In this context, Taylor offers an analysis that is very germane to our work as Christian philosophers. In trying to assess just how the modern social imaginary came to permeate a wider culture, Taylor focuses on Christian responses to this emerging humanism and the “eclipses” we’ve just noted. And what he finds is that the responses themselves have already conceded the game; that is, the responses to this diminishment of transcendence already accede to it in important ways (Taylor will later call it “pre-shrunk religion” ). As he notes:
the great apologetic effort called forth by this disaffection itself narrowed its focus so drastically. It barely invoked the saving action of Christ, nor did it dwell on the life of devotion and prayer, although the seventeenth century was rich in this. The arguments turned exclusively on demonstrating God as Creator, and showing his Providence (225).
What we get in the name of “Christian” defenses of transcendence, then, is “a less theologically elaborate faith” which, ironically, paves the way for exclusive humanism. God is reduced to a Creator and religion is reduced to morality (225). The particularities of specifically Christian belief are diminished, as is any attention to religion in terms of worship (cp. 117).
In other ways, this mode of “Christian” apologetics bought the spectatorish “World-picture” of the new modern order. Rather than seeing ourselves positioned within a hierarchy of forms (in which case we wouldn’t be surprised if “higher levels” are mysterious and inscrutable), we now adopt a God-like, dispassionate “gaze” that surveys the whole. In this mode, the universe appears “as a system before our gaze, whereby we can grasp the whole in a kind of tableau” (232). And it is precisely in this context, when we adopt a “disengaged stance,” that the project of theodicy ramps up. But this is taken up in a way that is completely consistent with the “buffered self” (228): While earlier the terrors and burdens of evil and disaster would have cast us upon the help of a Savior,
[n]ow that we think we see how it all works, the argument gets displaced. People in coffee-houses and salons [and philosophy classes?] begin to express their disaffection in reflections on divine justice, and the theologians begin to feel that this is the challenge they must meet to fight back the coming wave of unbelief. The burning concern with theodicy is enframed by the new imagined epistemic predicament (233).
It’s very difficult for me to resist recognizing how much of the “industry” of Christian philosophy and apologetics today remains the outcome of these shifts. Just compare Christian responses to the “new atheists” which, in a similar way, have already conceded the game to exclusive humanism by playing on their turf. Or consider how much “Christian” philosophy is content to be “theistic” philosophy.
Here’s where Taylor’s “irony” comes into play: What’s left of/for God after this deistic shift? Well, “God remains the Creator, and hence our benefactor…but this Providence remains exclusively general: particular providences, and miracles, are out” (233). In other words, God plays a function within a system that generally runs without him (cp. Heidegger on “ontotheology”). “But having got this far,” Taylor concludes, “it is not clear why something of the same inspiring power cannot come from the contemplation of the order of nature itself, without reference to a Creator” (234). In other words, once God’s role is diminished to a Deistic agent, the gig is pretty much up: “And so exclusive humanism could take hold, as more than atheory held by a tiny minority, but as a more and more viable spiritual outlook. […] The points at which God had seemed an indispensable source for this ordering power were the ones which began to fade and become invisible. The hitherto unthought became thinkable” (234).