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

The Journey To Unbelief

Written by: on February 20, 2015

Charles Taylor is a god! Well, perhaps I’m being a bit extreme. However upon reading his Magnus Opus entitled A Secular Age, I was once again reminded why I like his writing so much. Like a skilled wordsmith he’s able to take volumes of information and produce a literary treatise that delineates the historical record of how we have come to where we are now in our Western societies: a place where God is no longer intricately woven into the fabric of our society, i.e., a secular age. Building on our previous reading of Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, Charles Taylor assist us in grasping a greater historical framework and understanding of how Christianity both gained favor in the hearts and minds of the masses and later lost that favor thus soundly situating us in a secular age.

I couldn’t help but recall one of Stephen Beavans’ statement, which we recently read in Models of Contextual Theology as he discussed the praxis model of contextual theology.  In his discussion of modernity he states that modernity had its start through the thoughts of Descartes and then eventually Kant who “introduced the idea of rationality and subjective responsibility. This modern turn to the subject was deeply revolutionary, far from then on it became clear that ‘nothing is either true faith or right morality which is not our own; and that, in consequence, external authority is, in principle, and unsound basis, and individual judgment, not merely a right but a duty.’”[1]

It was due to this revolutionary thinking that permeated all society and subsequently displaced theology as the authority by which someone could solely argue from and be found credible to the current world. Taylor expounds on the historical and continual coup d’état that has been waged upon religion/theology up into our modern society. Taylor highlights the progression across the timeline of history how the bulwarks of belief, as he refers to them, have diminished and thus brought us to a humanistic society where our goals do not go beyond our own human flourishing.[2]

Taylor delineates that these secular issues, and unfortunately, to some extend, aided by the religious leaders, had to advance through several protective layers of what he refers to as the Bulwarks of Belief. Through the denouncement of the enchanted world enlightenment moved in to subvert all things spiritual. Though this had an effect of dealing with the superstition that was unbiblical it also affected the minds of the supernatural in reference to God and his kingdom. It was not one big swoop of an event that laid waste to the oak of religious allegiance in America and other “civilized” nations, rather, it was a continual bombardment of forces from modernism, changes in theology, philosophical thinking, and the rise of commercialism. All forces, none of which could fall religious understanding in a society, but together they all played their part in chipping away and bringing us to this secular age.

The 18th century proved to be a very crucial transition in the development of Western modernity. Suddenly the civilized society had a “new kind of self-consciousness”[3] with the unprecedented awareness of the importance of economic underpinnings as well as the commodification and the consumerism that fueled this economy. Max Weber talks about the philosophy of capitalism undergirded by the new religious system known as Protestantism that made the work ethic and financial gains popular and even a noble pursuit of the common man.[4] With the increase in commercial wealth and equality among all people there came about an increase of the finance to create and strength a military might. With the need to generate wealth to sustain a military the elite thought it necessary to civilize the masses in order that they might provide the needed funds to finance such an undertaking.[5]


Taylor also highlights that along with this transition to a more contemporary commercial society their was an increase desire to implement egalitarian principles becoming a prime objective of the people. This was demonstrated through the desire to tame the nobility and level the playing field of the sacred versus the secular.[6] No longer was there to be a separation between sacred place, sacred time, sacred people (e.g. the priest), all were to be considered equal. Thus modernity and all that it brought with it, for the good and the bad, began to affect the modern mind and thus the society it was imbedded in.

The passion of the church to bring about a Christian spiritual quality and create a civilized world out of the savagery in which it existed, proved to take place in incremental forms through reformations and other attempts of converting the masses. However, according to Taylor’s concludes, the world won. Though this is not the conclusion to the story that Taylor is weaving for us, it does put a sad note on where we currently are in the Western, modernized, and civilized world. My last word in light of all this is: מרנא תא – Maranatha.


[1] Stephen B. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2002), 71.

[2] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 18.

[3] Ibid., 218.

[4] Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2003), 1 (c).

[5] Taylor, A Secular Age, 129.

[6] Ibid., 55.

About the Author


Mitch Arbelaez

International Mission Mobilizers with Go To Nations Living and traveling the world from Jacksonville Florida

6 responses to “The Journey To Unbelief”

  1. mm John Woodward says:

    Mitch, a wonderful synthesis of this massive book (I too am in awe of Taylor..maybe not a god…but I get your point). I appreciate your bringing in our other reading (I kinda remember a book a long time ago about Bad Religion!). But, what becomes clear from our reading and my present studies is just how much our social and economic make-up played into this process. In my church tradition, I am learning that many of the divisions that claimed to be doctrinal are actually based on economic issues (poor rural verses affluent urban). It is interesting to understand that so much of issues faced in the church today really have multiple influences — which Taylor laboriously covers — which provides a better understanding of how we got to where we are! With Taylor and others, I can’t look at issues we face today and simply right it off as “wrong doctrine” or “bad philosophy” or “social influences” — all these are part of the influences that shape our modern world and our church’s practices. The more I understand, the more complicated I find life really is! And the more I learn, the more I need to learn. As always Mitch, a great and thought provoking post!

  2. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Mitch
    What a great summary of Taylor’s insightful work. Well done.
    As you say, it wasn’t just one overriding factor that led us to where we are today, but a combination. The question is, where do we go from here? Is it possible to regain a confidence and dependance on God in western society? If society can flow in one direction, surely it can flow back in the other? We must have hope that it can. Thank you for a great read!

  3. mm rhbaker275 says:

    I always enjoy your post and often unique and witty reflection on the weekly readings. (…Taylor is a god! Well, perhaps I’m being a bit extreme.) I share with you the view that “A Secular Age” is a masterpiece; I cannot claim to have gleaned the many insights in the reading time this week – an inspiration to learn more.

    I wish I was the historian I love to be (not to mention a philosopher). I read in someone’s post along the line that Taylor is deep and thoughtful with reach details from both a historical and a deeply personal perspective. Also, some have noted Taylor’s own rich catholic faith which I see as a plus. Great read! Great post!

  4. Mitch…
    Such a rich post. Reading it I thought about the unintended consequences brought by the Reformation. Now reading A Secular Age I wonder how we might think and learn as we might seek to address faith’s response to our current age. Are we in a similar position as the Church was at the time of the Reformation? What will our actions “let go of” and change theologically? Is there a possibility that we might recover something that was lost that will renew and draw our faith (and belief) more in line with God’s intentions?

    Thanks Mitch for stirring our thinking….

  5. Michael Badriaki says:

    Mitch, great job on your post. A lot of water has gone under the bridges of life, the church, it’s history and current existence. I am grateful for the privilege and ability to learn more about the revolutions and force that have led us here. However, I deeply enchanted about the most powerful creator and savior who has so deeply and profoundly saved and transformed me. In fact God is not done yet, He is still in the business of saving souls and transforming His disciples in loving and spirit-filled follower will can dwell in a secular and still witness about God’s glory.

    I love your conclusion, “My last word in light of all this is: מרנא תא – Maranatha” In keep with MaryKate, the world before Christ!

    • Michael, You’re so true regarding the amount of water that has gone under the bridge of church. And like you I certainly enjoy understanding the epochal changes and forces that have brought us to the current situation we find ourselves in. But, like you, I am deeply enchanted by the profound changes God still does in individual lives. He’s not done with me and I’m so appreciative that he continues to come and lovingly change me. Amen brother! let’s learn from history, continue to walk in his love, and change the world for the better.

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