"I was puzzled by Charles Larmore's review of Charles Taylor's new book, A Secular Age, in the current New Republic. The book is sprawling and often maddening, but it is very important (I've tried to do it justice in my own review in the forthcoming issue of First Things), and I give Larmore high marks for his accurate (if prickly) summaries of the...
Quotes on Secularism
"The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."
"The philosophers of the eighteenth century explained the gradual decay of religious faith in a very simple manner. Religious zeal, said they, must necessarily fail, the more generally liberty is established and knowledge diffused. Unfortunately, facts are by no means in accordance with their theory. There are certain populations in Europe whose unbelief is only equalled by their ignorance and their debasement, whilst in America one of the freest and most enlightened nations in the world fulfils all the outward duties of religious fervor."
"Secularism is the study of promoting human welfare by material means; measuring human welfare by the utilitarian rule, and making the service of others a duty of life. … Secularism is a series of principles intended for the guidance of those who find Theology indefinite, or inadequate, or deem it unreliable. It replaces theology, which mainly regards life as a sinful necessity, as a scene of tribulation through which we pass to a better world."
"Haven’t you heard of that madman who in the bright morning lit a lantern and ran around the market place crying incessantly, ‘I’m looking for God! I’m looking for God!’ Since many of those who did not believe in God were standing around together just then, he caused great laughter. Has he been lost, then? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone to sea? Emigrated? – Thus they shouted and laughed, one interrupting the other. The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. ‘Where is God?’ he cried; ‘I’ll tell you! We have killed him – you and I! We are all his murderers. … God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How can we console ourselves, the murderers of all murderers!"
"Secularism is the religion of humanity; it embraces the affairs of this world; it is interested in everything that touches the welfare of a sentient being; it advocates attention to the particular planet in which we happen to live; it means that each individual counts for something; it is a declaration of intellectual independence; it means that the pew is superior to the pulpit, that those who bear the burdens shall have the profits and that they who fill the purse shall hold the strings. It is a protest against theological oppression, against ecclesiastical tyranny, against being the serf, subject or slave of any phantom, or of the priest of any phantom. It is a protest against wasting this life for the sake of one that we know not of. It proposes to let the gods take care of themselves. It is another name for common sense; that is to say, the adaptation of means to such ends as are desired and understood."
"Secularism is a code of duty pertaining to this life, founded on considerations purely human, and intended mainly for those who find theology indefinite or inadequate, unreliable or unbelievable.
Its essential principles are three:
- The improvement of this life by material means.
- That science is the available Providence of man.
- That it is good to do good. Whether there be other good or not, the good of the present life is good, and it is good to seek that good."
"The Secular is distinct from theology, which it neither ignores, assails, nor denies. Things Secular are as separate from the Church as land from the ocean. And what nobody seems to discern is that things Secular are in themselves quite distinct from Secularism. The Secular is a mode of instruction; Secularism is a code of conduct. Secularism does conflict with theology; Secularist teaching would, but Secular instruction does not."
"Instead, the unity of Christendom was broken and the cultural hegemony of the Church was destroyed by the religious revolution of the sixteenth century. But though this prepared the way for the secularization of culture, nothing could have been further from the mind and intention of the leaders of the movement. On the contrary, it seemed to them that they were working for the desecularization of the Church, and the restoration of Christianity to its primitive purity. They did not realize that the attempt to purify and separate religion from its cultural accretions, might find its counterpart in the separation of culture from religion and the increasing secularization of life and thought. And this was in fact what happened; though it was a gradual process which took centuries to complete itself."
"Thus the process of secularization arises not from the loss of faith but from the loss of social interest in the world of faith. It begins the moment men feel that religion is irrelevant to the common way of life and that society as such has nothing to do with the truths of faith."
"If by 'secularism' we mean a perspective that dismisses the possibility of a transcendent realm of being, or treats the existence of such a realm as an irrelevancy, then we should have expected religious beliefs and practices to wither away by now. To be sure, one can grant that the taboos and superstitions of the great religions transmitted a useful kernel of moral teaching. But their supernaturalism and irrationality have to be regarded as vestiges of humanity's childhood. Our growing mastery of our material existence enables us to understand and manipulate this world on our own terms, through the exercise of instrumental rationality. Secularity in all its fullness should arrive as naturally as adulthood."
"The United States is the most modern nation in the world, yet it is also strongly religious. It violates the rule that modernity — and modernity's political expression in liberal democracy — goes hand in hand with secularization."
"As Western societies have become more secular, they have become even more self-pitying and more likely to blame their travails on amorphous entities. Instead of promoting personal freedom, and the responsibility that comes with it, secularism has given us an expansive vocabulary for saying, 'It's not my fault.'"
"While socialism seeks to erase the economic distinctions between human beings by taking individual choices about property out of people's hands, secularism seeks to erase the religious differences between people by making religion irrelevant to the life of the community."
"Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress: - not of God's existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as a homo adorans: the one for whom worship is an essential act which both 'posits' his humanity and fulfills it."
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