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December 10, 2007


Flying Possum

Thanks for this, im writing part of my dissertation on taylor and finding it hard to sum up in my own head. Very handy.


I've only just begun reading "A Secular Age". I'm scarcely into the Introduction and already I'm a little disappointed that Taylor didn't, right from the start, highlight the central meaning of "secular" as temporality. It means, after all, "generation", "age", "lifetime".

In antiquity, the proper interpretation of secular was the relation aeternitas et saeculum -- eternity and time. There is an etymological connection between "secular" and "sex" (Latin secus) pertaining to this notion of the secular as temporality, ie, the problem of generation and regeneration (or genesis and nihilism). My own research into the origins of "secular" suggests it is derived from "culeus" ("scrotum") -- linking it to the issues of ancestor worship (genitals as genesis) and the origins of patriarchy. "Secular" is a very rich word, and is related to "second" as well as "secus". Two possible meanings to that are, that the secular order is secondary, or that the secular is the realm of division and apartness -- in which Man's first consciousness of apartness is in the form "male" and "female" as "self" and "other" -- the second sex, as it were. (Plato considered the original human condition, for example, as that of the androgyne, which later split into two genders). (Gender is likewise related to Genesis, genitals, genius and genie, general, genuine, and all words pertaining to the "gens" -- the tribe or people).

Most words beginning with "se-" imply apartness, and surveying the constellation of like-terms such as "seclude", "secret", "sect", "sex" (meaning "divide"), "separate", "serial", "sequester", "second", "season", "session", "segregate" etc, one can't help realise that the word "secular" has the same meaning as "Maya" does in Buddhism.

"Eternity is in love with the productions of time" is William Blake's insight into the relationship aeternitas et saeculum. The historian Jean Gebser wrote a wonderful book called "The Ever-Present Origin" which even is synonymous with Blake's vision. The meaning of "secularism" is precisely the lack of the consciousness of the presence of eternity within time. Thus the secular, as segragate order of relative divisions, faces the continuous problem of the un-integrate and the dis-integrate, while the integral is the "fullness" or "wholeness" of which Taylor writes.

And that leads us back also to what was, formerly, considered the authentic situation of the human -- not a difference between "subject" and "object" spaces, but between the symbolic and the diabolic potencies of speech as "the Word", or the integrative and segregative powers (peace and war). This is the relation aeternitas et saeculum, and much, much more could be written about this.

Anyway, I will continue to read Mr. Taylor's book.

David Ewart

Two comments about the synopsis.

One is that a glaring omission seems to be any comment on economic theory and the links between the rise of secularism and the rise of consumerism / capitalism.

Frankly, I think that the driving energy behind our times has not been modern science, but modern economics. It was the freeing of economics / business from the constraints of an enchanted universe that has brought us where we are.

Science played a dual role of providing new technologies and a new way of knowing that completely obliterated the church’s feeble attempts to defend its previous monopoly. But science has not provide the driving motivation behind secularism.

A second is a reference to the “flatness” of secularism. As an old guy looking back, I can agree with that analysis, but I doubt that my sons would. It doesn’t strike me as a helpful way to describe the current age since I don’t think it would strike a chord with them; would not provide them with insights they would find helpful, nor engage them

If anything, the references to T. S. Eliot’s Hollow Men and Oscar Wilde’s definition of a cynic strike me as hollow appeals to our (older generation's) lingering nostalgia for how religious sensibility is the cure for what’s wrong with the world.

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