81 of 90 people found the following review helpful
Magisterial, if flawed,
This review is from: A Secular Age (Hardcover)As someone who spends much of my time as an undergraduate teacher of theology and church-based adult educator, I regularly run up against what Taylor calls the "subtraction theory" of why secularism has largely replaced Christian faith in the Western world as the default starting point for educated people. Taylor's painstaking, detailed journey through the past five hundred years shows the constructed nature of this implicit "common sense" and then thoroughly demolishes it. Anyone who has sought to engage "atheists" or "agnostics" on why they presume (rather than express a reasoned basis for their view) that religion is for "fools" or children owes a deep debt of gratitude to Taylor's work.
Other reviewers have noted several of the stylistic flaws, such as the tendency toward repetition, the assumption that readers speak French, and so forth. I'd simply like to add a brief note of two substantive limitations.
First, Taylor's definition of "religion" is narrow, and thus misses the "religious" aspects of other forms of social/cultural bonding that function as "religions" in our world, from the relatively trivial (such as sports partisanship) to the more serious (such as patriotism and scientism). His argument is thus directed between "belief" and "unbelief," rather than between various forms of belief systems. As he notes (but does not discuss in detail), scientism functions religiously for many, including such popular authors as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, famous for their supposed "debunking" of "religion." This diminishes the power of his argument to refute some of the more powerful forms of "belief" in our world today.
Second, he gives short shrift to two forms of inner-Christian distortion that have enormous power to generate "unbelief": fundamentalism and reactionary Catholicism. I see every day young adults who describe themselves as "atheists" when what they are rejecting is the experience of one of these distortions. I realize that Taylor has striven wherever possible to establish a non-polemical stance and perhaps wanted to avoid "attacking" these positions. However, the result again is a loss of potential power in the face of very prevalent and vocal positions in our culture.
Having said this, I am very glad for having invested the time and effort in engaging Taylor's long argument. Whether or not one agrees with him on every point is not nearly as important as the exercise in clarification of thought which the effort generates.
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Initial post: Mar 15, 2008 11:01:28 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 15, 2008 11:08:32 PM PDT
D. M. Brokaw says:
By calling sports, patriotism and science some kind of religion just because they have a social aspect is to render the definition of the word "religion" meaningless. Why doesn't patriotism function patriotically, sports, sportily, and science, scientifically? While the first two have been known to invoke a supernatural power for self-validation, I do not see geologists invoking religion for its proper functioning. I'm concerned with language rationally reflecting the real meanings of words. Scientism, in one definition: "the belief that the assumptions, methods of research, etc., of the physical and biological sciences are equally appropriate and essential to all other disciplines, including the humanities and the social sciences." Well, this has by and large been the case. The powerful reason for that is that methodological naturalism (aka 'scientific method') has been the most significant tool for gaining knowledge humankind has ever developed. It operates in the world as we know it. Contrast this with revelation, intuition, or truth by fiat. With regards to the subject matter of science, in this case, what actually exists, there are certain questions on which it is the authority. Taken together with all the other disciplines which as of late have been described as experiencing a kind of consilience or complementary convergence - in biology, psychology, physics, social sciences, etc.- science can actually provide some anwers to deep questions. But there's still a greater part that isn't known, or may turn out to be wrong. Many may have a kind of faith in scientists' conclusions (or lack of faith in politicians), but I would argue this is far removed from a distinctly religious faith. And to compare the two weakens religious faith, if it feels so threatened by science that it rationalizes away the difference. Besides I think either Dawkins or Hitchens could ably attest to the extent that "scientism functions religiously" for themselves, so I shan't. One last point: it seems to me that science has become so far removed from popular understanding that it has an added element of enchantment to the world of the nonscientist. I dare say, science is not a matter for belief, but a matter of understanding.
Posted on Apr 17, 2010 4:38:47 PM PDT
Reader From Aurora says:
Enjoyed your review and look forward to reading the book. Not having read the book I may misunderstand your criticism of Taylor's definition of religion - if I do I apologize. It strikes me that while a case can be made for considering certain atheistic and scientific worldviews as 'religions', including sports partisanship seems to be pushing it bit too far. While there is no unanimously accepted definition, it seems to me that religions offer to broad things a diagnosis of the problem facing humanity (e.g. desire, sin, ignorance, belief) and the remedy (forgiveness, knowledge, disbelief) Again nice review.
Posted on Mar 11, 2012 7:24:55 PM PDT
Travis La Duke says:
Is there anything like this that isn't $40?
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