Copernicus connected the dots to develop a better picture, a heliocentric system. Today’s Copernicans seek to do the same. They’re looking for meaning but not drawn to polarizing faith positions. They want both/and. They’re thinking three-dimensionally.
Secularism is Charles Taylor’s topic in his 2007 book, A Secular Age. “Secular” means “age” or “generation.” Taylor sees three ages of secularism. The Middle Ages is Secularism 1, an age when people had static roles. Secular referred to ordinary vocations such as farming. The clergy was an extraordinary vocation.
Secularism 2 exploded the static. With the Enlightenment, secular referred to ideas. In the church, it led to dichotomies. Good ideas are sacred, bad ideas secular. These narrow categories triggered what Taylor calls “the nova effect” (a nova is an exploding star). There was an explosion of secularity, first with the Enlightenment as “an exclusive alternative to Christian faith.” By the 19th century it was a crowded field of alternatives including Nietzsche and Darwin, who torpedoed the Christian faith according to Taylor. The result is a mechanized world (Enlightenment) without any sense of transcendence (Nietzsche). People began to sense an either/or world doesn’t work.
Secularism 3 represents the last 50 years. It’s both/and. Secular became open inquiry but flattened by individualized faiths. With no sacred canopy, the new virtue is “authenticity” and being “true to yourself.” But like Secularism 2, this doesn’t work either.
Taylor says Secularism 3 creates “cross-pressures.” Unfettered freedom yields a feeling of malaise, of something lost. We are “practical” and suspicious of absolute beliefs yet the world feels too flat and shallow. We’re trying to figure out how we live with our deepest differences while sustaining a range of views, from “the hardest materialism through to Christian orthodoxy,” writes Taylor. Not easy for most Christians.
Too many Christians operate in an either/or world. “Christian” is an adjective, denoting what is safe to enjoy, including “Christian” music, schools, and so on. “Secular” is bad. This is indicative of thinking two-dimensionally, a 2D world. We’re way past that.
Our secular age thinks three-dimensionally, or 3D. 3D imaging gives viewers depth perception. Secular people want to see issues in greater depth. They’re not attracted to the 2D dichotomies – Republican/Democrat, Fox/CNBC, environmentalist or capitalist. They want to see more sides of an issue, connect more dots, and develop a better picture. That’s why they’re the new Copernicans. They include religious “nones.” They could include Christians, but Taylor says they’d have to “see the Christian faith as moving in a world in which there are great differences.”1 They’d have to seek common ground “not coloured by either a believing position or an unbelieving position.” They’d have to see the faith three-dimensionally, like C. S. Lewis.
I couldn’t believe that nine-hundred and ninety-nine religions were completely false and the remaining one true. In reality, Christianity is primarily the fulfillment of the Jewish religion, but also the fulfillment of what was vaguely hinted at in all the religions at their best. What was vaguely seen in them all comes into focus in Christianity.2
Lewis recognized how every faith, in the fine phrase of Edward Norman, gets it “broadly right.” Everyone is made in the image of God. Everyone gets at least part of the story correct. Furthermore, everyone is stained by sin. Everyone, Christians included, gets at least part of the story incorrect. This is seeing life, including faith, three-dimensionally. If you’re not familiar with Lewis but would like to read a contemporary example of how the new Copernicans see things, go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/05/opinion/sunday/ross-douthat-i-love-lena.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share
Three-dimensional thinking relies on the visual, which is why Taylor appreciates how artists – not apologists – “make us aware of something in nature for which there are as yet no established words.”3 The arts are three-dimensional, the “subtler language” of image and metaphor, what Iain McGilchrist says “underlies all forms of understanding whatsoever.” That’s how Christians can create understanding with religious nones. Draw a circle called “the new Copernicans” and include them. Then begin to tackle issues three-dimensionally, looking for new angles and connecting more dots. I’m confident the more complete picture that emerges will point to the gospel.
Follow me on Twitter: @Metzger_Mike
1 “Imagining an Open Secularism,” an interview by James K. A. Smith with Charles Taylor in Comment, Fall 2014 edition, p. 51.
2 C. S. Lewis, God In The Dock, ed. Walter Hooper. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), p. 54.
3 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), p. 353.