Salon has published a rather incoherent piece by Francis Spufford defending Christianity on the grounds that it makes emotional sense. His resentment of the so-called "new atheists' is palpable and while he insists that he believes Christianity is true, his emphasis is on the emotional.

His writing is so hysterical that it is hard to read. This is an excerpt from his book Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surping Emotional Sense.

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Although present company proves that it isn't a hard and fast rule, that does tend to be a prereq for religious faith.

Wow, Salon must be desperate for readers.  I couldn't get half way through the first paragraph.  What a rant!  Unsubstantiated stereotypes, piled one on top of another! 


He's a pretty good argument for why not to be religious.  Diatribe, stereotype, rant, obsession, nonsense.

While I do not doubt the sincerity of his statements, I suspect the book is an attempt to write a controversial bestseller that would be very popular with certain kinds of believers. It gives them permission to believe when they are unsure or perhaps even doubtful of the rational grounds for it.

Surping?  That seems like a good word.  I'm not sure it exists, though. 

Rather like God :)

Christianity making emotional sense. It appears to me that if "you know it in your soul," and you "feel it in your heart," and then you can "believe it in your mind" and "justify it in your spirit" you are on your way. If you have this by "faith" then all the made up crap is true and nobody can tell you different.

Just maybe your personal invisible friend can be Casper the friendly ghost, or you can go live on Venus when you die.

Your comment reminded me of the presidential race of 1964.  Senator Barry Goldwater's campaign ran on the slogan: "In your heart, you know he's right."  Not very long after that came out, an alternative version started making the rounds:

"In your guts, you know he's nuts!"

So ... do we go with our heart or our guts ... and is there a difference???

Thats hilarious about the Goldwater campaign. I would have loved similar about some other recent candidates. In comparison Golwater was calm and rational. Perry? Santorum? Palin? Romney? What body parts rhyme with batshit loonueytunes bonkers?

Actually he explains well how non-fundamentalist religious belief works.  Something that puzzled Christopher Hitchens.  From Spufford's article: 

From outside, belief looks like a series of ideas about the nature of the universe for which a truth-claim is being made, a set of propositions that you sign up to; and when actual believers don’t talk about their belief in this way, it looks like slipperiness, like a maddening evasion of the issue. If I say that, from inside, it makes much more sense to talk about belief as a characteristic set of feelings, or even as a habit, you will conclude that I am trying to wriggle out, or just possibly that I am not even interested in whether the crap I talk is true. I do, as a matter of fact, think that it is. For the record, I am not pulling the ultra-liberal, Anglican-going-on-atheist trick of saying that it’s all a beautiful and interesting metaphor, snore bore yawn, and that religious terms mean whatever I want them to mean. (Though I do reserve the right to assert that believers get a slightly bigger say in what faith means than unbelievers do. It is ours, after all. Come in, if you think you’re hard enough.) I am a fairly orthodox Christian. Every Sunday I say and do my best to mean the whole of the Creed, which is a series of propositions. No dancing about; no moving target, I promise. But it is still a mistake to suppose that it is assent to the propositions that makes you a believer. It is the feelings that are primary. I assent to the ideas because I have the feelings; I don’t have the feelings because I’ve assented to the ideas.So to me, what I felt listening to Mozart in 1997 is not some wishy-washy metaphor for an idea I believe in, and it’s not a front behind which the real business of belief is going on: it’s the thing itself. My belief is made of, built up from, sustained by, emotions like that. That’s what makes it real.  ... I can’t prove it. I don’t know that any of it is true. I don’t know if there’s a God.

He's actually an agnostic, when he admits it. That's what he said.  But he believes when some emotions generate belief in him, when he's in a certain frame of mind or at church. 

There is a growing feeling among some Christians that the argument for Christianity on rational grounds has been lost and they need a counter that permits them to go on believing in spite of all the reasons against it. This, however, is not a promising articulation of that belief.

You and others seem to be judging Spufford from the first part of his article, where he goes on at length about what atheists think of religious believers. 

But later, he explains religious belief from the inside, very well.  He has a lot of skill with words. 

I think the ability to become a believer in church or at certain times - even though at another moment he says he doesn't know if God exists - comes from children's belief in what their parents say. It's much more difficult to do this if one didn't do it as a child. 

It also points out that religious people and atheists aren't so different after all, in our thinking, in how our minds work. He said flat out that - on a rational level - he is agnostic, not a believer.  We define "atheist" as not holding belief in deities.  In that sense, we are the same. 

We just have different values.  He has a value system which says that it's a good thing to go to church and do that cognitive trick that makes him temporarily believe in God.  If he was in church and something inside him said "No, it matters whether these things are rationally true or not, so I disavow that cognitive trick", he would then be an atheist. 

Atheists tend to value truth.  I posted about the faith that some atheists have, that humanity is better off with truth than cognitive tricks.

And one could make a good argument for that faith.  It would go something like, "Humanity is encountering huge challenges, that require us to think for the entire human race and long-range.  That cognitive trick that enables you to believe sometimes so that you feel better, is too expensive!  It's too divisive, because in order to do that difficult cognitive trick, people alienate themselves from others who believe differently.  Humanity can't afford this.  Better to stick with the optimism that all except the most depressed of us have, that hope for the future, that ability to cope with the present." 

So I agree that he didn't prove his point.  But it's facile to dismiss it as a rant.  It can be argued against and it should be argued against. 


I've read it through three times and I still think it qualifies as a rant. The only serious point he makes is this:

And so the argument about whether the ideas are true or not, which is the argument that people mostly expect to have about religion, is also secondary for me. 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 he fails to give any reasons for this position and it leaves him making the case for religion solely on grounds of emotions and the Mozart Clarinet Concerto. He has asserted much without providing any argument. There isn't a lot of substance to argue against.

Religious people have different ideas about what makes something true, than we do.  They feel that inner experience is veridical. 

The first part of his article, about the negative images that non-religious people have of religion, does seem like venting. 

His article would probably be more effective if he'd vented in a first draft to get it off his chest - then edited out the venting later.  What non-religious people think of religion should be only a brief introduction.  I could bear reading only a few sentences of the venting part.

It sounds like he's obsessively surfed A/N, but got bottled-up resentments because he can't post here :) 

I do admire his verbal adroitness, though.   

A lot of religious belief doesn't bear close examination.  Spufford being honest about his reasons for belief is dangerous for his belief. 




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