Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England

Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England

Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England

Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England

Synopsis

The Victorian crisis of faith has dominated discussions of religion and the Victorians. Stories are frequently told of prominent Victorians such as George Eliot losing their faith. This crisis is presented as demonstrating the intellectual weakness of Christianity as it was assaulted by new lines of thought such as Darwinism and biblical criticism. This study serves as a corrective to that narrative. It focuses on freethinking and Secularist leaders who came to faith. As sceptics, they hadimbibed all the latest ideas that seemed to undermine faith; nevertheless, they went on to experience a crisis of doubt, and then to defend in their writings and lectures the intellectual cogency of Christianity. The Victorian crisis of doubt was surprisingly large. Telling this story serves to restore its true proportion and to reveal the intellectual strength of faith in the nineteenth century.

Excerpt

This is a study of leading, popular, religious sceptics in nineteenthcentury England who returned to the Christian faith. Although this story has not hitherto interested scholars, a remarkably high percentage of Secularist leaders did reconvert. There was a substantial crisis of doubt in the Victorian Secularist movement. A far greater percentage of Secularist leaders became Christians than Christian ministers became sceptics. These erstwhile freethinking leaders went on to become articulate defenders of the intellectual coherence of Christian thought—lecturing, writing, and debating in defence of their new-found convictions. This study explores the contours of the thought of these reconverts in every phase of their varied lives, from the Christianity of their youth, through their reasons for moving into scepticism and their articulation of sceptical ideas, to their reasons for ultimately rejecting freethought and reaffirming faith. Crisis of Doubt is partially intended as corrective to the dominance of the theme of the loss of faith or crisis of faith in the existing literature. So much attention has been paid to the lives and thought of figures who lost their faith that the intellectual cogency of Christianity for many Victorians has been obscured, sometimes even the very religiosity of the Victorians has been buried under a preoccupation with expressions of doubt. In some instances, the theme of ‘honest doubt’ has been so presented as to leave the impression that Victorians who were keeping up with their reading and had the wit to understand it would have inevitably lost their faith if they had the courage to face the truth. Alongside ‘honest doubt’, however, there was ‘honest faith’: Victorians who had fully imbibed, and indeed widely disseminated, all the latest ideas from German biblical criticism to Darwinism yet who ultimately came to the conviction that faith was more intellectually compelling than doubt. This book tells that story, the story of a Victorian crisis of doubt.

I have chipped away at this project since 1997, living in three different countries during that period. In the course of all that time and . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.