Damon Linker continues the debate the Dish featured the past two weekends about the nature of religious experience in a secular age, arguing that “[r]eligious experience — in modernity no less than in premodern contexts — transcends intellect and reason”:
God can call at any time, at any place, overturning a lifetime of thinking and acting and living — including a lifetime of thinking and acting and living within established, settled religious traditions. The call requires and demands an act of surrender to an externally issued, absolute, unrelativizable command.
Read in the light of [philosopher Leo] Strauss’ description of primal religious experience, [David] Sessions’ insistence that the potential convert not abandon “intellectual rigor” appears to be an example of how one can foreclose the possibility of religious experience by refusing it pre-emptively. Accepting the authority of critical biblical scholarship and academic theology (among other modern intellectual pursuits) may guarantee that the authoritative call of God will never be heard, rendering genuine religious experience impossible.
How can you hear the voice of the authentic prophet if you have decided in advance that a prophet must fit certain narrow criteria to be listened to. Who wants to pay attention to a wild man of the desert who ears animal skins and eats locusts and honey? That rural carpenter of Nazareth claims to be the Messiah of Israel, but everybody knows when moshiach comes, he will be a warrior king, so pay that loon no mind. If you rule out ahead of time the possibility of theophany (God breaking into the natural world and showing Himself), you won’t see it when it happens. Linker says that we are responsible for our own disenchantment.
I think this conversation has over-identified “the secular” with the phenomenon of “disenchantment”—the sense that we live in a world unhooked from transcendence, devoid of the divine, no longer enchanted by spirits or the Spirit. If a “secular” age is a disenchanted age, then it raises the sorts of questions Linker and Sessions are asking: Can one still experience enchantment in a secular age? Indeed, if disenchantment is just synonymous with modernity, then it would seem like religious belief is precluded: To live in a secular age is a matter of growing up and refusing to believe in sprites and fairies and gods and God. Get over it. Wake up and smell the disenchantment. …
But that notion of “secularization” is precisely what Taylor is calling into question. So it’s odd to see people railing against Taylor as if his account of disenchantment rules out religious experience. Taylor has his own account of disenchantment, but disenchantment is not what he sees as the kernel of secularization. Instead, for Taylor, ours is a “secular” age because it is an age in which all of our beliefs are contestable. It is a shift, not in what we can believe (or “experience”), but in what is believable. Ours is a “secular” age, not because we’re all doomed to inhabit the world as disenchanted, but because even those who experience it as enchanted have to realize that not everyone does. Taylor never suggests that belief, conversion, and religious experience are impossible in a secular age. Instead he emphasizes that they are “fragilized”—undertaken and experienced with a sense that our neighbors don’t share our convictions.