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Keller and Taylor on Secularism and Religion

February 20, 2008

In reference to cultural division in the U.S., Tim Keller makes the claim in his book, The Reason for God, that: “the population is paradoxically growing both more religious and less religious at once.” (xv) He provides primarily anecdotal data to support his assertion. There is no doubt that the spade of recent books on atheism, coupled with the strength of the “evangelical vote” would seem to indicate that there are clear camps of religious and anti-religious thought; however, is it overreaching to say that both secularism and religiosity are on the rise? If both are on the rise, what is the cause for this increase?

In A Secular Age Charles Taylor parses secularism a bit finer. He acknowledges two primary conceptions of secularism and suggests a third. First, secularism is religious retreat from public space (no Ten Commandments on the courthouse lawn, public prayer in school, temples that mix commerce, politics and religion). Second, the decline of belief and religious practice (self-explanatory). The third way Taylor suggests we conceive of secularism is “new conditions of belief; it consists in a new shape to the experience which prompts to and is defined by belief..” (20). As a result, we end up with a cultural climate that is “spiritual but not religious.”

It would appear that Taylor and Keller are describing similar phenomenon, I wonder how Taylor would respond to Keller’s admonition that both believer and skeptic embark on a journey of greater doubt? Keller writes:

Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts—not only their own but their friends; and neighbors;. It is not longer sufficient to hold beliefs just be cause you inherited them. Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide grounds for your beliefs to skeptics, including yourself, that are plausible rather than ridiculous or offensive…But even as believers should learn to look for reasons behind their faith, skeptics must learn to look for a type of faith hidden within their reasoning. All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs.

I’ve yet to have read Taylor’s explanation of the conditions for an increase in secularism that allows for the flourishing of religion. He does tip his hat to humanism as a viable worldview as a catalyst for the “new secularism”; however, that will have to wait for a post to come.


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