Click here for the series introduction and Part 1: “Finding God in the Blood and Guts of Birth and the Big Bang” by Fred Tribuzzo

Andrew Klavan’s conversion story is a quest for reconciling his love of Western culture in spite of its troubling darker aspects. This quest led him to the source of the good of Western culture, and also ultimately, to the source for living an authentic life.

In his own conversion story, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis described our world as a shadow-land in which qualities from another perfect world sometimes show through. When we experience these otherworldly aspects of God, as Lewis described it, we feel a sense of true joy, a deep, yet indefinable longing for that other perfect place. Klavan experienced this, I believe, in his love of western literature, of nature and, quite specifically, in his experience of true, eternal love at the birth of his first son.

Klavan’s love of Western culture certainly brought him Lewis’ described sense of joy. And because of that sense of joy, Klavan needed to reconcile his love of a culture that also contained darker aspects, including an undeniable strain of anti-Semitism. As a Jew, he understandably struggled with the idea of loving a culture that could also include such evil. But by self-study, Klavan went deeper to find the source and foundation of the culture. He found ultimately that it came from an often-unacknowledged source, Christianity.

Klavan’s study of the culture was also a search for living an authentic life within the culture and world. He showed in a very real way his early distain for living an inauthentic life. His parents lived as non- believing Jews, yet followed along with the many cultural activities related to living as Jews, including giving their sons Bar Mitzvahs. Klavan, after going through with the ceremony and repeating words he did not understand or believe, found it untenable to pretend to be something he was not—a believing Jew. It was a half-measure to try to live a life only in its cultural customs but not believe in its essentials, its foundation.

Thereafter, searching for authenticity, Klavan attempted to lead his life in many guises. As he was not a believing Jew, Klavan found it more authentic to live a good part of his life as an agnostic—as one who does not know if God exists. Life had its joys and satisfactions in this state, but he was never completely content. He was helped by psychoanalysis to restore his sanity. He also tried Eastern philosophical techniques for keeping himself sane and clear of mind. He even tried atheism for a time, which he was able to dismiss quickly by grounds of pure reason. As he deduced, there was either morality and God or neither. He found that Zen was also only a half-measure—it cleared the mind wonderfully, but left nothing to fill that void of clarity.

His life’s journey provided him with many clues for coming to know God, even in times of great suffering. His family life was dysfunctional, especially in relations with his father. But this presented him lessons in contrast—in many ways, how not to conduct himself as a father. His troubles with a mental disorder were real yet also symbolic of the real danger that comes from attempting to live life on your own with only your own talents and merits to meet it. From it all, he learned what life was like living alone without faith in God.

In spite of himself, providence often stepped in and guided Klavan. Remarkable examples included a well-placed photo of his father on the wall that got him a job, and an extraordinarily timed radio broadcast quote from a Mets catcher that stopped him from suicide. He was born with many gifts. He could get A’s without studying. He had stubborn determination. He recognized the power of prayer. He developed the self-awareness to recognize his mental illness. He developed humility—recognizing that he did not know enough—and spent 20 years catching up on his reading. And Klavan had many agents of God who helped him along the way, including Mina the housekeeper, and possibly even a guardian angel (i.e., the man on the bus from New Orleans, aiding him while he was delirious). And certainly there were the long-term essential good actors in his life who helped him, namely his wife, his priest friend and his psychologist.

In reconciling his love of the culture, Klavan learned that he could live in the culture (and love it), but not be of it. Being a Jewish man living in this now post-Christian culture, Klavan realized especially at Christmas, that he was often set apart from it. Yet this was likely an advantage for him in the end. With this context of separateness, Klavan could place himself properly as living in the culture as opposed to being of the culture. This allowed him the freedom to accept and celebrate the culture’s goods, but also reject its dark aspects. (This is something, incidentally, that all Christians are called to do.) In this way, he could also see that anti-Semitism did not reflect the authentic life of a believing Christian.

Finally, I believe Klavan, as a believing Christian, learned why he was never completely content with his life—because it’s not possible in this life. He found that the very sense of being discontent in the world was because he had a longing for that joy outside the world. I believe that this helped him turn the false message of “No God” into a truth. Can one live an authentic life without God? The true answer is, “No. God!”