No Apologies


In a provocative essay at The Guardian previewing his new book, Unapologetic, Francis Spufford defends his Christian faith – while admitting it can't be proven. Rather than beginning with a defense of particular theological propositions, he focuses on the non-rational and emotional aspects of life. Spufford recalls listening to Mozart in a coffee-shop during a crisis in his marriage, an experience of transcendence that affirmed for him that "the universe is sustained by a continual and infinitely patient act of love." That affirmation is primary for him:

No, I can't prove it. I don't know that any of it is true. I don't know if there's a God. (And neither do you, and neither does Professor Dawkins, and neither does anybody. It isn't the kind of thing you can know. It isn't a knowable item.) But then, like every human being, I am not in the habit of entertaining only those emotions I can prove. I'd be an unrecognisable oddity if I did. Emotions can certainly be misleading: they can fool you into believing stuff that is definitely, demonstrably untrue. Yet emotions are also our indispensable tool for navigating, for feeling our way through, the much larger domain of stuff that isn't susceptible to proof or disproof, that isn't checkable against the physical universe. We dream, hope, wonder, sorrow, rage, grieve, delight, surmise, joke, detest; we form such unprovable conjectures as novels or clarinet concertos; we imagine. And religion is just a part of that, in one sense. It's just one form of imagining, absolutely functional, absolutely human-normal. It would seem perverse, on the face of it, to propose that this one particular manifestation of imagining should be treated as outrageous, should be excised if (which is doubtful) we can manage it.

Rod Dreher gives the piece high praise, and affirms Spufford's emphasis on the emotions, "because that’s how we humans are built to respond to the world around us." Dreher reminds us that:

Truth is subjectivity, as Kierkegaard saw. That is, religious truth is the kind of truth that can only be known inwardly.

Alan Jacobs, while loving Spufford's book, is dismayed at the reaction he's seen among Christianity's self-appointed enforcers of orthodoxy:

The atheists are saying the things that atheists usually say in such contexts and so, alas, are the Christians, who are falling over themselves to condemn Spufford for failing to meet their very precise and utterly absolute theological standards.

They can’t pause for thirty seconds to think about the audience Spufford is trying to reach; they can’t be bothered to ask whether, not having read the whole book but only a newspaper excerpt from it, they have the whole story. They just see something they don’t like and sweep everything away in condemnation. Really, it’s no wonder people despise us and flee when they see us coming.