This book was greeted with huge triumph and relief by Christians, mainly fading Anglicans, as a new candidate for the project of doing-religion-without-actually-believing-it’s-true-in-the-way-that-we-think-people-in-the-past-did. Like Don Cupitt and Karen Armstrong, Quakers and Unitarians.
So does it pass muster? Yes, in that nothing like this has been written before – a defence of Christianity written as a rant in a cafe, with swearing and everything. It’s nothing like Lewis’ careful analogies for the working man, being more like, I suppose (I haven’t read it), Surprised by Joy. His demolitions of Dawkins et al are funny and convincing (though this is not hard for adherents of doing-religion-without-actually-believing-it’s-true-in-the-way-that-we-think-people-in-the-past-did, as Dawkins attacks a straw man – the certainties of old-fashioned belief – not modern liberal religious practice.
Like Cupitt in The Last Philosophy, he begins with a moment alone with himself: for Spufford this is a visit to a country church, where he sits, an anti-Larkin, and contemplates Life. His thoughts drift towards what he calls the Human Tendency to Fuck Things Up – the HTtFTU; by using this as a starting point he follows Paul and countless evangelical preachers, who see Christianity as a remedy for the guilt brought about by our Fucking Things Up. And it’s here that I found myself, to my surprise, losing Spufford’s argument, because, rightly or wrongly, I quite simply don’t feel dragged down in this way. I am, though, (hardly worthy of comment) attracted to the story of Jesus, and Spufford’s retelling of this in the middle of his book (“Yeshua”) is excellent and special.
Overall Spufford is with Aidan Andrew Dun and The Life of Pi: the world is made of stories, and it is not dishonest or escapist to base one’s life on stories which seem to convey “truth” – truth not about subatomic particles (though accounts of these in scientific textbooks are as much “stories” as the tales of Grimm), but truth about human beings and how they relate to the world and each other.