Liberalism and God

By Melleuish, Greg | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Liberalism and God

Melleuish, Greg, Review - Institute of Public Affairs

We ignore religion at our peril, writes Greg Melleuish.

At an early stage during the French Revolution the decision was taken to reform the French Church.

The revolutionaries introduced a number of innovations including the abolition of most religious orders, the election of priests by their parishioners, and the election of bishops by their priests. They did not handle this attempt at reform very well. The consequence was a massive split between those who supported democratic reform and those who supported the Church.

If anything, this division between Republicans and Catholics, which was to persist in France for the next two hundred years, was the most significant outcome of the French Revolution. One of the major consequences of the French Revolution appeared to be the driving of a giant wedge between Christianity and the new progressive forces of liberalism and democracy in Europe. The Catholic Church for a long time refused to be reconciled with the ideals of liberalism. Liberal reformers denounced the Church as a reactionary institution devoted to keeping the ordinary people trapped in a world dominated by obscurantism and superstition.

This has led many to conclude that Christianity and the modern world did not really go together. One could only be modern if one escaped the clutches of religion and lived a purely secular existence. Many came to the conclusion that religion is invariably conservative, even to the point of being reactionary; an enemy of progress. The writings of Edmund Burke, who provided a powerful defence of the established order in which religion played a key role, seemed to confirm that progressive democracy was the enemy of religion.

The Decline of Christianity in Europe

One of the consequences of this great divide between Christianity and democracy has been the withering of Christianity in Europe. This has been exacerbated by the excessive growth of the secular state in Europe; Europeans increasingly came to seek their salvation in the shape of state sponsored comfort. European civilisation is the only one in the world ever to have moved so far down the path of secularisation. Such religious vitality as it now possesses comes largely from Muslim immigrants.

But history need not have turned out in this way in Europe. One can see this clearly when one compares what happened in America in the wake of its revolution to the French situation. The late eighteenth century saw the unleashing of powerful popular forces in America comparable to those at work in France. There was anticlericalism directed at the various Church establishments. However, in America, these popular forces did not lead to a wedge being driven between Christianity and democracy but rather to their reconciliation. Dissatisfaction with the existing religious situation did not lead to the secular state but to an extraordinary drive to spread the gospel amongst ordinary Americans as they spread outwards into the interior of the continent. In particular, the Methodist circuit riders helped to create a new type of American Christianity, one that was democratic in nature and in which the focus was on the individual believer.

In America, Christianity and democracy became partners in the development of what would become the world's leading economic power. It helped to place the locus of authority in the local community, be it secular or religious, rather than in a hierarchical institution, be it church or state. By focusing on the individual believer American Christianity could be simultaneously liberal and conservative. Individuals were free to develop their capacities but were constrained from the sorts of excesses in which secularists indulged by religious principles and the power that their consciences exercised over them.

Recently John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge in their book God is Back: How the Global Revival of faith the world, have argued that this American model of religion may yet conquer the world. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Liberalism and God


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.