Prophesies of Godlessness: Predictions of America's Imminent Secularization From the Puritans to the Present Day

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Prophesies of Godlessness: Predictions of America's Imminent Secularization From the Puritans to the Present Day
By Charles Mathewes and Christopher McKnight Nichols, eds.
Oxford University Press, 2008
264 pp. $25.00
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Sometimes hopefully, sometimes in despair, Americans have been predicting the imminent disappearance of religion in the United States since colonial times. Jonathan Edwards worried that orthodox Protestantism was about to disappear from the United States; Thomas Jefferson and Ralph Waldo Emerson hoped he was right. From generation to generation, the prophecies have been wrong; from generation to generation, they have been renewed. Under the brilliant editorship of Mathewes and Nichols, this chronologically arranged and thematically linked collection of essays looks at a tradition that extends from Puritan jeremiads to modern-day prophecies of doom. The result is an illuminating tour of American intellectual history that startles, provokes, and engages. It does not, however, tell us whether American religion is doomed -- whether the Puritans or the secularists will triumph in the end. It does suggest that the interplay among the Puritan heritage of Calvinist New England, Enlightenment rationalism, the individualism of American culture, and the spiritual seeking that has characterized both evangelical revivals and the more heterodox odysseys of figures such as Walt Whitman will continue to keep the pot of American spiritual striving on the boil -- and keep prophets of godlessness gainfully employed.