The Pain of Being Human

In all the discussion regarding Charles Taylor's monumental book, A Secular Age, I find relatively little attention paid to his use of the notion of "excarnation." It's as though commentators are eager to embrace his account of the positive aspects of secularization and fearful lest his analysis of modernity's dark side might give solace to proponents of a "counter-cultural" stance.As I understand it, Taylor means by "excarnation" the avoidance or denial of those dimensions of humanity that threaten our sense of being autonomous individuals. Hence we construct "buffered selves" for whom binding commitments, communal loyalties, mortality itself must be therapeutically held at bay.Though it never uses the word, "excarnation," a poignant, intensely personal article in yesterday's New York Times seems to diagnose the condition well. Here's an excerpt:

Ours is an age in which the airwaves and media are one large drug emporium that claims to fix everything from sleep to sex. I fear that being human is itself fast becoming a condition. Its as if we are trying to contain grief, and the absolute pain of a loss like mine. We have become increasingly disassociated and estranged from the patterns of life and death, uncomfortable with the messiness of our own humanity, aging and, ultimately, mortality.

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.

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