Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Literary Converts

I’ve just finished a book called Literary Converts, by Joseph Pearce, that talks about the life of dozens and dozens of writers, actors, poets…, some of them well-known in English-speaking countries and others worldwide, that converted to the Catholic Church: Chesterton, Baring, Evelyn Waugh, Ronald Knox, Muggeridge, Alec Guiness, Edith Sitwell, Tolkien… just to mention some of them.
It made me think and wonder what special circumstances motivated these conversions. Were they sudden or fruit of a long process? Could a similar phenomenon take place nowadays, or must we suffer the lack of literary level and depth in today’s authors? What other circumstances did contribute to the stagnation of that religious revival? Is it so absurd to think of such a renewal movement in this 21st century?
So, what do you think? I know the questions are a bit abstract, but, do you have any idea?
By the way, I saw this picture of Chesterton, Baring and Belloc. Isn’t it funny?


Lewis the Editor said...

I really enjoyed Literary Converts, and I love that picture! Isn't it called "The Conversation Piece" or something? I'll have to think about the circumstances motivating the conversions...

Hans Lundahl said...

I have not read Literary Converts, but I've read some of the literary converts it is about.

Like Tolkien I am a late childhood convert: he from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism, I from religious ignorance taking modern science as science to a non-denominational young earth creationist Christianity. Later I passed by Lutheranism and through (long road) Traditional Catholicism to Orthodoxy ...

My take on the problem is modern ecclesiastics are too modern to attract real literary not only sensibilities, but even talents (meant to write that the other way round). It came by through an inculturation that was not towards contemporary human culture as such but to contemporary modern bourgeois culture with communist leanings. Like accepting psychiatry or compulsory school.

electroblogster said...

Hans, I have to disagree.

While there are tons of very mediocre (or worse) intellects among the modern pool of clerics there is also there is some incredible thought being committed to paper these days. In fact, the current pope is making gains in philosophy and theology and has an encyclopedic knowledge of his predecessors in both areas. He is just the sort of mind that can attract the attention of honest intellectuals and keep it!

I am definitely thinking springtime!

Hans Lundahl said...


In the question concerning extended powers of psychiatry, I am not sure Chesterton would have agreed.

As you might know, if you've read The Return of Don Quixote "there's a lot of humanity that doesn't want to be put into psychiatry".

Benedict XVI, World Day of Diseases 2006, sent out the message that 1/5 of humanity were touched by mental troubles. That is: he's buying what psychiatrists say.

In the question of compulsory school, yes, Benedict XVI would favour homeschooling, but he still, I suppose, favours the superevaluation of a certain kind of education - literary minus the obviously anti-modern implications of some older literature - over others. Like his immediate predecessor John Paul II who called analphabetism spiritual undernutrition.