Novelist Andrew Klavan, a writer of considerable ability, has decided to speak of his embrace of the Christian faith in a new book, The Great Good Thing. I haven’t yet read that book, though it’s on my stack and nearing the summit. What I have read are some rather unfortunate comments about it.
The first one I encountered come from David P. Goldman, perhaps better known as Spengler. Goldman dismisses Klavan’s conversion as somehow out of bounds because Klavan, born of Jewish parents, was therefore a Jew, but one who never actually practiced Judaism. He cites a Jewish philosopher as his authority:
The great German-Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929) decided to convert to Christianity. But he knew that to undergo conversion, he could only do so as a Jew. Raised secular, Rosenzweig had never practiced Judaism, so he attended the Day of Atonement services at a small synagogue in Berlin frequented by religious Eastern European Jews. After he saw for the first time what Judaism actually was, he decided to stick with it after all. There have been of course observant Jews who converted to Christianity in full knowledge of the implications; an example is the wartime chief rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli. He was saved from the Nazis from the Vatican while most of his congregation perished, and was ostracized by the Jewish community after the war.
To be a convert is to convert from one thing to something else. And a competent choice presumes knowledge of what one is converting from as well as knowledge of what one is converting to. Rosenzweig understood this, and learned Judaism as a prerequisite for a Christian conversion that he abandoned.
For that reason, Goldman writes, “I am afraid that I simply cannot accept your statement of Christian conversion as presented.”
Nonsense on stilts! Arrogant nonsense! Because Klavan’s mother was Jewish – the consideration that supposedly made Klavan a Jew – he’s forbidden, by Orthodox Jew David P. Goldman, to accept Christ until he’s first studied, accepted, and practiced Judaism! Of course, Orthodox Jews also dismiss Messianics, who claim to continue to be Jews despite having accepted Christ as the Messiah, but the clash there is somewhat easier to understand.
Then we have this pitiful mock-exegesis by Avner Zarmi. Zarmi’s critique is more of a psychologizing of Klavan than an argument about his Christianity. In effect, Zarmi, whose sole comment on the book itself is that it’s “not badly written,” asserts that had Klavan’s home life as a boy been better (and more explicitly Jewish), he would have become a practicing Jew who never would have considered becoming a Christian.
Zarmi closes with this lament:
What is, perhaps, somewhat surprising is that Klavan’s story doesn’t find repetition many times over, given the number of people of Jewish ethnicity who have been raised with equally scant knowledge of their actual heritage. The only reason I can think of is the almost militant secularism of general American popular culture over the past half-century or so, coupled with one more thing: The surprising revival, against all odds, of traditional, Orthodox Jewish observance. As I reported last year, the only segment of the American Jewish population which is growing is the Orthodox one, and fully 30% of self-described Orthodox Jews were not raised that way, and became observant later in life.
It is truly tragic that a man with Klavan’s gifts will not be among them, and that his progeny will be lost to the Torah-nation.
Huh?? Is that what matters? The maintenance and increase of Judaism’s numbers, rather than the sincerity of its allegiants’ faith? What about the sincerity of Klavan’s Christian faith? Is that irrelevant?
I should note that the essays linked above are not atypical. Jews everywhere feel threatened as a people. That’s consistent with the “loss” of an eloquent man such as Andrew Klavan. But it hardly invalidates his journey to Christ or his sincere appreciation of Christianity. Great God in heaven, what would Goldman and Zarmi think if a prominent Christian writer – someone on Klavan’s level, perhaps P. D. James or Dorothy Sayers – were to convert to Judaism and then be assailed by Christians for having done so?
I know, I know: Freedom of worship does not include freedom from criticism for one’s decisions about whether to worship, or how. All the same, it’s sad when intelligent persons leap into publication to denounce or deride someone else’s sincere decisions about faith. As far as I know, no one has derided Goldman or Zarmi for remaining practicing Orthodox Jews. Perhaps that will happen to them some day, in which case I hope this episode remains vivid in their memories.