A Secular Age by Charles Taylor. Yes, it’s taken me about a year and a half to get through this massive tome. I still have a little bit to go but I should finish it this week. Philosophically, I feel like it’s the story of my generation. There’s so much in this book that I could write about, and at least as much that is over my head, and that’s not even mentioning the untranslated French paragraphs! Taylor’s case is fairly complicated. While the title implies growth in secularity over time in the West (which Taylor affirms), the two most useful concepts for me were the concepts of “disenchantment” and the reasonableness of the secular paradigm even for the religious.
The idea of disenchantment is that for persons living in the West in the Modern Age, it’s difficult to believe in the supernatural and ascribe explanations of phenomena to the supernatural, even for religious people. For example, Medievals would likely ascribe pathological evil to supernatural activity such as demon possession, while Moderns would look to explanations rooted in nurture and environment. The “secular age” is one that is denuded of the supernatural.
This is one of the reasons why I found it so hard to teach Medieval literature such as Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur. For Malory, everything is supernatural. The idea of not believing in the supernatural or ascribing cause and effect to the ineffable is as unthinkable is not breathing. Characters that readers consider both good and evil possess this worldview. In contrast, the modern reader, even if religious, sees the secular paradigm as a conceivable option, and may often see the rationalistic option as more viable than that which is rooted in the Divine.
In this respect, A Secular Age helped me to understand my own story and my own perception of the world. It’s a valuable work in this respect, and one I’m glad that I plowed through.