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The Return of the Sacred in an Age of Terror by David Tacey
David Tacey gives us a taste of his upcoming Eremos talk on 9 July.
There are all kinds of signs that the sacred is returning. After a long period of dryness and desiccation, fostered by secularism, rationality and materialism, there are signs everywhere that the sacred is coming back. Ironically, science and philosophy, which were instrumental in getting rid of the sacred centuries ago, seem to be leading the charge. Sociologists have announced that we are living in a post-secular era, and intellectuals are consulting leaders of religion about ‘what is missing’ in secular society.
One might have hoped that the return of the sacred would be greeted with joy and relief, but not so. Our world has grown so far from the sacred, that any approach of this reality is experienced as foreboding and terrifying.
As I consider the character of the sacred today, I see a turbulent field in which anger, violence, terrorism and mayhem are intermixed with redemptive possibilities of love, hope and transformation. I see the sacred linked with war and revenge, fundamentalisms, archaic moralities, moribund doctrines, an epidemic of clerical sexual abuse and widespread loss of belief.
Yet with all this taking place, the sacred is coming back. There is something in the epidemic of religiously-inspired terrorism that warrants close scrutiny. Secular commentators offer explanations based on politics and cultural conditions, but there is a dimension of terrorism that is not being seen or heard.
I do not mean that the jihadists are inspired by God, as they claim to be, but that there is a symbolic element to their behaviour which is important to understand.
They are not the conscious deliverers of divine justice, or emissaries of the sacred, but the unconscious carriers of a pathology that has its origins in the religious neurosis of our time. According to Sufi texts, the notion of a ‘holy war’ applies more to the inner than the outer realm. The true meaning of jihad, according to Hazrat Inayat Khan, refers to the psychological strife ‘to overcome the false ego’.
Terrorists have bizarrely misunderstood the symbolic nature of their quest and are externalising this battle. There is meaning in terrorism not because of their criminal ideology, but in what lies behind it. ‘The Return of the Sacred in an Age of Terror’ will explore the strange coincidence, or synchronicity, between the return of the sacred in our time and the rise of religious terrorism on a global scale.
David Tacey is also speaking at the Awakening the Sacred through Literature and the Arts Conference at Strathfield on 7-8 July. 2017.
Australian Catholic University, 25A Barker Road, Strathfield NSW 2135
About David Tacey
David Tacey is Emeritus Professor of Humanities, La Trobe University, Melbourne, and Research Professor of Public Theology at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, Canberra and works across the fields of spirituality, religion, psychology and Australian culture. David is the author of fourteen books, including Edge of the Sacred, Gods and Diseases, The Darkening Spirit: Jung, Spirituality, Religion. His most recent book is Beyond Literal Belief: Religion as Metaphor.
David is known internationally in the fields of spirituality studies, analytical psychology and psychoanalysis and is often invited to speak on issues of spirituality, religious belief and indigenous cultures.