5/12/2015—-What is needed for secularism in America, and in the West generally, to flourish? By secularism, I refer, as I do in Hallowed Secularism, to that great movement of what could be called “unchurching” that leads to human life outside of religious myths and images. It is no longer unusual for young people in America to have never lived within the teachings, stories and calendar of any religion.
That is something quite new. Almost all people my age in America grew up within a religion, usually some form of Christianity. And even among people in their forties today, that is the case. But, among people in their thirties and twenties, that trend changes. And this will continue to be the case, more and more.
So, what is needed for religiously nonaffiliated people to live satisfying lives? To answer that, we must think about what religion does for people, even for people who no longer believe in the religion in which they were raised.
Religion offers an orientation to reality. Religion answers the question, what is reality like at its deepest, most real level? Secularism needs to be able to offer answers to that question.
Obviously, I am suggesting that secularism cannot do that now. Instead of serious attempts to grapple with the question of the nature of reality—-of ontology-—secularism currently offers a hodgepodge of materialism, positivism, naturalism, empiricism and rationalism. None of these orientations is really satisfactory, which will become clear once secularism moves away from bashing religion to attempting to ground human life.
Thus, I turn to the philosopher Martin Heidegger for that orientation. I have been reading philosophy and religion with my teacher, Robert Taylor, since the early 1980’s. We started with a group that read Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations line by line for ten years. Robert and I studied a variety of philosophical and theological works after that, but recently we have been studying Heidegger’s great work, Contributions to Philosophy, an hour and a half in the morning, Monday through Thursday. It is slow going.
Under Robert’s influence, I have begun to interpret Heidegger in a very religious way. Indeed, sometimes Heidegger seems to me to be retelling the Christian story in non-dogmatic terms. He writes of God and gods and seems to be referring to divinity itself—certainly he rejects the notion of a supreme being just as he finds the classical metaphysical tradition in general to be at an exhausted end. Divinity is what moves history.
I have not been referring to this Heidegger study, but now I think that I must. Secularism needs Heidegger to set itself on some kind of ground. Gradually, in pieces, I want to explore what that might mean.