Hope in Our Secular Age

Collin Hansen | September 20, 2017

It wasn’t the first time a young evangelical woman had lamented to me the aimless, rebellious character of her younger brother. Growing up together their home had tended toward the fundamentalist end of the Protestant spectrum. Church was mandatory; doubt was discouraged. In college and afterward she found her way into an evangelical congregation that tended toward Reformed theology, but her younger brother never seemed to grow up. He deliberately antagonized his parents and sister.

She described to me one scene that typified his protest. While gathered together in the living room, as the rest of the family watched television or read a magazine, her brother flaunted his copy of a Richard Dawkins screed against religion. Only he didn’t seem to be actually reading the book. Rather, he peered over the pages to see what kind of reaction he was inciting.

Classic case of a “subtraction story,” I told her. A what? The term comes from the 2007 book A Secular Age by the Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor. Her brother probably couldn’t explain any sophisticated scientific or philosophical objections to Christianity. But he found in Dawkins a “hero narrative” to explain his “coming of age,” his maturation away from the…

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