“Why was it virtually impossible NOT to believe in God in, say 1500, in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy but even inescapable?”
Charles Taylor, who is a professor at McGill in Canada, asks this near the beginning of his 2007 book “The Secular Age.” This nearly 900-page book has become the standard text mapping out the dissolution of religion, and particularly Christianity in the modern West.
He observes that our society has moved from a “background” - by which he means a way of seeing and living into the world, that assumed a personal and knowable spiritual reality outside of us. He calls this a spiritually "enchanted" world.
From this, we have moved to an "immanent frame" - the “background” now is that everything that’s real, everything that matters is immanent, it's internal to our world. In this outlook, it's not just that less and less people find the reasons for belief compelling, but that there's not "default" towards presuming that a meaningful life necessitates a spiritual reference point.
Though I don't remember him saying this directly, or as bluntly, there is a subtext that runs throughout the book that implies that in a societal context like ours, where organized religion is not only no longer taken for granted, but is more and more viewed as regressive and harmful , that unexamined faith - what he calls "naive faith" won’t survive.
Yet, even though as I understand it, Taylor is a practicing Catholic, he doesn’t present this reality as something entirely lamentable. He sees opportunities for the renewal of faith in a secular age - maybe not quantity but in quality, because as Christianity has fallen from its privileged position, so have “naive” and cultural reasons for believing that may in fact have hindered real spiritual transformation.
Beginning last week we've been exploring the idea that perhaps Israel's experience in Babylonian exile, while not exactly parallel to ours, might provide us with some direction as to how to live faithfully in a context where the Church must do her work from the margins rather than from places of cultural power.
Last Sunday, we considered two unhealthy and ultimately ineffective postures that the Church could assume: Assimilation and Tribalism. We will continue to explore these in our Easter service tomorrow and begin to hint at a better way.