Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, and your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘love your neighbor who is no longer bothered by the “God question” as a question because they are disciples of “exclusive humanism” and who seek significance without transcendence, who live in a cross-pressured world where every meaning is contested and haunted, as yourself’.” -Matthew 22.37-39 Smith/Taylor Translation
Tuesday was Valentine’s Day. Here in Los Angeles area high schools it is a big deal to show up with candy, flowers, and stuffed animals for your current teen crush. I asked one of my students in first period where she got those beautiful yellow tulips. She responded that she bought them for herself because she saw them and thought they were pretty and wanted them.
I read the first half of Smith and Taylor this week and what I’ve learned so far helps me make sense of my student’s imagination and practice. As an exclusive humanist she sought to derive beauty, meaning and significance without any “other” or outside participation or reliance. If making a romantic relationship a metaphor for the divine, Taylor would say my student was de-transcendentalized. From what I read so far, Taylor is not so worried about why this could happen but how it happened.
In order for Taylor’s version of secularization to become the grid under and in we live we have to look at three obstacles the Reformers of the 1500s overcame. First, the natural world was viewed as something more than nature. There was a trust in things unseen a part from natural law. Second, society was grounded in a higher reality. Third, people were not self-sufficient because the grid before the Reformers was enchanted.
Before the Reformers there were perfect vocations and then there was the rest of us. The perfect vocations did all the God stuff for us. The priests would do our bidding while we did the mundane tasks of farming and staying alive. Domestic life is under the grace umbrella. Worldly tasks and this world, are seen as worship and devotion. As Weber points out, the Protestants and their work ethic thrived “beyond” or “in spite” of God. The moral code of these bourgeois Puritans made human flourishing and prosperity available for all hard workers; no need for God.
For my student, this means buying oneself a bouquet can be viewed just as romantic as receiving a box of chocolates from one’s beau.
For my research this term on what it takes to be a successful bivocational pastor today, Taylor’s shaping of history is helpful here. One thing that contributes to pastor’s self-esteem is when we feel our non-church job is just as a legitimate form of mission as preparing that Sunday message. Bivocational pastoring can be a sphere of grace.
This second stage of secularization according to Taylor is creation of a de-transcendentalized world. The location of God has changed. Reason is now the center of the universe (#thanksenlightenment, #thanksgrotius, #thankslocke). The 18th and 19th centuries are ruled by reason and the only vocation is to work for human flourishing. The order of the day is Natural Law & Morality. With God relinquished to that great clockmaker in the sky and morality taking center stage, it’s important to be good and behave. The good life is defined by mutual benefit found in society.
This leads to an equation.
Now we are moving rapidly through the 19th Century. Taylor is strong to point out over and over that the equation of exclusive humanism does not involve subtraction. Nothing has been subtracted in the mathematical sense of the term. However, there has been a shift in location. God has moved to the margins. With newly constructed self-understandings come new practices. Life becomes “economical” and mainly about an exchange of goods and services. Grace seems less essential.
There is a sense of displacement and decentering. We are all doubters now. We don’t doubt instead of believing, we doubt while believing and believe while doubting. This is because we live in a cross-pressured space and we are within an immanent frame. For my student, this means, buy yourself flowers. She can create her own meaning. This leads to social imaginaries.
Life without God becomes imaginable. We can have a meaningful life without God in our own self-sufficient universe. Even Adam Smith’s invisible hand is called into question. Mystery can no longer be tolerated. My student can buy the flowers for herself and not have to wait and see if someone was going to buy something for her. (Aside: Not being sexist here by the way. I actually told my student that what she did was a sign of maturity with a strong sense of self-confidence and esteem. This metaphor could easily work if it happened to be a guy and not a girl. Okay, I feel better now.)
Taylor explains that social imaginaries are not theories but rather ways we imagine our social existence; how we fit together. As the Postal Service sings in Such Great Heights,
“And I have to speculate
That God himself did make
Us into corresponding shapes
Like puzzle pieces from the clay”
Taylor is talking about how ordinary people imagine their surroundings through the use of images, stories, and legends. Theories don’t work here.
Perhaps the most helpful concept regarding social imaginaries for bivocational pastors is that the social imaginary is that common understanding that makes possible common practices that leads to a sense of legitimacy. For Taylor this means accepting a godless meaning of life, but with bivocational pastors we can turn this into a positive. What if we imagined pastoring bivocationally as a legitimate practice?