"(Portentous sight!) the owlet Atheism,
Sailing on obscene wings athwart
the noon . . . "
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Individualism is the question of first concern to the future of the West. The dread argument of the individual case is, I think, the fundamental idea of modernism. Books like those by Turner and Bellah & Associates which deal with this question have significance, however, only within the framework already constructed by some of the finest minds of the past 150 years. It is necessary to review at least the broad outlines of that framework before the value of these works can be determined.
Man's worship of himself became possible because of two related but conflicting reasons. One, the Founder of the Christian religion gave infinite value to the person, a being worthy in His eyes of His death. This central liberating truth, fully and incontrovertibly proclaimed in history, is unique. Two, by the time of the Renaissance the inevitable workings of mankind's weakness made themselves felt in secular humanism, the ideology in which the person is perceived as the center of reality and, hence, the compelling image of culture. This shift is so profound that Lionel Trilling held that a mutation in the human psyche had taken place then, making it possible for man to see himself as at the center.
By this shift the Christian sense...