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I (Ben) am a part of a reading group at church that recently finished Charles Taylor’s Secular Age, and we’re now into Sources of Self. (I know, I go to a cool church!) Taylor’s discussion in Secular Age was very impacting. In particular, his chapter on Bulwarks of Belief is one of the most important things I’ve read on how laying out systematically how the ancient/medieval social imaginary is different to the post-Enlightenment social imaginary. Understanding that difference is fundamental to interpreting these ancient texts. (As a good intro and interaction with Secular Age, I’ve assigned Jamie Smith’s How (Not) to Be Secular with success a couple of times.)

Taylor describes our current age as the Age of Authenticity, which is built upon the idea that we have to create our identity. Since people struggle either to pick the right identity to create or want to create an identity but really don’t have the resources to achieve that goal the level of anxiety has increased greatly: The Age of Authenticity is the Age of Anxiety.

As part of his argument Taylor, at times makes use of Durkheim, and I have to confess I kept getting lost in what Durkheim held to. Another friend from church not in our reading group (I know, what a great church!) mentioned these School of Life videos and specifically the Durkheim one, and his relevance for Taylor became self-evident.

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After reading through a good bit of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, I’ve assigned my students to read Jamie Smith’s How (Not) To Be Secular, a summary and exposition of Taylor’s work, so they can benefit from the fruit of this important piece. Smith’s account of how (some forms of) modern apologetics “diminishes Christianity” (p. 51) reminds me of MacIntyre’s treatment of God in God, Philosophy, Universities. Smith summarizing and quoting Taylor writes:

What [Taylor] finds [in modern apologetics] is that the responses themselves have already conceded the game; that is the reponses to this diminishment of transcendence already accede to it in important ways…. As he notes, ‘ the great apologetic effort called forth by this disaffection itself narrowed its focus so drastically. It barely invoked the saving action of Christ, nor did it dwell on the life of devotion and prayer, although the seventeenth century was rich in this. The arguments turned exclusively on demonstrating God as Creator, and showing his Providence’ (p. 225). What we get in the name of ‘Christian’ defenses of transcendence, then, is ‘a less theologically elaborate faith’ that, ironically, paves the way for exclusive humanism. God is reduced to Creator and religion is reduced to morality (p. 225). The ‘deism’ of providential deism bears many marks of the ‘theism’ that is often defended in contemporary apologetics. The particularities of specifically Christian belief are diminished to try to secure a more generic deity–as if saving some sort of transcendence will suffice. (Smith, 51)

MacIntyre’s lack of specificity about distinctly Christian claims appears to fall into this trap. I’m not arguing that any specific interpretation of these Christian claims should dominate, but if they are not even raised, then what warrants the adjective ‘Christian’ to describe terms like philosophy, theology, etc.?