Beyond Idols: The Shape of a Secular Society by Richard K. Fenn

By Richard K. Fenn

This publication makes an attempt to articulate the character of a mundane society, describe its merits, and indicates the stipulations below which this type of society may possibly emerge. To turn into secular, argues Fenn, is to open oneself and one's society to a variety of probabilities, a few fascinating and interesting, a few burdensome and dreadful. whereas a few sociologists have argued "Civil faith" is critical to carry jointly our newly "religionless" society, Fenn urges that there's not anything to fear--and every little thing to gain--from residing in a society that isn't certain jointly through sacred stories and ideology, or by means of sacred associations and practices.

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If all of this sounds contemporary, it is perhaps because the topic of recovered memory is currently both popular and controversial. I do not intend to go into it here other than to point out that there is a connection between national disasters, traumatized populations, and new testimony by those whose agony has previously been unconscious and untold. Critics who deride public interest in these testimonies may miss their significance as emblems of a more widespread trauma. I am arguing, moreover, that the discovery of individuals who are able to recover themselves and ac- , ,     quire new aptitudes and associations is crucial for a society that hungers for a sense of possibility.

Different from one society to another, it nonetheless expresses the capacity of a society to identify the needs of the individual with the services and programs, the goals and requirements of the larger society. The civil religion reduces the ineffable and unimaginable to what can be remembered, known, understood, and emulated. It is thus a form of idolatry, and it offers a vast reduction of the imponderable and uncertain to what can be revered. Only when individuals can see beyond these reductionist idols, this foreshortening of their perspective and horizons, can they become free from the weight of their culture.

Nervous passengers caught up in this adventure were forever holding their hands over their eyes as they discerned shipwreck ahead, but eventually the term “crisis” became a bit of a joke, because the ship sailed, not without turbulence but certainly without shipwreck, through so many crises. The difficult thing to explain is why these successes seemed merely to feed the appetite for building the perfect society, which, in being necessarily static, would equally necessarily amount to the suppression of the individual.

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