Smith, James K. A. How (not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014. Kindle Edition.
Charles Taylor’s 2007 work, A Secular Age, is a profound analysis of our current age. Taylor won the Templeton Prize for his intellectual achievements throughout his long-standing career, with A Secular Age as something of a cap-stone to his intellectual pursuits.
The purpose of James Smith’s book How (not) to Be Secular is to explain what Charles Taylor is getting at in A Secular Age and also to guide readers on how to not to be secular.
The value of Smith’s book is, in part, reliant on how much someone values the work of Taylor. For my part, I have not finished A Secular Age, not because I am uninterested in the book, but because it is taking so long to read. Every page is thoughtful, intelligent, and often gives me pause to reflect. In short, Taylor’s A Secular Age is one of the most brilliant works that I have ever (started to) read.
Taylor shows that we all live in an unprecedented era, an era where it is possible not to believe in God, where one belief is just as possible as another belief. His work explains how we got to where we are in history and why we think the way we do. It is profound and illuminating.
Smith’s summary of Taylor is serviceable. Taylor writes in a narratival manner, and his words cause you to think about what you read. Smith provides propositions to understand what Taylor meant. In short, Taylor tells a story that Smith distills into propositional statements.
To read Smith, then, is helpful, but Smith’s summary misses the flavour of Taylor’s work. This is, of course, unavoidable due to the purpose of Smith’s book. But if you read Smith’s summary and decide not to read Taylor, then you have robbed yourself of a helpful and persuasive work on who you are and why you live the way you do.
I recommend Smith’s book. But do not stop there. Go on to read Taylor. It may take you a year or two to finish, but you will be better off for it.