Chapter 12: The Age of Mobilization

In this chapter, Taylor is beginning to develop his own secularization theory, while critiquing some of the mainstream secularization theories. Secularization theory seeks to explain the decline of religion in the west and holds that: “…“modernity” (in some sense) tends to repress or reduce religion” (in some sense)”. Taylor broadly agrees with the general claim that religion has declined in modernity, but he wants to give a different account of this than the ‘orthodox’ secularization theorists. His criticism is directed especially at the work of Roy Wallis and Steve Bruce on Secularization theory. Taylor argues that there is an “unthought”— an unacknowledged assumption—that underlies the work of these theories: 

“There is, indeed, a powerful such unthought operative: an outlook which holds that religion must decline either (a) because it is false, and science shows this to be so; or (b) because it is increasingly irrelevant now that we can cure ringworm by drenches; or (c) because religion is based on authority, and modern societies give an increasingly important place to individual autonomy; or some combination of the above.” 

Bruce and Wallis posit a linear, progressive decline of religion, culminating in: “widespread indifference [to religion]…and religious ideas being no more common than would be the case if all minds were wiped blank and people began from scratch to think about the world and their place in it.” Taylor finds this is wholly unconvincing (perhaps, he concedes, because of his own religious commitments) because it does not seem to grant any kind of “independent motivation for religious belief and action.” In other words, these theories seem to assume that (in modernity, if not for all time) religious motivation is always riding on some deeper (secular) motivation: economics, politics and so on, it has no independent force. Because religion is assumed merely to have the function of group bonding, pseudo-science, collective rituals of healing and exorcism—rather than bringing people in touch with the transcendent and directing them towards goals beyond human flourishing—the developments of modern science and civilization can do what religion used to do, better. If this is the case, religion can do nothing but decline: “When humans come to control their world and society, the religious impulse must atrophy.” However, Taylor does not see the “demand for religion” undergoing the kind of decline prophesied in the quote above, rather he sees an ongoing tension between belief and unbelief, between “open” and “closed” takes, between modes of existence that take us beyond human flourishing, and those that reduce our goals to the merely immanent. While he does agree that religion has undergone a decline in modernity, he does not think it is a simple, linear decline narrative. Taylor summarizes his own position in contrast to the mainstream secularization thesis: 

“Briefly, the mainline thesis is right to this extent, that most of the changes they identify (eg. urbanization, industrialization, migration, the fracturing of earlier communities) had a negative effect on the previously existing religious forms. They often made some of the earlier practices impossible, while others lost their meaning or their force. This did sometimes lead whole groups to adopt quite another outlook, antithetical to Christianity, or indeed to any religion: such as Jacobinism, Marxism or anarchism (as in Spain); but it also happened that people responded to the breakdown by developing new religious forms. This happened partly through the founding of new denominations, such as Methodism and its off-shots. But it could also happen through new modes of organization and new spiritual directions in older established churches, the Catholic Church for instance. Our contemporary situation results from a further development, which can be dated to the period after the Second World War, more precisely, the 1960’s and their aftermath. In this the nineteenth and early twentieth century constructions, which responded to the earlier breakdown were themselves undermined, in what can only be described as a cultural revolution of some magnitude. As we analyze and discuss this, new forms are again evolving.”

To summarize, Taylor is saying that the forces of modernity undermine preexisting religious forms and this can move many towards anti-religious outlooks. At the same time, Christianity can develop new religious forms that are more conducive to the modern age, or new denominations/movements emerge with radically different approach and outlook than established forms (eg. Catholicism). We have already explored many of these developments in earlier chapters—the shift from the enchanted to the disenchanted world, the shift from the premodern to the modern social imaginaries and so on—but Taylor sees another such shift taking place in the 1960s with the sexual revolution. The religious forms that Christianity had developed in response to the modern moral order are themselves undermined by the “cultural revolution” of the 60s. We can be sure that in response to this cultural shift, Christianity will once again adapt and take on a different posture. One such shift I’ve observed is that while older generations of Christians see a connection between their faith and nationalism/being an upstanding citizen, newer generations put more stock on being “radicals” and fighting for social justice. The kind of bourgeois, civilized, Christian posture of the 1950’s, is repellant to younger generations. All of this complicates the progressive picture the mainstream secularization picture posits, as Taylor puts it: “We can’t just identify “religion” and twelfth century Catholicism, and then count every move away from this as decline”: Religion, and Christianity in particular, is much more adaptable than this.

For the rest of the chapter, Taylor fleshes out his thesis, exploring the shift from “anceien régime” forms of spirituality to what he calls the “age of mobilization.” In the older, pre-modern anceien régime forms of spirituality, there was a close connection between the church and the local community. People were embedded in the orthodox liturgy of the Church, as well as in local customs, rituals, and festivals. In this way, ordinary life and church life, were inseparable. It was an enchanted world in which spirits pressed in and were a constant threat; they could only be warded off by collective ritual and the like. Crucially, the Order, and social forms were ontologically grounded in Higher Time and Transcendence. The social order had existed “since time out of mind,” and people were called to find their place in it.

It’s interesting to think of the Hutterite social order as a sort of anceien régime model. In the social imaginary of many traditional Hutterites, the social order, the structure of community life, the way we dress, our traditional way of life and way of doing things, has existed “since time out of mind.” This way of life was established in this way by our forefathers, those great heroes of the faith. A common defence of the status quo is that “our forefathers shed their blood for this way of life, so don’t question it.” There is this sense of an immutable, deeply rooted, long ago established (and sealed by the blood of martyrs) Order, in which we must find our place. Women have their roles, men have their roles, each must find their established place in the Order. This kind of anceien régime model makes questioning/critiquing the system difficult because there is not the sense that we have all consented to it, agreed to these terms, that we are living “intentional” community in this sense. Instead, we all find our place in a Order that has existed “since time out of mind” and it is not our place to question the traditions of our ancestors. Of course, weather this really is the tradition of our ancestors is another question entirely, I suspect this applies to all anceien régime models as well. There is probably an unacknowledged way these systems change, a dynamism and evolution, an adaptation to the surrounding culture that is obscured by the myth of unchanging Order.

These anceien régime modes of spirituality were undermined by various forces, industrialization and urbanization, the process of Reform through the joint efforts of Church and State, and so on. As people moved out of the countryside and into cities, they were disconnected from this “religion of the soil”, and from their communities and local customs and rituals. Increasingly, they were alienated from Christianity and pulled into different ideologies. Taylor explains.

 “…the new city-dweller, no longer relating back to a living community… would find himself with a void in his spiritual life, and have to find a way of weaving new forms and community allegiances into the new situation. The “dechristianization” of the urban working class in the later nineteenth century had more to do with this than with an actual conversion to the new lay ideologies.” 

The Catholic Church, responded to this crisis of faith with “mobilization”, that is, with the “organization of laypeople into new bodies, be it for fund raising, pilgrimages, and various forms of lay apostates, some of which later came to be called collectively ‘Catholic Action.’” In this move towards “mobilization”, Taylor argues that the Church was subverting its older anceien régime model and moving into the “Age of Mobilization”. Taylor defines this as follows:

 “…it designates a process whereby people are persuaded, pushed, dragooned, or bullied into new forms of society, church, association…not only to adopt new structures, but a also to some extent to alter their social imaginariness, and sense of legitimacy, as well as their sense of what is crucially important in their lives or society.” 

From this definition, it sounds as if the earlier reforms, for example, “the English Reformation, or the French Counter-Reformation” ect. or even earlier, could be considered to be part of the Age of Mobilization, but Taylor sees an important difference. These reforms were happening against the “backdrop” of the unquestionable legitimacy of the “Kingdom and Church,” those forms remained unchanging, even while religious forms evolved. What happens in “the age of mobilization” is that all of our forms of association (political, ecclesial ect.) have to be “mobilized into existence.” Our participation in the modern moral order or in a nationstate is not seen as an unquestionable Order that has been there since “time out of mind”, but rather, something we, as a free individual are called to take part in. We are “mobilized” to vote, to participate in trade unions, protest, join a church, ect. Modern social imaginaries of the political state for example, posit a “social contract”, individuals opting in, rather than the Order being opposed from on High. With regards to religion, Taylor points to the emergence new forms of Christianity in evangelicalism and Methodism, along with the emergence of the “denomination” as belonging to the age of Mobilization. These new forms of religiosity are not “Divinely Established” (although the larger Church might be) but are one option, something we create, a potential path among many.

There is also a tight connection between these new religious forms and notions of civilizational order. Evangelicalism, for instance, emphasized the sinfulness of humanity and the need for a personal conversion in order to live a orderly life: 

“…this new empowerment was meant to yield the fruit of an ordered life… The danger was of sinking into forms of behaviour that were idle, irresponsible, undisciplined and wasteful. And behind these lay the lure of… in the first place, drink and the tavern… And along with drink, aiding and abetting it, were other favoured activities: cruel sports, gambling, sexual promiscuity… Order required the male to be a family man and a good provider; and this required that he become educated, disciplined, and a hard worker. Sobriety, industry, discipline were the principle virtues.” 

We see here how spirituality is connected to flourishing in the new economic environment, living an orderly life, being an upstanding citizen, good father, and so on. Religion in the American case was connected to producing moral citizens and religion was seen as underlying the moral foundations of the society. Christian apologetics put great emphasis on this: “It is absolutely crucial to much Christian apologetics from the French Revolution onwards, that the Christian faith is essential to the maintenance of civilizational order.” So, religion accommodated itself to the age of mobilization, developing: “powerful forms of faith [that] wove four strands together in this age: spirituality, discipline, political identity, and an image of civilizational order. These four strands had been present in elite religion in the preceding centuries, but now this had become a mass phenomenon.” Because of this tight connection between civilizational order and religion, they were: “perfectly set up for a precipitate fall in the next age which was beginning to dawn at mid century. To this I now turn.” 

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