Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Book Review: 'Unapologetic' by Francis Spufford

This is a very rebellious book! It is no less an apologetic work, yet rebels against the standard approaches to defend Christianity. Rather than giving reason why Christianity is true, Spufford is defending Christian emotions "of their intelligibility, of their grown-up dignity." (p.23)

The book's main argument is that "belief is made of, built from, sustained by, emotions" which are the stuffs that make Christianity "real". (p.19) Spufford demonstrates throughout the book how the Christian doctrines such as sin, Christology, ecclesiology, theodicy, and grace makes good emotional sense. Of course, it is not that easy to go into the distinction between reason and emotion, but that's not the point of the book. 

This book is an attractive read. By that, I mean it is easy to read and witty. It is written in common language, which means it has all the words we don't commonly read in books arguing for Christianity. For instance, Spufford described the sinful human nature as HPtFtU, short for 'human propensity to fuck things up'. So, those who take offense at words like this be warned. 

Though this book is a defense of the Christian faith, some of its notes may not sound right to Christian readers; for instance the author doesn't believe in hell. (p.181-182) Nevertheless, it contains very good explanation of sin, which I can immediately identify with:
[Sin] need not be dramatic, though. It can equally well just be the drifting into place of one more pleasant, indistinguishable little atom of wasted time, one more morning like all the others, which quietly discloses you to yourself. You're lying in the bath and you notice that you're thirty-nine and that the way you're living bears scarcely any resemblance to what you think you've always wanted; yet you got here by choice, by a long series of choices for things which, at any one moment, temporarily outbid things you say you wanted most. And as the water cools, and the light of Saturday morning in summer ripples heartlessly on the bathroom ceiling, you glimpse an uflattering vision of yourself as a being whose wants make no sense, don't harmonise: whose desires, deep down, are discordantly arranged, so that you truly want to possess and you truly want not to, at the very same time. You're equipped, you realise, for farce (or even tragedy) more than you are for happy endings. The HPtFtU dawns on you. You have, indeed, fucked things up. Of course you have. You're human, and that's where we live; that's our normal experience. (p.28-29)
This book taught me that during the Second World War, when Randolph Churchill (son of Winston Churchill) read the Old Testament stories of plagues and tribulations, he said, "What a shit God is!" Yet more importantly, it also showed me how one can deal with such exasperation.

Spufford is a good writer (he is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at University of London), and the book is meant to present a fresh side of Christianity to those who seek ways to connect their intellectual admission with their emotion. To do that, the author repeatedly appealed to common experiences.

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