When we moderns believe in God, it is reflectively, not reflexively. Perhaps Charles Taylor's entire historical and philosophical interrogation of our current habits of thinking and being comes down to that. Such a reduction is useful in navigating what must be one of the most important contributions to the definition of 'the secular,' enormous both in bulk and erudition. Having described the nature of the person in his seminal Sources of the Self
, Taylor now seeks to understand the person-in-the-world as we know it: 'How did we move from a condition where.people lived naively within a theistic construal, to one in which we all shunt between two stances? This is the transformation that I want to describe, and perhaps also (very partially) explain.This will not be easy to do.' Certainly not; but his final qualification is belied by the conversational tone of his prose, the ease with which he draws one thinker or intellectual movement after another into relation with a guiding quest to describe the nature of belief and unbelief, incidentally giving the reader a sort of spiritual history of Western civilization. What amounts to a fine summary of this book is offered by Taylor himself: 'Our faith is not the acme of Christianity, but nor is it a degenerate version; it should rather be open to a conversation that ranges over the whole of the last 20 centuries.What this fragmentary and difficult conversation points towards is the Communion of Saints.a communion of whole lives, of whole itineraries towards God.' That a host of unbelievers as well as believers occupy this conversation indicates Taylor's attention to both doubt and sanctity. 874 pp.
An Eighth Day View:
What does it mean to say that we live in a secular age? Almost everyone would agree that we--in the West, at least--largely do. And clearly the place of religion in our societies has changed profoundly in the last few centuries. In what will be a defining book for our time, Charles Taylor takes up the question of what these changes mean--of what, precisely, happens when a society in which it is virtually impossible not to believe in God becomes one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is only one human possibility among others.
Taylor, long one of our most insightful thinkers on such questions, offers a historical perspective. He examines the development in "Western Christendom" of those aspects of modernity which we call secular. What he describes is in fact not a single, continuous transformation, but a series of new departures, in which earlier forms of religious life have been dissolved or destabilized and new ones have been created. As we see here, today's secular world is characterized not by an absence of religion--although in some societies religious belief and practice have markedly declined--but rather by the continuing multiplication of new options, religious, spiritual, and anti-religious, which individuals and groups seize on in order to make sense of their lives and give shape to their spiritual aspirations.
What this means for the world--including the new forms of collective religious life it encourages, with their tendency to a mass mobilization that breeds violence--is what Charles Taylor grapples with, in a book as timely as it is timeless.