In the last several posts, we’ve covered how the enchanted, hierarchical world of pre-modern Europe slowly shifted in the sixteenth and seventeenth-centuries to a “disciplinary” society, where human beings began to perceive themselves as rational agents and masters of their own will and destiny, and increasingly related to each other in terms of mutual benefit, exchange, and equality. This shift corresponded with the changes in scientific views (with the “mechanized” universe), sociopolitical views (i.e. government as an instrument for mutual benefit), and economic developments (the rise of the “invisible hand” free market) . In this post covering chapters 6 and 7, we’ll see corresponding religious changes during the Enlightenment in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, resulting in what Taylor calls “Providential Deism” — the bridge between the transcendence of pre-modern Christianity and the immanence of secular humanism and atheism.
Providential Deism encapsulated what Taylor calls the anthropocentric shift, or the reduction of religion, politics, the universe, God, etc. to fit the scope of human flourishing in the here-and-now. The other face of this anthropocentric shift was a widespread “immanentization,” where the transcendent or other-worldly faded in importance and legitimacy. In Providential Deism, the religion of many Enlightenment intellectual elites, we see these changes reflected in the recasting of God’s nature from that of a being who relates to us through his agency and personality, to one who relates to us only indirectly– and indifferently– through the law-governed structure he has engineered for our benefit.
To highlight these shifts, recall that in medieval/early modern Europe, the cosmos was one great Chain of Being or cosmic body, of which everyone and everything played a specific and hierarchically ordered part. Mankind was embedded within this order, not the focal point as became the case with the anthropocentric shift. Furthermore, in the medieval world saturated with a variety of spirits and forces, God’s power was the guarantor of safety and protection in this life or, at least, salvation in the next—which was supposed to be everyone’s focus anyway. While they perceived God as good and desirous of human flourishing, he had higher purposes— like our own transformation– shrouded from our understanding, but to which we should submit.
With the anthropocentric shift, a few key elements fall out of the picture: (A) the eclipse of any good beyond human flourishing; (B) the eclipse of grace; (C) the eclipse of mystery, and (D) the eclipse of transformation. How did this “anthropocentric shift” happen?  Again, primarily through religious reforms (as we’ve seen in line with one of A Secular Age’s broader patterns: religion births secularism). One of the key factors was the Protestant Reformation which initially aimed to instill greater devotion and piety among the clergy and the laity, and then expanded its aim to shaping civilization writ large into more “orderly, sober, disciplined, and productive ways of living.” These reforms were astoundingly successful over the next several centuries, until such norms were no longer perceived as the grace-aided transformations of a chaotic and violent human order, but simply as mankind’s natural inclination. More people came to identify the “locus of our highest moral capacity and inspiration without reference to God, but within the range of purely intra-human powers” (ciao, grace). Because such ways of living were simply encoded into our nature, understanding our purpose and flourishing in life became a matter of reason and self-evident observation (adios, mystery). In other words, Enlightenment thinkers forged new models of human nature (rooted in older movements like devout humanism and Jesuit spirituality, with their more positive view of human agency) in which people were naturally inclined to feel benevolence for their fellow man and a concern for universal justice. Thus, the Christian ideas of agape and grace were transposed into mankind’s immanent or self-derived moral motivations , which were in turn activated by pure will, or some other inner capacity like universal sympathy, reason, or dignity, depending on your theorist .
In addition, the fruits of these civilizational reforms—i.e. better quality of life, more prosperous economy, social stability, etc.— were no longer understood as the side-effects of transformative, holy living, but rather as the whole point. God’s plan for human beings was reduced to their pursuit of happiness and wellbeing (goodbye, supra-flourishing goals and transformation). The more effective people perceived themselves to be at achieving and benefitting from this new disciplined, productive, mutually beneficial social order, the more distant and indirect God’s role became. Some Deists credited God with bestowing these natural capacities upon mankind, while others assigned his role to judging mankind at the end of time if their natural inclinations didn’t do the trick (though human perfection was increasingly seen as a viable, if still somewhat scandalous, possibility). But with the rise of universalism and the decline of hell, even that judicial role faded, and the clockmaker God became more entrenched.
Taylor analyzes the changes in conceptions of God’s nature and mankind’s relationship to him more closely in chapter 7, “The Impersonal Order.” In the 18th century, the biblical God—- the feeling God who relates to us through the contingencies and individuality of our stories (stories in which he intervenes), and invites us into communion with him through the embodied community of the church—- is relegated to the fanatics, enthusiasts, or the superstitious. The God of educated “enlightened” society was the author of “natural religion,” knowable by reason and the natural order; God was an “architect of a universe operating by unchanging laws, which humans have to conform to or suffer the consequences.” In this new paradigm there is no relationship of agape between rescued and rescuer; there is no communion that “integrate[s] persons in their true identities, as bodily beings who establish their identities in their histories, in which contingency has a place.” The Enlightenment was the age of the Impersonal Order, where flat, categorical relationships superseded the older, personal, and complementary (if hierarchical) ties of feudalism and the like. In this picture, universal codes of behavior replace individuated relations of agape. There is no more allowance for the balance of complementary, mutually necessary polarities, such as order and chaos; order was the only legitimate condition. Discipline and reason replace revelation (for how could an Author of “such an order…stoop to such a personalized communication as a shortcut, if virtuous reason alone can…tell us all we need to know”). Unconditional human dignity replaces the purchase of divine sacrifice, and instead of communion, there is the Cartesian command to distrust each other and even our own bodies; we must learn and reason on our own.
That is, for a time. In the next chapters, Taylor will explore the “malaise[s] of modernity” that set in during the 19th century, and the various reactions (like Romanticism) to the loss of miracles, mysteries, and the transcendent.
So, how much of this Enlightenment anthropocentric immanentization does Mormonism inherit? I have been accustomed to situating early Mormonism within the Great Awakening and Romanticism, but now I see strong echoes of these Enlightenment ideas as well. For one, you can’t get much more anthropocentric than God’s work and glory being to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,” or the audacious couplet “as man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become.” Or consider Joseph Smith’s affirmation that happiness is the object and design of our existence, or Brigham Young’s assertion that we “must learn how to enjoy the things of life,” and that “there is no enjoyment, no comfort, no pleasure, nothing that the human heart can imagine…that tends to beautify, happify, make comfortable and peaceful, and exalt the feelings of mortals but what the Lord has in store for his people.” Flourishing? Definitely. Transformation? Not as much. In terms of the eclipse of mystery, consider Brigham Young’s description of God as “the greatest chemist there is,” the naturalization of miracles, or the early enthusiasm for and expectation of “wagonloads of plates” and cascades of revelations exposing all the mysteries of the universe. And grace? Well, the last couple decades of interfaith dialogue have spurred some Mormons to focus more attention on the hitherto opaque role of grace—aided also, perhaps, by the cumulative stress of “after-all-we-can-do” readings. There has certainly been an external and internal perception of the diminished role of grace in this theological context of uncreated agency and limitless perfectibility.
Clearly, however, Mormonism is not simply a product of Providential Deism’s anthropocentric immanentization. Even aside from the boisterous insistence on revelation, an interventionist God (especially in reading D&C), the early revival of spiritual gifts and other very non-Deistic traits, the Mormon brand of anthropocentrism seems to be doing something else. Mormonism did not simply “shrink” religion to the immanent frame, as Taylor describes Deism doing; as Terryl Givens notes in People of Paradox, Mormonism expanded rather than merely contracted the sphere of the sacred. Joseph Smith both made the divine concrete and immanent, and infused the earthly with celestial meaning. In other words, rather than disenchanting the earthly of the sacred as Protestantism did, or lopping off the transcendent and the conflating the sacred and secular as Deism did, or mingling them promiscuously as Catholic mysticism and popular devotion continued to do, Mormonism both exalted the immanent and immanentized the transcendent. Human beings are born trailing clouds of glory, mortal relationships found the conditions of godliness, the brick and mortar of communal religion serve as the very essence of Zion; and looking at it from the other end, angels whisking in and out of bedrooms, muddy earth yielding golden plates, revelations dropping in between bouts of wrestling matches. We see both the mundane pulsing with divinity, and the transcendent made shockingly immanent.
This two-way dynamic is treated by Terryl Givens as a rich paradox marking Mormon cultural and aesthetic life, generating fruitful tensions. But at the end of his chapter “Cinder Blocks and Everlasting Burnings,” Givens recognizes that with this collapse of the immanent and the transcendent, we struggle against the elimination of the transcendent altogether. In this collapse, what happens to that yearning for or sense of mystery, the Other, the Beyond? And I find other risks in this anthropocentric bent to Mormonism, as well as in the disciplined, ordered, will-driven, self-constructing agency of the Mormon self (which seems to go on steroids during early 20th century Progressivism—a movement with many Enlightenment echoes). What happens to our capacity or need for awe-filled worship, or the “wasteful” generosity of devotion, completely divorced from our own ends or “productive” goals ? Have we closed the door to those rich spiritual experiences that transcend our egoic achievements and spiritual acquisitiveness for “progress”, that realm of spiritual communion found among the great Christian and Eastern mystics? What really happens to Christology and the Atonement, to the Condescension of the Word made Flesh, in our application of the idea that we are not ontologically different from God? What is the line between that spectacular collapse of the abyss between the divine and the human, and mere appropriation? What image of God are we really seeing?
These are some of my questions sparked by these two chapters. What are your thoughts on these tensions? Are they productive paradoxes? Is there room for some more resolution? And, showing my own cards here, how would this “collapse” operate differently if we looked to the immanentization of Buddhism and Eastern Christian mysticism, which also locates the divine within the immanent materials of human relationships and the human heart, but on a level that gets underneath the egoic self and its willpower, self-mastery and self-construction? Admittedly, this last train of thought would take us outside A Secular Age, which focuses on the mainstream intellectual history of the West. But in trying to understand and shape the ongoing revelatory project of Mormonism, it is something I find very, very worth thinking about. For another post!
 Taylor briefly mentions other causes: fatigue from religious wars and theological battles and controversies, prompting a turn towards simpler doctrine; a general sense of skepticism in coffee houses and salons, which provoked clergy and believers to undertake an apologetic approach that ironically reinforced the “shrinking” of religion, as they defend only God as creator—not Christology, grace and sin, etc.; and the rise of “polite society” and its new norms, which served as the “first stage in the passage of the modern moral order from a mere theory to a form of social imaginary” (237)
 Whatever its limitations or results, Taylor argues, this “immanentization” of moral motivation is one of the greatest achievements of human development: “For the first time, we have such an opening to the universal which is not based in some way on a connection to the transcendent” (255). Human beings find—or create– the impetus, or at least the expectation, within themselves to care about others on a universal scale. In other words, the “buffered identity, capable of disciplined control and benevolence, generated its own sense of dignity and power, its own inner satisfactions” (262) independent of any divine gift or cosmic order. This sense of intrinsic moral capacity becomes so deeply internalized that it takes the most extreme ideologies, like Nietzsche or Fascism, to attempt its repudiation.
 There are significant differences among these theorists: Taylor divides them into two camps, the “innocentizing” theorists and the “positive” theorists. Those who “innocentize” human nature render human motivation neutral but capable of being directed towards good or bad, rational or irrational ends, through reason, discipline, and self-control. Those, like Rousseau, who believe human motivation has a natural positive bent towards solidarity and sympathy find that discipline and rational self-control can actually divert us from our “original, spontaneous good nature”; rather, our natural capacities need only be liberated. Some, like Kant, try to combine the two, where our “noumenal” nature is innate but requires a long discipline of reason to emerge. In either case, Taylor points out that it’s not just a simple affirmation of ordinary human desire, released from the shackles of guilt, shame, and religion; there is still the sense of some self-work and proper conditions, training, discipline, etc.
 See Josef Pieper’s 1952 book Leisure for an interesting treatment of worship as leisure or “waste,” and its deeply detrimental erasure from modern industrial life.