When thinking about religion, what is a secular age? Or what is the definition of a secular age?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his book A Secular Age, Charles Taylor writes,

One understanding of secularity then is in terms of public spaces. These have been allegedly emptied of God, or of any reference to ultimate reality.  Or taken from another side, as we function within various spheres of activity—economic, political, cultural, educational, professional, recreational—the norms and principles we follow, the deliberations we engage in, generally don’t refer us to God or to any religious beliefs; the considerations we act on are internal to the “rationality” of each sphere—maximum gain within the economy, the greatest benefit to the greatest number in the political area, and so on. 

In other words, Taylor states that a secular age is one in which a transition has been made from finding it virtually impossible to not believe in God to one in which faith in God is only one possibility.

This understanding is in direct contrast to the thinking of the Founding Fathers of the United States, as direct ties to God were made in the Constitution whereas in a secular age, religion is a much more private arena. In contrast to one's church and faith directing one's life, secularism excludes religious beliefs and religious behavior as the guiding forces of one's life; churches are now separate from political structures (although some organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference yet exert political influence). 

To be secular has been defined as maintaining a naturalistic worldview in which any belief is balanced against the evidence to support it. In general, a secular person: 

  1. does not believe in supernatural beings or realms such as heaven and hell
  2. does not engage in religious behavior (although many secular people still hold with Christmas and Easter or other major religious holidays of their country's culture)
  3. does not identify with any religious community
  4. feels that he/she is primarily a member of the human race
  5. perceives religion as a very private matter that should not be involved in social or political life

A secular age, then, is one in which humanistic values, rather than religious ones, guide society. In other words, the guiding principles of society make no reference to God or any religious beliefs. Instead, considerations are based upon their ability to benefit an economy or the people of a socio-economic group, or society in general. Added to this is a general lack of religious practices such as going to church and being involved in activities as a member of a particular religion. Social and ethical values, rather than religious ones, are taught to children in the home, as well.