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A Secular Age, by Charles Taylor by Mind Map: A Secular Age, by
Charles Taylor
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A Secular Age, by Charles Taylor


0.1 what does secularism mean?(Three types of secularism)

secularism 1, defintion: public political/social activities emptied of god, problem: not really what concerns people; consider India as counterexample.

secularism 2, definition: decline of belief and practice, problem as account of secularization: "science refutes religion, crowds out belief" not a plausible story.

secularism 3, definition: belief in god is felt and understood to be one option among others, and not an easy one, an embattled one., This is where we find a deeper account of secularization

0.2 explaining the coming of a secular age (secularism 3)

consider experience, what it's like to live as a believer and an unbeliever (three modes of our moral/spiritual life), mode 1: orientation toward a place of fullness, believer (without), transcendent, receiving a power beyond us, faith in salvation, unbeliever (within) [3 types], immanent, self-suffienct power of reason, Kantian reverence for reason and law-giving, rising above desire, An admiration of cool, disengaged, instrumental reason acting for the best in the interest of human flourishing, heroic liberation from fantasy., immanent, receptive to Nature, solace in feeling, deep ecology (critical of hubristic power of reason), courage and greatness in being able to face irremediable lack of center (scoffs at reason, denies Romantic notion of unity, plays up absence of fullness), mode 2: emptiness, experience of exile, mode 3: stabilized middle condition, escaped from emptiness without having reached fullness

consider disruptive shift in the background of belief/unbelief, in the context in which we experience and search for fullness, away from a "naive" framework w/ theistic construal, definition: one construal is lived as immediate reality, like stones and rivers; there was variability only in distance from the singular place of fullness, fuller and lesser devotion, not a choice between alternative construals., examples, for Hieronymus Bosch evil spirits objects of real fear no one every got around to suggesting unreality, New Testament Palestine evil possession a source of suffering, no consideration of intra-psychic etiology, Contemporary West African vision of spirits walking among us, toward a "reflective" framework, trending toward unbelief as default option, definition: almost no one is capable of naively living in one construal as simple reality, unaware of alternatives, navigating two standpoints, "engaged", in which we live as best we can the reality our construal opens up for us, "disengaged", in which we see ourselves as occupying one construal among others, differences across milieux, but presumption of unbelief has achieved hegemony in academic and intellectual life, and is spreading from there

0.3 defining religion in our culture as recognition of the transcendent, serving a good beyond human flourishing

examples, Judeo-Christian religious tradition worships God as the ultimate end, human flourishing is incidental, the Buddha explains how to attain bliss, but it involves a radical change in identity, a renunciation of recognizable human flourishing

exceptional religions/philosophies, Taoism conceives of reverence as essential to our flourishing, a proper part of the human good., Platonism and Stoicism, Epicureanism (actually an early self-sufficing humanism, but only among an elite minority)

contrast with modern self-sufficing or exclusive humanism, not the only alternative to religion, anti-humanisms: Nietzsche, deconstruction, etc, non-exclusive humanism: deep ecology, crept up on us via Providential Deism, made conceivable for the masses a life without any goals beyond human flourishing

three dimensions of transcendence, the sense that there is some good higher than, beyond human flourishing, the context of belief in a higher power, the transcendent God of faith, seeing lift as going beyond the bounds of birth and death

0.4 it is not easy to explain why secularism came about

"subtraction stories" explaining secularity in terms of sloughing off or liberating ourselves from illusions are too easy

secularity is the fruit of new inventions, new constructed self-understandings and related practices

Part 1: The Work of Reform

Chapter 1: The Bulwarks of Belief - Why was it impossible not to believe in God in 1500, but easy in 2000?

1.1 disappearance of certain features of the world facilitated shift in source of fullness, the three features of the world that made God seemingly undeniable in 1500, what were the features?, acts of God, such as droughts and plagues, God founds and sustains society, polis, kingdom, church, enchanted world inhabited by spirits, demons, and moral forces; God acts as bulwark against evil, what made the features disappear?, mechanistic science of 17th century began to pose a problem for particular providence, but wasn't seen as threat to god, people making revolutions, secularizing society's foundations; but often revolutionaries felt guided by Providence, Christians had their own motives for move toward disenchantment, mechanistic science of 17th century began to drive out magic and enchantment, further conditions making a shift in source of fullness (exclusive humanism) imaginable in the absence of those features, invention of a "buffered" self, invulnerable to spirits and powers, was made possible by, confidence in our own powers of moral ordering, capacity to shape natural and social world (unlike Epicureanism), a substitute for agape, a drive toward human beneficience (unlike Epicureanism)

1.2 why a diachronic account is necessary, our understanding of ourselves in this secular age is inescapably backward-looking, felt to be a triumph, "subtraction" accounts recognize importance of history, but get it wrong; these need correcting

1.3 - 1.5 Five changes in naive understanding, (I) disenchantment, formerly we were "porous", now we are "buffered", "buffered" self has a bounded mind, master of its own meaning, capable of disengagement, thoughts, feelings, sense of meaning, spiritual elan occur only in bounded, human minds, constituted by introspective self-awareness, meaning, meaning is endogenous, restricted to mind, things (other than artifacts) can impinge on the mind in only two ways, observation stirring us up, causally via our body (shooting up drugs, eg), mind/body distinction, makes conceivable the mind-body problem, the physical is "just" a contingent cause of the psychic; a relief to learn that my sadness is due to chemical imbalance, etc, we can disengage; don't have to let things "get to us"; opportunity for self-control and self-direction, "porous" self was penetrable, vulnerable to influence, influence of things, black bile just is melancholy; no firm mind/body distinction, drinking vials of water and Thomas a Becket's blood was supposed to effect a cure by way of the spirit, unlike medicine, charged objects were loci of spiritual power, examples, relics, piecies of saints' bodies, pieces of the true cross, Saint Veronica's sweat cloth, objects endowed with sacramental power, the Host (bread), candles blessed at Candlemas, magic potions, the woods, indistinguishable from spirits inhabiting, properties, can wreak damage if mishandled; can effect cures is used properly, ambiguous source of power: from anger or good graces of associated saint, or emanating from object itself, influence: objects can impose meaning on us, existing prior to contact, significance incorporated in the thing itself, causal power: can bring about physical effects proportionate to its significance; causal links mediated by meaning: mercury curing syphilis, influence of a spirits, spirits were unproblematically there, impinging on us in 1500; they were extra-human agencies, examples, benevolent, God, His Saints, malevolent, Satan, a host of demons, forest spirits, lack of moral/physical distinction meant that these agents help to constitute us spiritually and emotionally, fear of possession by demons, beating them out, God or the Holy Spirit enters us, quicken us from within, love was not an internal state, fell under the aegis of Aphrodite; things going well is her smiling; blooming motivations within me are gifts from her, malevolent spirits similiarly not restricted to external; they were invasive, sapping us of our will and energy, disbelief was hard in the enchanted world because God was the only guarantee that good would triumph in that frightening field of forces; going against God wasn't an option; the buffered self removed this barrier to unbelief, nowadays the world outside of human action is seen as regulated by exceptionless law, today only human interaction is explained in terms of will, charisma, and judgment (irreducible to formula); everything external is natural law-governed, formerly the same terms were used to describe our interactions with God, who responded to us ("acts of God") with bumper harvests, plagues, cures, etc; this was special Providence, (II) God had an existential-foundational role in society, which was itself seen as a locus of spiritual power, the "buffered self" understanding lends itself to individuality and may not be hospitable to a sense of community; we moderns can disengage from our social environment., the common weal was bound up in collective rites (beating the bounds, eg [see video]), devotions, allegiances; breaking ranks posed a menace to everyone., the indispensable reality of society argued for the existence of God in the enchanted world: parishes protected by collective rites, thaumaturgical powers inherent in the king, and the like, (III) play of structure and anti-structure held in equilibrium, examples from former times, static equilibria, celibacy; flourishing versus the higher renunciative vocations, enjoining celibacy on everyone, as the Shakers did, complementary celibate and married modes of life, as in Catholic and Orthodox churches, sacraments vs sacramentals; sacred power captured and used for practical ends, classes of low-status people can exercise a certain authority in their sphere: women, holy madmen, the poor, temporary reversal of usual order; hiatus of reigning code, Carnival, the feasts of misrule, feast of asses, feast of fools, boy bishops, during enthroning ritual of the king in various African societies a candidate must pass through an ordeal in which he is reviled, hectored, kicked, and shoved by his subjects, rites of passage involving the stripping of all marks of status, undergoing trials and ordeals, explanation, (fuzzy) there was formerly a necessity for anti-structure due to the need of all codes to be countervailed, swamped in negation, on pain of rigidity, enervation, atrophy of social cohesion, self-destruction; retreat from normal codes, as in rites of passage, needed in order to become receptive to deepest lore., Why have traditional anti-structures been eclipsed? why not occasionally upend the official political-jural structure?, principles of opposition built into policital codes: separation of powers, negative freedom, pluralist liberalism (despite attempts by Dworkin and Rawls to pull everything under one principle), private domain contrasted with public, time to recharge, throw off roles, traditional anti-structure such as Carnival reoriented toward celebration of ideals; uptopian order does not brook anti-structure, (IV) the social was grounded in sacred and secular time in higher times, earlier conceptions of time, philosophers and theologians in the Middle Age had two models of eternity, Plato eternity, perfect immobility, impassivity, rising out of time, God's eternity, which doesn't abolish time, but gathers it into an instant, Higher times assembled and punctuated profane, secular time, "secular" comes from "saeculum", a century or age and referred to those embedded in ordinary time, as opposed to those who live closer to higher time, eternity, a relation of prefiguring-fulfulling stands between sacrifice of Isaac and the Crucifixion; these two events were linked through their immediate contiguous places in the divine plan, though they were centuries ("saecula") apart. Similarly Good Friday 1999 is closed to the Crucixion than mid-summer's day in '97., a "time of origins", "time out of mind" in the folk traditions of people in Europe and elsewhere; agents were on a larger scale, gods and heroes, the founding of our people and law; we can by ritual renew or rededicate and come closer to this time, modern conceptions of time, we live in homogeneous, empty time that, like space, has become a container, indifferent to our lives and the history that fills it; hard to understand what Hamlet meant by "the times are out of joint", the discipline of modern civilized order has led us to measure and organize our time as never before; a resource not to be wasted; it makes higher times hard to conceive; Weber's "stahlhartes Gehaeuse" (iron cage), (V) cosmos replaced by neutral universe, cosmos, humanly meaningful order, history can be rendered in stain-glass windows, hierarchical, universe, principles of order not related to humans, flows on in secular time, some thinkers accomodated religion to this conception, Pascal in particular

1.6 Reform: after Dark Age in Latin Christendom a "rage for order" wants to deligitimate less dedicated forms of worship, two speeds of life, lay life, devotional practice largely a matter of what they did, fasting, abstaining from work at appropriate times, attending mass, penance, and communion, liturgical acts like "creeping to the Cross", bless candles, taking part in Corpus Christi parades, devotions to saints, cults of relics, prayers to the Virgin, renunciative vocations, doctinal element of faith more developed, inner prayer, meditation, two-speed system stable for some, marginal populations who saw religion in terms of categories of sacred power and miracle-making they were already familiar with, Germanic tribes of the 8th century brought into church by their leaders, Anglo-Saxon converts of the 7th century, the rustici which St. Martin of Tours wanted to Christianize in 4th century Gaul, Scandinavia, the Baltic lands, correct, canonical meaning left to the clerical missionaries, gap narrows after 1000, growth of popular Christocentric spirituality focussed on suffering humanity of Jesus, art: growing importance and centrality of depictions of the Crucifixion, practices: identification with his suffering, stigmata of St. Francis, Flagellants, focus of piety: on Christ, Christ and his mother, or the Holy Family, relics and objects: connected to Christ and Mary, pieces of the Holy Rood, Christ's blood (Hailes Abbey), Mary's milk, the Five Wounds, theology: less triumphal, more suffering, not much left of paganism, but practices still different for certain elites, the climacteric in early 1500, attack from above, Lateran Council of 1215 laid down requirement of auricular confession for all laity, at least once a year, efforts to train priests and making of manuals to help clergy better form the conscience of the faithful, preaching of itinerant friars (better educated than parish clergy) spread message of new, more exigent practice all through Christendom, partly responsible for increased concern about death, theme of memento mori, iconography of the dancy of death, vanity of life, prosperity, pleasure, the good things, in face of approaching death, resembles elite stance towards death: St. Jerome depicted with a skull because we die to the world and live for God, focus on death got both levels of the church on the same wavelength, but other differences persisted or emerged, evetually exploding in 1517, new stance toward death represented a Christianization and individualization, Christianization because for pagans death was just another stage in the natural order; pagans feared the dead not death; Christians fear death because it is the completion of the dossier with which they will affront judgment., Individualization because response to the call, judgment, transformation all appeal to individual responsibility, Catholic historian Jean Delumeau: "contempt for the world, dramatization of death, and the insistence on personal salvation emerged together", causation may have run the other way as well: as people left the peasant life for towns, becoming more individuated in their attitudes, shooting for riches and glory, they were the targets of the preaching of memento mori., attack from below