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.’”
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.
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” 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. 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.
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. 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.
 Stephen B. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2002), 71.
 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 18.
 Ibid., 218.
 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2003), 1 (c).
 Taylor, A Secular Age, 129.
 Ibid., 55.