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A RETURN TO THE SUBJECT: THE THEOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF CHARLES TAYLOR'S SOURCES OF THE SELF JAMES J. BUCKLEY Loyola College Baltimore, Maryland ECENT THEOLOGIANS have widely argued (or pve-. sumed) that modernity's 1turn to the subject creates deep p11ohlems for imagining, thinking about, or enacting who we m'e. These theologians do not aJwaJ"s agree on what constitutes "modernity." And they ra11e!ly agree on the 'alternative to " the turn to the :subject.'' That is, some theologians airgue or presume that the turn from the subject ought to he baiekwa:rid, retrieving our sou11ces prior to what Vatican II and others c:a:lrl "the modeTn world;" others argue o'l.' presume tha:t the turn ought be forwavd to "post-modernity ," either accommodating ourseh11es to the decentered selves of the post-modern secular avant garde or proclaiming the strange, new wo1'1d of the Bible. Hut neo-Augustinians and Thomists, liberation theologians and pragmatists, Wittgensrteinians and Barthians all roughly agree (in spite of deep disagx ,eements) that we need to turn from the subject;1 Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity is a massivie challenge to these presumptions and argument1s.2 It is, we might s'ay, a call to re-turn to the :subjeict-;hut quwlified this time by a gl'e3.1ter sense of this subject 'is historiml context in the Enlightenment and Romantioism 1 For a summary of critiques of different turns to the subject, see David H. Kelsey, "Human Being," in Christian Theology: An Introduction to Its Traditions and Tasks, ed. Peter C. Hodgson and Robert H. King, Second Edition (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985 [Firnt Edition, 1982]), Chapter 6. 2 Charles Taylor Sources of the Sdf: The Making of the JJiodern Identity (Harvard University Press, 1989), referred to in the body of this essay by page numbers in parentheses. 497 498 JAMES J. BUCKLEY a1s weU .as this subject's constant ternptaition to undermine the very world it mak!es. A rea1der's response to the book wilil depend not only on how one rea1ds Taylor (e.g., does he under- or over-qualify his ca11 to return to Lhe subject?) but also on where the reader finds heriseilf on the tlieological spectrum. However, the fact that T.aylor',s book has been greeted with critical enthusiasm by both theologiical 'agnostics and contempomry Augustinians and Thomists suggests tha1t it is a book whose power and scope will resonabe with very different sort1s of men and women.3 My aim here is not to summarize or 1 assess the riches of this book. Soumes of the Self is a book of such clarity, power, and 1scope that lit will takce some 1 time for rea;ders (or, ak least, this reader) fo absorb it a;nd to respond :to Taylor adequateJy. My aim is much more modest, nameJy, to pursue some of the connections between Tayl:or's proposal and theology. These connections vv:i.11 suggest some chores Taylor has discoveil'ed or crea;ted for theoilogians. I rea:lize that I risk doing an injustice to a book by a philosopher, not a theologian. Tayfor is candid about hls own theologica1l convictions, while not pretending fully to ddend or evcen fully expl~ca:te those convictions. Nonetihe1ess , I wiill show tha:t his theses challenge n1any of us in ways tha:t justify a foous on theo1ogica,l isisues.Je objecition to. Tayloi; rightly speaks of the "anti-humanism of much evange[ieail rie~ ligion today," bu:t I be1ievie he is mistaken when he fails to 1.2 He carefully distinguishes neo-Nietzscheans like Lyotard, Derrida, and even Foucault, from Nietzsche himself, who had a kind of "saving inconsistency " (489) in his simultaneous affirmation and denial of a " sense of the magnificent, of the categorically affi.rmable, of the infinitely worthy of love " (453) . ON CHARLES TAYLOR 509 qualify lthis "murch" and also when he caMs "figures like Cardina1l Ra:tzinger" anti-humanistic (318). He !thinks that abortion debrutes a're not so murch deep disagreements as they are exceptionail disagreements that only provie h0:w suhs1tantial our agreements are (515) . But Taylor...


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