The Catholic Thing
Not All Roads Lead to God Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 20 September 2013

Not all roads lead to God. Many – maybe  most – lead to perdition. All genuine conversion stories, though, lead to the Church. All conversion stories fascinate but some, maybe for their drama and the tremendous arc of someone’s life, fascinate more than others.

Joseph Pearce came onto the Catholic radar screen sixteen years ago with a biography called Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G.K. Chesterton. There’s hardly a faithful Catholic that has not been touched by Chesterton. William Buckley used to hand out Orthodoxy to anyone writing to him about the faith. He sent one to me.

Pearce followed up with Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief. What joy! Here was a guy working that special British vein of literary Catholicism and conversion that American Catholics love so well. From Campion to Newman to Chesterton, even Oscar Wilde. And here was a guy picking and scratching at that vein and still finding ore. And he kept it up. A biography of Tolkien followed, one on Belloc, one on Wilde. Pearce became a small family-owned industry of quite remarkable books.

But all along we heard the strangest things about him. We heard he spent time in prison. Yeah, well I heard he killed a guy. Like Gatsby, we looked forward to the day he would tell his story. That day has come.

Race with the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love recounts Pearce’s life from small town England to national racist leader to prison – and then to God through the Church. First, he did not kill anyone. He would say, but for the grace of God he didn’t, because he was certainly in a position to kill and even more to be killed.

Born in the shadow of the Second World War, into that bleak post-war not-yet-swinging England, Pearce nonetheless lived at least part of his youth in an Eden of fields and forests, in a village sixty-five miles north of London.

His father taught him to love literature and to hate the Catholic Church. His father also hated the Irish and the wave of brown-skinned immigrants that began flooding into Great Britain with the 1949 British Nationality Act, which allowed citizens of Commonwealth countries to move to the motherland.

Pearce learned early and well.

When he was twelve, the family moved from their idyllic village to a London suburb and were thrust into the beginnings of what has become multicultural England. He recalls torturing a Pakistani teacher. One of the things that led him into racist politics seems to have been a quite proper dislike of Communism, also learned at his father’s knee.

Pearce submitted an article to Spearhead, a magazine published by the chairman of the racist National Front. His article Buckley-like criticized “the Marxist orientation” of his high school education. He chaffed at the fact that his school did not teach about the great English victories in battle but concentrated instead on British “social history.”

His descent into racist politics began in earnest when he lied about his age and at fifteen joined the National Front. In that long, hot summer of 1976, “My photograph appeared in the local paper on my first [National Front] paper sale in Barking town centre and to this day I remember the look of fanatical anger on my face. I had metamorphosed into a political extremist.”

Pearce describes roving bands of white youths prowling the streets “looking for isolated Sikhs or Muslims to attack.” Some local gangs were “said to dress in SS uniform and would shoot any non-whites they came across with air pistols.” There were gangs of “Nazi-hippies who would listen to music by Hawkwind and Frank Zappa and get high on LSD, before setting out on nights of psychedelic and psychopathic violence against hapless immigrants.”

Pearce did not join the roving gangs of “Paki-bashers,” gangs that focused on hurting the innocent, preferring instead open warfare with the guilty, that is, Marxist youth gangs. The left and right seem to follow each other around and squared off in vicious public fights that were barely controlled or not controlled at all by the local constabulary. 

Pearce became fond of Nazism and learned Nazi marching songs. In one comical incident, he found himself in a German skinhead bar. Identified as a hated Brit, he saved himself by belting out the banned in Germany Horst Wessel song. Instead of beating him they bought him beers.

In 1977, Pearce founded a youth magazine called Bulldog: “Although I would deny the charges in court, it would be true to say that Bulldog’s ultimate purpose was to incite racial hatred.” He was eventually convicted of inciting racial hatred and sent to prison, not once but twice.

Ironically and providentially, Pearce was saved from that life by an aspect of his radicalism, his hatred of large government and his love of the small and the local. He discovered Chesterton and Belloc and Distributism, and through them came to know and to love the Church.

This is why all conversion stories are so interesting. Who would have thought that God would lead a man through racism and hatred and into the Church by reading economics?

There is much more in this book than a thousand words can convey. There is a long section about his time spent raising hell in Northern Ireland – where he came close to death many times. There are stories about his pals from those days who have risen to positions in the European Parliament. And there is much more to say about his conversion.

Today Pearce is writer-in-residence at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire where he lives with his wife and children. He has written twenty books and at the tender age of fifty-two, with God’s grace, will write many more.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (6)Add Comment
written by ib, September 20, 2013
Amazing story. I shall have to read the book!
written by Kay, September 20, 2013
A modern day Saul to Paul. Fascinating!
written by Grump, September 20, 2013
Distributism is just a fancy way of "spreading the wealth," as Obama told Joe the Plumber. And, as we all know, Obama's economic policies have been a disaster.

As for Mr. Pearce's "conversion," with any luck neither he nor his family will get mugged by "brown skins," which could very well undo his transformation.
written by Jill, September 20, 2013
A practical comment about the book at Amazon. Amazon indicates that the book will be shipped in 1-2 months. Months? Is that correct??
written by debby, September 20, 2013
Jill - if Amazon is saying months, then it must already be on back-order. I pre-ordered and have already received mine. Hang in there!
Grump - wow. what a terrible thing to say. you obviously don't know this man. please, i respectfully (as one of your long-time TCT friends) ask you to apologize.

Prof. Pearce is an awesome man! Not because he was a racial lost soul who became a Catholic. That would make his story dramatic but not necessarily make him AWESOME. He is awesome because he loves Jesus, loves the Catholic Faith, is Humble, loves his wife, loves his kids, loves his students, trusts in mercy for those he loves. He is a MAN OF HOPE. He is kind, he is wise, he is busy about the work the Lord has given him to do, and even his conversion story is not about Joseph Pearce but the indescribable MERCY of GOD. He honors and speaks what is true in love (just look at how he delayed publishing his conversion story: he waited until his parents passed away to prevent unnecessary hurt, AND he gave himself time to grow up in the Faith, maturing in knowing himself and distancing himself from his past in order to not err on the side of despairing flagellation or flippant grace. He speaks the Truth in Love. He reminds me of a mature King David as well as St. Paul) Mr. Pearce is consistently joyful where he could be understandably downcast, knowing that Jesus loved him before he even had any awareness of Him. He reminds us with confidence that GOD CAN SAVE ANYONE....even me & those i love.
I thank God for men like him. I pray his story helps others discover the Love of God reaching down into their own prisons. May they respond as he did. If you are someone who prays for conversions, you have prayed for people like Joseph Pearce! Keep praying, Keep Fasting, Keep it up! Heaven will be FILLED with people with AWESOME conversion stories! (lots of "awesomes" here - but not really sorry! Awesome post Austin!)

written by Manny, September 24, 2013
One should mention that Prof. Pearce's The Quest For Shakespeare is brilliant.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


Other Articles By This Author