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The Secular Mind
by Robert Coles
ISBN 0691058059 / 9780691058054 / 0-691-05805-9
Publisher Princeton University Press
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Robert Coles employs a gestalt method for describing contemporary spirituality in The Secular Mind, a memoirish meditation on the replacement of religion by science as the determining force of Western intellectual culture. The book offers a wide range of reflections on its eponymous topic, inspired by conversations Coles had with such figures as Paul Tillich, William Carlos Williams, Dorothy Day, and Walker Percy--all of whom felt conflicted about feeling comfortable living in both the secular and sacred realms. Coles also offers lively readings of the Bible, Darwin, Kierkegaard, Freud, and others, to demonstrate ancient and modern definitions of secular culture.
Coles's basic historical point is not very controversial: "Once an alternative to entrenched religious life ... secularity became an aspect of individualism, as societies became less and less dominated by church life, more and more capitalistic in nature." More interesting are his thoughts on the future of secularism. He predicts that the mind's curiosity will ultimately master the brain's most complex functions (including emotion and creativity). Yet for all his confidence in the power of psychopharmacology, Coles avers that the scientific victory will never be complete. There will always be need of "an 'otherness' to address through words become acts of appeal, of worried alarm, of lively and grateful expectation: please, oh please, let things go this way, and not in that direction." This "introspective, moral pause," Coles writes, is the secular mind's "very own kind of sanctity." --Michael Joseph Gross [via]