Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age”: Context & Question

March 1, 2011

Wow, this book is 800 pages... really?!I write this morning proposing a project – over the next few weeks I’d like to present, synthesize and analyze some portions of Charles Taylor’s massive and massively important tome A Secular Age.  Aside from being Roman Catholic (and Canadian!), Taylor is, in my opinion, a brilliant philosopher.  He is currently Professor Emeritus at McGill University in Montreal.  Those interested parties among us can find a link to Taylor’s contributions to a website which sprung from A Secular Age here.  A good and recent interview with him can be found here, and (of course…) there’s always Wikipedia.

But let’s take on the tough question right away: if there’s all this material out there already, why add more to it on this blog?  It’s pretty straightforward actually.  I want to write about Taylor’s thought here because I see this community as, in some respects, a community of ministers.  As a ministerial community, a community of servant-believers, I am convinced that understanding the context of our belief and service will help us to do it better.  One significant Jesuit presupposition runs something like this: in thinking we believe and serve more effectively.

So… if you buy that and are sticking with me (!) I’m going to try to do this in six parts, six interlocking blog posts, each of which will correspond to a different aspect of Taylor’s work.  The first part of this effort, then, is to set the scene, to give a précis of Taylor’s project.   So to it, then!

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Nietzsche in November

November 21, 2010

We are nearly at the end of the liturgical year, with daily readings from the Book of Revelation reminding us of the end of everything else too.  Indeed, the month of November as a whole, beginning with the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, is dedicated in a special way to remembering the dead and contemplating our own eternal future.

Some people have a problem with that.

Friedrich Nietzsche, one of Christianity’s most brilliant enemies, criticizes our faith for placing too much emphasis on the life to come, thereby emptying this life of meaning and giving unhappy and unsuccessful human beings—“mutterers and nook counterfeiters”—an excuse to wallow in their own misery until they arrive in “heaven,” which in Nietzsche’s estimation seems like little more than a very long nap.

This, I’m afraid, is not one of Nietzsche’s better arguments (though to give the poor old guy a break, I don’t think it’s original to him).  Unfortunately, it has too often been taken up in one form or another by well-meaning Christians themselves.  If we spend too much time contemplating heaven, they say, we will be neglectful of our duties here on earth.  Or, as that summit of liturgical kitsch, “Gather Us In,” puts it, “Gather us in… [but] not in some heaven, light years away.”

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Who Am I? Who are You? Why Does Cilantro Taste Funny?

August 10, 2009

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Soul searching, self-evaluation, meditation, and prayer–step aside! I can tell you who you are at the deepest level (and all for about $25). If you appreciate my ability to predict your doom then you might like my ability to explain why you cannot roll your tongue, why cilantro tastes bad in your tacos, or why you seem more likely than others to get angry in the same situation. It’s a treasure map. And I know where it is. And I can get it. And it is in your genes. Read the rest of this entry »