Anti-subtraction

charlestaylor

One important point about Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age [see previous post] is that Taylor’s major work of philosophy doesn’t see the move into modernity as simply a “subtraction” of belief. This is the simplistic view of how we have ended up where we are: years ago people used to live in a society that emphasised the sacred, now, as religious belief has fallen away, we live in a secular society. Taylor’s point is that the journey has been far more meandering.

With the piety movements of medieval times, and the Reformation, religious belief was actually intensified. There was an emphasis more on a personal relationship, and if we think of Luther, an emphasis on the sacred nature of everyday existence. Rather than individuals moving in and out of “sacred time”, Westerners, particularly Protestants, began to see an elevation of the importance in religious terms of everyday endeavours. Luther’s small catechism being a prime example, emphasising as it does the application of Christianity in everyday existence. And this undercut the previously hierarchical nature of medieval society, which became more spiritual as it ascended, i.e. the peasants worked, the monks prayed for everyone, the kings ruled by divine authority. Strangely, though, as everything became sacralised, this also took some of the mystery and elevated status away from the sacred, which, Taylor says, leads eventually to humanism. Religious belief then doesn’t necessarily have to disappear (and it hasn’t), it is just viewed through the lens of individualism (by both believers and non-believers alike). Taylor is pointing out that in a secular society religious belief is now some sort of perspective on the world, rather than simply the way the world is.

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