“The Age of Doubt”: Christopher Lane’s New Book on Victorian Agnosticism Looks Interesting

Jacket of The Age of Doubt by Christopher Lane

At New Humanist is an essay by Christopher Lane (adapted from his recently released book on doubt and agnosticism among the Victorians). Here is Lane writing about the (failed) defensive maneuvers taken by the Christian faithful against the rising cultural tide of religious doubt:

[T]he Church of England and its nonconformist rivals warned congregations that doubt wasn’t just sinful and immoral, but a condition marred by emptiness and despair. “Consider the miseries of wives and mothers losing their faith in Scripture,” urged Cardinal John Henry Newman, as some doubters tried to cling to their faith by focusing on the plight of those who had lost theirs.

The strategy backfired, however, and sent the Church into defensive retreat. As the scholar Joseph Altholz asks, “Could the rising generation, self-consciously devoted to truth but increasingly aware of disturbing facts, be expected indefinitely to contain their doubts and profess an assurance which was decreasingly real?” Given the tension voiced at the time between reason and faith, the fervour that inspired the Victorians’ religious revival hastened its collapse. The Church was ill equipped to engage with scientific naturalism, rationalism, free thought and growing interest in liberalism; it confronted internal rifts over the very nature of belief and found that the evidence was not in its favour.

In other words, when in doubt shout it out (with fear appeals, emotional fervor, oversimplifications, and the feigning of certainty that is not really warranted). Sounds like a description of the 21st century Republican Party and its evangelical base.

Christopher Lane’s book is published by Yale University Press and is at Amazon here.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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1 Response to “The Age of Doubt”: Christopher Lane’s New Book on Victorian Agnosticism Looks Interesting

  1. This does look good. Especially to someone with a research interest in the secularization of the soul…Thanks for the heads up. One other thing those in doubt used to do — have seances…

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