadian Charles Taylor, a Roman Catholic, Emeritus Professor, as well as the prestigious winner of the Templeton Prize. [2] The paramount question of “Is there a God?” must be carefully considered by all, but unfortunately most people are distracted by much less insignificant issues like “What’s for dinner?” and “How’s the weather?” Satan has orchestrated diversions and significant apathy towards God, so much so that John Lennon once famously said,

“Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.” [3]

The Beatles more popular than Jesus? Land sakes alive! Some other guy even wondered out loud, “Is Church or the National Football League more popular on Sundays?” [4] Looking at the empty seats in our church pews, one wonders if he might be on to something. Now I fully understand why we must discuss, with Taylor, if we are in a secular age.

This week’s authors, Charles Taylor and James Smith, are REALLY intelligent. Hello, new semester! Goodness gracious, when one author has to write a book to explain another author’s book, there must be some incredible depth there. I won’t even begin to claim I know a FRACTION of what they are writing about. But, how does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time! So this is my attempt to break down the topic of Taylor’s view of “secularism” into a few understandable bite-sized morsels. Here goes…

Secularism. When my mind went back to lectures I heard while preparing for the ministry, I heard phrases like “America is fast becoming a secular society” or “Europe is the most secular continent on planet earth”. Secularism was explained to me using descriptive words like “Godless.” Closer to home, those who worried about religious freedoms eroding, cited inappropriate applications of the “separation of church and state” as being another sign of America riding the fast train to secularism. For example, taking prayer out of schools, suggesting the removal of In God We Trust from our money, and tearing down the 10 Commandments from public buildings, etc.

Taylor and Smith argue that secularism, or the secular age, is defined as when “religious belief would decrease as modernity progressed”. [5] Reminds me of another word from my religious studies, “Postmodernism”.

A word that Taylor addresses often (28 times) is “disenchantment” and this is a word I can put my mind around. I see secularism all around my Conference and hear folks saying secularism is due to people’s disenchantment with the church. We hear about the “de-churched” who have been wounded by the church, or the “nones” who claim no religious affiliation because of the hypocritical behavior of Christians. Taylor states,

This “disenchantment of the world” leaves us with a universe that is dull, routine, flat, driven by rules rather than thoughts, a process that culminates in bureaucracy run by “specialists without spirit, hedonists without heart”. [6]

There you go, when religion became all about the rules, instead of relationship, it created disenchanted people and eventually speeds our decline to secularism. Enter imperfect specialists (pastors) who place more emphasis on outer behavior rather than the inner work of the Holy Spirit, and of course people will be disenchanted, or de-churched.

I was amazed that Taylor quoted a previous author of our program’s study, Max Weber (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism), and actually got the idea of disenchantment from Weber’s “iron cage of life” analogy, where individuals are trapped in systems based heavily on control, which is what rules-based religion breeds. [7]

Thankfully, Smith helps decode disenchantment (38 times) when he says,

“The decisive forces of religious belief and participation wither in the face of modernity’s disenchantment of the world…People who self-identify as secular are usually identifying as areligious.” [8]

My explanation of this disenchantment talk comes from a review of Taylor’s work by John Patrick Diggens in the New York Times. His article titled The Godless Delusion blames disenchantment and secularism on a premise of non-transformation. [9] Basically what he argues is that disenchantment in modern times is due to the apparent lack of transformation in the daily lives of those who call themselves Christian. Christians are apparently no different from the rest of the world and when the rest of the world looks at us, they unfortunately shake their heads at our apparent lack of lasting inner change.

So there you have it–over 800 pages of Professor Taylor’s book reduced, in my mind at least, to three simple words: Secularism = disenchantment = non-transformation.

 

[1] Diggins, John Patrick. “The Godless Delusion.” The New York Times. August 28, 2018. Accessed January 17, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/16/books/review/Diggins-t.html.

[2] Abbey, Ruth. “Biography of Charles Taylor.” Encyclopædia Britannica. January 1, 2014. Accessed January 17, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-Taylor.

[3] Cleave, Maureen. “Beatles Bigger than Jesus.” The Beatles Number 9. March 17, 1966. Accessed January 17, 2019. https://www.beatlesnumber9.com/beatlesbigger.html

[4] Tapscott, Mark. “Is Church or the NFL More Popular?” The Daily Caller. January 14, 2016, Accessed January 17, 2019. https://www.thedailycaller.com.html.

[5] Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2018. 2.

[6] Ibid., 21.

[7]. Weber, Max, Peter R. Baehr, and Gordon C. Wells. The Protestant Ethic and the “spirit” of Capitalism and Other Writings. New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

[8] Smith, James K. A. How (not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015.

[9] Diggins, John Patrick. “The Godless Delusion.” The New York Times. August 28, 2018. Accessed January 17, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/16/books/review/Diggins-t.html.

About the Author

mm

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

6 responses to “Secularism = Disenchantment = Non Transformation”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Jay,
    Welcome back and thanks for noticing the “diversions” of the evil one in your introduction. I have great hopes for you! Most people do not call the devil out, and I am glad to see you as one who calls it like you see it (with spiritual discernment and wisdom of course).
    I agree, where did all these new secular vocabulary words come from. Nones, closed spin, immanent frame, cross pressure, and more words to try and figure out in a secular versus apologetic context was fun for sure. I wonder if the “nones” watch the “Walking Dead” on TV? How can fighting and fearing the dead be healthy for anyone except for Satan who cashes in on a type of soul currency.
    I purchased the electronic version of both books, they feel much lighter that way, and do not weigh near as heavy on my theological consciousness. No matter what the secular humanists say, we still have a duty to provide the ministry of presence wherever we live, work, and play. Only belief in Christ as the son of God for the forgiveness of sins can change a secular heart.
    I really thought your 3-word summation would be “Get-A-Refund” since you a researching Ramsey.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • mm Jay Forseth says:

      Mike,

      I too have gone all Kindle. Not only lighter, but much cheaper, too. Trying to save money being on my Dave Ramsey budget and all (grin)…

  2. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jay,

    Thanks for your post. I enjoyed your John Lennon reference at the beginning. He was not alone in those musings in the 60’s. Many academics believed that christianity and the desire for the transcendent would diminish with ‘advancement’ of society. However, they have been proven wrong and are now attempting to explain the causes of the continued desire for transcendent connections, though the empty pews my suggest otherwise. Perhaps what is being eschewed is not faith but the modernist form of faith as frequently expressed in our churches.

    I also think that the lack of transformation expressed by those of us in the faith is part of the problem as you rightly point out. Without the transformation we are just like everybody else except we have commitments on Sunday mornings when others can enjoy a couple extra moments in bed.

    • mm Jay Forseth says:

      Without true transformation on display for the world to see, we are impotent in evangelism and ineffective at being “called out” disciples of Jesus!

      I appreciate you Dan. Let’s keep this going this semester…

  3. Awesome post Jay! I loved how you ended with…”So there you have it–over 800 pages of Professor Taylor’s book reduced, in my mind at least, to three simple words: Secularism = disenchantment = non-transformation.” What a perfect summary of secularism, which I confer every day when I meet with many people who are living a very secular life and are extremely disenchanted with their life. My main motivation is that I might be able to offer them a transforming hope that will change the disenchantment to fulfillment! Thanks again for your insightful thoughts.

  4. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    non-transformation is a strong word! I like how you challenge us to view this topic in the right scope. I defintely see that disenchantment is there, but I also think we are more enchanted today than we were 100 years ago. But with this enchantment, comes LOTS of enchanting things, and no longer just the one.

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