Reposting this review because the kindle edition is on sale for $3.99
Summary: The traditional story of how to the world came to be secular (a subtraction of belief) is not the real story.
Starting last year I have been paying a lot of attention to James KA Smith (Jamie). The first book of his that came across my radar screen was Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation. (I still haven’t actually read that one, it is on my list for this summer.)
But I did read Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works. And it really did fundamentally change my perspective on liturgy and worship. Since then I regularly read Smith’s editorials (he is the editor of Comment magazine) and I have slowly been reading some of his other books.
How (Not) to Be Secular is the type of book I wish were more popular. For important ideas to really take hold, we need good authors to popularize those important ideas into formats that a general public can understand. Charles Taylor’s A Secular age is a massive and important book, but at 900 pages it is too long (and too dense) for most readers. (And more than a few people have suggested Taylor is not the most readable author.) So Jamie Smith has put together a 148 page companion that covers the basics of the argument and includes relevant contemporary examples.
The basic idea of A Secular Age is to explain what it means to live in a secular age and how we have come to this place in culture.
“We are all skeptics now, believer and unbeliever alike. There is no one true faith, evident at all times and places. Every religion is one among many. The clear lines of any orthodoxy are made crooked by our experience, are complicated by our lives. Believer and unbeliever are in the same predicament, thrown back onto themselves in complex circumstances, looking for a sign. As ever, religious belief makes its claim somewhere between revelation and projection, between holiness and human frailty; but the burden of proof, indeed the burden of belief, for so long upheld by society, is now back on the believer, where it belongs.”
Taylor’s innovation is how he reframes discussion about secularization from what it has lost (belief in God) to how the very nature of belief claims have changed.