Sunday, January 13, 2008

Upon Finally Finishing Charles Taylor

1/13/2008--“Much have I traveled in the realms of gold”, and though I did not find Homer, I did find an amazing font of knowledge about the rise of secularism and the history of religion in Charles Taylor’s book, A Secular Age. Unfortunately, though he and I see very similar trends in the world, both believe that “we all have some sense” of transcendent reality (768) and even agree, in a way as to the real need for the future, I find Taylor curiously unhelpful. I will try here to say why.

The book is very good at situating exclusive humanism/materialism and showing how inadequate it can be as a total account of reality. The hard core scientific materialism crowd should read this book.

Taylor also understands the massive unlearning of the language of the transcendent that is going on today among the young. And he forsees that in the coming generations, the cultural acceptance of an immanent account of the world will lead to the sense of living in a wasteland. This will move the young to seek the transcendent—though they will lack this vocabulary—at the boundary of the secular. He does not know, he says, where this will go.

Taylor also acknowledges that what is needed is a new language that points beyond ordinary immanent reality without using outmoded or unfashionable religious language. Maybe this language will challenge the very nature/supernatural distinction. (732).

Of course, I see in all this the call for Hallowed Secularism and I am frustrated that Taylor is content to describe and lament but doesn’t see the need to provide much if any content. One reason for this is that he cannot do so and did not set out to do so in this book.

But there is another reason. The problem of the young ensnared in materialism is not Taylor’s problem. Despite his deep understanding of the secular world, he remains more or less comfortable in his Catholicism. What he is interested in, as his last chapter, called Conversions, shows, is a return to orthodox Christianity. There are already accounts of many modern secular seekers who ended up returning to the Christianity of their Western civilization. Taylor seems to feel, though he does not say this, that once the young begin to search, there is no reason they cannot return as these others did.

If this sounds like a criticism of Taylor, I don’t mean it to be. How could a grounded intelligent believer see the matter differently? After all, the only reason I see this differently is that I could not stay in my Judaism as he stayed in his Catholicism.

But, since I did leave, I don’t think the young, by which I mean the future, can return. Thus, something new is needed. Maybe my work will help move in that direction and maybe not. But something new is necessary.

In the meantime, we can thank Charles Taylor for mapping our coordinates. Our understanding of our situation will now have to start with him.

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