Individualism, Secularized Society, and the Meaning of Life: Pt. 2

In my previous blog, I argued that a secularized society makes it both performatively and conceptually impossible to offer an objective meaning to life. The argument is simple; and the post is quite brief. In this blog, I would like to augment the argument by drawing out further reasons to believe that an objective meaning to life is conceptually incoherent in a secularized society.

One by-product of a completely secularized society is an unlimited (if inhibiting) sort of ‘freedom’. Such ‘freedom’ is only so-called since the cost of this unbounded ‘freedom’ – required by a completely secularized society – is, among other things, the fact of having to create personal identities as a matter of pure choice. A result of such self-making is what Zygmunt Bauman calls ‘Unsicherheit’, or social uncertainty (Bauman, In Search of Politics, pp. 160-61). In tracing a parallel problem within Muslim communities situated in modern societies, the scholars of Islam Armando Salvatore and Dale Eickelman argue that identity ‘modularity is never self-sufficient and self-sustaining, but needs underlying, horizontal, ties of solidarity without which the social identity is ineffective’ (Salvatore and Eickelman, Public Islam and the Common Good, p. 23). The late modern world is faced with deep social Unsicherheit, owing to modern secularized modularity and meaninglessness.

Furthermore, in late modern society where life’s meaning becomes an impossibility, Charles Taylor notes that there can be no role for ‘heroism, … , or high purposes of life, or things worth dying for’ (Sources of the Self, p. 500). The historian and social critic Christopher Lasch similarly points out that, whereas the ‘the older meaning of identity refers both to persons and to things’, in late modernity ‘both have lost their solidity . . . , their definiteness and continuity’ (The Minimal Self, p. 32). Since there is no shared and ‘sacred canopy’ (to borrow a term from Peter Berger), there is no objective meaning to life; and without meaning, there is no identity; and without identity, there is nothing worth dying for. Again, as Taylor writes, ‘moderns anxiously doubt whether life has meaning, or wonder what its meaning is’, since life’s meaning is ‘invented, not discovered’ (pp. 14-23).

This rather nihilistic picture is not one which we want to hang over the agnostic’s head. Rather, the job of the Christian apologist is to show how her worldview offers a more attractive and abundant and accurate picture of reality; as Pascal put it: ‘Make [Christianity] attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is.’

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