The obstacles to religious enchantment in a secular age

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 Strauss’ description of primal religious experience, 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 preemptively. 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.

And that, more than anything fundamental about modernity as such, is what I think Taylor is really talking about when he describes the challenges faced by the devout (or potentially devout) in the modern world. “Enchantment” and “disenchantment” apply not to historical epochs but to individuals. And there are a lot of individuals in the modern world who have been disenchanted — by a combination of skeptical intellectual developments and a sense of human self-sufficiency or pride. We think we’ve figured it all out — or that we eventually will — on our own, without God’s help. And so we ensure our own disenchantment.