sorry_by_fludish

How People Tend to XXXX Things Up – Unapologetic Book Blog 2

Strangely for a blog about the book “Unapologetic” I have to apologise for being a bit slow on the whole read as you blog / blog as you read thing. I am in the middle of a deadline crisis for a book I am writing and so not getting the time I would like to enjoy this book outloud with you.

Chapter 2 of Spufford’s spiffing book is on Sin and Guilt, which he acknowledges are such toxic words in our western culture that he has created a new term to avoid being misunderstood. Because as Spufford reports:

Everybody knows, then, that ‘sin’ basically means ‘indulgence’ or ‘enjoyable naughtiness’.

Instead Spufford uses the phrase “How People Tend to Fxxx things Up.” Its an interesting state of affairs that using the F word in a definition helps to make it sound more plausible and palatable. That said, Spufford is brave in his choice of the subject matter of the second chapter of his book, as he notes:

I could have put our hearts in our mouths and filled us with awe at the bigness of it all; with the luminous, numinous Carl-Sagan-osity of things, which even Richard Dawkins agrees ought to stir us to our depths, though what it should stir us to do, of course, is to seek out a career in the empirical sciences…I think of awe as a kind of National Trust property among feelings: somewhere to visit from time to time, but not a place you can live.

That is a fascinating observation, Christian communicators, myself included, have tended to use awe as a point of connection with people exploring faith. But awe is a fleeting, fragmentary experience whilst Spufford argues guilt is part of our everyday lived experience.
The bad news is bad news about us, not just about other people.
Our experience of guilt can be a clue to deeper truths about ourselves. Now ofcourse not all guilt is right or healthy. The guilt that some victims of abuse feel for example is wholly undeserved but some guilt experiences are part of the reality of God’s reality impacting on us. Spufford draws on two historical example: John Newtown the slave trader turned preacher and hymn writer.
The wrinkle is that he wrote it before he gave up slaving. He wrote it under the impression that he had already seen the stuff he should be worrying about – booze and licentiousness, presumably, and playing tiddly-winks on the Sabbath, and not running his slave ship with a swear-box screwed to the mast.
Yet Newton’s guilt, once found, wouldn’t leave him alone. It went on gradually showing him dark, accurate visions of himself; it went on changing him, until eventually he could not bear the darkness of what he did daily, and gave up the trade, and ended his life as a penitent campaigner against it. The other example is Field Marshall Montgommery’s pang of conscience as he neared death.

What do you think, have we over used awe in our attempts to help people understand the gospel?
Is it fear of fire and brimstone and Catholic guilt that has made us weary and worried about talking about sin?

3 thoughts on “How People Tend to XXXX Things Up – Unapologetic Book Blog 2”

  1. reading unapologetic was a blast – I think in part because of the way in which francis spufford has a real go at some of the sloppy anti-christian arguments which appear to be popular

    he also has a crack at the thorny issue of suffering

    and my fav bit is something along the lines of the following ….

    A bus poster slogan atheists paid for said “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”. You know what offends against realism in that slogan – the word enjoy. That’s one emotion. What about hope, boredom, curiosity, anxiety, irritation, joy, bewilderment, hate, tenderness, despair, relief, exhaustion and the rest? It makes no sense to say you should feel the single emotion of enjoyment about life than to say you should spend it entirely in state of fear. Life just isn’t unanimous like that.

    But this mistake isn’t necessarily a piece of fluffy pretending that does no harm. The implication is enjoyment would be your natural state if you weren’t worried by us believers and our God preaching. What that slogan means – if its true – is a piece of cruel optimism.

  2. One of my major concerns with our Christian preaching is that we get so used to feeling that we need to induce guilt in non-believers that we keep doing it to believers, all the while knowing that living in guilt is exactly what the gospel is supposed to free us from.
    Rather than telling people that God will heal whatever ails them, we try to convince them that the should feel as sick as we do in exactly the same way before God can do anything. We tell ourselves that it’s ok to feel guilty because then we really appreciate what Jesus has done for us. No, Jesus frees us to live free of sin, guilt and fear.

  3. I’ve got to say that I really enjoyed his take on presenting sin. I think using the ‘f’ bomb has the advantage of a little shock factor but also turning into language and experience that many out of the church can relate to. I think the idea of HPtFTU also captures the sense of truth in Original Sin, namely the universality of it, the putting of us all on the same playing field, and also recognizing sin is a condition, a disease, a way of being rather than one off actions that society at the times views as being wrong. I thought this made it clear it what sin is in a culture where the word no longer has the meaning we need it to.
    The guilt question is an interesting one, because although he certainly makes a big deal of it I feel he works from the universal experience and then challenges the individual to move towards his personal experience, i.e. There is this part of being human, the HPTFTU, that we only have to look around at our history, our broader culture, our local communities, our families to see. We all know it’s there and it has a big impact on our experience of the world. And then this leads us into considering this propensity in our own life and our own guilt and failings. The other option which I think is more common in hell fire and brimstone is to start with the individual and their own personal acts of what we call sin and then drag it out, however I think this generally leads to a much more defensive listener, a more confrontational approach to guilt and can lead to an end of the conversation. I think Spufford’s approach is significantly better way to talk about Sin and guilt, and as long as you move the reader/listener to make the personal connections from the general experience I feel we would have much more success and so if we talk about Guilt in the way Spufford does I think we have indeed underplayed it!
    Sorry that was a bit long hope it makes sense.

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