Encountering the Secular

Encountering the Secular: Philosophical Endeavors in Religion and Culture

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Encountering the Secular
    Book Description:

    InEncountering the Secular,J. Heath Atchley proposes an alternative to the understanding of the secular as that which opposes the religious, and he turns to American and Continental philosophy to support his critique. Drawing from thinkers as disparate as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Gilles Deleuze, and engaging with contemporary literature and film, Atchley shows how the division of experience (individual, cultural, political) into the distinct realms of the religious and the secular overlooks the subtle ways in which value can emerge. Far from arguing that the religious and the secular are the same, he means instead to suggest that the dogmatic separation between these two realms gets in the way of experiencing an immanent value, a kind of value tied neither to a transcendent reality (e.g., a god or an ideal) nor to a self-centered reality (e.g., pleasure or knowledge).

    Each chapter cultivates a particular concept that challenges the breach between the secular and the religious, rendering that breach ambiguous. Such ambiguity, the author affirms, is relevant to a time when rigid and simplistic notions of religion and secularity are used to justify thoughtlessness and even violence. All too often the secular is thought of either as a triumph in "overcoming" the presumed irrationality and oppression of religion, or as lament in "losing" the meaning religion is thought once to have offered. Atchley suggests a view of the secular as an opportunity to experience an immanent value that is neither controlled by the human self nor conferred by a divine entity.

    Written in a prose that is lucid, lively, and provocative,Encountering the Secularshows how a philosophical endeavor might be understood as a spiritual practice.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3041-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-8)

    Think of what happens in an encounter. Someone or something is seen, perceived, sensed, maybe even confronted. And to merit the wordencountersuch a meeting could not be an ordinary one, one part of a routine or set of conventional expectations. Perhaps it is a surprise, or especially intense. When awaking in the morning, I do not encounter my spouse; I greet her with happy recognition. As I walk to my office, I pass a colleague and exchange a few words that do not distract me from my planned work. I would never think to use the wordencounter...

    (pp. 9-27)

    One of the gifts that the practice of philosophy can give is the ability to see complexity in a plain way. Alongside this gift is the understanding that complexity is not merely the domain of philosophers, physicists, or politicians—that complexity is one synonym for texture and with texture something good arrives to experience.¹

    The complexity that interests me here is the division (cognitive and cultural—perhaps even existential) between the religious and the secular. This division appears complex under a philosophical attention that shows it to be ambiguous. Discovering the lines between the religious and secular to be blurry...

  6. 2 SILENCE
    (pp. 28-46)

    We frequently connect silences with secrets. An inability to speak could mean an unwillingness to reveal. There is something inside that must remain hidden, something that is only for certain eyes or ears, the initiated, the adequately mature, or the chosen. The likely response to such silence is resentment followed by pursuit. Resentment for being excluded and left out of some circuit of knowledge and information, then the pursuit of the prized secret. In this scenario, our relationship to silence is to break through it like an eggshell in order to get to the goods within it. Language thereby becomes,...

    (pp. 47-71)

    What more is there to say? Is there anything left that is unsaid? Time has passed now. Have we not said all there is to say about the events that have come to be known simply as “September 11”? The most obvious (and perhaps the most responsible) answer is: Of course not. A tragedy of this magnitude is inexhaustible in our minds. It constantly produces thought, emotion, and concern. How could we not continue talking about September 11? Could we allow ourselves to stop thinking about it? Is there not some obligation to pursue insight, if not understanding, in the...

    (pp. 72-91)

    When I cruise the forty-three television channels available to me (and that’sbasiccable), simultaneously being enchanted and disgusted by much that I see (similar to Kant’s description of the sublime), I cannot help but think that the culture in which I find myself is less articulate than ever. Such a diagnosis of the low standard of my culture’s literacy might be too easy to make. For it is the case that America’s traditional anti-intellectualism reaches new heights in our current, hypermediated milieu: we now have more venues than ever to disseminate undisciplined, uncreative thought (think, for example, of all...

    (pp. 92-110)

    It is a question most of us never ask: What exactly is enlightenment? Even if one is a practicing Buddhist, the concern is more likely to be how to become enlightened; the object of knowledge being fully revealed only in attainment. Such a question, of course, would not occur to the enlightened. As a word, as a concept, enlightenment stimulates desire. It signifies, at the very least, a desire to be “something” else, to be “somewhere” else; within it resides an urge toward transcendence. Thus, enlightenment is an object of attainment only for those of us on this side of...

    (pp. 111-124)

    What do we expect from a disturbance? The paradox of such a question should be obvious: Disturbances are typically things we don’t expect—interruptions of the ordinary, the routine, the established. A disturbance becomes an issue only when there is a desired consistency of condition that is vulnerable to change. Hence, disturbance can be rendered as motion, and the condition it changes can be rendered as rest, stability, or stillness. Disturbances move.

    Nevertheless, are there not things we expect from disturbances—shock, anger, awe? For many reasons, this moment within the first decade of the second millennium is a rich...

  11. 7 PRACTICE
    (pp. 125-141)

    Philosophy is at its best when it is not itself. Signaling from foreign places not so far away, the discourse known as philosophy keeps its charge (or relevance) by denying itself a comfortable bed in which we can always find it. Indeed, we habitually look for philosophy in a routine place (a history, a tradition, a method, a discipline), but with attention we frequently find it in another. A good example is a scene from one of the works of the German writer Hermann Hesse. In his 1925 novelDemian,Hesse’s fictionalized spiritual autobiography, the protagonist, Sinclair, a thoughtful but...

  12. 8 EVENT
    (pp. 142-160)

    In the midst of a cultural environment typically deemed secular, the question of how value happens is (thankfully) an open one. What does it take to say that something matters? Even more, what does it take to realize that life itself matters? If one is caught in a traditionally religious environment, then such questions are sometimes not so pressing. Value is determined by the deity, the sacred—whatever that may be—often from the outside. If one experiences the secular, however, as a withdrawal of god, or the gods (as Martin Heidegger might describe it), and not simply the privatization...

    (pp. 161-164)

    Now, think of what happens in an endeavor. Attention and desire drive deliberate effort. When we use the termendeavoras a noun, it implies a project, an activity with a design and goal embedded with hope and expectation. We want our endeavors to succeed, to achieve the satisfaction of our wants and needs. Complexity, surprise, and mystery are seldom welcome here.

    But when we add movement to this term, when it becomes a verb, its tenor changes.Endeavoringsometimes appears to have no clear end, a significant lack of teleology. When Thoreau writes that he wants to endeavor to...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 165-178)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 179-182)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 183-183)