Charles Taylor, A Secular Age
Does God really exist or is it just a mere childish belief in a supernatural existence? If there truly is a God who controls nature, why do many negative things happen while he keeps watch and does nothing? The answers to these questions and others regarding the works and the sole existence of God will depend on who you ask. With the advance of science, modernity, and democracy, dealings with God and the spiritual have taken a new form towards the edges of life. This new age where there is a distinction in social, political, and economic life is what Taylor describes as the secular age. He reports that in this age, whether a person is religious or not it is a private matter.[i] He argues that people have left the consciousness of God and they rely heavily on their personal decisions. In his opinion, Taylor believes that God gives meaning to the life of every individual, and He is still present if people know where to look.
Taylor is a philosophy professor at McGill University and the author of Sources of the Self (1989), Hegel (1975), and A Secular Age (2007). He is a Christian who believes that life has no meaning without God, and he tries to prove this in his 874-page book, A Secular Age. He argues that God is working now more than never before rather than disappearing; He is sanctifying people everywhere.[ii] In every aspect of life from work to marriage and ordinary existence, God is very actively involved despite the rise of secularism.
Many factors have led to the popularity of secularism according to Taylor citing different works on humanity’s various beliefs. Descartes believed that humans are rational beings who need reasons and the will to undertake anything. He argued that humans like to be governed by their will and ruled by their reasoning.[iii] In Varieties of Religious Experience, William James gives the notion of how people crave for a belief propelled by will.[iv] As Taylor cites, Freud viewed religion as an illusion brought about in an attempt to deny the reality of death.[v] All this among others have been active stimulants for the growth of secularism.
Taylor does not agree on the assumptions made by such atheists as Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins of evolution and natural science. He supports his belief in the existence of God with anecdotes of human nature in the social setting. Both Dennett and Dawkins believe that there is no supreme being.[vi] Taylor says that belief is not what science finds; rather, it is what faith hopes for.
In his book, Taylor talks about three kinds of secularism in detail. In the first stage of secularism, he finds a withdrawal from religious ways to scientific means of viewing issues. To do this, he uses Max Weber’s theory of disenchantment where people shift from a religious to a scientific world view.[vii] He explains that before this, there was only a single view of religion and science. The second form of secularism is a decline in an individual’s commitment in religious matters. In this case, people rely more on their personal choices. The last form is the latest of secularism: Belief in God is a personal matter where one can choose to believe or not.
James K. A. Smith, How (not) to be Secular
James K. A. Smith is a philosopher trained in modern-day French thought. He works as a professor in Philosophy at Calvin College. He is currently the holder of Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview. Smith has developed that academic stage to be distinctly connected with an open and scholarly socialism. He is also an author with award-winning skills and creativity and a recognized speaker across the globe.[i]
The most renown of his works is the summary of A Secular Age, by Charles Taylor. The way Smith has compressed a thousand-page book into 150 pages is marvelous. One more thing that should be noted from the book is that not a single idea from Taylor’s book is missing, and he has used his ideas to show his talent for thinking and writing. It is evident that Smith is a great admirer of Taylor’s work, as anyone would be who also studies it with a proper understanding.
The title of the book How (Not) to be Secular is in itself the summary of Taylor’s work: The ideas of the book are clearly defined and analyzed. Smith asks and analyses the how in the book and gives a basic idea that living in a secular age has little or no consequences for scholarly submission to the natural cases, which are real. Instead, the aftereffect of occupying a world where otherworldly solutions to the inquiries in one’s life no longer bode well and are no longer required.[ii] Accordingly, it is evident that Taylor seems very concerned not only with secularism’s definition, but with the feelings that secularism brings with it.
Taylor criticizes the defenders of secularism in his works and Smith summarizes his criticisms thus:
What pretends to be a discovery of the way things are, the obvious unveiling of reality once we remove (subtract) myth and enchantment, is in fact a construction, a creation: in short, this wasn’t just a subtraction project.[iii] I will leave you here..until next week.
The conclusion of the Secular Question on next week
[i]. James K A. Smith, The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012).
[ii]. Geoffrey C. Layman and Christopher L. Weaver. “Religion and Secularism among American Party Activists,” Politics and Religion, 9, no. 2 (2016): 271–95. doi:10.1017/S1755048316000079.
[iii]. James K. A. Smith, How (not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2014), 99.
[i]. Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007).
[ii]. Ibid., pp. 5–22.
[iii]. René Descartes, Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, and Seeking Truth in the Sciences (Raleigh, NC: Alex Catalogue, 1990).
[iv]. C. C. H. Cook, “William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience and Jungian Varieties of Human Nature: The Nature of the Relationship between Religious Experience, Belief and Psychological Type,” Journal of Beliefs & Values 24, no. 2 (2003): 139–154.
[v]. Sigmund Freud and James Strachey, The Future of an Illusion (New York: Norton, 1975).
[vi]. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Mariner Books, 2006); D. C Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Viking, 2006).
[vii]. Nicholas Gane, Max Weber and Postmodern Theory: Rationalization versus Re-Enchantment (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave, 2002).