Thursday, September 25, 2014

The religious roots of modern secularism

Andrew Koppelman

A few conversations about contemporary secularism, prompted by my new review of John Compton that I just posted, has prompted me to post on SSRN another book review I wrote for Dissent a few years ago, of Charles Taylor's important book, A Secular Age.  Some of the arguments I made there are evidently still relevant.

Taylor offers an invaluable map of how the modern religious-secular divide came into being. He concludes that modern Western secularism has its roots in Christian theology and that secularism and Christianity reveal a common ancestry in their shared commitment to human rights—a commitment that does not follow from atheism as such. 

Taylor’s history refutes what he calls the “subtraction view” of the movement toward secularism, according to which the decline of religious belief is simply the result of the falling away of superstition and the growth of knowledge.  Rather, modern secularism is a religious worldview, with its own narrative of testing and redemption, and shares the vulnerabilities of such views. The news that secularists also live in glass houses has implications for ongoing stone-throwing operations.

The Taylor review is here.

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