A Secular Age

A Secular Age - Charles Taylor Unlike most people, I enjoy it when Jehovah Witnesses come to my door. The first thing I do is take them out of their "closed world system" (a term used by this author) and try to figure out why they believe the book they have in their hand is the "inerrant word of God". I want to know how they justify their original premises before I give their selective scripture reading any merit. Similarly, Freudian Psychology (Psychoanalysis) can never be argued against effectively if you grant their major premises, such as "we our all repressed, because after all you even deny that your repressed". In the end Psychoanalysis was refuted when data was brought in from outside the paradigm and started showing how much more effective CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) was (for a marvelous book on that topic I would recommend "Shrink").

The fault I have with this book is the author always presents the secular arguments in terms of his belief systems. He just assumes that Objective Morality is a real thing, that "why are we here", "what's our purpose", and how do we practice 'agape' are valid questions. For people who think those kind of questions are meaningful and for people who think faith ('pretending to know things you don't really know without sufficient reason or evidence") is what makes us special and gives us goodness this book would be a definite recommended read.

As for me, I think Objective Morality is an oxymoron ('objective' means taking man and his opinions based on feelings out of the definition, and morality is the act of doing good and not harm within humanity, and when you combine the two concepts you get a contradiction since morality is subjective and can't be understood without humans). People of faith belong at the children's table, because they think like children and haven't yet learned to embrace rational narratives based on reason, empirical data, and models that predict (and retrodict). I think that Steinback is right when the preacher says to Tom Joad, "there ain't no virtue, there ain't no sin, there's just people doing things. "That's a very Epicurean way of seeing the universe. The author sees the world from a stoic perspective. He would believe that sin and virtue are part of the universe and exist independent of man. The author will step the listener though on how Christianity (or using his Transcendent Transformational belief system as a generic stand in for Christianity) comes about through Stoic thought and the immanent (once again using the author's nomenculture) flows from Titus Lucretius Epicurean thought.

The author really did not seem to like Evolutionary Psychology (he calls it Socio-biology which is fine) and i's power to explain. He thought that God designed it or made it so were better explanations for altruism and groups working together or even difference between the genders. That's fine. The book was published in 2007 and obviously written over a long period of time before it was published and Evolutionary Psychology has just only recently come into it's own. I was irritated by his trivializing the Western Allies in WW I and implying that both sides were to blame for the war and how it wasn't worth the sacrifice. He did that multiple parts throughout the book. I really would recommend he read Max Hastings book, "Catastrophe: 1914". Germany started the war with it's "blank check" to Austria, Germany wanted complete hegemony through out Europe, they really did kill Belgium babies, and systemically were hierarchically ordered to put Belgian civilians on bridges as shields against attack, and made the war about total conquest. As for me, I believe the sacrifice the allies made in WW I were noble, and necessary as a bulwark against German Hegemony and to state differently goes against well respected historians such as Max Hastings.

The author really doesn't seem to like "The Age of Enlightenment" (1700s France, Germany and Britain). Most of the book is reaction against enlightenment thought. He'll quote Edmund Burke and always seems to fall back on respecting authority over science, and question the importance of the scientific process in the dismantling of the "Enchanted World". The author definitely downplays the role that science, diversity, and questioning knowledge based on authority alone has in the development of secular thought. Also, he keeps asking why during the 16th and 17th century there were so few self confessed secular believers. I suspect it had something to do with being put to death or ostracized or imprisoned if you stated you were a non-believer. It would be equivalent to asking today "why are there so few atheist in Saudi Arabia". It's obvious, if you say you are or talk about why secularism might be reasonable you can get 1000 lashes (yes, that is the current penalty in Saudi Arabia for thinking outside of the norm).

Even though, the author argues his points completely within the context of his major premises, I can still strongly recommend this book. He never talks down to the listener and is constantly teaching the listener. He doesn't miss a major thought from the Masters of Suspicion (Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche) or the users of Hermeneutics (Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Sartre, and Camus). The best way to really learn a subject is not to study it in the original form but to see it applied in another form. I didn't really understand algebra until I took calculus, and I didn't understand calculus until I took real analysis. This book is full of complex applications within the context of the author's major premises. I definitely don't agree with his premises, but I love putting my previous understandings into application in order to further understand. I fully understand more about Nietzsche than I learned from listening to an 8 hour lecture series from the Great Courses after having listened to this book.

The author also appeals to the 'lived' time that Bergson creates as a reaction to Einstein taking time out of the universe by doing away with simultaneity and making the universe as a whole part of 'block time' instead. That leads to Heidegger's (who this author definitely likes and quotes throughout the book) "Being and Time" which I've been currently reading and this book has given insights into what I had been reading.

I can recommend this book for those who have faith and believe that is a good thing, or for those who think faith is a silly thing. The only warning I would give is the author is going to use words like Hermeneutics and just expect the listener knows what is meant by that. I don't think I would have been able to read this book in book form since the author appeals to his Hermeneutics of Divine Reason as a given through out the book, but while listening to it I found it easy to zone out and wait for the story to edify me about so many different schools of modern philosophy.