Video: Dawn Eden Goldstein addresses the Chesterton Conference, July 30, 2021
I was extremely grateful to the Society of G.K. Chesterton for giving me this opportunity to discuss “Chesterton and My Jewish/Catholic Journey” at the 40th Annual G.K. Chesterton Conference in Chicago last month. When I was invited by the Society’s president, Dale Alquist, to speak on my experience as a convert to Catholicism from Judaism whose journey into the Church was sparked by reading Chesterton, I told him, in all honesty, that I wrestled with Chesterton’s writings on Jews. Dale encouraged me to speak honestly about that wrestling, and I am grateful I had that opportunity.
I know from experience that the Chesterton community is not afraid to reckon honestly with uncomfortable truths. In my talk, I spoke about Chesterton’s role in my conversion and then addressed some of the writings of his that I have wrestled with.
G.K. Chesterton wrote in his Autobiography, “When people ask me, or indeed anybody else, ‘Why did you join the Church of Rome?’ the first essential answer, if it is partly an elliptical answer, is, ‘To get rid of my sins.’”
If those of us who are Christian, and especially those of us who are Catholic, are to imitate him, we must be willing to undergo a purification, a reckoning.
In my talk, I spoke about the need for that kind of reckoning in the Chesterton community, to ensure likewise that Chesterton’s true legacy, his true greatness, endures—as it should. We should not be afraid to engage in an honest reckoning with Chesterton’s writings on Jews, because Chesterton himself would want us to do so.
As Chesterton once wrote, “Pride consists in a man making his personality the only test, instead of making the truth the test.” With this in mind, I believed it was necessary to examine some examples of Chesterton’s writings on Jews. There were many to choose from, and more can be found in Simon Mayers’s excellent study Chesterton’s Jews.
Although there is much that is good and true in Chesterton’s work, we cannot ignore that much of his writing expressed troubling and antisemitic ideas. We must engage in frank discussion about his offensive views. We must distinguish between those things he said that are worthy of praise and those things he said that are unacceptable. We must call out sin for what it is, even when it means acknowledging a difficult truth.
Image: G.K. Chesterton
Dawn Eden Goldstein, S.Th.D., is the author of several books, including The Thrill of the Chaste and My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. She has taught at seminaries in the U.S., England, and India. Currently she is writing a biography of Father Edward Dowling, S.J., who was a spiritual adviser to Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson.