An Age of Authenticity

One of the interesting terms that Taylor uses in his work A Secular Age is “An Age of Authenticity.”  He asserts that we live in an age where we “authenticate” ourselves in order to find meaning.  This age began around 1960 and follows two other ages:  the Ancient Regime, and the Age of Mobilization.  In order to explain how these three ages fit together I want to first look at the Ancient Regime.

Taylor starts by explaining how the Ancient Regime is a mix of Christian and pagan practice based on local communities where everyone has their place, and life moves in tune with an “order of hierarchical complementarity, which is grounded in the Divine Will, or the Law which holds since time out of mind.”  Its just the way things are.

To see a living fossil of the ancient regime, we can look at the enthronement of the British sovereign.  Because Queen Elizabeth has ruled for so long, many people do not remember her coronation in 1953.  But most of it was recorded, and can be seen as an example of Christendom combining the church and state.  You can watch a 4 minute clip here, where you can see a Christian drama enacted.  In great majesty and pomp we see the queen don a “robe of righteousness”, vow to uphold justice and mercy, and act as lord of a realm that ultimately belongs to Christ.  Lords and ladies in their finest crowns and diadems fill the cathedral,like hosts of angles, while higher lords attend to her like seraphim around the mercy-seat of God.  Though not included in this short clip, she also promises to uphold and defend the Gospel and the Protestant form of Christianity, and kiss a Bible before she signs her name to these promises.  This is Christendom in a high and stylized form. As Christians we can connect with this ceremony in a way we do not with a “non-religious” government. Yet it is also the same church that persecuted Catholics, jailed John Bunyan, and vilified the Wesleys.  The royal family brings in tourist dollars, looks great at state funerals, weddings, and diplomatic visits from other countries, but we are not going back to Tudor or Elizabethan England.  It’s over.  How it changed and why we moved to the next phase in Taylor’s theory , the Age of Mobilization (1800-1960), will be coming in a subsequent post.

Till then, I hope you will be thinking what did we lose in losing Christendom and what did we gain?

A Secular Age

51MC80cCciL._UY250_

I first came across James K. A. Smith’s book, How Not to be Secular, about Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age in the Christianity Today Book Awards for 2015.  The title looked interesting but I did not have time to order it.  Then this past December I ordered it and started reading.  I couldn’t put it down.  This was partly due to the fact that some parts of this book need to be read several times to be understood.  Smith wrote his book explaining Taylor’s book partly because A Secular Age comes just shy of 800 pages.  Neither books are what I would call an easy read.  But I was hooked.

I have been hearing about “post-Christian” American since the 80’s with some of Francis Schaeffer’s works.  But I had not found anything that really explained it in a broad sense with terms and themes that could help me get a handle on the concepts involved.  But Smith’s book really opened a window up for me to explore Taylor.

There is no way to explain all about Taylor’s work in one post.  However, I hope to explore several of his themes over several posts.  Some themes may even need to be broken down into multiple posts.  But as the title of his book suggests, Taylor is interested in breaking down what it means to live in a secular age.  For Taylor, this is ultimately to live in an age when it is conceivable to not believe in God.  Of course there is a lot more to his work than just this one concept, but this is an important concept to grasp.  He is not saying that a huge majority of people do not believe in God, but that it is now possible for this to happen.  So, how did we get from Christendom to where we are now?  That history is what the book chronicles, and I hope to reflect on this over time in several posts.  I think that Taylor’s work is important not just so we can understand how we got here, but also so that we can use a common language as campus ministers, pastors, collegiate leaders, and students as we explain our position to nonbelievers on our campus, and process what is going on in society around us.  I hope these posts will peak your interest and get you to dig deeper with Smith’s book or Taylor’s original work.  Keep checking in for this continuing discussion.