Thursday, August 11, 2011


Charles Taylor on the meaning of the term "secular" in the West.

And so the history of this term “secular” in the West is complex and ambiguous. It starts off as one term in a dyad that distinguishes two dimensions of existence, identifying them by the particular type of time that is essential to each. But from the foundation of this clear distinction between the immanent and the transcendent, there develops another dyad, in which “secular” refers to what pertains to a self-sufficient, immanent sphere and is contrasted with what relates to the transcendent realm (often identified as “religious”). This binary can then undergo a further mutation, via a denial of the transcendent level, into a dyad in which one term refers to the real (“secular”), and the other refers to what is merely invented (“religious”); or where “secular” refers to the institutions we really require to live in “this world,” and “religious” or “ecclesial” refers to optional accessories, which often disturb the course of this-worldly life.

Through this double mutation, the dyad itself is profoundly transformed; in the first case, both sides are real and indispensable dimensions of life and society. The dyad is thus “internal,” in the sense that each term is impossible without the other, like right and left or up and down. After the mutations, the dyad becomes “external”; secular and religious are opposed as true and false or necessary and superfluous. The goal of policy becomes, in many cases, to abolish one while conserving the other.

In conjunction with this, I read Ralph C. Wood's discussion of Flannery O'Connor's insights into American religion.

Yet for all of O'Connor's commonality with the major modern writers, there is also a huge difference: she does not secularize the spiritual. Salvation and damnation are, for her, more than inward states of subjective consciousness; they are objective states of both our immediate existence and our final destiny. The secularizing of the spiritual - at least from Hegel forward - has been one of the most serious mistakes of modernity....That late modern men and women of the West have failed to discern the concrete operations of both the divine and the demonic is largely the church's fault.

Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 156-7.

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