Unapologetic by Francis SpuffordTuesday 27 Nov 2012
Publisher: Faber & Faber, hardback
Francis Spufford is a former Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year (1997), and he is popular with The Guardian (“the man writes like a dream”) and with Nick Hornby too, who is a fan.
Spufford began to write this witty, accessible 224-page tract not so much as a defence of Christian ideas, but as a defence of Christian emotions and “their intelligibility, their grown-up dignity”. He is unapologetic about doing so too, hence the title.
He teaches literature at Goldsmiths College and lives near Cambridge, but he eschewed the hallowed halls to pen the piece, writing almost the entire book in a branch of Costa Coffee in Cambridge. In fact, he acknowledges the staff there for their friendliness, as he sat for many hours over cups of black Americano, working on the book.
“My daughter has just turned six,” is his first line. “Sometime over the next year or so, she will discover that her parents are weird. We're weird because we go to church.” Then he gives us a very long list of prejudices he expects the family to bear the brunt of, beginning with the words “That we..... ” This is a list of all the wacky beliefs that he belives the local populace will whisper about the Spurridge family, such as the following: “That we get all snooty and yuck-no-thanks about transsexuals, but think it's perfectly normal for middle-aged men to wear purple dresses.”
But Spufford must know he is being mischievous, his is a sometimes bemused polemic. Much indifference, one suspects - and possibly a modicum of respect from agnostics, or even atheists - might just as likely be the response to word around Cambridge of the Spuffords being Christian.
At least, he points out, the usual objectors care enough about religion to object to it, as they “rent a set of recreational objections” from the likes of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. He writes of such “Dawkinses”, “some of whom even contrive to feel oppressed by the Church of England, which is not easy to do. It must take a deft delicacy at operating on a tiny scale, like doing needle-point, or playing Subbuteo.”
But as this work gets into its stride, it drops the levity and examines belief, as Spufford sees it in his cheeky chappy, sometimes mildly overheated way.
Thankfully, he keeps his references to monotheism, polytheism and Greek, Roman and Norse paganism to a minimum - it's not a theological work, it's more an extended opinion piece. “So if you believe, you're making a bet that God exists, whether you believe or not,” runs one of his typically cryptic aphorisms.
The author is unapologetic, too, about his belief in gay rights, and believes the record of the church is “frankly, rubbish” in this regard. He writes: “quite a lot of those who are conducting my own church's stumbling rearguard action against gay rights seem to feel that they are defending a fortress of traditional behaviour against hordes of drag queens on crack.”