Secularism: A Simple Subtraction Story

The introduction was inspired by reading Charles Taylor’s A Secular AgeIts a thick book (776 pgs.), the kind you read in a Ph.D. program (or if you are a little nerdy like me).

It seems like we have instincts about what is secular and what is sacred, but secularism took this distinction farther. Here are Richard Rorty’s words that best capture secularism: “[democracy will produce a society] in which political action conducted in the name of religious belief is treated as a ladder up which our ancestors climbed, but one that should now be thrown away.” (Ref. “Religion in the Public Square”). Taylor calls this a “simple subtraction story.” (Personal Note: I had a chance to meet and chat with Richard Rorty for lunch at Stanford’s faculty club in the early 2000s. I found him to be a very thoughtful, feisty, and kind person).

When I read more of Rorty, I wanted to say, “Why think that?” Especially when religion in general, and Christianity in particular has produced some great exemplary moral figures in history and contributed to the common good in society. Also, because it seems like spirituality is very resilient in our human experience.

Taylor hinted at and I agree that it seems like we are going through another shift in culture. And I think that this shift might be a good time to re-work how we think about religion in our political conversations.  That’s the theme of the book.

Here is an illustration of the shift from secularism to post-secularism that I describe on pg. 7. It is an episode of Scooby Doo that has a real ghost. When I was a kid Scooby Doo was a modern secular story, give us enough time and we will figure this mystery out. This episode left the mystery.


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