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The Crack in Everything

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by Don LattinDecember 19, 2013
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Francis Spufford

If your mission is to defend the Christian faith against the rising tide of disbelief, why in God’s name would you call yourself an “apologist?” 

Are you so ashamed of your religion that you feel like you have to apologize for it? Doesn’t being a true believer mean never having to say you’re sorry?

This thought arose  when I wrote my last blog about the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis, a born-again Anglican and one of the great Christian apologists of the 20th century. Then a new book crossed my desk titled,  Unapologetic—Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense.” 

Perhaps the author, Francis Spufford, should begin by apologizing for the length of that title. But I cracked open his book and came upon a chapter titled “The Crack in Everything.”

That got my attention because the phrase comes from one of my favorite  Leonard Cohen lyrics, from his song, “Anthem:”

Ring the bell that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There’s a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

Christian apologetics (from a Greek word meaning to “speak in return, defend oneself”) dates back to the third century, when a cadre of educated Christians tried to justify their seemingly bizarre beliefs to an intellectual movement intent on cultivating the wisdom of ancient Greece.

Spufford, an engaging and entertaining English writer, is very much in this apologetic tradition.

He points out, rightly, that when most non-Christians hear words like “God” and “sin” and “our Lord and Savior” they “think they know what believers are talking about when they really, really don’t.”

(I’d say the same thing could really, really be said for many believers who call themselves “Christian,” but that’s another story.)

Spufford rifts about how the word “sin” has become a sexy way to market designer chocolate and overpriced perfume.

The word “encodes a memory of ancient condemnation...just enough of a memory to add a zing of conscious naughtiness to whatever the pleasure in question is.”

Spufford defines sin as “the human propensity to fuck things up,” which he then abbreviates throughout his book as the “HPtFtU.”

It’s that feeling you get when you look back on your life and see “a long series of choices for things which, at any given moment, temporarily outbid the things you say you wanted most.”

We’ve all had those moments, like “when a marriage ends, when a career stalls or crumbles, when a relationship fades away with a child seen only on Saturdays, when the supposedly recreational coke habit turns out to be exercising veto power over every other hope and dream.”

Spufford agrees that Christianity makes some crazy demands on the believer. “It thinks you should give your possessions away, refuse to defend yourself, love strangers as much as your family, behave as if there is no tomorrow.”

How does one even begin to live such a life?

Step One:

“Turn to face each other,” Spufford writes. “A community of acknowledged fuck-ups ought  at least in theory to be kinder to each other.”

To that I say, “Amen,” and happy holidays.


Don Lattin

Don Lattin is a veteran journalist and the author of five books on religion and spirituality in America. His national bestseller, The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America, won the 2010 California Book Award for nonfiction. His most recent work, Distilled Spirits: Getting High, Then Sober, With a Famous Writer, Forgotten Philosopher and a Hopeless Drunk, is a memoir and group biography of writer Aldous Huxley, philosopher Gerald Heard, and Bill Wilson, cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Lattin’s stories have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle, where he covered the religion beat for two decades. He lives on an island in the San Francisco Bay with his wife, Laura, and his dog, Bella. Visit him at donlattin.com.


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