Wednesday, June 18, 2008

After God by Mark C. Taylor

After God by Mark C. Taylor

This book has several aims, but its biggest one is to offer new values for our complex, relativistic world. Personally, I think he fails in this regard. However, most of this book is extremely successful at offering other arguments.

The most valid and important argument he offers is that secularism, as we know it, is in fact a very religious notion. He traces the heritage of secularism to Protestant values and follows it through all the important philosophers up to Derrida. Here is a brief outline.

1. Luther actually inherited the idea of an individualistic Christianity from studying the 14th ce theologian William of Ockham who used Platonian logic to argue this idea. Actually, individualism, Taylor argues, can be traced back through the very beginnings of Christianity and even to pre-Christian Babylonian religions. It is Ockham, tho, who puts together a cohesive individualistic theology.

2. Calvin took Luther's individualism and combined it with ideas of capitalism. Luther, who came from poverty, was essentially a fundamentalist who believed it was wrong to make money off of others. But Calvin was a well-educated middle-class businessman who believed that if one takes Luther's idea--that we must have a personal relationship with God and we can't earn God's grace, we can just be good Christians in preparation for death-- to the extreme, then god is everything, we are nothing. That being the case, then what ever we do that is productive and efficient (capitalistic ideals) is therefore Godly.

3. The great enlightenment and modern thinkers usually came from a Protestant background. Newton wrote more about religion than he did about science. Hume, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche all came from religious backgrounds and actually based their "secularist" philosophies and Protestant ideas that God is transcendent and has therefore given humans the capacity to rationalize. Rationalism is therefore justified by religion.

4. The influential Scottish economists were Presbyterian (Calvinists). In fact, Adam Smith did not invent the concept of the "invisible hand." It was actually Calvin himself who first used that idea in reference to God's support of worldly success by rational (christian) actors. Capitalism, as we know it, then, is actually a very Protestant idea.

5. Mass communication has been intentionally fostered by Protestants who use it to spread the word. Beginning with Luther's million copy distribution of the "95 theses," protestants have utilized and encouraged the development of communications technology. Today's global communication system has been countenanced by Protestant ideas of capitalism and communications.

6. The US founding fathers were often deists. Which is a more extreme form of Protestant individualism. They were, however, also shaped by french enlightenment thinkers who, because France did not go through the religious revolutions like England and Germany, were more anti-religious than the other thinkers. The influence of these thinkers helped give the US the idea of the separation of church and state, because the US Lutherans and Calvinists did not originally want that separation.

7. Because of those influences in the US, there has always been a history of Christian fundamentalism here. Revivalist traditions were live and kicking throughout the 19th ce up til the scopes trial in the 1920's, then re-emerged during what they saw was the increasing decadence of the US in the 1950s. That decade congress was persuaded to add "In God We Trust" to coins and added "Under God" to the pledge of alliegance. The 60's rebellion era proved to be more grist for the fundamentalist mill and they began to mobilize. By the 1980s, Reagan was securing Christian Right votes by preaching fundamentalist ideas in his politics, and passing them on to his VP Bush. the Christian right also continues the Protestant legacy of encouraging imperialistic capitalism and the vilification of all non-Christians.

8. It is interesting to note that a major actor of the Fundamentalists involved in politics during the 1980s was Tim LeHaye who is currently the #2 most purchased author (the "left behind" series), only behind JK Rowlings, the author of Harry Potter.

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