Friday, October 28, 2016

Strange Gratitude

I'm reading Charles Taylor's "A Secular Age", a massive analysis on the massive shifts in how humanity in the west has made sense of existence throughout the millennia. In what is surely no surprise to anyone, society largely does not think religiously, at least not in the way it used to. It's rough out there if you are both religious and want to carve a place for yourself and your tradition in a pluralistic society after that same society has branded that worldview as refuse from a superstitious era.

I certainly think that the representatives of different world views are in a crisis of communication. It's why I really admire the Richard John Neuhauses of the world who tried (and others who continue to try) to establish some sort of commonality in the public square that allows all of us to speak honestly, to challenge each other, but also to be civil with one another. We all advocate for our worldviews within our understanding of the common good. We're not always successful at doing that peacefully.

In reading Taylor's book (a book that is certainly critical and, sometimes, both prone to inaccuracy and editorial and yet demonstrates a level of reasearch and originality that I can only aspire to), I'm filled with gratitude.

I'm grateful for my own formation and how I was educated. I'm also grateful for what books came my way and the things I thought were interesting enough to learn about. His book is a tour de force of sociology, culture, philosophy, psychology, theology (albeit imperfectly) and a history of western thought from the Middle Ages until now and his analysis is original. It's like Foucault in that the analysis is at the service of introducing bigger ideas rather than an accurate representation of things, but it's great to be along for the ride.

I'm grateful for a couple classes I had on Medieval philosophy and religion that I stumbled into during my final semester of college. I'm grateful for staying up on philosophy because Taylor is using stuff that I only read after graduate school. I'm grateful for the "lay of the land" that college and graduate school gave me. If I didn't go through all of that, this book wouldn't make any sense at all.

I'm very grateful for humanity and I'm grateful for the desire to understand who we are, how we got here, and where we're going. It leaves me a little scared because we don't bring up the "big questions" that got us through the last few thousand years often enough and I think that we'll regret it as our use of technology keeps disengaging from ethical questions. I'm worried that our pragmatism isn't really critiqued or reflected upon but simply assumed (a dangerous sort of dogmatism). But I'm also grateful that I think that I get that and hopefully it'll make for some good conversations and practical advocacy.

I'm grateful for everyone who has helped humanity understand God and how even the strangest byroads became opportunities to clarify and purify. The only way to the present is through the past and the groundwork of everything we're grateful for was laid down by others. Sometimes I look at all the mistakes of my life and I get sad. But when I realize that all the good things and bad things helped me meet my wife and allowed us to have our children when we did, I make a bit more peace with my mistakes in life. It's the same with history. We might abbhor what humanity has done over the years, but hopefully we've learned from it as a warning sign or used some of it as a stepping stone for something positive. One thing we certainly can't do is undo it because to do so would mean undoing the complex web of circumstances that allowed for our own existence and experiences.

I'm most grateful to God because as time goes on I experience Him as Providence, the guiding light that wove my desires, experiences, needs and graces into an interlocking whole, where what was needed is usually met and what was lacking is usually provided for. It's hope that things will ultimately be okay and, eventually, reconciled. If not here, than certainly in there hereafter.

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