Spiritual Activism book review

Spiritual ActivismAlison Jackson, chair of Church Action on Poverty’s Council of Management, shares her thoughts on Spiritual Activism, an interesting new book from Alastair McIntosh and Matt Carmichael.

This book was not what I expected. I thought I would be challenged as a spiritual person to become an activist – instead I was challenged as an activist to recognise that spirituality is real and something I should pay attention to.

But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t read it if you are not an activist; it may not inspire you to become one, but if you can read it and still think that there is a barrier between the “real” – material – and the spiritual, you won’t have been paying attention.

The authors start by looking at why activists are suspicious of leaders and the implications of that. They point out that if you want to achieve something, you need organisation and focus and this often comes from a leader. This is not necessarily the same person all the time, and a leader does not have to be authoritarian. Each chapter ends with a case study and the leader they choose is Mahatma Gandhi.

The book then moves on to spirituality, not coming back to leadership at any length, although there is a really energising section on “servant leadership” in chapter five, which underpins much of the later development of ideas. I was a little disappointed in this, but realised that the authors are practising what they preach. This book does not set out to tell you how to do things – how to lead a campaign; instead it suggests some issues that you should reflect on. Addicts of self help books – I have been a reformed character in that respect for some years now – will not find what they are looking for in this book and it is all the better for it.

The exploration of the nature of spirituality and the demolition of the materialist approach to life is the best and easiest to follow that I have read. If the book loses you later on – and some of the discussion of psychology does get a bit technical – do read chapter 2 “Spirituality Justified”.

Personally, I was really glad that I kept going to the end as, while I think the authors use rather too much space discussing Jung and, as an unreformed pedant, I was not totally convinced by their etymological discussions, almost every page has something interesting and worth reading.

This book is about spirituality; it draws on the teachings of a number of religions as they relate to activism. I do not know enough about Islam, Judaism and Buddhism to say whether the authors take an orthodox approach to the theology of those religions; they take an extremely unorthodox one to Christianity! I don’t think that matters; this book is not about theology – it is about spirituality and while I profoundly disagree, not only with their view of God but also with their understanding of what Christianity teaches, I found the book interesting and helpful. Give it a go!


Spiritual ActivismGreen Books, the publishers of Spiritual Activism, offer a 30% discount on the book, together with free UK postage and packing, for supporters of Church Action on Poverty who order the book before 30 November 2015.

Just click here to go to their website, and enter the code Church2015 when you order the book.

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