the kingdom of whatever


Jefferson’s sharp-edged Bible study hardly makes him unique in the annals of skeptical investigations of Christianity or any other religion, for critically engaged belief has always left a deep imprint on the content of religious texts. But was Jefferson’s scissor work a profound act of faith or an assault on the very notion of divinity? This question lies at the heart of Brad Gregory’s passionate and polemical book, The Unintended Reformation. Gregory, a history professor at the University of Notre Dame and a well-known scholar of the European Reformation, seeks to upend longstanding assumptions about the process by which Western secularism, capitalism and individualism have emerged since the Reformation. In his formulation, Jefferson is one of the key architects of what Gregory labels the great “Kingdom of Whatever,” a society indelibly shaped by religious pluralism and scientific naturalism, and ruled more by the demands of the marketplace and individual rights than by communitarian ethics and the search for the common good. The apotheosis of the unintended Reformation is the diverse, indeed hyper-pluralist and anything-goes society of the United States.

more from Paula Findlen at The Nation here.