The Secular Mind

The Secular Mind

ROBERT COLES
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 200
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7smvq
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Secular Mind
    Book Description:

    Does the business of daily living distance us from life's mysteries? Do most Americans value spiritual thinking more as a hobby than as an all-encompassing approach to life? Will the concept of the soul be defunct after the next few generations? Child psychiatrist and best-selling author Robert Coles offers a profound meditation on how secular culture has settled into the hearts and minds of Americans. This book is a sweeping essay on the shift from religious control over Western society to the scientific dominance of the mind. Interwoven into the story is Coles's personal quest for understanding how the sense of the sacred has stood firm in the lives of individuals--both the famous and everyday people whom he has known--even as they have struggled with doubt.

    As a student, Coles questioned Paul Tillich on the meaning of the "secular mind," and his fascination with the perceived opposition between secular and sacred intensified over the years. This book recounts conversations Coles has had with such figures as Anna Freud, Karen Horney, William Carlos Williams, Walker Percy, and Dorothy Day. Their words dramatize the frustration and the joy of living inboththe secular and sacred realms. Coles masterfully draws on a variety of literary sources that trace the relationship of the sacred and the secular: the stories of Abraham and Moses, the writings of St. Paul, Augustine, Kierkegaard, Darwin, and Freud, and the fiction of George Eliot, Hardy, Meredith, Flannery O'Connor, and Huxley. Ever since biblical times, Coles shows us, the relationship between these two realms has thrived on conflict and accommodation.

    Coles also notes that psychoanalysis was first viewed as a rival to religion in terms of getting a handle on inner truths. He provocatively demonstrates how psychoanalysis has either been incorporated into the thinking of many religious denominations or become a type of religion in itself. How will people in the next millennium deal with advances in chemistry and neurology? Will these sciences surpass psychoanalysis in controlling how we think and feel? This book is for anyone who has wondered about the fate of the soul and our ability to seek out the sacred in our constantly changing world.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2281-2
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    What follows began in my thinking some four decades ago when I was a resident in child psychiatry at the Children’s Hospital in Boston. For various reasons of mind, heart, soul I found myself wanting to be a part of a seminar given by Paul Tillich, who had departed New York City’s Union Theological Seminary in order to teach at Harvard University. I still remember the shift in my head as I left a hospital (where the emphasis, even in psychiatry, was ondoing, on trying to accomplish a specific task) for quite another world, across the Charles River, where...

  4. I Secularism in the Biblical Tradition
    (pp. 9-46)

    Throughout the history of Christianity the authority of the sacred has never been taken for granted as a compelling moral and spiritual given of unassailable sway. Indeed, the lives of the saints have borne continuing witness to the vulnerability of religious faith, its bouts of frailty in the face of this or that era’s challenges. Hence the word secular: the things of a particular time. Such worldliness need not be aggressively ideological, a philosophy that directly takes on a belief in God, a lived commitment to principles and practices upheld in His (or Her or Its) name. The issue, rather,...

  5. II Where We Stood: 1900
    (pp. 47-96)

    Historical ironies ought to give us cautionary pause as we contemplate secularism, yet cultural shifts obviously do take place over time, even if they prompt paradoxical consequences—a burst of “enlightenment” stirring an outburst of reactive nostalgia, if not a reactionary revulsion, a turn toward what was as a bulwark against what threatens to be. To contemplate a thoroughly secular Vatican, in the Middle Ages, at the height of its power across the European nations, to contemplate a slave or sharecropper population humbly, passionately, often furtively tied to the sacred, amidst a privileged, materialist white world that not rarely insisted...

  6. III Where We Stand: 2000
    (pp. 97-150)

    When Thomas Hardy died, in 1928, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi thugs were well on their way from political obscurity—one of a young republic’s fringe groups—to major national authority. Less than five years later, the nation of Goethe and Schiller and Heine and Thomas Mann and Beethoven and Brahms, and, yes, the nation of Einstein, the nation in whose language Freud wrote, the nation of science and social science, of medicine and engineering and architecture (as in the Bauhaus movement) would be on its terrible way to the responsibility for tens of millions of deaths: on the battlefield,...

  7. IV Where We Are Headed
    (pp. 151-189)

    We in the Western bourgeois world are committed, as mentioned, to the future, resolutely and consistently so. That slant, toward what is coming rather than what has been, is itself an important attribute of the secular mind. Why turn back and imagine what Pascal might have to say, based on what he has already so tellingly said, were he with us now (and especially if he wasn’t, back then, a hopeful visionary with great expectations galore), when we can make prophets of ourselves, or by association, as eager, willing (sometimes, decidedly gullible) readers, part of a collective farsighted response: a...