Wilson’s book is a tour de force of the unraveling of bourgeois Christianity in the English speaking world during the Victorian Era. He guides us through the minds of the great believers-at-all-costs and unbelievers, including both the at-all-costs and the because-I-must types, with skill, wit, and precision. In his own sympathy for the various figures of this period, he leads us to sympathize with the plight of those who wouldn’t and those who couldn’t believe. This sympathy, in turn, leads us to a great understanding of our own modern situation as we fall in at the tail end of the dismantling of bourgeois Christianity.
In spite of the excellence of this book, however, I have two complaints to lodge against it and its author. The first: as I mentioned twice in the preceding paragraph, this is a book about bourgeois Christianity and about those members of the bourgeoisie (and, yes, that includes Karl Marx) who came to disbelieve in it, and came to disbelieve in it largely because both it and they were (and are) bourgeois. What might have been a great credit to this book, or perhaps to another study as it might not have fit in this book, is the effect that, for example, Darwin’s and Lyell’s theories or perhaps the biblical criticism a la the Tubingen School had upon believers of other classes in society and castes of mind.
The other complaint is that A.N. Wilson seems himself to advocate a form of Christianity that is no-Christianity at all; while complaining – rightly – about the watered-down pseudo-religiosity of the Deists, Wilson seems very close to their ideas, especially in the conclusion of his book. Whether that is the effect he intended, I do not know, but it is the impression I received. A Christianity without the Resurrection, with a God who intervenes directly and is/can be experienced by mystics and saints, etc. – that is, a Christianity without passion, asceticism, and zeal — is not Christianity at all.