I recently got a paper proposal accepted for a somewhat prestigious philosophical conference that is held at the University of Notre Dame (of Two Lakes) and thought about using this blog to show my thought process in writing the paper and was wondering if anyone was interested. The conference is on the challenge of Secularization, and here is my abstract:
We now live in a Post-Christian secularized world. That has been well-documented in the literature, including the great history of how this happened by Charles Taylor. Yet, I propose that this is not the major problem of our age. Even though Taylor has done a wonderful job showing the development of secularization through out the ages, I feel that he has missed something that figures larger than he is willing to admit. I would like to propose that the problem of our age is that we live in a world without vulnerability yet full of inquietude. Even though love is not the solution to man's historical problems1, I will argue that the only way out of this inquietude is through love of self, God, and the Other.
As Taylor argues in his work, it is not just the unbeliever in the Christian narrative that is under the spell of secularization but also the believer. We have been conditioned through our philosophy and theology to distrust an outside authority in our lives. But I will show that the root of this problem is that we no longer have trust in ourselves. Josef Pieper in his work on love, states that “there is hardly another concept that has become so demonstrably “at home” in the consciousness of the average Christian as that of acedia.”2 In Pieper's exposition of acedia, following St. Thomas Aquinas, we see that we are in a “despair of weakness, despairingly not wanting to be oneself.”3 Yet, Taylor dismisses acedia as a factor in our consciousness4. I find this to be a grievous error. For acedia is a “basic characteristic of the spiritual countenance (and ontological nature) of precisely this age which we live in”5 according to Pieper. Thus, contra Taylor, I am arguing that the root of secularization is not an Enlightenment philosophy or a gnostic outlook on life, but in a deep inquietude of the human heart6.
This inquietude comes from an “anxious vertigo that befalls the human individual when he becomes aware of the height to which God has raised him.”7 Pieper continues by saying that “one who is trapped in acedia has neither the courage nor the will to be as great as he really is. He would prefer to be less great in order thus to avoid the obligation of greatness.”8 This leads to what Aquinas calls a “detestatio boni divini”9 which then leads man to wish that “God had not ennobled him, but had “left him in peace”.” 10 Or to quote Kierkegaard on a similar point, the individual “is unwilling, in his despair, to be himself.”11
Thus it is not that we live in a secular age, but in an age of acedia, or to put it different, in an age where the only serious philosophical question is suicide, to paraphrase Camus.12 In this age, it is impossible to say “It is good that you exist”13 for we do not wish to exist. We are tired of the obligation of existence, the duty of living, and thus are becoming disinterested and disembodied (This disinterestedness Taylor puts into the category of the buffered self, which is “essentially the self which is aware of the possiblity of disengagement”14). This is not an age of secularization but an age of philosophical suicide or as Aquinas and Pieper would term it, an age of acedia.
1Pieper, Josef. Faith, Hope, Love Ignatius Press, pg .201
2Pieper, Josef. Faith, Hope, Love Ignatius Press, pg. 117
3Pieper, Josef. Leisure: The Basis of Culture, St. Ignatius Press, pg. 28.
4Taylor states that acedia is a predecessor to the malaise of our present age, but says that it does not speak to the ontic condition, only the spiritual condition. (Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age, pg. 303) I would argue that a proper Thomistic view of acedia is spiritual, psychological and ontological, following Pieper.
5Pieper, Josef. Faith, Hope, Love. pg. 119
6Jurgen Moltmann in his Theology of Hope defines hope as an inquietness of the heart which is both a blessing and a curse. I am borrowing this phrase from him, which he in turn borrows from Uber Hoffung by Pieper.
7Pieper, Josef. Faith, Hope, Love. pg. 119
9Aquinas, Thomas. Mal. 8,I
10Pieper, Josef. Faith, Hope, Love. pg. 120. Pieper is quoting Aquinas from Mal. II, II, 35,3.
11Kierkegaard, Soren. Sickness Unto Death. Quoted in Pieper, Faith, Hope, Love, pg. 120. We also see this in Heidegger's understanding of “everyday existence” which is characterized by being's flight from itself, loquaciousness, curiosity, importunity, distraction and instability.
12Camus, Albert. The Myth Of Sisyphus, pg. 1, Taylor speaks of our fascination with death in our age and how it shows that we are disconnected to reality, thus showing that “there is a sense of void...and of deep embarrassment” (Taylor, 723) in the fact that we cannot understand it, but all long for it, as we are, to borrow Heidegger's terminology, being-toward-death. (Taylor, 722)
13Pieper, Josef. Faith, Hope, Love, pg. 164ff.
14Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age, Belknap Press of Harvard University, pg. 42