'Prophesies of Godlessness' Have Been Around Since Puritans, New Book Finds

September 17, 2008

September 17, 2008 — Contemporary Christian leaders often warn of the dangers of unprecedented secularism in American society. But such concerns are nothing new, as documented in a new book, "Prophesies of Godlessness," by University of Virginia scholars Charles Mathewes and Christopher McKnight Nichols. The book is due out Thursday.

The book explores the surprisingly similar expectations and predictions of "godlessness" by major American thinkers from the time of the Puritans to the present.

Each chapter of the book addresses a particular era of American history, highlighting important individuals, communities of thought and changing conceptions of secularization, from Thomas Jefferson's thought to the Civil War, progressivism, the Scopes Trial, the Cold War and beyond.

"Prophesies of Godlessness" demonstrates that expectations about America's future character and piety are not an accidental feature of American thought, but have been, and continue to be, absolutely essential to the meaning of the nation itself.

Mathewes is an associate professor of religious studies at U.Va., where he specializes in Christian theology and ethics, comparative religious ethics, and religion, politics, and society.

Nichols is a fellow at U.Va.'s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. He specializes in United States intellectual, cultural and political history from the late 19th century through the 20th century.

— By Brevy Cannon