Discovering faith: Joseph Pearce outlines his journey in new book
RACE WITH THE DEVIL:
My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love
by Joseph Pearce
St Benedict Press, 2013, HB, 236pp, $34.95. ISBN: 978-1-61890-065-4. Available from Freedom Publishing
A number of years ago while rummaging in the second hand book section of an Op-Shop, this reviewer discovered a book by British born Australian writer David Greason with the bizarre title I was a Teenage Fascist (1993) in which the writer recounted his teenage and early adult years in extreme right wing Australian political groups which he ultimately forsook.
Not only did the title of the book attract some looks of disbelief and wonderment as I read it, but Greason introduced his readers such as myself to a bizarre world about which comparatively few people are aware, one that has hatred at its epicentre.
In many respects, Race with the Devil is similar to Greason's work. However, there is one major difference, namely that Pearce's autobiography is a conversion story from the hatred that characterised radical right political groups to love, which is at the heart of Catholicism.
Pearce was born in 1961 and spent a happy childhood in the rural environment of Suffolk.
While he regularly walked past the local Anglican parish church, religion was not part of his life, although anti-Catholicism was, something he picked up from his father.
He also learned from his father to be proud of Britain's heritage, as well as to hate Communism.
The family relocated to London when he was a teenager, so as to be closer to his mother's London family, and it was this dislocation and the challenges of fitting in with a new group of peers in his secondary school that made him susceptible to far right wing propaganda.
This was the 70s when the National Front, an extreme right wing political party, was in the ascendancy, gaining at its peak some 10% of the primary vote in certain areas.
Concerned about some of the left wing ideology taught at school, the young Pearce wrote an article for a National Front publication about what he perceived to be the Marxist bias in education.
The National Front appealed to Pearce's patriotic, anti-Communist sentiments.
However, the National Front's policies included a racist agenda, for example, advocating the forced repatriation of immigrants.
As Pearce admits, he soon became a person filled with hatred towards anyone who was not white, as well as his political opponents.
Contacts within the far right also brought him into contact with the Loyal Orange Lodge, an organisation that pursues an anti-Catholic agenda and supports the retention of British rule in Northern Ireland.
Although those joining have to profess to be loyal Protestants, the author admits he regarded the religious elements as a bit of a joke, for example, smirking when the chaplains read prayers.
He also became involved in loyalist groups, who used violence against their political opponents, particularly the IRA.
Despite being filled with hatred, he experienced a few key times in his life when people helped him for no apparent reason. It was these acts of kindness that were to form part of his reassessment of the direction of his life.
A critical turning point was his first imprisonment in 1982, after being found guilty of inciting violence through his contributions to National Front publications.
Pearce was by that stage the editor of their magazine Bulldog. (No guesses from this name what sort of sentiments were in this magazine!)
A term in prison gave him time to think and read and Pearce was to discover Catholic literature through a route that is so bizarre that it cannot but be the working of divine providence.
Pearce's reading had included the economic writings of Otto Strasser, a member of the Nazi Party who had been expelled from it in the early 1930s prior to Hitler's ascent to power. From Strasser, Pearce found his way into reading Belloc and G.K. Chesterton.
Their economic vision, and critique of governments exercising too much control over the lives of citizens initially attracted Pearce.
He admits that when reading them, he felt an instinctive hatred for their Catholicism, but focused on their other ideas.
However, after reading Chesterton's Outline of Sanity and The Well and the Shadows Pearce felt an affinity with their author.
The process of conversion was a gradual one. Upon his release, he continued reading these authors avidly, while maintaining his active involvement in the National Front.
However, to avoid being prosecuted again, he wrote under the pseudonym Captain Truth, resuming his editorship of Bulldog and becoming editor of Nationalism Today (again, not hard to infer the agenda of this magazine from the name).
At the same time, his reading brought him into contact with the writings of C.S. Lewis, which had a profound impression upon him.
His freedom would come to an end when he was arrested by the police, found guilty once more of inciting racial hatred, and sentenced again to a term in prison.
When being processed upon his arrival in prison, he was asked what his religion was and instinctively answered, "Catholic." This caused him to consider seriously his religious state.
A few days later he had a spiritual experience with the rosary, which he argues was a key turning point in his conversion, saying that through it "the floodgates of grace were loosened" (p. 185).
Although upon his release he associated himself with the National Front, he was soon to leave it behind him.
Daily Mass became part of his routine, and he was received into the Church in 1989. Unbeknown to him at the time, his father, from whom he had imbibed his anti-Catholicism, was himself journeying towards Catholicism and would be received into the Church some years later.
Since his conversion, Pearce has made a significant contributions to the life of the Church.
He is the author of numerous works about famous writers and their works, including The Quest for Shakespeare, and Through Shakespeare's Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the Plays (previously reviewed by this writer in AD2000) and writer-in-residence at Thomas More College.
Appropriately, his first published book was about Chesterton.
Each story of conversion to the Catholic faith is ultimately unique but this one is an especially remarkable one.
This is a very engaging read that is very difficult to put down, a powerful story of God's transforming grace.