Friday 22 November 2013


UNAPOLOGETIC: why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense  Francis Spufford (Faber 2012)

Bertrand Russell was recently quoted in an article by Andy Fitzgerald (An agnostic defends religion). He wrote: 
I do not think that the real reason that people accept religion has anything to do with argumentation. They accept religion on emotional grounds. 
After describing his own early experience of religion at a funeral mass 'in a large and gorgeous Catholic church' and later when studying in the Middle East, Fitzgerald concludes: 
It's likely that religion's popularity is a product of emotion, fear of mortality and the unknown, and yes, fealty to tradition. But just like scientific and social inquiry, religion can serve a meaningful and positive role in individual and collective struggles, from the banal to the seemingly unbearable.  I do not have religious belief, but I also will not disparage the benefits many draw from theirs. 
Despite his best efforts, this seems patronising and disparaging to people of faith and it is the sort of attitude which our new 'study book' at Wychwood Circle aims to take on. Faith can be both intelligent and meaningful, maybe all the more so when its practitioners are neither pious nor over-intellectual. 

On December 1st local members of Wychwood Circle will meet at Wychwood library to discuss the first three chapters of Francis Spufford's recent book, Unapologetic. Theo Hobson in the TLS reviewed it thus: 
The point ... is to show those on the fence that belief need not mean the abandonment of intelligence, wit, emotional honesty. In this, Francis Spufford succeeds to an exceptional degree. 
And Metro's reviewer described Spufford as 'an honest, modern religious voice to engage fellow Christians and detractors alike'. 

Spufford was Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year in 1997 and is better known for literary anthologies and a collection of essays about the history of technology. In 2007 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.  Here he takes up the theme of church-going in the 21st century in a fresh, not to say brash, way and he is not afraid to sound journalistic and to use four-letter words to make his point. 

In his first chapter he takes issue with the famous - if short-lived - London bus slogan, 'There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life'. He also inverts the normal perception that belief is mysterious, peculiar, or delusional: 
In my experience it's belief that involves the most uncompromising attention to the nature of things... It's belief which demands that you dispense with illusion after illusion, while contemporary common sense requires continual, fluffy pretending. 
He then promises to mount a defence of the emotions involved in religious belief, often seen nowadays as 'alien, freakish, sad, embarrassing, humiliating, embarrassing, immature, pathetic'. He will not be setting out what Christians believe in, nor a defence of Christian ideas, he says, but 'a defence of Christian emotions - of their intelligibility, of their grown-up dignity'

Sunday, December 1st, 7 - 9 pm at Wychwood Library: a discussion based on the opening 3 chapters of Francis Spufford's book Unapologetic. Anyone is free to join us.