Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Bulwarks of Belief (M Samson; Repost)

Picking up where Kenneth left off, chapter 1 on Charles Taylor's book "A Secular Age" continues in sections 5-6 to develop his thoughts on the shift in the "conditions of belief" which have taken place in pre-modern to modern societies using as marker dates the years 1500 to 2000.

After looking at disenchantment and the eclipse of anti-structure, Taylor examines the shift in time-consciousness between moderns and pre-moderns, and in particular the time placing of events which to pre-moderns could be and were placed in more than one kind of time. For moderns, at least Taylor cites Walter Benjamin in saying that time is "homogeneous, empty time." (pg. 54). Or in other words, our present outlook for the most part enshrines homogeneity, coupled with a view of indifference to content. For earlier pre-moderns, there were three "kinds" of time. The 'secular' or 'ordinary,' 'higher times,' which introduce the kairotic knots and 'warps' according to Taylor, and thirdly the idea of 'The Great Time.' The 'Great Time' is the time of creation, or the beginning, which is behind us, but also above us. The Middle Ages inherits two kinds of 'Higher Time' or 'Eternity,' one from Plato and the Greeks, that of objective time of process and movement, and that of St. Augustine who wrestles with 'time' in his 11th book of his Confessions. St. Augustine sees eternity as the gathering together of past into present to project a future. Unlike the pre-moderns, we moderns tend to live their lives and conceive of them entirely within the horizontal flow of 'secular time.' Now I must confess, I have never really thought about this. Franks Comment captures this beautifully for me. This is indeed a complex thread to trace out. These shifts are not easily explained, and I too am enjoying this monster book.

Bound up closely with the change in time-consciousness is another shift in the way we understand the universe in which we live. We have moved from the idea of a 'cosmos,' an ordered whole with meaning for humanity, to a universe having its own kind of order, that of exceptionless natural laws. This insight I found tantalizing indeed! I once held to the young earth creationist viewpoint. It is no secret either as Taylor points out that many of the battles between belief and unbelief of the modern era, have been fought over this issue of 'cosmos' vs 'universe.' and the challenge of 'universe' to Biblical religion. Creation vs Evolution is fast becoming or else already is a political hot potato in the USA. For me the irony of the Ussher chronology using modern calculation methods to entrench the Bible in the 'cosmos' was startling! I never heard it put that way before. I will be following Taylor closely here, and hope he develops this further.

Lastly, Taylor looks at the issue of "Reform" and "reform." He spells out with refreshing candor for a Catholic the spiritual abuses that arise in the Middle Ages and how the stage gets set for the Reformation. Being a catholic myself, I appreciate his openness. He also seems to hint at how it may have been avoided. Latin Christendom in the late medieval period attempts to bridge the gap between the laity and the 'elites' if you will. Between those who are 'clergy' and or 'religious.' Interestingly Taylor sees this drive to reform and remake society as playing a key role in the undoing of the old enchanted cosmos idea, and further, the creation of a visible alternative in exclusive humanism, as he puts it. Again, I'm going to follow this closely.

Now, I don't really feel that I am in a position to be critical of Taylor at this point. This is the first work I have read from him, and I am in uncharted waters right now. I may need to supplement my reading of this book in order to get a better handle on him. I'm still taking it all in. This is far more complex than any of the 'subtraction stories' I have read quickly over the years. I wish I could say more at this point and make a better contribution, but this will have to do for now... still reading.....

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