Secularization Religiosity and Doctrine

Good afternoon everyone! I hope you’re all having a great day. Despite a rather shaky start to the day, everything is now going well and I just read a great article inThe Vancouver Sun, titled Secularization the best thing for religion by Douglas Todd. In this article, Todd examines the writing of contemporary philosophers Charles Taylor and John Cobb, and focuses on the concept of secularization in relationship to religion and religiosity.

According to Todd, the process of secularization began during the Axial Age (around 500 years before the supposed birth of Jesus), when “Early JudaismBuddhismand Greek philosophy challenged the religious authorities of their day, condemning hypocrisy and superstition.” Todd also discusses how the heroes of the bible tended to challenge accepted norms; challenging authority and tradition. Even the genesis of judaism or the Hebrews, was marked by a process of rejecting a polytheistic worldview and adopting a monotheistic worldview: an exceptional over through of established tradition.

What secularization allowed was a vibrant process of reevaluating our preconceptions and established norms. At this time, Todd seems to associate the process of secularization with the religious and spiritual impulses. Discussing secularization, religion and spirituality in the context of Taylor, writes:

The spiritual and religious impulse in humans will never die, says Taylor. Even if religion doesn’t dominate a society, as it once unfortunately did in Europe and elsewhere, people will always seek the transcendent; something ultimate, larger than themselves. 

What we see here is that, at a very pure or theoretical level, secularization, religiosity and spirituality are all more or less similarly oriented: each is concerned with enhancing our shared understanding of the world, although the language or points of reference employed differ to various degrees. Where religiosity started to differ largely from secularization was when it became too doctrinaire. Todd, considering the writings of Cobb, writes:

However, reforming movements often develop followers. And they can frequently turn a positive secularizing trend into a static religion or ideology, which tries to create divisions between “us” and “them.”

The early Jesus movement was highly critical of Jewish leaders’ strict adherence to religious laws. Later, however, Cobb says, much of the Jesus movement turned into what he calls “Christianism.”

And the Medieval Period, in Todd’s eyes, seems marked by a profound stagnation within the secularization movement, and it was not until the Protestant Reformation, in his opinion, that religiosity fell back in line with it’s initial process of secularization. A reason why science was so slow to progress during this period was, of course, the relentless clutch religious organizations like the catholic church held over social and academic life. But with the Protestant Reformation, religious authority was once again being challenged, and the grip it held on secularism and scientific progress was weakened.

Todd actually supports a redefinition of secularization such that it will refer to this process of religious authority being challenged or lessened. He states:

A growing collection of philosophers and theologians, including Canada’s Charles Taylor, author of A Secular Age, maintain we have to move beyond understanding secularization merely as a process of “subtraction,” “loss” and “disenchantment.”

I support such thinkers’ efforts to re-define secularization – as a social development by which religion loses its state-sanctioned authority and moral absolutism (as the Catholic Church once functioned in Europe and Quebec). Secularization is creating societies in which religion is treated as one option among many.

The word “secular” now has as many different meanings as “love” and “spirituality.”

Thus, Todd encourages us to see secularization as helping our religious and spiritual understandings to remain honest and accurately reflect what is known about the world: in short, secularization helps keeps doctrine out of religion.

And to be completely honest, I support this understanding of secularization. As an atheist, I don’t care if people are religious or spiritual – I really don’t. What I care about is when these non-reflective, indoctrinated individuals expect special political and financial considerations, and when they expect others to respect these positions. I do hope though, that by engaging with and speaking with other people, that they can come to at least start asking questions about who they are and what it means to exist and what the fuck is metaphysics. It would be nice if the secular and scientific fields could be considered a valid sort of litmus test for sniffing out poor ideologies and indoctrinated mindsets.


Views: 43

Comment by Frank Hamilton on August 6, 2011 at 8:23pm
To say that "spiritual and religious impulse will never die" is equivalent to saying there will always be an aberration in the human mind, delusion and superstition, part of its nature. "Transcendence" is in itself a denial of life and an attempt to be abstract about being above one's vicissitudes. The term "secular" doesn't mean a religious option. Secularization as defined by Todd is not honest because religion is doctrine. It's the camel's nose under the tent.

"The spiritual and religious impulse in humans will never die, says Taylor. Even if religion doesn’t dominate a society, as it once unfortunately did in Europe and elsewhere, people will always seek the transcendent; something ultimate, larger than themselves.


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