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Sex and Death: Excerpts from Charles Taylor

November 17th, 2007 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Charles Taylor’s new book, A Secular Age, traces the rise of secularism through European and American theological and philosophical history. As such, it’s firmly planted on my burdgeoning Amazon Wish List, along with a few of his other works.

A while ago, Commonweal published two excerpts from Taylor’s book, which I have wanted to comment on but have run out of time. Consider, then, this an ‘open thread’ on these essays to post comments on whatever you find worth noting.

On Christianity and Sex:

The generations that have been formed in the cultural revolution of the 1960s are in some respects deeply alienated from a strong traditional model of Christian faith in the West. They are refractory to the sexual disciplines which were part of the good Christian life as understood, for instance, in the nineteenth-century Evangelical revivals in English-speaking countries. Indeed, the contemporary swing goes beyond just repudiating these very high standards…

On Death and Eternity:

Many people today have the greatest difficulty finding a way to speak to our strongest feelings about death. Luc Ferry speaks of the “banalité du deuil” (the banality of grief) today. We very often feel awkward at a funeral, don’t know what to say to the bereaved, and are often tempted to avoid the issue if we can. At the same time, even people who otherwise don’t practice religion have recourse to religious funerals, perhaps because here at least is a language that fits the need for eternity, even if you’re not sure you believe all that.

We don’t know how to deal with death, and so we ignore it as much and for as long as possible. We concentrate on life. The dying don’t want to impose their plight on the people they love, even though they may be eager, even aching, to talk about what it means to them now that they face it. Doctors and others fail to pick up on this desire, because they project their own reluctance to deal with death onto the patient. Sometimes the dying will ask that their loved ones make no fuss over them, hold no ceremony, just cremate them and move on, as though they were doing the bereaved a favor in colluding in their aversion to death. The aim can be to glide through the whole affair smoothly and, as much as possible, painlessly, for both dying and bereaved-an ideal portrayed (with some ambivalence) in the film The Barbarian Invasions. The cost is a denial of the issue of meaning itself, something that can never be totally suppressed…

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.