Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Origin of Hallowed Secularism

6/12/2007--Why the term "hallowed secularism"? The term is taken from a speech by Sarah Blumenthal, a character in E.L. Doctorow's great and strange short novel, City of God. Here is the entire quote:

“I ask if after the exclusionary, the sacramental, the ritualistic, and simply fantastic elements of religion are abandoned, can a universalistic ethics be maintained—in its numinousness?…Suppose then that in the context of a hallowed secularism, the idea of God could be recognized as Something Evolving, as civilization has evolved—that God can be redefined, and recast, as the human race trains itself to a greater degree of metaphysical and scientific sophistication.. With the understanding, in other words, that human history does show a pattern at least of progressively sophisticated metaphors. So that we pursue a teleology thus far that, in the universe as vast as the perceivable cosmos, and as infinitesimal as a subatomic particle, has given us only the one substantive indication of itself—that we, as human beings, live in moral consequence.” Sarah Blumenthal’s Address to the Conference of American Studies in Religion, Washington D.C., E.L. Doctorow, City of God, 255-56 (2000).

In this novel, the Catholic Priest becomes a Jew and the Jew becomes whatever Sarah is in this quote. Sarah is too humanistic, linguistic and ethical for me, but the notion of the numinous, the mysterious "more" we encounter in reality, is what I hear Sarah striving to describe in her term, hallowed secularism. In the 21st and 22nd centuries a global culture of secularism will gradually emerge. What will it be like? I am afraid it will be materialistic and technological. But it could be a place of holiness.

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