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God's Funeral Paperback – 2 Mar 2000

4.9 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; New Ed edition (2 Mar. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349112657
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349112657
  • Product Dimensions: 12.5 x 3.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 560,448 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A.N. Wilson was born in 1950 and educated at Rugby and New College, Oxford. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he holds a prominent position in the world of literature and journalism. He is an award-winning biographer and a celebrated novelist, winning prizes for much of his work. He lives in North London.

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Amazon Review

It is extraordinary that in the century that witnessed the greatest period of church-building in human history, the mass revivals of the Evangelicals and the Anglo-Catholics and the founding of missionary societies to convert the heathen should also have been the period when atheism went from being an esoteric and secretive persuasion to being the religion of the suburbs. By the end of the 19th century the great mass of thinking men and women had come to abandon the religion which, for at least a millennium, had dominated the British Isles.

A.N. Wilson follows up his sensational biographies of Jesus and Paul with this fascinating account of the lives and ideas of those prominent men and women who, to differing degrees and for many different reasons, felt that they could not number themselves among the Christian faithful. Starting with the works of Hume and Gibbon, Wilson introduces us to the eccentric utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham, the agonising doubts of Carlyle, the revolutionary atheism of Marx and the militant defence of unbelief by Huxley. Lyell, Darwin, Freud, George Eliot, Hardy--the list covers what seems like most of the great minds of the century.

Wilson's wit, warmth and erudition make God's Funeral enthralling throughout and this reviewer would strongly recommend it to people of all shades of belief. --Douglas Pretsell --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Wilson's rare combination of extraordinary scholarship with an almost pathological sense of mischief makes him the most entertaining writer we have (MAIL ON SUNDAY)

Excellent...Wilson has so clear a grasp of opposing principles and personalities that he is able effortlessly to make them live again (Peter Ackroyd The Times)

Wilson's extraordinary arc of knowledge and astonishing range of reading enables him to work highly effectively...his narrative is a model of scholarship and restraint (Anthony Howard Suday Times)

An illuminating analysis of Victorian religious doubt (DAILY TELEGRAPH)

An impressive sweep...Wilson asks us virtually to relive the ebbing of faith as it afflicted our ancestors (John Casey Evening Standard)

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Inside This Book

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First Sentence
The English poet Thomas Hardy, some time between 1908 and 1910, wrote a poem in which he imagined himself attending God's funeral. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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A book I regretted putting down every night before I went to sleep, this wonderfully informative, entertaining, erudite and unabashedly opinionated gallop through the Victorian crisis of belief reads like a conversation with a wit, effortless raconteur and compassionate friend. Mr Wilson's broad range and his fine analysis (both mischievous and empathetic) make this book an essential read in the days of Dawkins and the late Hitchins, neither of whom can hold a candle to WIlson's literary insight or understanding of the roots of faith. I am not a religious person and have lacked patience reading Newman and the like in the past: this book makes allows me a fresh critical perspective into what those of the more elitist, rather disdainful brand of faith and those of elitist, rather disdainful scientific bent have in common, and what their dogmas forget or sidestep in terms of human experience. Mr Wilson FTW - yo da man.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A.N. Wilson started training as a priest but realised before his time at St Stephen's House was done, that Anglican priesthood was not for him. A graduate in English of New College Oxford (where he taught for a while despite only getting a 2nd), he speaks with a very posh accent but writes easily consumable prose for the non-specialist reader nonetheless. The style is occasionally clunky and cliched but a passionate interest in his subject is beyond doubt.

Could this be the forerunner of more recent and popular books on related themes such as The God Delusion of Richard Dawkins, or God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens? Yes, but this book is not as hostile to religion as the famous atheists. Wilson retains a whimsical love of Christianity despite realising that none of its central dogmas can possibly be true. So, from the common Anglican perspective of solemn disbelief in orthodox dogma, Wilson enjoys exploring how thinkers, and especially 19th C literary ones, started to question Christianity.

Wilson is especially fond of Hardy and Tennyson but pours scorn on the third rate poetasting of Matthew Arnold. This is perhaps a good thing as Arnold's 'Dover Beach', somehow still a favourite in anthologies, has probably been taken too seriously in recent times. For instance, while telling us that love in a determined and material universe is without meaning and is clearly an illusion, Arnold also apostrophises it:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light.

And, as Wilson reminds us albeit in a somewhat heavy-handed manner, Arnold's 'tide of faith' is an unhappy trope.
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Format: Paperback
AN, whom I am liable to confuse with the equally prolific Peter Ackroyd, writes with unaffected relish; a single page gives us prolixity, eremitical, brusqueries. Despite the catchpenny title (actually a Hardy poem title) this is satisfyingly meaty and mulled over, neither dry nor populist, and clearly the fruit of loving research. (Why only four notices, I wonder?) 'One generation's dangerous liberal seems old-fashioned by the standards of the next, until belief has trickled away altogether and it is time for a hard-line religious revival.' The successive failures of the past catastrophic century can easily foster a cosy, woozy atavism (p169 top) - or what goes around comes around, comme dirait ma grande-mère - but there's fun to be had along the way. Chapter 7, ostensibly on George Eliot, horse-faced sybil of unbelief (touchingly, the Eliot-Lewes* ménage makes AN's spirits sink) kicks off with Millais and in the space of a few pages moves from Albert Schweitzer via Tolstoy (pp140-41, most illuminating**) to Feuerbach, 'stepping-stone from Hegel to Marx', amongst obscurer characters like Edward Lombe and Sir John Seeley

The figure of Kant looms surprisingly large. Surprising to me, anyway - but our ignorance in this country about 'the greatest metaphysician of modern times' is matched only, it seems, 'even or especially in intellectual circles up to and including our own day' by our ignorance of science. One would like to feel the situation has improved somewhat - but then we intellectuals are such busy, self-important and - be it said - easily distracted people! The stricture would not have applied to 'scrambling provincial' and self-educated polymath Herbert Spencer.
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Format: Hardcover
You are an intelligent, well-educated and sensitive person. The progress of science and scholarship have made your continued belief in the doctrines you were brought up in impossible. Yet it is not so easy to renounce them. For a start many of those closest to you, still hold onto such beliefs, and would be hurt if you were to be honest. Another part of you is worried for the wider consequences on society were disbelief to become widespread. And finally you think there may have been moments in your life in which you were in contact with something beyond normal reality.

This more or less is the theme from which A. N. Wilson weaves a fabric from many individual Victorian intellectual lives. It is a theme, or some variant thereof, with which many of us in the 21st century can readily identify with. Indeed the surprising thing is how little things have moved on.

The material from which this fabric is woven is diverse, colourful and enlightening. I most readily identify with those such as William Kingdon Clifford and 'his sense that it [Christianity] was not merely mistaken but wicked, evil,....'. But the real joy in the book is the variety - such as the Catholic Modernists, Thomas Hardy or Thomas Carlyle. I was particularly struck by the tragedy of Herbert Spencer who epitomized an optimistic Victorian style of atheism, yet whose life and philosophy at the end was shown to be vacuous. I was personally struck by how Karl Marx was carousing in the Manchester on the profits off the backs of its slum dwellers - a generation or two before my ancestors were dying off from pthysis in those same slums.

This is a broad and rich book - one I shall certainly be rereading once I am a little better read than I am now.
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