• Elisabeth Jay
Part of the Context and Commentary book series (COCO)


This chapter aims to suggest some of the problematic questions behind the religious doubt which became part of the intellectual atmosphere of the last forty years of the century. As the dates of some of the extracts would indicate, disbelief and doubt did not make a sudden appearance in the 1860s but grew to be regarded as less in the nature of a personal sin or crime warranting excommunication from good society. Since it often appeared that it was only a question of degree that distinguished the beliefs of Broad Churchmen from ‘honest doubters’, this is perhaps understandable. Indeed sometimes it seemed as if sceptics stood more upon the moral self-righteousness of their position than did believers, but then it was moral doubt just as often as theological speculation which proved a decisive factor in the retreat from orthodoxy and this determined the calibre of much Victorian agnosticism. Not only did it seem dishonest to accept Christianity in the spirit of Pascal’s wager but it became almost a moral imperative to offer resistance to a God who was sometimes represented as threatening eternal punishment as the ultimate deterrent to disbelief.


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© Elisabeth Jay 1986

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  • Elisabeth Jay

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