Monday, May 25, 2009

Gingrich, Conservatism and Catholic Conversion

The following comes from an article on the site:

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has opened up about his March 2009 conversion to Catholicism, revealing: “The whole effort to create a ruthless, amoral, situational ethics culture has probably driven me toward a more overt Christianity,” according to a report in U.S. News & World Report.

Last month on “Fox News Sunday,” Gingrich, whose third wife Callista is Catholic, told Chris Wallace, “I’m not talking about this much publicly, but let me just say that I found over the course of the last decade, attending the basilica ... reading the literature, that there was a peace in my soul and a sense of wellbeing in the Catholic Church, and I found the Mass of conversion last Sunday one of the most powerful moments of my life.”

Gingrich, who was baptized in a Baptist church, converted on March 29 -- confirming formally in the faith at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Capitol Hill and following up with a celebration of the event at the Cafe Milano, a trendy Washington eatery, according to a report in The Hill.

The backdrop for the most candid revelations to date about Gingrich’s conversion is the latest joint project of him and his wife -- a documentary on Pope John Paul II’s 1979 trip to Poland and how it helped to pave the way for the collapse of the Soviet Union. The film is titled “Nine Days That Changed the World.”

In filming their part in the documentary, Gingrich and his wife will be journeying, among other places, to Rome -- for the first time since he converted.

What changed Gingrich’s world, he reveals, is one particular trip to the Eternal City with his wife and a moment of epiphany in Rome’s most famous church. As he recounted to U.S News:

“[P]art of what led to my conversion is the first time we [he and his wife] went to St. Peter’s together. It’s St. Peter’s. I mean, you stand there and you think this is where St. Peter was crucified. This is where Paul preached. You think to yourself, two thousand years ago the apostles set out to create a worldwide movement by witnessing to the historic truth they had experienced. And there it is. The last time we were there we were allowed to walk in the papal gardens and you get this sense that is almost mystical.”

A Final Moment of Truth

“The moment that finally convinced me [to convert] was when Benedict XVI came here [to the United States] and Callista in the church choir sang for him at the vespers service and all the bishops in the country were there,” Gingrich continued. “As a spouse, I got to sit in the upper church and I very briefly saw [Benedict] and I was just struck with how happy he was and how fundamentally different he was from the news media’s portrait of him. This guy’s not a Rottweiler. He’s a very loving, engaged, happy person.

“I’d first seen Pope John Paul II when he came to the U.S. when Carter was president and I was a freshman congressman. And I [later] met him as Speaker.

“The other sense is that the church has had two of its most powerful popes back to back, in their intellectual ability to engage the secular world on behalf of Christ. And the weight of all that -- and going with [Callista] to church every Sunday to the Basilica [in Washington, D.C.], a magnificent church with a wonderful mass. In that sense I felt differently a long time ago, which is why I converted,” Gingrich revealed.

He added, “And part of me is inherently medieval. I resonate to Gothic churches and the sense of the cross in a way that is really pre-modern.”

However, his wife Callista told U.S. News that perhaps her husband’s conversion was more of a process than a revelation. It was “10 years in the making,” she said -- commencing around the time Gingrich left the House in 1999.

Gingrich recalled for U.S. News an anecdote from his youth

“As a college student at Emory when the Supreme Court ruled that school prayer was unconstitutional [in 1963] after 170 years of American history, I didn’t notice it,” he recalled. “As a graduate student at Tulane I probably would have said it’s a good decision.

“I’ve now had an additional 40 years to think about it. And I think about the world of my grandchildren. I don’t think American children are healthier, safer, and better off today than they were in 1963. So I have actually become more conservative in response to the failure of the liberal ethos to solve problems.”

The Conversion to Catholicism of several other conservative folks in the culture is worth noting as well. The following comes from the USNews site:

Newt Gingrich's weekend conversion to Roman Catholicism got me thinking about how many Catholic converts from the worlds of politics and political commentary have been in the news in recent years. Here's a quick list I came up with:

Robert Bork
Sam Brownback
Jeb Bush
Laura Ingraham
Bobby Jindal
Lawrence Kudlow
Robert Novak
Ramesh Ponnuru

Notice that they're all conservative? A few of the influential opinion shapers on the right who died recently also were Catholic converts:

Richard John Neuhaus
Tony Snow
Paul Weyrich

The one high-profile Catholic convert on the left who occurred to me is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

At first blush, this wild political imbalance is none too surprising. Religious converts tend to be more orthodox, which means hewing closely to the church's conservative positions on social issues. But in the case of the Catholic Church, once so solidly identified with the Democratic Party, it's a reminder of just how a tradition's politics can shift.

Anyone I'm leaving off any of these lists?

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