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The Rise of the Profane

At some point in their development, civilizations cease believing in the sacred and plunge into a new set of absolutes. No community likes to speak of decadence and its usually harsh symptoms; no one may even grasp the meaning of such an upheaval. Yet new absolutes appear on the horizon which seem to be barbarous because they are denials of the earlier sacred. For the sacred, in the eyes of the people, appears to be an absolute; it affects their imagination and judgments—until a "thomaskuhnian" revolution (philosophical, scientific, moral, aesthetic) diverts their attention to something else.

So-called transitional periods experience a parallel mobilization of two currents: the old, stable center survives in name, with its symbols and rituals, while a new focus, as yet amorphous and without validity, emerges with its own discourse, its own art forms, and its own set of acts to be performed. For a while—it may be many decades—the two run on parallel tracks; we call the first "sacred," the second "profane," and justifiably belittle the latter, measuring it in the habitual terms of the former. At such times, we witness the transvaluation of the tradition toward the as-yet unknown, and remain perplexed while the new, the profane, occupies the center of loyalty. A new foundation is sacralized.

It is obvious that we now approach the end of the "Age of Faith," and that...

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