I say “more accessible” because this is hardly A Secular Age for Dummies. Charles Taylor’s massive and dense book is tough sledding. I have not read much of it, but am certainly familiar with the work of Taylor.In How (Not) to Be Secular, Jamie Smith brings the intellectual cookies to a lower shelf, but don’t be fooled, serious thinking is still required. Smith respects his readers by providing an accessible, yet thoughtful distillation of one of the most consequential books of our day.

Instead of doing a typical book review, let me briefly mention six things I appreciated about this book:

*The writing style is elegant and engaging. Let me give one example from page 11: “Ardor and devotion cannot undo the shift in plausibility structures that characterizes our age.” This is wonderfully conceived, but it is also pregnant with implications.

*There is a judicious use of illustrations from literature, music, and movies.

*Since I am not a dispassionate reader on the subject of doubt (I know the struggle to believe firsthand), I am grateful for the insights on living in this unusual climate of secularism.

*The author is careful to understand his subject matter. A good example is the compassionate assessment of the troubled genius, David Foster Wallace. Smith does not offer a glib critique of Wallace’s writings. Wallace is looked at seriously, even one could say, sympathetically. To be sure, Smith does not agree with Wallace’s overall philosophy, but Smith does a good job of showing how others have missed salient features of Wallace’s approach.

*Smith clearly appreciates Charles Taylor’s overall project in A Secular Age. However, that does not impede Smith from offering important pushbacks and critiques.

*Both Smith and Taylor understand that a silly, sentimental, and Sunday School-ish type of faith is hardly enough to stave off the onslaughts of secularism. Smith does a good job of showing how foolish it is to abandon the Christian faith for the “mature” position of materialism. Rather, we ought to abandon the trivial or superficial beliefs of American Christianity.



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