Do you ever feel that life is a little flat?
If you do, you are not alone according to Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor. He calls it “the modern malaise.”
Taylor says that the experience of living in a secular age is one of “flatness.”
This feeling comes about because of a new view of reality which affects how we experience reality. The view goes by various names–Naturalism, Physicalism, Philosophical Materialism, or Exclusive Humanism. It is the belief that there is nothing over and above the physical. There is no spiritual dimension to reality.
“Nature has no doors, and no reality outside herself for doors to open on”
C. S. Lewis, Miracles.
This loss of the transcendent results in a malaise. Without God, the world lost the enchantment it derived from his presence; meaning is more difficult to come by; it’s not so easy to anchor truth to anything absolute, the same goes for the good and the beautiful.
In the absence of a transcendent source of meaning, where do we look for it?
Other Sources of Meaning
The Romantics looked for it in Nature and the Modern thinkers in Reason. In the postmodern context, these have become inadequate. In our current context, we look for meaning within the individual mind, says Taylor.
Well, that’s cool!
Any meaning to be found in the universe is to be found in my head. I get to decide if a thing is good or true or beautiful. I don’t know; I feel inadequate to the task.
“I told you once you’d made a God of yourself, and the insufficiency of it forced you to become an atheist.”
— Robertson Davies
Without the higher things, our experience of reality is flattened. Hence, the malaise of modernity.
The symptoms for the modern malaise:
- We ask, “Does anything have meaning?”
- We seek “an over-arching significance” in life.
- We tend to commemorate important life events, but feel as if these efforts were all for naught.
- We have a sense of the “utter flatness, emptiness of the ordinary.”
People are obscenities. . . . A mass of tubes squeezing semisolids around itself for a few decades before becoming so dribblesome it’ll no longer function.”
— Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
So how do we bring some fullness into our experience to counter the flatness?
These can sometimes mask the symptoms, but fail to cure the real illness.
A Prescription for the Modern Malaise
- A broader conception of time.
- The recovery of objective reality.
- The re-enchantment of the cosmos.
- Recovery of the transcendent.
I’ve covered the first in previous posts, the first of which is here.
The other three will be addressed in the posts which follow.