Cross-pressure. We all live with it. Religious and non-religious persons alike, we are all haunted by it. It presses us and pulls us.

Fragilization. We all experience it. When we encounter someone who believes contrary to our most dearly held beliefs, questions arise in our minds. Our faith, or unbelief, is challenged.

Nova Effect. We all face an explosion of various options of belief and non-belief. Contrasted with the ancien régime, we live in a secular3 age where all beliefs are now possible.

Charles Taylor, Philosopher

What am I rambling on about, you ask? Ideas put forth by Professor Charles Taylor in his epic tome A Secular Age (2007, Harvard University Press). Taylor explains our journey from an enchanted time to an age of disenchantment. Basically meaning, how did Western society move from a general belief in God during the Middle Ages to widespread disbelief in God? Not by the rise of science or reason, argues Taylor, that reading is too simplistic. He traces the cultural shifts of Western history that caused what he defines as our secular3 age.

  • Secular1 Age – the classical definition of secular; the sacred/secular divide; the earthly versus the heavenly; the sacred and mundane
  • Secular2 Age – the modern definition of secular as non-religious, un-biased, neutral and objective
  • Secular3 Age – an age of contested belief; it is possible not only to imagine not believing God, but to actually not believe in him

Last year, I read a book by James K.A. Smith called How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (2014, Eerdmans). In his book, Smith distills Taylor’s eight-hundred seventy-four page magnum opus down to its main points. I met with two other friends and discussed Taylor’s ideas (as explained by Smith). I can't recommend Smith's book enough. It's brevity is deceiving. How (Not) to be Secular is dense with the depth of Taylor's thought and Smith's observations. Coupled with Smith's incredible writing style and his wide-read knowledge of literature and pop culture, the book is an informative read.

The Immanent Frame, Takes, and Spin

The Immanent Frame is the metaphorical concept that Taylor uses to define the secular space we Western post-postmoderns inhabit. The Immanent Frame precludes any sort of spiritual or transcendent realities, though humans may seek transcendence within the self-caused, naturalistic universe. This is where the push-and-pull comes in. A woman might say she believes there is no transcendent, objective beauty, and yet she feels there is some sort of “spiritual-ness” to the evening beach bathed in the last rays of the setting sun. Her mind tells her it is nothing, just some rays of light from a dying star, plankton-infested saltwater, and sticky, old sand. She knows this in her head. On the base floor of existence where reason and science and brains rule, she admits it. But “upstairs,” she feels the moment is special. It is something fleeting that, once gone, can never be regained again. Her heart tells her it’s a picture of something more, and better, and greater.

This is the cross-pressure we educated future-humans have to live with. Both views are merely “takes,” says Taylor, and are not granted. “Spin” is the mode in which someone assumes their take to be simply “the way things are.” Those deceived by their own “spin” would be the Academy or the fundamentalist (Christian or New Atheist) who sees their view as the only true possibility and none other. Taylor urges caution, to realize our “take” is just that, a “take.” Enthused conversation, genuine questions, and friendly grace would go a long way in helping each of us better understand the universe we live in, and one another’s beliefs about it.

A Secular Age

While Smith, a professor of philosophy at Calvin College, opens the gate into Charles Taylor’s thought in his book How (Not) to be Secular, I have attempted to do something similar through songwriting. I’ve written a song entitled A Secular Age in which I work through Taylor’s terms “cross-pressure,” “transcendence,” “immanent frame,” and “fullness.”

Inescapable Immanence

We’re all stuck in the metamodernist mindset, whether we realize it or not. It’s something in the background that we don’t think about or even realize how deeply it pervades our thought processes. So, how do you deal with Immanence? Where do you find meaning in this secular age?