Secularization and Its Fruits: The Modern Analysis And A Tolkienian and Lewisian Response to Modernity

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According to Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, we live in a secular age. That is, we no longer live in the medieval paradigm of an enchanted cosmos, in which the existence of God and the permeation of the natural with the supernatural was a societal given. Belief in God, once assumed by Western culture, has become “one option among others, and frequently not the easiest to embrace.” Yet according to Taylor this secular age is “haunted” by the transcendent, and by this he means purpose or meaning that transcends this material universe or any sort of supernaturalism. This definition would include the existence of God in the traditional Christian sense or at a lower level, even pagan supernaturalism (cf. New Age spirituality). In other words, the modern person cannot help but feel the loss of the supernatural—the transcendent other, the enchantment once fused the cosmos with divine meaning above and beyond the material universe—in their daily lives. The literature of the twentieth century contains quintessential examples of this secularity, while capturing the transcendental angst that Taylor speaks of.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man serve as two prime examples of modern novels that are haunted by the loss of divine presence. Both authors hint at the inclination of the human imagination to transcendence, yet reinforce the modern secular framework by binding that imagination to this material world. Two twentieth century authors who stand in contrast to this immanentization of transcendence are C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, who provide a narrative apologetic through their works of fiction.  They effectively engage this developing secularity by telling stories that account for the transcendent hauntings of our secular age and placing them within the Christian story. This is because the described “loss” of the supernatural often manifests itself as a pressure or a pull, just as hunger pangs, as a lack of food, intensifies and exerts a sort of “pressure” to be satisfied by food. Lewis and Tolkien teach us how to write in a way that fulfills the frustrated desires of our culture, while also increasing the transcendent pressure on those who maintain that the universe is self-evidently atheistic. By presenting plausible accounts of transcendence occurring within our immanent framework they weaken the pull of an atheistic account of reality. Or, from a theological perspective, they acts as instruments in the hand of God to convict and stir the hearts of sinful men to repent and believe. And so, we turn first to Taylor’s claim that our secular age is “haunted” and attempt to demonstrate...

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