I've been reading in philosopher of religion Charles Taylor's new book, A Secular Age, which explores the monumental cultural shift over the last 500 years from having the "social imaginary" of premoderns to that of moderns. By social imaginary he means a culture's collective representation of reality. The medieval peasant in France has more in common with his peasant counterpart in China than than he would with French worker living today. The greater divide is not between the medieval Frenchman and Chinaman, but between the Frenchman with premodern consciousness and the Frenchman with modern consciousness. It's not just about the cultural differences. It's about the reality differences because the premodern social imaginary is so profoundly different from the modern one.
The interesting thing for Taylor is not that the world changed because of scientific discoveries, but that the imagination of the world changed during the modern era in such a way that an ordered, meaningful "cosmos" morphed into a vast, empty, disenchanted "universe". In other words, he seeks to describe how and why we have become secularized moderns. And without diminishing all the important advantages that come with our having become moderns, he challenges us to recognize what has been lost and the price we have paid for those advantages.
Although Taylor's erudition is more than I could acquire in two lifetimes, he is groping with the same themes I've been exploring here at After the Future. This past summer (check July archive posts on "Naturalism and Supernaturalism") I got into it with some naturalists with whom I argued that they were unnecessarily limiting themselves by insisting only on naturalistic explanations for everything, including religious experiences. The more thoughtful naturalists who commented here admitted the reality of experiences that religious types like me call transcendent, but don't see how they provide proof of anything that points to a spiritual dimension that coexists or even envelops our material existence.
I am not going to rehearse the back and forth that went on about that again. But during those those exchanges it struck me how difficult it is for modern naturalists to stand outside of their assumptions, I think because those assumptions are still so strongly reinforced by the modern rationalist social imaginary. So as a remedy, might I suggest to open-minded naturalists to read Taylor if they are interested to get some perspective on terrain that is already very familiar to them if they are truly open to seeing this familiar territory in a larger evolving context. For me the value of the book is to see one's own little mental world as but an eddy in this larger, magnificent stream. I think secular moderns of the naturalist variety would have a similar experience.