Happy Bright Friday! Christ is risen!
Touchstone Magazine posted an interesting interview of Hadley Arkes by Marcia Segelstein: “Courage & Conversion.” In the interview, the professor talks about natural law, the wayward tendencies of man, and his teacher, Leo Strauss. Unlike many of Strauss’ disciples, Arkes has chosen a more religious form of return, and he answers Segelstein’s questions about his conversion to Christianity:
MS: In the column you wrote the day after you were received into the Catholic Church, you talked about courage. As a Jew, did it take a unique kind of courage to become a Christian?
HA: I went on to explain in those comments that I did not see myself as abandoning the Jewish people.
MS: But as a Jew, was it harder?
HA: Theologically I don’t think it was. As Michael Novak [his sponsor] said, “When you’re Catholic, you’re at least Jewish.” Everything in the New Testament is predicated on the Old. As part of the Creed, we accept the prophets: “God spoke through the prophets.” It is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I asked my wife how many people sitting in a synagogue in Amherst believe that God made a covenant with Abraham. And she said, “Actually believe it? Probably a third.” And I said that every serious Catholic I know does. So on one level it may not be as difficult as people suppose.
But on the level of family, it is quite difficult. I know that my parents could not have understood this. I loved my grandparents very much and I have a sense that a decision like this would have been very hurtful to them, maybe because they wouldn’t have understood it. For the most part, my family around me has been understanding and sympathetic.
Certain members of the family see it as a defection. And this is really very strange because some scoff at religion and profess to be atheists. How is it that a Jewish atheist is not thought to have left the Jewish people, but the Jewish Catholic has? Here I am affirming the God of Israel and his laws. The Jewish atheist rejects them. So which one of us is leaving the Jewish people? I’m certainly not defecting from the Jewish people and I’m certainly not even defecting from Judaism because I think Judaism is carried over into the Church. I haven’t felt less Jewish being in the Church. I think I learn more about the Jewish traditions every day at Mass.
Religious rabbinical Judaism is not dead in America, but it is ailing. It is not therefore surprising that so many of that community’s pious and wise are converting to Christianity. Not since the first century of the Great Commission have Christians been so positively focused on the rabbinical community, and their recent openness, interest, and charitable disposition toward the children of Jacob have likely made the journey easier. I suspect that most rabbinical Jews still consider Christianity through tribal lenses rather than theological ones. Such explains the reactions of Arkes’ family members and much else. Alexandrine Judaism, with its philosophical and theological emphases, readily accepted the Gospel. The rabbinical tradition, reactive against the Greco-Roman world, refused the universal messianic message as part and parcel of filthy goy corruption. Secular atheists of Hebraic lineage may appear far removed from the spirit of Jabneh, but they retain that ancient mindset, though ridiculously inconsistently. Men are always somewhat arbitrary and moved by matters of convenience when they apply their principles, especially when justifying their stance toward allies and enemies.