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90 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every line worth remembering
I have a habit of marking passages in books, with a pencil line running down the margin at the side of words I want to refer back to. Many of my books have a few such markings, and some have many. Occasionally a book comes along in which this habit soon becomes pointless, as every paragraph of every page is worth remembering. 'Unapologetic' is one such book.

I...
Published on 13 Sep 2012 by Michael Cook

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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A different approach
This book explores an interesting approach to Christianity - Francis Spufford is a Christian not because he believes in it's doctrine, but because of how he feels and experiences the world. Indeed, it is wonderful to hear the honesty in his book - that he sits in church and 'tries' to believe what he hears. He doesn't know how it all works and he's not trying to...
Published 24 months ago by Jennyrw


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90 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every line worth remembering, 13 Sep 2012
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I have a habit of marking passages in books, with a pencil line running down the margin at the side of words I want to refer back to. Many of my books have a few such markings, and some have many. Occasionally a book comes along in which this habit soon becomes pointless, as every paragraph of every page is worth remembering. 'Unapologetic' is one such book.

I read a fair amount of books about religion, some serious theology, some more devotional spiritual literature; this is neither, and I wish there was much more literature like it. If your tired of the dryness of much theology and the gentility of much Christian spirituality, then this is for you. A real breath of fresh air in the God debate, something that doesn't seem possible I know, but Spufford has done it. It is, first and foremost, a truly passionate book about Spufford's religious life and convictions. He offers no easy solutions to the basic theological riddles Christians have to live with, and in fact spends several pages pretty much demolishing the very idea of theodicy - and what a relief it is too, to find a Christian author who actually doesn't want us to swallow the excuses theologians make for God. This book might actually challenge some Christians as much as it does non-believers, in a good and necessary way. No, this is something else; an unblinking, completely honest, head-on look at what it is that Christianity really means for us, as emotional human beings, rather than as walking intellects.

Some more sensitive souls might be put off by Spufford's strong language and imagery. This would be a great shame, as the book also contains some passages of great lyrical beauty, one of which is quite simply the best description I have ever read of what prayer is actually like. Not the esoteric stages of contemplative prayer that few Christians ever reach, but the ordinary, everyday kind of prayer that most of us can muster.

There is a streak of real anger and indignation in the book too, but also a lot of dark humour and razor sharp wit. It is, as the cover claims, unhampered by niceness. Completely refreshing. I finished the book and turned straight back to page one.

It is also for anyone who just enjoys great prose.
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138 of 141 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exploring the emotional view from within, 6 Sep 2012
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So, just what the world needs, another book in the ongoing faith vs. atheist war of words. Except this isn't. Several people will be wrong-footed by seeing Francis Spufford's name attached to a book supporting Christianity. As one of the UK's most erudite writers of `factual' fiction and most respected reviewers of science fiction it will come as a shock to find he has published a book which brings to bear his full powers of argument in favour of Christian belief.

However, 'Unapologetic' is not a case for the defence, indeed it's almost the opposite, it's a deeply personal exposition on the effect that Christian belief has had on Spufford at an emotional level. Quite rightly he has not sought to provide proof or evidence for the existence of God, it is simply a report from inside the mind (and possible soul) of a believer and the writer is fully aware of what this means in the context of his previous work.

Francis Spufford is no fool; his previous works are the result of meticulous research, feverish enthusiasm and a precision in writing that is a joy to read. Whether he is getting inside the minds of polar explorers or imagining the possibility of how the Soviet economic dream might have worked, he is never short on detail, wit and supporting knowledge. 'Unapologetic' is different insomuch as it appears to be written `from the heart' and as such it feels a little like the follow up to 'The Child That Books Built'. Whereas that book explored the constructs created from the borrowed world view of authors this book concerns itself with the personal effect of faith and more importantly the effects on ourselves of our self-awareness when we fail and let others down.

For the most part, 'Unapologetic' focuses on that most un-evolutionary of feelings - guilt; that sensation that we have let everyone down, the dreadful realisation that we have not made the best of our lives and that we might well have squandered years of possibility. It homes in on those terribly dark nights when we lie awake knowing that, not to put to fine a point on it (and Spufford doesn't) we have f***ed up everything. Where do we go from there? How do we, when faced with our failing selves alone, begin again? What do we do when we have alienated everyone, how do we begin to re-build our emotional selves?

And there are no easy answers. This is one man's response and as he states, `God is not a get out of jail free card', but it is God's call to arms that spurs us onto making the soul wrenching changes that enables us to move ourselves slowly but surely away from the pit of our own making.

`Unapologetic' puts up an elegant two fingers to the acolytes of Dawkins et al by saying you cannot possibly know how I feel and you have no right to guess. Emotions and feelings cannot be measured (yes, temperature changes, sweat production and pupil dilation can but that's subtly different to the causes of these physical changes), and as Spufford states in the footnote on page 68 `you can't disprove the existence of a feeling'. That's the crux of it really; when we are honest with ourselves we feel things that cannot be explained and which only make sense in the context of something bigger, something outside of ourselves, all these soul consuming emotions and feelings which have no place or purpose in the blind continuity of our genetic code actually exist. We feel guilt, we feel love, we feel regret and none of them can be satisfactorily explained away by any evolutionary-biological explanations about group bonding or societal strength. They are the dark silt that clogs our mind and which only a cool draft of giving into something `outside' can wash away.

A final comment, this is by far the sweariest `Christian' book ever published and as such should prove an interesting challenge to church goers as it does to non-believers!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One man's experience of Christianity, 20 Jan 2013
By 
Frances Stott (Devizes, Wiltshire) - See all my reviews
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At least one reviewer has complained that this books is "unresearched" (as the author says), but for me, this was part of its strength; it is one man's experience, told, as it were, from the inside. The author doesn't try to "prove" his point, but describes how he has come to arrive at the faith he holds, and why. He doesn't preach, or persuade; he tells it is it is, leaving the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. And what this amounts to is, paradoxically, a very persuasive account of the Christian faith.

Spufford does make short work of prominent atheists, such as Dawkins, but again, this is his view; not one pressed upon the reader. And it is all the more strong for that. He paints a vivid picture of Christ as he might have been and how he must have been perceived, within the society in which he found himself, and I found this particularly moving. He admits repeatedly that there is no proof for the existence of God; that most Christians - himself included - have frequent doubts. But what he has experienced for the main part does transcend those doubts. Most of all, he brings home the reality (for him) that Christianity makes sense. It is an impossible road to follow, but that that's okay; it is only by reaching for the impossible that we manage, just occasionally, to grasp the possible.

This book is very readable, and at times, I found it hard to put down. And if the language is at times crude, then that fits in with the informal style of the writing, and didn't bother me (although some readers might object). I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in Christianity, whether believer or non-believer. Whoever you are, it is likely to make for absorbing, and at times entertaining, reading.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommend, 14 Oct 2012
Excellent and engaging read and I would recommend to all, regardless of where positioned in the "God debate". The last sentence in the final "notes" disclaims any role of the author as a spokesperson for the C of E but this he obviously is (if only unofficial and by dint of his membership). If his institution has any sense, they will wrest him to the fore because the account does far more to help one understand the mind and reasons of a "believer" than any of the usual godspeak or pulpit proselytising. Perhaps it even gives permission for those of us floating around in no mans' land to look in again from beyond the pale. All thought provoking. I only wish he hadn't exampled The Adagio from Mozart's clarinet concerto - it brought back terrible buried memories of that grade-whatever-it-was exam!
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Imagine, 16 Oct 2012
By 
Roderick Blyth (Oxfordshire, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Concluding an essay on Rousseau, Lytton Strachey wrote that 'as we see him now, Rousseau was not a wicked man; he was an unfortunate, a distracted, a deeply sensitive, a strangely complex, creature; and above all he possessed one quality which cut him off from his contemporaries; which set an immense gulf between him and them: he was modern. Among those quick, strong, fiery people of the eighteenth century, he belonged to another world - to the new world of self-consciousness, and doubt, and hesitation, of mysterious melancholy and quite intimate delights, of long reflexions amid the solitudes of nature, of infinite introspections among the solitudes of the heart.' Strachey might, with less sympathy, but as much truth, have added that part of Rousseau's modernity was embodied in his craving for notoriety, his delight in showing off, his extravagant sentimentality, and his bottomless capacity for self pity. Voltaire, who cordially detested him, said that Rousseau would have been happy to see himself hanged, provided that his name was prominently displayed on the gibbet. And although many modernists would like to see themselves as begotten of the Enlightenment, they are, in truth, its illegitimate children out of Rousseau. Christianity, on the other hand, has been a rational project from the moment at which it sought to systematise itself in a manner that made it not just consistent with, but a triumph of, reason, and it was precisely its success in performing that task which rendered it vulnerable to the emotional irrationalism of its modern critics.

Francis Spufford has now written a polemic which reverses the earlier polarities, and seeks to persuade modern man of the case for religion by employing modernism's own language of emotion - against itself. Here we have all the scorn, the contempt, and the dismissiveness which we are accustomed to hear from the mouths of religion's enlightened despisers - but employed in its defence; all the sentimentality, sarcasm and grand-standing with which are so familiar to us from their empurpled prose -but used to convince a popular readership of the opposite case. So, instead of writing about 'sin', and being put aside with a yawn, Mr.Spufford prefers to write about what he calls the 'Human Propensity to F*** things Up (or 'HPtFtU' for short); instead of writing about 'prayer', Mr.Spufford takes us on a mind-blowing tour of the infinite which reminded me of the last 15 minutes of '2001'; instead, of a Jesus with a halo, shampoo'd hair, combed beard and flowing robes of spotless white, we have 'Yeshua' - a 'male Jew in first century Palestine... probably bearded, a bit smelly by modern standards, and quite short' -possibly 'with bad or missing teeth', a sort of ' holy fool' with a talent for annoying the authorities, scandalising the establishment and embarrassing his own family, but who, on has something of 'the other' about him: a healing hand, a dumb compassion, and profound understanding of HPtFtU - which 'he's here to mend'.

Without involving us in the details of his personal life, Mr Spufford leaves us in no doubt that his religious drive is essentially emotional, that its motor is some unspecified personal unhappiness, and that it is of the kind that has little or no time for tradition or authority, but refers all things to personal judgment - which is essentially Luther via Rousseau.

So, when it comes to writing about the difficulties of the presence of cruelty and pain in a supposedly God-created world, Mr Spufford takes the usual answers, simplifies them, holds the up to the light and says 'Nah!' It's a bad business, and he can't explain it, but the reader should trust him - these problems aren't really central. In looking at the Churches, Mr.Spufford explains the idiocies and the scandals as collective 'HPtFtU' and therefore no surprise. When it gets doctrinally difficult, Mr.Spufford tends to the intellectual equivalent of 'Whatever': 'This is my body... This is my blood... Do this when you remember me. It's one of those likeness things again - but the friends don't think too hard about what he means, because they're bursting out with anxiety at the finality of the way he's talking.' Not much difference between this and the 'What's the buzz... tell me what's-a-happenin'' theology of 'Jesus Christ Superstar'. Similarly, with human sexuality: 'Except to make it clear that it falls under the umbrella of his perfectionism, he [Yeshua] has hardly has anything to say about it... he appears to be opposed to divorce on the pro-feminist grounds that it cuts women off without economic support;' and as for Hell, 'the whole contrivance, besides being repellently sadistic in itself, is blatantly incompatible with the primary thing that Christianity believes about God, and must be... another vengeful projection of the HPtFtU of christian humans, rather than part of the furniture of God's universe.' And as for the dear old Church of England, well, its a complete muddle and f*** up but awfully, awfully English - 'For the church, relating to power one way or another is a necessary consequence of operating in the world, or rather of trying to straddle two worlds: of trying to witness to an unconditional love while also doing what is necessary to go on existing in a world of condition' - so bye-bye Benedict XVI, and hello Rowan Williams, or whoever is unfortunate enough to have next to occupy the seat of St.Augustine.

But looking too closely at some of the premises of its arguments rather defeats the point: this is a book contrived for people who are 'modernist' in outlook, inclined to a relativistic view of life, and confused by, and/or impatient of, debates within the Churches that to them seem hopelessly irrelevant, stuffy and out of date. It is well-written, passionate, and often very funny. Those who are impatient with the callousness, the the stupidity, and the strutting vanity of evangelical of atheism, may find what they object to well-articulated here. Mr.Spufford is as witty as the best of his fashionable targets, and like them, he takes no prisoners. He coins some entertaining phrases about the 'hobbyists of unbelief', 'the people who care enough to be in a state of negative excitement about religion.. or to rent a set of recreational objections from Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens'. And he expresses a perfectly reasonable irritation that any of those idiot savants should presume to tell him what he believes, and why he believes it, and that he is wrong, stupid, and possibly even criminal in doing so. After all, how do they know, any more than he does, whether God exists or not? And 'It would be nice,' says Mr. Spufford, if people weren't quite so rude. It would be nice if they didn't brandish crude cartoon of nineteenth century thought as the very latest thing in philosophy, and expect you to reel back, dazzled. It would be nice not to be patronised by nitwits. It would be nice if people were to understand that science is a special exercise in perceiving the world without metaphor, and that, powerful though it is, it doesn't function as a guide to those very large aspects of experience that can't be perceived except through metaphor.'

Mr. Spufford has a lot of fun with the tin-pan gods of the new establishment, especially John Lennon, an icon whose shampoo'd hair, combed beard and spotless white 3 piece always reminds me of exactly the image of Jesus which its critics associate with 'pious fraud' - alright, forget the round-eyed rimless spectacles, which is Lennon's own contributipn to the saccharine. So it cracked me up when Mr. Spufford described 'Imagine' as 'the My Little Pony of philosophical statements', and went on to write about 'John and Yoko all in white, John at the white piano, John drifting through the white rooms of a white mansion...' and how 'Imagine' looks like one part 'A Matter of Life and Death to one part 'Hymns Ancient and Modern'. Only sillier.' And how he skewers idiocy when he writes: 'Imagine there's no heaven. Imagine there's no hell. Imagine all the people living life in - hello? Excuse me? Take religion out of the picture and everybody starts living life in peace? I don't know about you, but in my experience, peace is not the default state of human beings, any more than having an apartment the the size of Joey and Chandler's is.... Peace between people is an achievement, a state of affairs we put together effortfully in the face of competing interests... Peace within people is made difficult... by the way we tend to have an actual, you know, emotional life going on, rather than an empty space between our ears with a shaft of dusty sunlight in it, and a lone moth flittering around and around.'

Yet as I finished this spirited, emotional, but somewhat tiring book, I couldn't help thinking of Nicholas Herman - 'a lowly and unlearned man, who, after having been a footman and a soldier, was admitted as a Lay Brother among the barefooted Carmelites at Paris in 1666, and was afterwards known as 'Brother Lawrence'. His conversion, which took place when he was about 18 years old, was the result, under God, of the mere sight in midwinter, of a dry and leafless tree, and of the reflections it stirred respecting the change the coming spring would bring. From that time he grew eminently in the love and knowledge of God, endeavouring constantly to walk 'as in his presence.' No wilderness wanderings seem to have intervened between the Red Sea and the Jordan of his experience. A wholly consecrated man, he lived his christian life through as a pilgrim - as a steward and not as an owner, and died at the age of 80, leaving a name which has been as 'ointment poured forth.' But he never wrote a book, and if he'd had his way, nothing would ever have been heard of 'Brother Lawrence' at all.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forceful but friendly, 18 Sep 2012
By 
R. A. Richardson (UK) - See all my reviews
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The most immediately obvious aspect of this book is its prose style - fresh and refreshing, a lively mixing of colloquialisms and literary references, a vivid familiarity with contemporary popular culture but also with academic philosophy and theology, many jokes and witticisms and surprising images, judicious and delightful deployment of footnotes and asides, a continually forceful but friendly and considerate engagement with the reader. The book is in consequence unputdownable, even though it has no table of contents and no introductory overview, and the chapter headings are intriguing and inviting, not explanatory. Theologically, the author is quite conservative - most of the time he seems to have a realist not non-realist view of God, and he seems to believe Christianity is essentially superior to other religions. But also he manages to be humble and tentative, and to speak to you not only with passion and exuberance but also, sometimes, with a beautifully still small voice - he's really excellent company. I enjoyed his book immensely.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A different approach, 30 Oct 2012
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This book explores an interesting approach to Christianity - Francis Spufford is a Christian not because he believes in it's doctrine, but because of how he feels and experiences the world. Indeed, it is wonderful to hear the honesty in his book - that he sits in church and 'tries' to believe what he hears. He doesn't know how it all works and he's not trying to convince his reader that he does. In that, this is a refreshing, honest and invigorating view of one man's religion and rationale. My only struggle with the book is the way in which it's written. Some sentences lasted six lines, embedded with so many commas and juxstaposed ideas that by the time I reached the end I'd lost track and forgotten where it started. This does not make for a pleasant read. And added to that, I couldn't help but feel at times I was being shouted at. Which is a shame really, as I'm on-board with his ideas and really, really want to mine this book for it's understanding and access to an otherwise (for me anyway) hard-to-digest religion. So...worth the read? Yes. Enjoyable? Well, on an 'ideas' level - absolutely. An enjoyable read? No. Hard-going in places. Following a particularly 'lumpy' page I found myself muttering 'calm down man' and wishing for a gentler, more reasoned voice. But maybe that's beside the point...Spufford has every right to be angry and unapologetic when a plain, regular, peaceful activity like going to church can be viewed, in this now secular society, as weird and somehow subversive.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I have not read anything similar about Christianity, 25 July 2013
By 
Markku Ojanen (Lempäälä Finland) - See all my reviews
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I just had to join with other positive opinions. I have read a lot apologies and critiques of Christianity, but this is really something else. I spoiled my books with hundreds of markings. Most of them are positive, but even those where I think differently are always interesting and penetrating. As a psychologist I often wonder why some people believe and some don't. Of course, there are many quite plausible explanations, but a large part of believing is a mystery. Why religions touch some people so profoundly, and some feel nothing, or it is a nuisance for them. In this book the author raises all the important questions, clarifies them, but of course can not give any final answers. That is the strength of the book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shakes comfortable thinking, 14 Jan 2013
By 
Mr. S. R. Boxall (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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The language is, shall we say, interesting, but makes the right sort of impact. He sometimes struggles to communicate what he is trying to say, but then, he is talking about senses that are indescribable in words. This makes some passages of the book a little bit difficult, but it is definitely worth the effort. Would definitely consider lending this book (even giving it) to someone genuinely interested in the Christian faith but is put off by easy 'text-book' explanations.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My book of the year!, 1 Dec 2012
By 
JEB (Leicestershire) - See all my reviews
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This is one of the most refreshing reads I've had for ages - I saw the Guardian extract and ordered my copy on the strength of that. I've read other Spufford books and found all of them to be creative and unusual. His assertive and 'unapologetic' stance on the value of having a spiritual life beyond the distractions we all suffer was one that made me feel like cheering out loud. And I learned the most valuable acronym I've ever come across: 'HPtFtU' which so accurately describes the mess we get into even when that's the last thing we want.
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