In a post on the blog today Taylor points out how analyses of historical processes are made much, much more difficult by changes both in things and in the meanings of words which refer to the things — the changes in the two are anot always parallel. Plus, sometimes the meanings do not change when the referents do. Sigh.
Taylor studied under the linguistic analyst Anscombe at Oxford, and it shows. Would that the academic Church had seen the value of linguistic analysis from the beginnings of the movement. There might be more Catholic scholars who are taken seriously outside of the Church.
OK, back to my cave.
I struck by this passage:
“[There is] an ideology of “secularization” … which starts from the illusion that “religion” can just be sidelined, e.g., that political debates in a plural society should be carried out in terms of “reason alone” (Kant’s “blosse Vernunft”), without the injection of “religious” premises or arguments; or that we can separate people’s purely secular interests from their religious ones. An outlook of this kind sees any difference arising about the place of religion as the result of an unjust eruption of “religion” into the public sphere, an attempt to set the clock back, etc.
“This outlook also nourishes the illusion that there is a simple solution to the problem of religion in society (you just “separate Church and State,” or just adopt laïcité), which can be applied anywhere.”
To some extent my family is a little microcosm of what Taylor’s talking about.
As “secular humanists,” my parents get irate if I defend any Church doctrines or teachings that are not already established by civil law.
For instance, it would be OK to say I believe God doesn’t want us to murder people. I would, however, be proselytizing, in their view, to say that God doesn’t want people to kill themselves through assisted suicide.
In their view, speaking for God (who may or may not exist) is a dicey business. The civil authorities, coming from a wide range of viewpoints, would be more likely to hammer out the best compromise laws than, say, a religious cleric speaking for a particular notion of what God wants.
To enact laws that push purely Catholic notions about any issue would, they would argue, lead to autocratic theocracy and erosion of civil liberties.
As long as no specific faith gets the upper hand in the public square, they feel that the common good has been served.
As with all the excerpts from Taylor I’ve read, this is a tantalizing nugget that, when you try to apply it to a specific situations, you end up wondering what he’s driving at, or what he thinks the “right” answer is.
I suppose instead of thinking this to pieces I should be happy that the people who want to watch the MSU-U of M annual grudge match have gone over to the neighbor’s to watch it on his big screen, and I have a couple hours of peace and quiet.
I’m trying to read “A Secular Age,” the book-weight sufficient to press your holiday pates. It is both fascinating and elusive. I propose that Taylor draw up a map of the ins and outs of this journey from pre- to post-modern. And yes, he could have sea monsters on the edges of the map.
You say, “As with all the excerpts from Taylor I’ve read, this is a tantalizing nugget that, when you try to apply it to a specific situations, you end up wondering what he’s driving at, or what he thinks the “right” answer is.”
I agree that in Taylor’s analysis of “secular”, etc. he doesn’t propose an answer to the problem of secularization. But the reason seems to be that his linguistic analysis reveals that it’s not one problem, but three related ones.
Linguistic analysis often leaves us wondering because of the sometimes discouraging reason that analysis can uncover many more uses of a term than we had previously adverted to, and this can make us realize that we have many more problems than we had originally thought. Sigh.
Linguistic analysis isn’t a philosophy which promises solutions to problems. It’s not a philosophy at all — it’s only a *method* that can show us our misuses or inadequate uses of language. Once these are uncovered, we can understand more clearly the realities we’ve tried to signify. Then we can move on to try to solve whatever real problems have been uncovered. This, I think, is what Taylor is trying to do by analysing the varied ways we use “secular”, etc. — he’s trying to clarify the real problems by first clarifying the language we use to describe them.
Neither have I read the book. Maybe he takes us further there. So many books . . ,
I guess what flummoxed me was what Taylor called “the illusion that ‘religion’ can just be sidelined, e.g., that political debates in a plural society should be carried out in terms of ‘reason alone.’”
I thought his linguistic examination of “secular” was interesting, but if the one above is an illusion, one longs to know what he thinks the “real” definition is and how that might change how we operate as religious people.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to triage information overload by asking, “So this affects me how?”
Time’s a’tickin’ away too fast to be pursuing dead ends–or sea monsters, as Margaret Steinfels calls them. I’m hoping she’ll find the thesis statement or executive summary somewhere in there and share it with us–and if not at least the holiday pate!
Because, like I said, the guy is fascinating, but I just don’t know where he’s coming from.
The map idea is funny. I used his “Sources of the Self” for my doctoral exams, and ended up making my own map.
I think its BMI (book mass index) was a bit lower than the latest book , though.
I’ve read less than 100 pages of Taylor’s book, but let me suggest a way to see at least a large part of what he’s up to.
Taylor notes a tension within medieval Latin Christianity that consists in (a) a belief in the goodness of this life and the importance of promoting happiness, or fulfillment, in it, and at the same time holding onto (b) a belief that our true human destiny is to reach a next, higher life, a belief that may well lead one to renounce much, if not all, concern for how one fares in this life.
Taylor’s story, and it is a narrative, not a causal account, describes the multiple efforts made since about 1500 in the West to deal with this tension. In the course of this story, he points out the consequences of the various efforts to resolve or get beyond this tension. The cumulative effect of many of these attempts has been the emergence of our present condition, namely the condition that many people today have discarded any interest in the Christian conception of an afterlife. Hence ours is a “secular age,” one in which religious faith can appear nonsensical to large numbers of people and in which to choose to believe in Christianity is in important respects countercultural.
Taylor’s story is of course far richer and more nuanced than my precis is. But I propose it as an enticement for others to work at his book, a book I find positively engrossing.
May I offer in support of my oversimplified precis the suggestion that one read pp. 80-82 of this book. Those pages, I believe, give a good summary of much of what has preceded them.
The notion that belief (or lack thereof) in an afterlife has policy repercussions is not new, but I’ve never seen it stated that way and I sure would like to know what sources he used to support the statement (paraphrase?) that “a belief in the goodness of this life and the importance of promoting happiness, or fulfillment, in it” was a mainstay of medieval Latin Christianity.
No idea how the second statement relates to the one highlighted by Jean. I have a sneaking suspicion I would throw the book across the room because of the unstated and unsupported baggage he brings to the use of the following words:
1. Whatever shortcomings my precis has, Taylor cannot be held accountable for them.
2.If you want to know how Taylor documents his case, may I suggest that you look at the footnotes he presents.
3. A mentor of mine, a very upright scholar, taught me that I must never attack a position or its author without having paid careful attention to the author’s own presentation of his or her case. What say you about this?
Oh I agree, I wasn’t attacking, I was just raising questions. I have a hard time committing to several hundreds of pages without a fair amount of sniffing around to see if the book is one I would actually finish.
Sorry, I am very cynical right now. While Taylor is fighting with secular policy wonks, the true value issues being debated relate to whose lobbying dollars carry more value when it comes to “policy” making. It reminds me of laid off white textile workers in NC (where I used to live) holding KKK marches to complain about affirmative action, as if Blacks were responsible for sending textile industry jobs overseas out of spite. It all seems beside the real point.
I also am reading Taylor’s book, it is what I designate my “briefcase” book which is to say that I read it when I get a chance to sit down and cannot bear to grade one more paper or am desperate for something of substance to read in the office coffee shop (this requires a corner table). Why does not someone start a separate blog at this site to begin a discussion thread? The book is very circular (it cries out for a ruthless editor) in its presentation but has some excellent insights. I nominate Peggy Steinfels to start the thread. All who are actually reading the book could contribute.