Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age is a significant work on modern secularism. James K.A. Smith writes a helpful condensation and commentary in How (Not) To Be Secular. Smith reflects on our discomfort with pure materialism:
“There is a fundamental discomfort with materialism and its attendant reductionism that generates a resistance and unwillingness to settle for the closed account of materialism…Taylor identifies three ‘fields’ of cross-pressures to which he will keep returning in chapter 16:
- Agency: ‘the sense that we aren’t just determined, that we are active, building, creating, shaping agents’;
- Ethics: ‘we have higher spiritual/ethical motives’ that don’t reduce to biological instinct or ‘base’ drives; and
- Aesthetics: ‘Art, Nature moves us’ because of a sense of meaning; these are not just differential responses to pleasure.”
~Smith, p. 104
One example I have seen of #3 is John Gray’s The Silence of the Animals. Since we and the world are temporary, susceptible to decay and death, beauty is a shimmering vapor issuing from the pit of entropic death. Is that really all there is to beauty, or does beauty whisper to us that we are haunted by transcendence?