An analysis of secularism from Canadian philosopher Taylor (Modern Social Imaginaries, 2004, etc.), winner of the 2007 Templeton Prize.
If the author had accomplished nothing more than a survey of the voluminous body of “secularization theory,” he would have done something valuable. But, although Taylor clearly articulates his disdain for the view that modernity ineluctably led to the death of God, he goes far beyond a literature review. Insofar as belief in God is a choice, he argues, the West is now a profoundly secular society, and even the most devout in America partake of secularity. How did the West change from a society in which “it was virtually impossible not to believe in God” to one in which belief is optional? What Taylor is after in asking that question is the conditions for belief: Today, one’s “construal shows up as such”—that is, 600 years ago, people wouldn’t have reflected much on or even noticed the fact that they believed in God, but now everyone’s beliefs and non-beliefs are chosen, and they are thus both noticeable and noticed. In tracing the rise of secularism, Taylor ranges through the Reformation, the development of perspective in painting and, more recently, the creation of a youth market and post–World War II America’s obsession with authenticity. Our current society is “schizophrenic,” he concludes. We live in an “ideologically fragmented” world in which both belief and non-belief are under pressure to harness their moral sources to nurture human well-being and to reject violence. In addition to its conceptual value, this study is notable for its lucidity. Taylor has translated complex philosophical theories into language that any educated reader will be able to follow, yet he has not sacrificed an iota of sophistication or nuance.
A magisterial book.