Why Progressives Need God – Review

Author: Ed Beale | Date: 17 September, 2019 | Category: Book Reviews | Comments: 0

Why Progressives Need God: An ethical defence of monotheism, by John Clatworthy, November 2017. Christian Alternative, ISBN: 978-1780997742, 392 pages. RRP: £14.99 (paperback)

Reading this book, I was full of admiration for the informed way that a self-confessed liberal Christian went in to bat on behalf of the monotheistic God. In the end though I am afraid that the argument did not fully convince me nor particularly fire my imagination. I need something more gritty and disruptive when sensing God’s presence in the world. I am no longer confident that I could define progress in such an abstract way without looking at concrete situations and circumstances. So when we are told that “progress means change for the better: better for everyone, not some at the expense of others”, I wonder what that progress might look like and where we should look to see that progressive world unfolding. I would also be cautious about claiming that the religious montheism has been at the forefront in defending progress; there are instances when the secular institutions seem to be more progressive – thinking, among other things, about the place of women and same sex relationships.

I am writing this at the start of the Climate Change conference in Poland where David Attenborough warned the gathering leaders that we face the greatest threat for thousands of years. Progress in this area seems notable only by its absence. The author recognises that we face multiple, competing crises and he claims that the way forward is for us to find right solutions that transcend every government – enter monotheism. God is almost the backstop guarantee on which we can fall back as an authority of last resort. It would be good to hear about what those right solutions are, not just to believe that there are right solutions, and where signs of hope can be discerned. Progress seems to me to be inescapably particular.

The outlook of the book is optimistic – there are solutions to our present crises and monotheism is the building brick on which those solutions can be constructed but again, some concrete examples drawn from our present circumstances about how this could work in practice, in the everyday, would have been helpful. I too am optimistic but less in broad brush ideas than in the creative resilience of people and protest movements locally and globally – all variously inspired. I would also have found it helpful for a closer look at the whole area of values and desires; the question asked by St Augustine, “what do I love when I say I love God” is a question that should always haunt us and humble us in our claims.


Jonathan Morris


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