Religion Is Not the Problem: Secularism & Democracy

By Taylor, Charles | Commonweal, February 25, 2011 | Go to article overview

Religion Is Not the Problem: Secularism & Democracy


Taylor, Charles, Commonweal


The category "secular" developed largely within Latin Christendom, initially as one term of a dyad contrasting profane time with the eternal, or sacred time. Certain places, persons, institutions, and actions were seen as closely related to sacred or higher time, and others as pertaining to profane time alone--thus the similar distinction made in the dichotomy of "spiritual/temporal" (for example, the state as the "temporal arm" of the church).

So one obvious meaning of "secularization" dates from the aftermath of the Reformation and refers specifically, in this sense, to the moment when certain functions, properties, and institutions were transferred from church to lay control. From the seventeenth century on, however, a new possibility arose--a conception of social life in which the secular was all that existed. Where "secular" had originally referred to profane or ordinary time, now profane time came to be understood on its own, with no reference to "higher" time. The meaning of "secular" was thus profoundly changed, because its counterpoint had been fundamentally altered. Gone was the contrast with another temporal dimension in which "spiritual" institutions had their niche; rather, the secular, in its new sense, opposed any claim made in the name of the transcendent. Needless to say, those who imagined a "secular" world in this sense saw claims regarding the transcendent as unfounded, and tolerable only to the extent that they did not challenge the interests of worldly powers and human well-being.

This shift brought a new conception of good social and political order, one unconnected to either the traditional ethics of the good life or the specifically Christian notion of perfection (sainthood). This new idea envisioned a society formed of and by individuals to meet their needs for security and the means to life. The criterion of a good society in this outlook--mutual benefit--was not only emphatically "this-worldly" but also unconcerned with "virtue" in the traditional sense.

The breaking away of a specifically "earthly" criterion was part of a broader distinction, one that divided "this world," or the immanent, from the transcendent. This clear-cut distinction has become part of our way of seeing things, our Weltan schauung, in the West. We tend to apply it universally, even though no such hard-and-fast distinction has existed in any other human culture. What does seem to exist universally is some distinction between higher beings (spirits) and realms, and the everyday world we see immediately around us. But these are not usually sorted out into two distinct domains, with the lower one seen as a system understandable purely in its own terms. Rather, the levels usually interpenetrate, and the lower cannot be understood without reference to the higher. Yet the new understanding of the secular that I have been describing builds on precisely such a separation. It affirms, in effect, that the "lower" order--the immanent or secular--is all there is, and that the higher, or transcendent, is merely a human invention.

At first, the independence ascribed to the immanent was limited and partial. In the Deist version of this claim, widespread in the eighteenth century, God was seen as the artificer of the immanent order. Since He is creator, the natural order stands as a proof of His existence; and since the proper human order of mutual benefit is one that He designs and recommends, we follow His will in building it. The Deist conception, furthermore, affirmed that He backs up His law with the rewards and punishments of the next life. Thus, some religion, or at least a certain piety, is a necessary condition of good order. Religious authority can enter into competition with secular rulers; it can demand things of the faithful that go beyond, or even against, the demands of good order; it can make irrational claims. So it remains important to purge society of "superstition," "fanaticism," and "enthusiasm. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Religion Is Not the Problem: Secularism & Democracy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.