WHAT IS IMMANENT IN JUDAISM? Transcending A Secular Age


Martin Kavka is Associate Professor in the Department of Religion at Florida State University. He is the author of Jewish Messianism and the History of Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 2004), which was awarded the Jordan Schnitzer Prize in Philosophy and Jewish Thought by the Association for Jewish Studies in 2008. Along with his effulgent colleague Aline Kalbian, he edits the Journal of Religious Ethics. Martin Kavka, Religion Department, Florida State University, M03 Dodd Hall, Tallahassee, FL 32306, mkavka@fsu.edu


This essay takes on the implicit claim in Taylor's A Secular Age, forecast in some of his earlier writings, that the desire for a meaningful life can never be satisfied in this life. As a result, A Secular Age is suffused with a tragic view of existence; its love of narratives of religious longing makes no sense otherwise. Yet there are other models of religion that lend meaning to existence, and in the majority of this essay, I take up one model that Taylor ignores in A Secular Age, namely that of a God who is immanent in social life throughout religious law. Turning to Maimonides's account of divine law in the Guide of the Perplexed, I argue that a vision of the divine law that is divine because of its effects in society, namely the promotion of human welfare, can mend the relations between varying kinds of believers and unbelievers in a way that Taylor thinks is impossible. A God who commands laws is a God who inaugurates an “anthropocentric shift” long before current understandings of secularization see it beginning.