Being a Christian in a secular age

The Rev. Dr. Mike Michielin, incumbent of St. John's Anglican Church, Kingston, reflects on his experience as a Christian in contemporary secular society 

Extract from Covenant, The Living Church by The Rev. Dr. Mike Michielin

When I join some friends for a beer after playing hockey once a week, I always have this sense of entering a different universe. It's a universe that hasn't just rejected God, but in which he never existed in the first place. For instance, when my hockey friends asked me about what I do (I am an Anglican priest), they listen politely. But I can tell from the glaze in their eyes that they think I come from another planet. It doesn't take long for our conversation to turn to other matters: "Bartender, another beer, please!"

My sense is that I'm not the only Christian experiencing this feeling of displacement in our western culture. I hear the same thing from many of my parishioners. 

Vikings on patrol - L'Anse aux Meadows NL

Charles Taylor's book A Secular Age has given me some insights as to why Christians feel so displaced in our culture. For Taylor, the most important question facing the Church today is why has there been a massive shift from a time in our western culture when belief in God was unchallenged and unproblematic to today, when it's natural to reject God altogether?

Taylor argues that all beliefs are held within "a context or framework of the taken-for-granted, which usually remains intact, and may even be unacknowledged by the agent" (p. 11). What's changed in our "taken-for-granted" framework is a new sense of the self and its place in the world. A few hundred years ago our sense of self was open, vulnerable and thus, "porous" to a world of meaning and purpose shaped by spirits, magic, and God. Today our sense of self is "buffered," believing it can be disengaged from these forces. For today's "buffered" self, instrumental rationality is a key value, and time is pervasively secular (p.542). Therefore, the idea of spirits, moral forces or causal powers with a purposive bent are incomprehensible (p. 539). Our assumed "transcendent" understanding of the cosmos, when it was inconceivable to dismiss God, is replaced by an "immanent" framework, in which transcendence and eternity are not necessary for human flourishing.

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