Charles Taylor & the Immanent Frame of the Secular
~Dr. Gordon E. Carkner~
We are offered a particularly insightful analysis of our current cultural ethos by McGill Philosophy Professor Charles Taylor in his most recent prize winning tome A Secular Age. (2007). Richard Rorty spoke of Taylor as one the top twelve philosophers of our day. He captures the way in which we have located ourselves in the late modern world and the picture that has taken our minds captive: he calls it the immanent frame. This house of the mind and imagination constitutes a unique social imaginary (implicit understanding of the space in which we live) in human history. Our focus here in a series of blog posts will be to exposit the key insights of Chapter 15 in A Secular Age. In this critical analysis, he shows how religion has been philosophically and culturally marginalized in Western culture (even while it is experiencing a resurgence). Taylor leads us to think freshly about how we have arrived in this cultural space.
The core theme of this landmark book is (510) to study the fate of religious faith in the strong sense in the West, meaning: a. belief in a transcendent reality, and b. the connected aspiration of personal transformation, which goes beyond ordinary human flourishing. He is deconstructing or calling into question the subtraction story or Western Master Narrative (one deeply embedded in modern consciousness), where science replaces religion after Christendom. Within this perspective, the growth of science entails the death of God or the recession of religion. Religion is seen to be replaced by science. Is this hermeneutically valid?, asks Taylor. When and why did science become equivalent to secularism? This is the crux of the investigation that Taylor leads our thinking about contemporary Western culture.
Ultimately, he wants to explore with us the plausibility of the life-nurturing, transcendent dimensions of human culture. He does not believe that all citizens of late modernity need to deny the possibility of the transcendent within this immanent frame and live within a horizontal dimension only. From his perspective, the story of the rise of modern social spaces doesn’t need to be given an anti-religious spin (579). The actual reality of Western culture is closer to the truth that “a whole gamut of positions, from the most militant atheism to the most orthodox traditional theisms, passing through every possible position on the way, are represented and defended somewhere in our society.” (556) They are defended in various non-neutral contexts, institutions and communities. Secularism is not a neutral stance. This creates for citizens of late modernity the sense of being cross-pressured by the different views (the plurality of positions) that they encounter. The dialogue and debate of these perceptions is still very robust, with endless potential options to find meaning. Belief and unbelief in God co-exist within Western society (secularity 3). It is a keen edged matter of how we steward these beliefs and this skepticism.
More later…. Gord Carkner PhD