Secular modernity requires the weeding out of all the baloney. Yet it’s not clear that we are any less credulous than before, notes Emily Ogden. an associate professor of English at the University of Virginia, in Aeon magazine.

Secular agency is the picture of selfhood that Western secular cultures have often wanted to think is true. It’s more an aspiration than a reality. Secular agents know at any given moment what they do and don’t believe. When they think, their thoughts are their own. The only way that other people’s thoughts could become theirs would be through rational persuasion. Along similar lines, they are the owners of their actions and of their speech. When they speak, they are either telling the truth or lying. When they act, they are either sincere or they are faking it. Something like this model of agency not infrequently accompanies the fable of modernity with which I began. The two conceptions make sense together. Modernity, in this picture, is when we take responsibility for ourselves, freeing both society and individuals from comforting lies.

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