Charles Taylor, professor emeritus at McGill University in Montreal, stands as one of humanity’s great thinkers. His writings span the history of ideas, political and social philosophy, and religion. His contributions to scientific, cultural, and spiritual betterment have earned him the Templeton Prize and Kyoto Prizes. In December 2016 he became the first recipient of the $1 million Berggruen Prize, awarded to “a thinker whose ideas are of broad significance for shaping human self-understanding and the advancement of humanity.”
Mr. Taylor’s monumental work “A Secular Age,” respectful of those of all faiths and of no faith, traces historically and philosophically how the West has changed significantly over four centuries. At one time it was almost unthinkable for anyone not to believe in God, while today that is only one of many views held. He writes: “[With] the coming of modern secularity ... for the first time in history a purely self-sufficient humanism came to be a widely available option. I mean by this a humanism accepting no goals beyond human flourishing, nor any allegiance to anything else beyond this flourishing” (p. 18).
The biblical Gospels show that Christ Jesus wanted people to flourish. He taught, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). However, looking beyond standard measurements to a fuller, more spiritual basis for doing well, he said, for example, that we shouldn’t be preoccupied about food, drink, and clothing, but added reassuringly: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:31, 33).
Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), a devoted follower of Jesus, learned that we live most fully by basing our lives on the understanding that God is infinite, divine Love, the actual intelligence and power that sustains life. Turning to God in illness, poverty, and family loss and abandonment, Mrs. Eddy found restoration of health and happiness. But she also found that what nurtures a greater sense of joy and health is completely and selflessly devoting ourselves to expressing God’s love, coming home to our true nature as the spiritual image of this Love. She wrote: “All Christian faith, hope, and prayer, all devout desire, virtually petition, Make me the image and likeness of divine Love” (“Message to The Mother Church for 1902,” p. 6).
Living consistently with this prayer demands much but brings a deeper, richer, and fuller flourishing. Beyond material prosperity, divine Love supports us as we grow in selflessness and grace and so help take humanity forward.