Taylor – A Secular Age: Part 3, “The Nova Effect”

April 7, 2011

How you doin'?

Ahh April.  Springtime in America.  Flowers, showers, and baseball.  And, for yours truly, along with the start of the baseball season comes my annual ritual of having my hopes for a Milwaukee Brewers championship dashed like a peppershaker.  Of course the Crew started 2011 a forgettable 0 and 4.  The only thing that can cure my Brewer’s-blues?  You know what it is – more Chuck Taylor.  Let’s get to it.

In our look at Part 1 of A Secular Age we spent time identifying the reform of the self that happened through the reformations (plural) of the 16th and 17th centuries and lead to the creation of a buffered rather than porous self.  Our look at Part 2 was mainly an examination of the form of religion that fit with a reformed, buffered, self; we saw that Deism was that form of religion.  Now, while we looked at the kind of God that emerges out of Deism and saw that such a God made it easier to see how secular humanism arose as a living option, we hadn’t quite connected Deism as a religious form to the rise of an exclusive secular humanism that has no need of referencing God.  Let’s do that very (read: unfairly) quickly.

Taylor argues at the end of Part 2 that Deism, a religion without need of revelation (remember Kant’s “Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone” here), does not have a place for a personal God with whom we relate devotionally.   He closes Part 2 by saying: “the move to Deism involves more than just a change of belief; more even than a shift in what was taken to be rational argument… it really reflects a major shift in our background understanding of the human epistemic predicament… disintricating the issue of religious truth from participation in a certain community practice of religious life” (294).  What this means is that Deism opens the ground for secular humanism because it makes religion into something that promotes the stability of the modern political and social order.  We can see that such religion, when no longer needed to support societal stability, may, like the skin of a snake, be sloughed off.

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A new index of forbidden ideas?

February 22, 2011

The satirical documentary is not a genre known to be friendly to religious faith.  See, for example, my posts on Bill Maher’s Religulous (here and here).  Michael Moore pioneered this type of documentary—NOVA meets Saturday Night Live—with Roger & Me in 1989.  The genre relies heavily on ironic juxtapositions and gotcha moments.

While I have nothing against a little satire, the style and technique of such documentaries limit how deeply they can engage an issue.  These limitations apply to Ben Stein’s Expelled:  No Intelligence Allowed (2008), though Stein’s perspective is antithetical to Maher’s:  it’s secular orthodoxy he’s skewering.

The point of departure for the documentary is the dismissal of several faculty members from various universities across the country (George Mason, SUNY Stony Brook, Baylor, and Iowa State, as well as the Smithsonian Institute).  These professors were allegedly too sympathetic to “intelligent design”.  The film doesn’t do much to help us judge the merits of intelligent design theories, but Stein’s point is not so much about the validity of the theory itself as it is about academic freedom.

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