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David S. Dockery


Modern and Christian

How to think with the mind of Christ.

What is the place of Christian faith in the modern (and postmodern) world? Particularly what is the place of the Christian mind in the modern world? These questions are the centerpiece of the Marianist Award Lecture delivered by renowned philosopher Charles Taylor at the University of Dayton and published with a set of provocative responses and a final reply by Taylor.

Modernity, Taylor tells us, must be seen to include the espousal of universal and unconditional human rights and the affirmation of life, universal justice, benevolence, freedom, and the ethic of authenticity. Modernity certainly has its dark side as well, including the overweening claims of reason and the drive toward control of every facet of life. Taylor distinguishes between the fact of modernity and various theories of modernity. The fact of modernity is the cultural shift that has been taking place over the last 200 years; theories of modernity offer contending explanations of that shift.

Taylor considers four such rival explanations, as offered by (1) exclusive humanists, whose understanding of the good is strictly limited to our worldly life; (2) neo-Nietzschean antihumanists; (3) those who both acknowledge good beyond this life and oppose the primacy of life as defined by exclusive humanism—"knockers" of modernity, as Taylor calls them; and (4) those "boosters" who, while acknowledging good beyond this life, nevertheless regard modernity's emphasis on the practical primacy of life as a great gain and find legitimate values in modern culture more generally. Taylor contends for the fourth approach.

Modernity for Taylor cannot be limited to the ever-more restrictive pursuit of a set of value-neutral facts and the consequent replacement of traditional beliefs with "scientific" ones. Those are aspects of this great shift, yes, and yet he contends that modernity originated in a shift in our horizons of understanding—of humanity, the cosmos, society, and God—and constitutes an unarticulated background ...

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