Francis Spufford and the inner life of belief

by niamh on October 7, 2012

Fans of Red Plenty, of whom there clearly are many in view of the online seminar we had here recently, will be interested to know that Francis Spufford has a new book out: entitled Unapologetic, this time it’s about Christianity.(1) The style as well as the content is different from his previous writings. There is some subtle and often quite beautiful writing in parts, but the tone is mostly conversational, unbuttoned, colloquial. It is also witty, funny even, and the book is in my view a highly engaging read.

There’s a lot of new interest in what religion can bring to public discourse, whether in the context of the human costs of rising inequality, the fundamental questions about economic organization raised by the current crisis, or our catastrophic despoliation of the natural world itself. For example, INET (the Institute for New Economic Thinking) is initiating a series of conversations between economists and theologians ‘designed to provoke creative thinking about money and markets in light of the world’s pressing economic challenges’. Keynes himself thought that we’d sooner or later have to face the question of what growth was actually for and what the purpose of a good life should be, and although not religious himself, he thought religious values would be important as a guide.

But Spufford’s book starts a few steps prior to these kinds of debates: he wants us to see what it means to take religion seriously on its own terms. It is in part a counter-blast at what he sees as over-simplification by atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens. This doesn’t take the form of a point-by-point argument, nor is it a combative riposte such as, for example, Terry Eagleton’s. But mostly it’s an extended personal account of what it feels like to commit to a view of the world that is religious. If you’d like a flavour of how he goes about this, you can read the first chapter here.

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