The newest forms of religious experience

I am now half way through (ok, i’m on page 343 of chapter 9 – almost half way there)secular age Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, which attempts to retell the philosophical story of the west’s basic view of the world went from an enchanted, meaningful cosmos created by God in 1500 to that of a disenchanted, empty and infinite universe that has no immediate meaning to offer us. This is a well-known tale, but one that is seldom told very well.

I think Taylor is certainly describing an existing emptiness that we all feel. However, i also think that he is describing a world that is about to change, one that is just on the verge of discovering a new and once again satisfying meaning – or at least a good ersatz to the old christian version of the thing. Let me give two examples.

When i asked my roomate if he felt this lack of meaning in life, he simply shrugged and defined the meaning of life to be living life. Though, the answer is not ultimately satisfying to one (like me) rather worried about meaninglessness in life, it is nevertheless a coherent and reasonable position. He is no longer worried about a lack of meaning in life, he has, so to speak, digested the bad news and moved on.

My second example is what i said about Gibson a post ago. Here we have a new religiousness that seems to see religion (ie good, old-fashioned gods and goddesses religion) as another plane or level accessible to certain types of people – probably that 10% of the population Max Webber deems truly religious. This type of religiousness offers what you could call a narrow meaning. It doesnt need to explain everything as old-fashioned religions still do. It only asks for one level in which it will tell a meaningful story.

It is, of course, this second example that most interests me. I think we are figuring out ways of “doing religion” that neither conflict with established scientific views of the world – nor degenerate into lame, empty ethics. The new religiousness is not New Age either. It is a perception of things that adds an extra layer atop previous ones. Physics has its description of atoms that cannot explain or account for the biologist’s language of cells, which in turn is topped by the economist’s talk of supply and demand. Religion can now simply come and sit atop all those previous descriptions, offering its own irreducible talk of gods, the good and the like.

This religiousness does not have the secular problems Charles Taylor refers to. Because it has completely decoupled itself from other layers of experience, without losing its own reality. The world is no longer infinitely empty – or rather “le silence éternel de ces espaces infinies” (the eternal silence of these infinite spaces) need no longer scare us as it once did Pascal: we only need move one level up and realize there are other ways of seeing things that are much more friendly. Soon this view will begin to spread, i think, and the secular age described by Taylor will very gradually come to an end.


One Comment to “The newest forms of religious experience”

  1. Hi, my name is Timothy Tang and I have just completed the book, “Real answers to The Meaning of Life and finding Happiness”.

    Many people feel that the interpretation to The Meaning of Life question is too subjective to have any definite objective answer but I have managed to formulate a real and objective answer to the ultimate question of human existence.

    I have made a blog that introduces the book. Do check it out.

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