Bringing God Back to Earth: Confessions of a Christian Publisher

Stephen Mitchell reviews Bringing God Back to Earth: Confessions of a Christian Publisher, by John Hunt. O Books. Winchester. 2004. 320 pages. £9.99. ISBN 1903816815

Bringing God Back to Earth is a breath-taking project. In case we miss the scale of the task, the author reminds us two-thirds the way through the book:

Weíve covered why we believe, whether itís credible, the differences between good and bad religion, the good teaching of Jesus, the way that got turned into bad religion by the politicians and bureaucrats. This last third of the book takes an overview of where we are, and the way forward. (page 240)

But donít be put off by the scope of the book. The writer has such an easy-going style that we dance our way through aeons of time. And, of course, any book about God and religion is going to cover life, death and everything in between.

Bringing God Back to Earth is a courageous book. John Hunt will be well known to Sea of Faith readers as the publisher of a wide range of liberal and radical religious books. That wasnít always the case. These Confessions of a Christian Publisher are the fruits of his personal journey from publishing books heís Ďtoo embarrassed to mentioní to those by authors of a wide spectrum of beliefs.

Bringing God Back to Earth continues the themes of John Huntís earlier book, prompted by a question from one of his children: ĎDaddy, Do you believe in God?í I only hope the child addressed in the first book has grown up. Parts of this book are the stuff of nightmares. Descriptions of aspects of the Christian impact on the world in ĎThe Damage We Doí, and possible future scenarios in ĎThe Choices We Faceí will startle believers and non-believers alike. One example: after describing in some detail the Spanish invasion of Central America under Cortez, he writes

So holocaust is not too strong a word to describe aspects of the Christian impact on the world. A comparable genocide today to the sixteenth-century one in Central and South America would involve figures of around 600 million Ė nuclear war proportions. (page 233)

And the future? John Hunt makes a passionate plea to be rid of arguments about religion that simply donít matter. Thereís no point to some of the debates between believers and unbelievers.

To sum it up, life is just what it is, and being a Christian is just a particular way of living it rather than looking for a different one. Weíre in the kingdom of God if only we could see it. Itís not the next world thatís important, but this one. Not the future, but now. Not the kind of beliefs we have about God, but the kind of people they help us to be.

So far, so Sea of Faith. But John Hunt wants to take us further and itís one reason we should read this book. How in practice are we to replace bad religion with good religion? How will it manifest itself in our communities? In Bringing God Back to Earth there is a very definite place for churches of some form in the future Ė to provide a heart for the community; to enable us to wrestle with, and celebrate communally, birth, commitment, marriage and death, which are now turned into soulless administrative functions; as beacons of light, practising repentance, forgiveness, openness, love, tolerance, poverty and forces for change. As for the ministers of these enlightened churches, they should be just what they describe themselves as being, ministers of religion, that is ministers of all kinds of religion rather than preachers of a local version of a particular brand.

This book races, breathlessly to its final vision. It makes compulsive reading. Itís what I liked about the book. There are no footnotes or endnotes and no index. We feel we are in the authorís company, carried along by his fervour. But like all great spiritual books, the fervour is undermined by a radical acceptance of life. After all:

Religion is nothing special. Itís not something you do on Sundays or in quiet times. Itís not something you can separate from loving and living. Itís not different from washing the dishes, or dreaming at night... Itís our response to life that determines what it means for us, rather than some uncertain idea of life itself. (page 31)

It left me wanting more; more about the practice of religion that shapes such a response to life. Maybe one of his kids will pop him another question!