Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Converting to Catholicism

In a post a while back I referred to (among many other things) the conversion of eminent Buddhist scholar Paul Williams to Catholicism back in 2000. Williams had been born Church of England, then spent 20 years as a Tibetan Buddhist, most of that time as a monk, before becoming Catholic. Shortly after that old post of mine (way back in July) there came a post over at Impotent Rage, in which I discovered that somehow Newt Gingrich had managed to convert to Catholicism without my noticing it! If it hadn't been for Mamiel's blog I still wouldn't know.

High profile conversions to Catholicism are a fascinating topic. Another one that caught me off-guard was that of former poodle, er, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who came out of the closet in 2007, pretty much just as soon as he stepped down as PM. According to this piece in the Guardian, Blair's Catholic leanings actually dated back three full decades to a "spiritual awakening" he experienced while still in school at Cambridge, but he put off official conversion (for half a lifetime) "due to political considerations". Catholics are by law excluded from the British throne, and also from marrying a reigning sovereign or anyone who might be an heir to the throne. Srsly. While it is not legally proscribed, no British Prime Minister has ever been (officially, at least) Catholic.

Other big-name converts have included Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, columnist Robert Novack, not-quite Supreme Court Justice Robert Bork, Plumber-in-Chief E. Howard Hunt, Kenneth lookalike Bobby Jindal, John von Neumann, Vincent Price, Bob Hope, Tony Snow, Marshall McLuhan, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Jim Nabors, Salvador Dali, Knute Rockne, Jane Wyman, Aubrey Beardsley, Tennessee Williams, Jeb Bush, Anne Rice, and Arlo Guthrie. Also, two of the most prominent modern popularizers of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular were converts (which actually makes a lot of sense). For the namby-pamby liberal types (like Cherie Blair) you've got Thomas Merton and for the more solidly conservative set (like Robert Novack) there's good old G.K. Chesterton.

There was actually a flurry of speculation in the summer of '08 that George W. Bush was seriously contemplating thinkin' 'bout conversion to Catholicism.