Why read “A Secular Age”?

I am currently trying to get a group together to read Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age.” I thought it might be a helpful exercise to sort of the write out some of my reasons for wanting to explore and generate some conversation about this book. I have to admit that I am  drawn to this book partially because Kavin Rowe recommends it.  One rule that I have is that I will read anything Kavin Rowe recommends. In fact, I first encountered Charles Taylor’s work a class on Jesus and the Gospels that was taught by Rowe. We read some chapters from Modern Social Imaginaries and the introduction to A Secular Age in order to discuss the ways in which people view world that informs how they approach the question of Jesus’ identity. The introduction was fascinating to me because it illuminate habits of my own thinking and actions that made things like prayer difficult in my own life.

I am really interested in how Taylor describes the ways in which we see the world and act in the world that we take for granted. That is – the ways of life that we have that are not a result of conscious reflection, but are simply “givens” of our current historical and cultural situation. Taylor argues that secularism is somewhat of a “given” in North America. By this he means that belief in God is one of many possible ways of view in the world. He goes further to say that in the modern condition is one in which, “unbelieving construals seem at first blush the only plausible ones.”  He contrasts this with the western European context about 500 years ago in which atheism was almost unimaginable. Taylor  asks the question: How did we get here?

In the popular imagination the answer is simply the progress of knowledge of natural world like Darwinian evolution. Taylor finds this answer superficial. He wants to go deeper into the way that human beings view the good, themselves, their dependence or autonomy to the world around them. So the definition of secularism that Taylor is concerned with in his book is not decline in church attendance or lack of religious influence in the public square. Rather it is almost a sensibility of being in the modern world that is shared by both believers and unbelievers. My hope is that Taylor will help us understand better our own “situatedness”that affects how we (the we is to be taken in the broadest sense) talk about Religion, transcendence,  and ethics and how Christians think about things like prayer, church authority, and the sacraments.

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