, , , ,

John Starke, notes that in A Secular Age, Charles Taylor, notes opposing temptations for the self-sufficient and for the believer:

Yet, at the same time, there is a “malaise” amid this self-sufficient humanism: “The sense can easily arise that we are missing something, cut off from something, that we are living behind a screen. . . . I am thinking much more of a wide sense of malaise at the disenchanted world, a sense of it as flat, empty, a multiform search for something within, or beyond it, which could compensate for the meaning lost with transcendence.”59 There is a fear and anxiety that “our actions, goals, achievements, and life, have a lack of weight, gravity, thickness, substance. There is a deeper resonance which they lack, which we feel should be there.”60 There is, then, a temptation among the secular toward transcendence. We cannot seem to live without it. At the same time, we Christians live and breathe in this secular age as well. This self-sufficient humanism becomes part of the muscle memory of our own souls, even if we are often unconscious to its effect. What Taylor tells us about secularists hits awfully close to home in the pews. So, then, while modern self-sufficient secularists are tempted toward belief, believers are constantly tempted toward self-sufficiency. The task of the preacher, it seems, is to aim at this dual temptation.

John Starke, “Preaching to the Secular Age” in Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor (p. 41). The Gospel Coalition. Kindle Edition.

What I noticed with these two “temptations” is that they an observation of Lancelot Andrews in The Wonderful Combat: There is a temptation to despair, that God will not come for us. There is also the temptation of presumption, the temptation that God will do what I need. I think that these two temptations are the same as the “temptations” noticed by Starke.

There is the temptation that God has abandoned us, or perhaps there is no God at all.

Alone, what did Bloom feel?
The cold of interstellar space, thousands of degrees below freezing point or the absolute zero of Fahrenheit, Centigrade or Reaumur: the incipient intimations of proximate dawn

Ulysses (p. 806). Kindle Edition. The self-sufficient is unsure in this position, but so is the believer. We live in an age when belief is constantly contested, challenged. And thus both are constantly pressured (cross-pressured) into something approximates the others place:

Haunting Immanence Taylor names and identifies what some of our best novelists, poets, and artists attest to: that our age is haunted. On the one hand, we live under a brass heaven, ensconced in immanence. We live in the twilight of both gods and idols. But their ghosts have refused to depart, and every once in a while we might be surprised to find ourselves tempted by belief, by intimations of transcendence. Even what Taylor calls the “ immanent frame ” is haunted. On the other hand, even as faith endures in our secular age, believing doesn’t come easy. Faith is fraught; confession is haunted by an inescapable sense of its contestability. We don’t believe instead of doubting; we believe while doubting. We’re all Thomas now.

Smith, James K. A. (2106-02-06T22:28:15.000). How (Not) to Be Secular (Kindle Locations 195-201). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.

Notice here the temptations of despair and presumption, and how they play to both groups. The self-sufficient secularist begins at the place of presumption: he has already taken on this temptation, although the temptation is not to presume upon God to act, but to presume upon God to ignore:

Psalm 50:16–21 (ESV)

16  But to the wicked God says:

“What right have you to recite my statutes

or take my covenant on your lips?

17  For you hate discipline,

and you cast my words behind you.

18  If you see a thief, you are pleased with him,

and you keep company with adulterers.

19  “You give your mouth free rein for evil,

and your tongue frames deceit.

20  You sit and speak against your brother;

you slander your own mother’s son.

21  These things you have done, and I have been silent;

you thought that I was one like yourself.

But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.

However, the fact of God can never really be shaken. The irreducibility of the world is forcing its way in. In fact, Taylor’s secularist already seems to be outdate. The atheist of Dawkins or Hitchens was an untenable and never going to be popular version. We can see the movement into a rank paganism. Self-sufficiency contains within it a temptation to despair. Hanging on magic is a way to make bread out of stones (indeed, the temptation which the Devil made to Jesus seems to have been a temptation to become a conjurer or a magician in light of contemporary expectations!).

The believer seems to have avoided this, but the constant pressure of the secular age, the battering of doubt is constant:

Nothing is easy about faith in a secular age. “Faith is fraught, confession is haunted by an inescapable sense of its contestability,” Smith writes. “We don’t believe instead of doubting; we believe while doubting. We’re all Thomas now.”

Collin Hansen, “Doubt in our Secular Age,” Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor (p. 4). The Gospel Coalition. Kindle Edition. This doubt then contains within it a seed of presumption: If God can be doubted, then perhaps I should myself. I should presume that God will not interfere. It is much the same as the temptation to turn stones into bread, but it is not bred from the same despair. It is more of a boast: I guess I’ll have to do it. It is not despair, God won’t come. It is the presumption, there is no God.