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In Tom Brown's Schooldays, East, the hero's best friend, displays an essentially Broad Church, anti-evangelical approach towards religion when he confesses "another of my difficulties whenever I think about the matter. I don't want to be one of your saints, one of your elect, whatever the right phrase is. My sympathies are all the other way — with the many, the poor devils who run about the streets and don't go to church." Unlike evangelicals, who took pride and pleasure in the conviction a that they were of the elect, East finds that position (adopted today by people who believe in the so-called Rapture) morally and spritually repugnant, and he explains, "I've seen a deal of this sort of religion; I was bred up in it, and I can't stand it. If nineteen-twentieths of the world are to be left to uncovenanted mercies, and that sort of thing, which means in plain English to go to hell, and the other twentieth are to rejoice at it all, why —" At this point, Tom breaks in "Oh! but, Harry, they ain't, they don't." Frustrated by his inability to explain the fine points of theological niceties, he cries out, "Oh, how I wish Arthur hadn't gone! I'm such a fool about these things. But it's all you want too, East; it is indeed. It cuts both ways somehow, being confirmed and taking the Sacrament. It makes you feel on the side of all the good and all the bad too, of everybody in the world. Only there's some great dark strong power, which is crushing you and everybody else. That's what Christ conquered, and we've got to fight."

As Josef P. Althoz amd others have pointed out, ethical reasons drove many Victorians to abandon traditional Christianity, not the discoveries of geology, biology, or biblical criticism. They found doctrines like infant damnation and attitudes like those that offended East unspiritual and anti-religious. Tom, who by this part of the novel has become quietly devout, here makes two essentially Broad Church or Liberal Christian points, the first of which is that one does not have to have any sort of scholarly knowledge of theology to be a Christian and the second that everyone must do his or her best to fight against evil.

References

Hughes, Thomas. Tom Brown's Schooldays. Electronic version from Project Gutenberg produced by Gil Jaysmith and David Widger.


Victorian Overview Thomas Hughes Victorian History Victorian religon

Last modified 26 June 2006