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The Secular Mind.

The Secular Mind. By Robert Coles. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999. 189 pp. np.

Robert Coles offers us his perspective on the evolution of "the secular mind," by which he basically means human consciousness, in the Western world. Beginning with the Hebrew and the Christian biblical epoch, he states that humanity initially comprehended itself in relationship to God and the sacred. The "secular mind" in this era was humanity's self-awareness as creatures and as stewards of the non-human world. Coles reminds us that in this religious milieu the secular mind also manifested itself in the form of opposition and social injustice, which was confronted by Hebrew prophets like Jeremiah, and later by Jesus Christ who eventually became a victim of the religious and political "secular mind" in Palestine.

Coles then proceeds to discuss extensively the impact of Freud's psychoanalytical theory on contemporary Western society. He contends that Freud's insights and theories have replaced religious ideology in Western thought, and have ironically become the sacred idol worshiped by the "secular mind." With the successful absorption of psychoanalysis and scientific research in the West, empirical knowledge has displaced our sacred ways of being and believing. Coles is also critical of an indifferent faith and self-centered forms of spirituality, which he equates with the "secular mind." Coles's concluding chapter is somewhat futuristic in nature. He warns us that neurobiology will eventually attempt to monitor how we think, feel, and behave; Coles is concerned that science will attempt to define and control human morality. In essence, Coles's view of "the secular mind" is his endeavor to describe the destructive capacity of the human ego as it strives to overcome the uncertainties of life that make us vulnerable. Coles believes that with humanity's growing faith in science the mystery of living will soon be lost.

In this book Coles creatively combines personal interviews with Dorothy Day, Walker Percy, William Carlos Williams, and Anna Freud with his musings on works from the domain of theology (St. Augustine, Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer), literature (George Eliot, George Meredith, Flannery O'Connor), psychology (Erik Erickson, Freud), and philosophy (Blaise Pascal, Soren Kierkegaard). He has written a fascinating but disturbing book, and although we may disagree with his speculation, he forces us to ponder his concern regarding human destiny. This work is the product of a wise man sincerely asking us to rethink our basic values. Coles's style is casual and meditative; his book almost reads like a journal. Readers from a variety of disciplines will appreciate Coles's work.

LAJU M. BALANI Baylor University Waco, Texas

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Balani, Laju M.
Publication:Journal of Church and State
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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