Ashby D. Boyle II, JD PhD, a Utah residence and a Wall Street lawyer is currently spending a year as a research fellow at Yale, returning after being away for two decades.
After 20 years away I have returned to Yale.
I’m back to work on – to finish -- two books, one on the Book of Mormon and one on religion and the Constitution.
These notes are from my adventures with the Book of Mormon at Yale.
Right now, piled around me are the works of Charles Taylor, one of the world's most celebrated philosophers, and the reading is slow. Taylor is a critic of our secular age’s defects, who has traced skepticism as an academic exercise to its current status as our nation’s default set of values. What he calls “exclusive secularism” has evolved into a functioning surrogate religion quicker than it could be critically scrutinized.
Secularism matters to Mormons because it is a social force intolerant of faith, excluding God from public places, from public debate and even from public manners. It is increasingly bad etiquette to even speak of religion in mixed company (“Keep it to yourself!”).
I’m studying Taylor to rewrite my Yale dissertation with update criticism of the United States Supreme Court’s religion jurisprudence as the second book I’m working on.
I’m at the start of an inquiry of the use Taylor makes of “agape,” a New Testament word in Greek for love, as in the love of God for his children and of how we are to love our neighbor. The love of good is translated as “charity” in the KJV, so in common scholarly usage, using the Greek “agape” is “almost uniformly,” one scholar notes,” the referent for any alleged distinctiveness in Christian love”
Taylor the philosopher appears to be timid about doing theology, so because there are no signposts for my search for agape, I’m mining for a heart of gold, with preliminary results. My report is that Taylor’s use of agape is more of a pivot in his critique of secularism than Taylor knows.
The love of God or agape takes its meaning from the narratives of scripture. In the Book of Mormon, the love of God is, for example, set forth in the Book of Ether right after the Lord explains that His “grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me, for if they humble themselves before me I will make weak things become strong unto them.” (Punctuation and parenthetical phrase altered).
"The original Christian notion of agape," states Taylor, "is of a love God has for humans which is concerned with their goodness as creatures. Human beings participate through grace in this love. There is a divine affirmation of the creature." “[A]gape involves permanent stability,” according to Yale Professor Gene Outka. “The loyalty enjoined is indefectible; neither partial nor fluctuating. Whatever a person does in particular never in itself qualifies or disqualifies her from such attention and care.”
Moroni in chapter eight and Matthew in chapter 22 as well as the Old Testament concepts of “chesed”, or God’s loving kindness, all make clear agape is a predicate of God known through his self-revelation.
Secularism defines reality or institutions as bearing no relation to deity or religion, and its substitutes or surrogates of agape are defective, according to Taylor. This is a problem that is just beginning to manifest itself in America the Secular. Taylor is saying that secularity requires agape and grace in order to succeed. No secular substitute is adequate to providing a person with the renewable moral energy needed, which only the divine affirmation of the person can produce. Secularism in short short-circuits, is values fail. Secularism can only succeed in self-contradiction by relying on expressly religious values which it condemns. Otherwise, the values of justice and benevolence promoted by secularism not only fail, but in failing they threaten to those values per se.
Society has, from several different premises, reached a kind of consensus, and endorsed an ethic of benevolence and justice. That ethic is not at issue.
What is at issue is this: What sources make possible realization of these moral principles?
Taylor’s conclusion, and I admit to smoothing out his writing here, is that, after decades of secular surrogate values, this test of time now leaves agape revealed as the decisive source of moral power.
Clearly, secularity never was any good at divine affirmations of the self, but it is just such an enduring positive evaluation of the person – agape -- that generates an on-going source of moral energy. “High standards need strong sources,” Taylor states without agape’s positive affirmation agape, “[o]ur secular society is living beyond our moral means"
“Morality as benevolence on demand breeds self-condemnation for those who fall short.