A Personal History of the Church of England
Atlantic Books, $32.95, 224 pp.
According to Roger Scruton, religion has been an embarrassment to the English since the seventeenth century—one of the topics, like sex, that you just don’t discuss. Ever since fervent Protestants left England to set up their city on a hill in America, England—exhausted by the religious conflicts of the Civil War—has settled for peace rather than ardent belief. The difference in religious fervor between the two countries never ceases to amaze both the British and Americans. Anglicanism has molded and reflected a people who are slightly embarrassed and skeptical about religion, and for whom religion is more a social matter than a relationship with God. The English, who “know in their hearts that faith is in large part a human invention,” prefer compromise to zeal, and want the transcendent only in small doses.
In addition to being England’s foremost conservative philosopher, Scruton is organist at his local Anglican church. His “thoughts at one remove from faith,” Scruton rightly puts himself in the noble line of skeptical Englishmen from the seventeenth-century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes and the eighteenth-century essayist Joseph Addison to George Orwell and Philip Larkin, perhaps the greatest poet of religious nostalgia, and “for whom this strange form of holiness [Anglicanism] has been the best that can be done in the matter of religion.”
Ever since Henry VIII declared himself supreme head of the Church of England for dynastic reasons rather than...