Nothing more than feelings

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Francis Spufford’s new book Unapologetic, a defence of the “emotional sense of Christianity”, has been lavishly praised by those you would expect to praise it lavishly.


Former Bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway, reviewing it for the Guardian, called it “an act of daring, a message from the frontline of an old and bruising war.” Rupert Shortt, religion editor of the TLS, praised Spufford’s courage in “putting his glimpse of the transcendent into words”, and media vicar Giles Fraser said, “It’s far and away the best book about Christianity I have read in years.”

Others, people like you, were not quite so taken with his arguments. When we published an article by Spufford in the September issue, which outlined his case and asked atheists to stop being so disparaging about religion, we were deluged with letters – the biggest response we’ve ever had to a single article – many of which raised serious and reasonable objections to his arguments (some, it should be admitted, were merely disparaging).

And there we could have left it. But one other review of his book, this time by Christopher Howse in the Telegraph, suggests why we did not. “Spufford has the great virtue of making you want to argue with him,” wrote Howse. “The reader is left wanting to hear more from Spufford, even while disagreeing with him.” I agree. So in the interests of hearing more from Spufford, even while disagreeing with him, and of putting New Humanist readers’ objections to him directly, I invited him to meet me for a chat.

I started by asking him what, exactly, he’s unapologetic about.

“I’m unapologetic about asserting that religion is a normal and legitimate part of human experience,” he began. “I’m unapologetic about wanting to disrupt the rather cosy recent cultural consensus that religion must be stupid; I’m unapologetic about not wanting to be patronised; and finally I’m unapologetic about saying that a lot of the contemporary atheist case being made now in Britain is getting religion wrong.”

Written By: Caspar Melville
continue to source article at newhumanist.org.uk

21 COMMENTS

  1. I am unapologetic when it comes to calling religion stupid because I ” feel ” it is stupid.

    You don’t want to be patronized Spufford? Then stop acting as if you were mentally challenged by making silly analogies. Religion is not like anything you mentioned; inside or outside the thing.

  2. “Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense”,

    What is surprising ? Christianity has survived 2000 years. It must have some appeal. That doesn’t mean it is true. There are other ways of helping people emotionally that don’t require lying to them.

    Michael

  3. whereas we talk about chairs and tables and hairstyles without anyone having to do any special work of proof, if I announce that a flying saucer just went past, then you look at me with a sceptical light in your eye. The assumption here is that God is like a flying saucer, he is utterly out of context, an event that would require special proof. But from within religion, God is more like the chairs and the hairstyle.

    no, religion is not the chairs and the tables; it was once the flying saucer, and has now been around for so long that is there is an illusion, borne of familiarity, that it is chairs and tables.

  4. All experience and reason says miracles are impossible, but the Bible says it happened, so he splits the difference and lets his heart decide.

    Dr. Taff… paging Dr. Taff.

    How is this not insanity?

  5. Religion is actually “…a thing made of experience.”

    Well, I “experience” nightmares, after which I wake up to reality.

    The trouble with religious faith is that it never comes to terms with things as they really are, but is used as a comfort blanket, and we’re supposed to give them up when we’ve matured, and I think that it’s unhealthy not to do so.

    And that last is my main objection to religion and why I oppose it; it’s fundamentally unhealthy.

  6. I know! You can’t even “Edit” any more now that you see the final draft; only, the final draft then chabges…Oh, it’s a pain, don’t like it.In reply to #8 by Stafford Gordon:

    Why does this site keep morphing between settings?

  7. Sorry, Mods – I just ‘Flagged’ my comment by mistake, please ignore it. Wanted actually to “Edit’ it and pressed the wrong thingummyjjig – maybe because I miss the handy ‘Edit’ or had too much Xmas brandy or both. Sorry. And Merry Xmas!

  8. “But if you look at the assumption behind the idea that the burden of proof is on religious people, that assumption is itself not to do with evidence, it is embedded and cultural. It has to do with a religious claim being an extraordinary claim, a claim that is sufficiently detached from ordinary daily life that it would require extraordinary supports. In other words, whereas we talk about chairs and tables and hairstyles without anyone having to do any special work of proof, if I announce that a flying saucer just went past, then you look at me with a sceptical light in your eye. The assumption here is that God is like a flying saucer, he is utterly out of context, an event that would require special proof. But from within religion, God is more like the chairs and the hairstyle. So I am not going to agree that the burden of proof is necessarily on the person who says he’s there, it’s more evenly balanced than that.

    Here’s how I understand what he is trying to say: “Chairs, tables and hairstyles are such ordinary things that we don’t require any special evidence for their existence. We take them for evident. In the same way religious people see gods; as ordinary things that have a natural place in our existence. Therefore it’s unfair to ask religious people to show evidence for god as if it was an extraordinary entity. For religious people god is just as evident as every day things for the rest of people.”

    But I disagree with this to 100%. Chairs, tables and hairstyles are not “ordinary things” which we therefore don’t require evidence for. We need evidence for them just as much as for anything else. It’s just that we get sufficient evidence for their existence in every day life, which makes it look like we take them for granted. And the same requirement of evidence should naturally apply to god. Dear Spufford, we do need evidence for god! You can’t just sweep the question under a rug by claiming that god is such an evident idea for believers, that we don’t need to find extraordinary evidence for it as it it were an extraordinary claim. Personally I find the idea of god an extraordinary claim, but even if it were just on ordinary claim, we would still require evidence for it, just as we do for any other idea. And you have provided exactly zero evidence by claiming “god is such an evident idea for believers, that we don’t need any of those pesky proof”.

  9. Spufford:

    “But I am making a truth claim here for religion. I don’t think it is a menu to be followed according to taste; ultimately it is a gamble, under conditions of radical uncertainty, on it being true – on there being a state of the universe to which it corresponds, though we can’t get at that claim to verify it.”

    A ‘gamble’ eh? Pascall’s Wager springs to mind. So the punter has no idea which horse will win the race, so instead decides to to put money on the favourite ! So very highly intellectual ! Such a profound insight into how Jesus created the universe. It provides a full explanation for the resurrection and the triune nature of the Godhead ! Very profound indeed. But just down the road is a betting shop where the favourite horse is called Allah, and that horse has wings !

  10. I’m unapologetic about saying that a lot of the contemporary atheist case being made now in Britain is getting religion wrong.”

    This is a classic case of: “Religion is whatever is in my head!”

    Even with the C of E – There is no universal concept of “religion” in Britain!
    There is a great diversity of religions and religious views, with many other secular views as well.

    This is just the usual brain-dead assertion – “my view is beyond criticism” and the opposite, undefined, strawman “atheist case” is wrong!

    He makes no attempt at analysis of the actual diversity of views, preferring the false image of some sort of ill-defined unified religious view which is beyond challenge!

    “I’m unapologetic about wanting to disrupt the rather cosy recent cultural consensus that religion must be stupid; I’m unapologetic about not wanting to be patronised;

    Who cares if an assertive twit is apologetic, unapologetic, or throws his toys out of the pram?
    Many religious views ARE stupid – regardless of any irrational disruptions!
    If he does not want to be patronised, then he should grow up, and stop responding to criticism like a silly child!

    “Spufford has the great virtue of making you want to argue with him,” wrote Howse.

    “Great virtue?? Hardly!! – So does every other immature idiot making ridiculous public statements!
    That is not a reason to give them a public platform to do so!

    “The reader is left wanting to hear more from Spufford, even while disagreeing with him.” I agree.

    Ah! Debate the (non) controversy – and sell more newspapers! -

    ( Now why would the press promote such a line of thinking?)

  11. “Nevertheless, the public discussion of religion has been amazingly shaped by the pervasiveness of what I would see as the daftest version of the atheist case. I’m going to point the finger at Richard Dawkins here, because I think The God Delusion specifically has made our ability to talk about religion harder. It has made conversation stupider and nastier. It is a profoundly stupid book as far as I’m concerned.”

    If TGD is so daft, stupid and nasty why has no cleric engaged with its arguments? Apparently this Spufford has rational responses but is too coy to state them; just like every other Strawkins calumniator he sees it as a possibly lethal tract and his chosen response is, guess what? Emotional.

    The attempt to plant flags on certain emotional territories seems to indicate his general strategy. Couple that with saying ‘all these matters are uncertain and a matter of feeling’ and we see an attempt to establish spiritual authority and separate condominia (not sure the pope would be happy with that word).

    The posturings of religious apologia clothed in vague and misty nonsense like this are what actually make it more difficult to discuss religion. Despite his assertions this man does not want to be understood, if he were his arguments would evaporate.

    The Emperor’s throne is at risk from laughter and he is one of the tailors.

  12. ‘and finally I’m unapologetic about saying that a lot of the contemporary atheist case being made now in Britain is getting religion wrong.”

    Well, someone is sure getting it wrong!  What Spufford then goes on to describe as religion is emotive agnostic pantheism: a wishful feeling of being loved by some enigmatic entity and a hope that it will guide thing to all work out right in the end; all the while acknowledging the lack of convincing evidence for any of it.

    Such exists, but it is not all of religion.  There’s also those who are quite certain that the entity exists, that they know exactly what it wants, and that its plan can only come about if they use a big enough stick on everyone else — sometimes in the form of beating laws into place, sometimes literally.

    But–ah–I guess, ”that’s not my religion“.

  13. In reply to #11 by Aztek:

    Here’s how I understand what he is trying to say: “Chairs, tables and hairstyles are such ordinary things that we don’t require any special evidence for their existence. We take them for evident. In the same way religious people see gods; as ordinary things that have a natural place in our existence. Therefore it’s unfair to ask religious people to show evidence for god as if it was an extraordinary entity. For religious people god is just as evident as every day things for the rest of people.”

    Yes.  Basically it’s the “well, god is real to me” argument for subjective reality, and a plea for special exemption.

    “God seems real to people who believe in god, therefore god is real,” is circular logic that would not be accepted for anything else.  It doesn’t work for, say, people who believe in flying saucers, so why for should it work for people who believe in god?

  14. Ok, so we haven’t read his book … but really! Francis Spufford’s defense of religion is sooooooo poor – and he seems to know it.

    Religoons get a buzz out of religion – WE KNOW THAT! It’s long been established that the “religious experience” is real. Experiments have shown (sorry no links) that chanting, nodding, clapping etc can have similar results. In fact, I’d argue all social activity is on that spectrum. Start going to football matches on a regular basis and you will find giving up difficult becuase you have begun to get a bit dependent on the group fix.

    But even worse is his claim that the experience is everything. Because if that were so, he has to accept that all other religions/cults are equally valid.

    It’s easy to see why, under Francis Spufford’s definition of religion, we atheists are being told that we are nothing more than a religion. But then every social group which has rules, meetings, forums etc should be included – or of course none.

  15. In reply to #16 by Greyman:

    In reply to #11 by Aztek:

    Here’s how I understand what he is trying to say: “Chairs, tables and hairstyles are such ordinary things that we don’t require any special evidence for their existence. We take them for evident. In the same way religious people see gods; as ordinary things that have a natural place in our existence.
    Therefore it’s unfair to ask religious people to show evidence for god as if it was an extraordinary entity. For religious people god is just as evident as every day things for the rest of people.”

    @Greyman – Yes.  Basically it’s the “well, god is real to me” argument for subjective reality, and a plea for special exemption.

    … … but it’s a pretty weak analogy! – Belief in a fantasy chair can quickly be shaken! If you sit on a chair which is not there, the result is pretty evident – even if it existed as a delusion in the first place!

  16. In reply to #18 by Alan4discussion:

    … … but it’s a pretty weak analogy! – Belief in a fantasy chair can quickly be shaken! If you sit on a chair which is not there, the result is pretty evident – even if it existed as a delusion in the first place!

    Uh huh.  You’d think so.  However, the chair moves in mysterious ways, apparently.

  17. I’m unapologetic about rejecting your belief that you can see your invisible fairy friend in the same way you can see tables and chairs. I’m unapologetic about being disparaging about religion given the history of persecution of atheists. I’m unapologetic about the fact that I believe most biblical morality is stupid. I’m unapologetic about the fact I will probably never read this book, which is a rehash of old, apologist arguments. I’m unapologetic about following reason and science over folklore and rumours.

  18. This is curiously inadequate for someone who seems to have read a bit about the subject.

    Why does he confuse the simple “atheism” lacking a belief in gods with “New Atheism” the political movement to stem the damage done to society by religion by denying its authority to do so?

    And what flavours of emotional truths can come into his Christian tent? Is the Pope allowed in? Creflo Dollar?

    Rowan Williams presided over the squandering of any residual good feelings towards Anglicanism with his complete moral dereliction of duty over its burgeoning reactionary sexism. I hope he and the scum following on are excluded.

    If his tent is a Unitarian tent or even a Quaker tent I’d be happy for him so long as he didn’t say Christian, as if all Christians have the same emotional drives as he. MacSpufford he is not….truly.

    Now that my nearest church offers Alpha Course training (with speaking in tongues) he can just fuck off until he excludes just about everyone other than Marcus Small (and perhaps Jim Al-Khalili’s mum).

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