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Is "secularization" little more than a self-congratulatory tale that modern-day atheists like to tell, or do we live in a secular age after all?
Eberstadt thinks it's the latter, and in this she surely is correct. In his book A Secular Age, philosopher Charles Taylor makes the point well with a question: "Why is it so hard to believe in God (in many milieux) in the modern West, while in 1500 it was virtually impossible not to?" Eberstadt wisely points to the work of historian Eamon Duffy, whose book The Stripping of the Altars shows in great detail how medieval Englishmen, even if they weren't always to be found in church on Sundays, lived in a world in which Christianity defined their everyday lives and filled their imaginative horizons. We just don't live in that world anymore—for us, it's entirely possible to go to school, find a mate, engage in politics, take part in cultural life, and listen to popular music, all without having to confront God in anything but a peripheral way.
So, Eberstadt has good reason to say that the West has "lost God" in some way. But she's not careful enough in spelling out what that means—for, as she herself makes clear, the secularization of the European social imagination that historians like Duffy detail is perfectly compatible with a rise in church attendance. In fact, that's basically what happened, until church attendance started to drop off in the 20th century. Explaining what happened requires telling a story that can account for this complexity, and that's where Eberstadt falls short.
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