1: Defining Secularism: A study in the conditions of belief and unbelief.
(the numbers below identify the paragraphs in the text)
- We live in a secular age, but what does that mean?
- First, some think secularity consists of common institutions and practices (like the State) that have no connection to a faith or god.
- In this view, secularity means that we live in a society in which you can fully engage in politics without coming across religion in any concentrated way.
- A few centuries ago this would have been unthinkable, because religion was involved in every part of society, political or otherwise.
- If we go back even further in history, distinctions between religion and state were not intelligible at all.
- So, one way to think about secularity is to think of public spaces that have been emptied of God and his authoritative divine prescriptions, or any reference to ultimate reality, and are now ‘ruled’ by each social spheres ‘internal’ rationality.
- Many even find this emptying of God from social spheres still to be consistent with privately held religious beliefs (see American separation of Church and State).
- A second meaning of secularism is a drop-off in religious faith and practices; a turning from God and church.
- There is a third meaning of secularism, too, and that is: secularity has to do with the conditions of belief. Secularism is about a shift in society where belief in God was once thought to be unproblematic, but is now only one option among many, and not the easiest to embrace anymore.
- This book will focus on secularity in this third sense: “the change I want to define and trace is one which takes us from a society in which it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is one human possibility among others.”
- Secularity is now the whole “context of understanding” in which our moral, spiritual, and religious experience take place.
- An age is secular or not, because of the conditions of experience and search for the spiritual.
Back to A Secular Age table of contents.