Historian, Dominic Erdozain’s, The Soul of Doubt: The Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx focuses on the roots of secularism that arise from seeds of doubt within Christendom from the era of the Reformation and grow into the modern era. “The ‘religious roots’ that I consider fundamental to modern cultures of unbelief are twofold: the positive content of dissent, including conscience, Bible and Christian ethics, and the negative stimulus of dogma, persecution, and theologically induced fear.” While quite varied from many of his colleagues on the presentation of Enlightenment history, Erdozain’s reinterpretation offers important understanding of the roots of unbelief both then and now.
Citing Erdozain’s understanding of historic figures as being motivated out of personal conviction, or as noted time and again, conscience, Bradford Littlejohn writes, “rather than imagining the move from the Reformation to early modernity as a steady march of triumphant natural reason—cold hard facts over superstitions—or as a retreating tide of faith like that of Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” we must recognize the great movers and shakers of modernity as men and women motivated by passionate moral and religious conscience.” This “passionate conscience” drives Erdozain’s text from Luther to Spinoza to Darwin, revealing their connection to deeply held Protestant belief in their actions and relations, even when the outcome was less Christian than those of their time.
Considering David Bebbington’s Evangelicalism in Modern Britain and Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities alongside Erdozain’s The Soul of Doubt, a more full picture of the Evangelical Christian tree begins to emerge including those who helped form it from its leadership to its dissenters. The scope of each author begins as early as the Reformation and utilizes the stories of important characters such as Luther (included in all three and dubbed by Erdozain as a ‘prophet of conscience’) who’s influence, be it activism in promoting the gospel, distributing the earliest mass printed Christian material, or flexing their moral conscience against the dominant Christian culture of the day, left lasting effects on epistemology as we know it today.
It is important to note that Erdozain in particular, tackles a challenging subject from a historical framework. To map the route of doubt over a period of multiple centuries is a daunting task, with much of its evidence based in the outcomes of the doubter and those impacted. As critic Eric Carlsson witnessed, “Erdozain connects the dots across nearly four centuries, piling up a huge mound of evidence to show just how thick were the lines of continuity among the critics. The greatest feat of The Soul of Doubt is to have identified and explicated a broad and persistent tradition of religiously based anti-orthodoxy that has often eluded students of secularization and historians working on more narrowly defined epochs.”
Further driving the message of the unlikelihood of scholars to take on the Enlightenment less fixated as an age of reason and more as the supposed secularization of those who sought to critique the bland status-quo propagating Christianity of the day is Littlejohn’s review stating, “Erdozain’s reinterpretation of the Enlightenment, which is at the heart of the book, offers an important and valuable contribution to our understanding of, in the words of the subtitle, “the religious roots of unbelief,” and the still-religious fruits of unbelief today.”
Not all reviews of The Soul of Doubt were complete in their praise for the text. Littlejohn balances his highlight of the core theme with critical aspects from the introductory chapters, “The language of these early chapters especially—Chapter 1 on Luther and his radical opponents, Chapter 2 on Calvin and his, and Chapter 3 on seventeenth-century “Calvinism” and its critics—is disconcertingly polarized for a modern work of intellectual history.”
Vincent Pecora remarks about the limitation of modern voices and the lack of critical view from varying disciplines on the term “conscience” in Erdozain’s writing, stating, “Beyond perfunctory references to Nietzsche and Weber, Erdozain…cites few modern scholars and seems innocent of the critical heritage they form.” Regarding conscience, “Because the meaning of the term “conscience” is never explored philosophically or psychologically…the normative force of Erdozain’s preference always seems smuggled into the discussion.”
In my reading of The Soul of Doubt, Erdozain indeed takes a differing perspective of the Enlightenment, with a critical view on how history is largely interpreted. He has an eye particularly for those who sought to reconcile their internal spirituality with their religious culture. Their motivation is out of unction, conscience, following God even. This fervor is notable and needed to shape culture, even with the fall out that lay ahead. Still today, many seek to understand God and their doubt or, further, don’t find a need for Christian religion in their life because of their own moral goodness and a view of Christianity as a perpetuator of privilege, patriarchy, and condemnation and oppression of outsiders. We have found this to be true of our non-Christian friends time and again, who by their external actions are some of the most pious people we know, but when asked about belief are far from affirming the gospel of Jesus as their truth.
Modern popular writer, Anne Lamott, captures much of what Erdozain has discovered in his historic research of the famed doubters and their critique of Christianity in the following quote, “I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me—that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”
As we hear in Lamott’s story, the church may be waking up to the great need for people to doubt in spaces where they will be received, but a gap remains for the humbling of the certainty of dogma and its trappings of persecution and fear, which continues to produce an anti-religious movement.
 Erdozian, Dominic. The Soul of Doubt: The Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2016, 7.
 Littlejohn, “Dominic Erdozain. The Soul of Doubt: The Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx.” Political Theology. 17, no. 6, (2016), 591.
 Littlejohn, 589
 Erdozain, 7.
 Carlsson, Eric. “Dominic Erdozain. The Soul of Doubt: The Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx.” Church History. 86 no. 3 (2017), 880-881.
 Littlejohn, 591.
 Ibid, 590.
 Pecora, Vincent P., “Dominic Erdozain. The Soul of Doubt: The Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx.” The American Historical Review. 122, no. 4 (2017): 1300-1301.
 Pecora, 1300.
 Lamott, Anne. Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. Riverhead Books, 2006.