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A readable, accessible and enjoyable introduction to Charles Taylor's thinking
on 27 March 2016
I found this a delightful introduction to Charles Taylor's magnum opus, 'A Secular Age'. It was probably unlikely that I would have picked that 800-page tome up and read it without some sort of help and encouragement, which is what Jamie Smith so admirably supplies here.
That doesn't mean that 'How Not To Be Secular' is a walk in the park: if nothing else, one has to get one's head around Taylor's own lexicon, in order to understand the complexities and power of secularism...in order then to go beyond that and perceive the case for transcendence. Smith's writing is pithy, toothsome. Perhaps because he is firing off Taylor's more ponderous narrative, what we get is something that is an extraordinarily effective introduction - it leaves one wanting to then grapple with the real deal, but actually in the short term it supplies a most helpful distillate of Taylor's reasoning.
I, for one, am glad I encountered this modest little book first. It probably has some attractions for any secular thinker, beginning to come up against the boxing in of immanence, but it is peculiarly valuable for Christian pastors, teachers, leaders, seeking to understand the strengths and weaknesses of secularism, in order to engage effectively with this worldview which has, in such a short space of time, come to dominate almost every aspect of cultural life in the West.
Jamie Smith does not provide us with an uncritical endorsement of all of Taylor's thinking in 'A Secular Age', but highlights questions for serious readers to explore further. He also usefully flags up some key points where Protestant and Catholic thinking will tend to diverge - but that's all to the good in seeing how our transcendent take on reality can pan out. Finally, I did find his discussion of modern (religious) responses to modernity as a kind of 'reconversion' to a premodern worldview, encumbered with the dangers of nostalgia - rather thought-provoking.
This really is a great little book, and you won't regret reading it. Go on, buy it!