In Search of Better Stories

I don’t know where I stand, I just want to sing

Part 3 of my review of the book “How Not to Be Secular”

So what’s the grand conclusion of this formidable intellectual masterpiece? The air we breathe in the West is exclusive humanism, and the material world is all there is. Even the Christians have conceded the game with their torrent of arguments and evidence for God. But yet many of us remain troubled, even the ones that have rejected the possibility of God. What do we do with this angst?

And the answer is…

  1. Listen to your gut

This big intellectual book comes down to an appeal to a “gut feeling” a “vibe”!

  • “Don’t you feel it? Don’t you have those moments of either foreboding or on-the-cusp elation where you can’t shake the sense that there must be something more?” (p. 137).

His advice? Just go with it!

  • (Christianity) is not demonstrable except insofar as it offers a better account of our experience. (p.9) And the “better-ness” of that account is something that has to be felt. (p. 138).
  1. Doubt the air your breathe
  • The book’s goal is to pull the rug out from under exclusive humanism’s claims to “obviousness” — to unveil their “spin” and press them to recognize that the best they can offer is a “take.” (p. 131).

The truth about all the big questions of life doesn’t come through science or facts or piles and piles of evidence — it comes through the heart.

My wife and I were having a conversation about all this the other day, and she said to me,

“I don’t know where I stand; I just want to sing.”

I think that might be where a lot of us are. We probably have too many doubts and questions to accept the party line of religion anymore. Yet we are still haunted; we see that exclusive humanism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and in our gut, we feel something more, so we move in the direction of transcendence. Perhaps it’s divine love that is calling us softly.

Possible weaknesses of the book

  • Allegorical interpretation of Scripture is better? Taylor is super rough on Protestants, which makes sense because he is a Catholic. But some stuff is a little hard to stomach. For example, a little side comment he makes about Biblical interpretation:

“Eliminating mystery as a consequence of Protestant critiques of allegorization” (p. 72).

Okay, fine, I get it, the Protestants went too literal on us, which created many problems, but does anyone want to go waltzing back into a world of allegorized Scripture? I can point to numerous historical examples where someone took a text of Scripture, filled it full of whatever meaning they wanted, and then went off and did something horrible — happily justified with the hidden meaning of the verses that God had mysteriously revealed to them. That’s where allegorical interpretation takes us, which isn’t any better than the excesses of a literalist. I still don’t know how to read the Bible at the end of all this!

  • Blame everyone else, throw out what you don’t like: Taylor happily lops off whatever versions of Christianity he disagrees with. He calls them “Misprisions” of the faith and “pre-shrunk religion.”

The long history of Christianity that prioritized the spiritual over the physical to such a degree that one could be “so heavenly minded they were no earthly good” was a “Platonic” intrusion and is thus “rightly criticized (and rejected)” (p. 114)

The doctrine of hell gets labeled by Taylor as “hyper Augustinianism” and tossed in the trash bin.

It’s very convenient to delete from the Christian faith of all its unfashionable parts, but it does little to strike confidence in me that I’m following a story that exists rather than just creating my own. One that suits me in the climate of exclusive humanism in which I live.

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