Friday, July 31, 2009

A Secular Age 5

From the Theory Camp discussion of Charles Taylor's A Secular Age.

At the halfway point of Theory Camp we came to a really big issue. Taylor writes that what we experience now is:
“the sense that all order, all meaning comes from us. We encounter no echo outside. In the world read this way, as so many of our contemporaries live it, the natural/supernatural distinction is no mere intellectual abstraction. A race of humans has arisen which has managed to experience its world entirely as immanent. In some respects, we may judge this achievement as a victory for darkness, but it is a remarkable achievement nonetheless.” (376)
Several of us saw the sociological reality that many people act as if their world is entirely immanent, with no reference beyond this world. Taylor's larger philosophical point, though, was eye-opening. To really grasp that there is a "race of humans" (though I think it is a class) who believe that all meaning comes from themselves, and who experience the world as entirely immanent because they believe that this world is all there is - was scary. "That's just crazy" said Scott* (possibly not his real name).

A very mind-expanding day. Worth the price of admission. And coffee.


TallCoolOne said...

"Race" does seem an odd term to use in this context. Can you expand on why Taylor favors it?

As for the fact (?) under discussion, I find it no less crazy than numerous others, and am more than a little disturbed that a college student at a good school can only disparage the views of others (however wrong they may be, ultimately). Did the brevity of your post cut out too much?

TallCoolOne said...

Also, I can't resist: "Scott" must be GREAT, since he is also a she.

Gruntled said...

I am not sure why he says race. I think he was being lofty, and is probably allergic to thinking in class terms. He never talks about class, even though he talks about elites and other all the time.

We didn't just disparage the view under discussion. "Scott" was just so surprised when he understood what Taylor was really saying that he reacted with shock. We did not come to a resolution about whether this position is really coherent, though.

TallCoolOne said...

A class allergy can be deeply detrimental to the kinds of issues your thread has been tracing. I hope Taylor's ins't too serious.

As for the coherency of the "immanentist" position, let me offer a simple solution: No, it isn't because it doens't correspond to reality. (Unless, that is, Taylor really does mean it when he says "race," and these beings are a new kind of being which look human but are demonstratively different...)

Susan Weston said...

There's a poem for that take on the world, that starts like this:

As the trees of this forest
Are cobwebbed with our upward asking,
the moon ringed round with prayers,
and nothing floating down...

Truth must suffice,
A sharpened stick,
Bravado in the night.

Matt said...

I think there is a simple materialist response poem that goes something like,


In the least condescending manner I can manage I hope it will satisfy Scott in the future...I mean this is the point of critical thinking, is it not?

Gruntled said...

I have done "Scott" a disservice if I suggested he was condescending. He was shocked at the magnitude of Taylor's claim. The discussion that followed turned on the fact that every possible worldview rests on unprovable faith statements. Likewise, all widely held worldviews are held based on evidence of some kind.

TallCoolOne said...

I think it was the close proximity of "crazy" and "scary" which threw me.

On another matter: I've been trying to think about whether or not there might be (what I call) an "articulation error" at work in this. What I mean is, I have no problem seeing the "immanentist" worldview as predominately in play among highly educated, Western sorts. But, they are also the very ones articulate enough to be able to express that view clearly. (And they live in States where it is relatively cost-less to do so. Try doing that in Saudi Arabia, for example.) But, there are clearly -- to me, anyways -- loads of people outside that class stratum which also live by the "immanentist" code, but either aren't able to articulate it clearly, or live in situations where doing so would be too costly. Their spouse would object (strongly), their family would object (strongly), their local community would object (strongly), and so on. Often, I find that this kind of "quiet rebellion" is caught up in such activities as partying -- where the behavior is winked at under (at least) some circumstances -- and other sorts of excesses.

Of course, precisely because these folks can't articulate their actual views -- both in terms of actually having a grasp of the analytic concepts AND not being in a position to do so without cost -- they are hard to find with any ease and exactitude.

And this says nothing about those sorts of people who, while sincerely thinking they believe one thing, act in ways that demonstrate the exact opposite.

Gruntled said...

In the first half of the book Taylor talks about how intellectuals and other social elites developed many immanent alternatives to Christianity and to religion in general. In the second half he talks about how, in the past century or so, these views have become part of the "social imaginary" of the many. The camp will get to this latter argument in the coming week.

Gruntled said...

TCO: from Part 4

“The cultural gap between elite and mass, which is characteristic of the modern age, makes it difficult to sustain a church which is really for everyone in society. That is, the devotional lives of different milieux are likely to diverge more than they did in the Middle Ages, where most of the elites still participated in the pilgrimage-going, relic-visiting religious culture of ordinary people. Moreover, whatever differences there may have been in that age, they were over-arched by the sense of common plight which is inescapable from religion in an enchanted world. …
But of course, cultural-devotional estrangement was further exacerbated by class conflict. Once the sense arises that we are not part of an organic community, but suffer from exploitation … then the issue arises of whose side the established church is on. For the most part, the answer was clear in much of Europe: the hierarchy came down on the side of the established order, or landlords and employers.” (443)