Salvo 06.11.2024 5 minutes

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What we can learn from recent celebrity conversions.

This year has seen a bumper crop of celebrities converting to Christianity. Most recently, comic actor and podcaster Russell Brand was baptized days after praying the Rosary on his show. Before this, Candace Owens, Rob Schneider, Tammy Peterson, Shia LeBeouf, and even porn actress Bree Solstad entered the Catholic Church with great fanfare from the online world.

As with everything else, reactions to these conversions are divided along partisan lines. Those on the Catholic Left have mostly been critical of these converts, particularly Owens. In their view, these people threaten the Church with their reactionary views and work against its progressive agenda.

For similar reasons, those on the Catholic Right have been overjoyed with this news. The new converts have large audiences, and their conversions could lead many others to follow their example. By extension, more conservatives in the Church could successfully challenge the leadership of leftist Boomers who have done their utmost to undermine Catholic dogma and make Catholicism unappealing and corny.

Of course, celebrity conversions are often a mixed bag (see Kanye West), so most Catholics have remained cautiously welcoming. As Lutheran pastor (and a cousin of mine) Evan McClanahan once argued in The Everyman, Christians who make too much of celebrity conversions “are giving an outsized value to someone who has an incentive to lie and may be in a process of deception, while someone who humbly and diligently studies or lives out their faith goes ignored.” God doesn’t care about a person’s popularity and loves all His children equally.

While this is true, we Christians still have a responsibility to learn from these conversions. At a time when every Christian denomination has experienced major declines in attendance and continues to be stigmatized by the mainstream media, why would any famous person want to become Christian, let alone publicly announce their conversion? And why now? Are these just instances of God working in mysterious ways, or is there something happening in today’s culture?

Obviously, politics has something to do with it, but in a much deeper way than how this is usually understood. In the past few decades, leftists have turned against orthodox Christianity, forcing many of the faithful to either replace their faith with progressive ideology or simply become political conservatives. The pro-life Democrat has gone extinct, and prominent “Catholic” politicians like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi blithely violate Christian teachings against murder and sexual immorality through their politics and public positions. By all accounts, these politicians should be denied Holy Communion since they are decidedly not in communion with the Church, but progressive bishops (taking their cue from Pope Francis) have prevented taking any stand against this scandal.

By contrast, conservatives are certainly making their mark on the Church, which after drifting leftward since the middle of the twentieth century is actually swinging rightward. True, the older generation, many of whom are in leadership positions, like to sermonize on leftist issues like climate change and DEI. But younger generations mostly oppose this. Contrary to Pope Francis’s characterization of traditionalists as elderly simpletons, that movement is largely spearheaded by young people craving authentic religious practice.

No doubt, political conservatives like Candace Owens and free speech maximalists like Russell Brand see Christianity as one of the few institutions that would welcome them. Every other institution has been completely captured by the Left and is aggressively intolerant of different viewpoints. Christians, on the other hand, seem to be more than happy to add rabble rousers to their congregations.

It’s important to realize that this isn’t a bug but a feature of the Christian faith. Christianity is an argumentative religion. Starting with Christ Himself, everyone in the New Testament is busy arguing with all kinds of people on all kinds of topics, including religion. No one is outright excluded for having differing views, even those that contradict the Gospel. Generally, they are either accepted (if it’s a difference of opinion on non-spiritual matters) or corrected (if it directly pertains to Christian dogma).

In the Christian context, argumentation thus becomes a vehicle for establishing connections and building community. It comes from a place of love and arrives at a place of even greater love. Rather than a collective of mindless drones passively being brainwashed in the pews, Christians are actively living out their faith and continually challenging their own preconceived notions. In many cases, mindless conformity is treated as sinful. No Christian should be fully satisfied and done arguing until Christ comes again to finally win every argument and reconcile the world to Himself completely.

Compare this to leftist protesters at college campuses. True to the spirit of leftism, they uphold the party line and have dispensed with argument. They make demands, not claims. They shout and disrupt, not listen and debate. All of it is brainless, humorless groupthink.

And this goes for all leftist institutions, which treat genuine argument as a threat to their integrity and legitimacy. There is a script, and every member will follow it or be excluded. In all likelihood, this is this reason why so many leftists are unhappy and unfunny. There’s too much thought and feeling they have to suppress on a daily basis.

In the absence of different perspectives and an openness to reconcile these differences through friendly argumentation, so much of the modern secular world is divided, unfruitful, and sad. Who can blame half-intelligent famous people for rejecting it and throwing their lot in with the querulous Christians?

If there’s anything to learn from the recent spate of celebrity conversions, it’s that the cornucopia of personalities, viewpoints, and arguments does more to draw people in than push people out. Diversity really is our strength. It’s the key virtue that separates Christians from the rest of the world and allows our churches to grow. Once the conversation stops, conversion will presumably stop as well, not just for celebrities but for everyone.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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