Vicarious religion and the designated believer

Have you heard about "vicarious religion?" The phrase made me laugh out loud when I spotted it in Peter Steinfels’ terrific review of "A Secular Age" by Charles Taylor (subscriber only). Apparently this is a description of the "penumbra" of belief remaining in those for whom religion is but "an ancestral memory," a resource for rites of passage, or a consolation in collective disasters. (Like those instant street shrines after 9/11?) But I’m more interested in the church goers left on the ground, who persist in taking their faith full strength and straight up? In my family of good "vicarious" religious folk, formerly called "lapsed" or "communal Catholics," I can now understand my role. Obviously, I am the "designated believer." My weekly mass going is not a replay of Mother Macree, me old Irish grandma, but something more acerbic, and intellectually assertive, if this makes any sense. If and when I receive any friendly fire, I’ll ardently argue my case in good thorn in your side fashion. Here I stand people, with all these diamonds and delights, but you all keep refusing the gift. Well, maybe others have some better strategies for carrying on in a secular age. Any thoughts? Sidney Callahan
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10 years ago
I think we need to look at history as a guide. Before 313 AD Christianity was a small group of devoted believers. After 313 AD we become the official religion in a world where religion was decided for you by the government. That world is gone and religion is a matter of choice since the Enlightenment. That reality presents a challenge to us in living our faith with love and fidelity to the Gospel message. We can help each other do this in our communities.

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