On June 29, 1106, a Jewish intellectual named
Moses Sephardi had himself baptized into the Catholic church in Huesca,
Spain. Taking the name Peter Alfonsi,
he went on to achieve fame throughout Christian Europe as an astronomer
and author. In his Dialogues against the Jews, he presents his
present self arguing against his former self in the most important
anti-Jewish polemic of its era.
Just as Peter Abelard (at
just the same time) established the Western model of the Parisian
celebrity philosopher, so Peter Alfonsi established the model of the
celebrity apostate. It’s a good gig because your new community treasures
the special insights you have, or claim to have, into the (false) world
of your old community. Moreover, you represent in your own
distinguished person the triumph of the new community over the old.
communities in question can be secular as well as, strictly speaking,
religious. At the height of the Cold War, America’s great apostate from
Communism (aka the God the Failed) was Whittaker Chambers. These days,
those hostile to Israel embrace anti-Zionist Jewish writers like Norman
Finkelstein. Those hostile to Islam have a range of picks.
example, the secularist intelligentsia have Hirsi Ali, the
Somali-Dutch activist now ensconced at the American Enterprise
Institute. And the evangelicals have Ergun Caner, Dean of the Baptist
School of Theology at Liberty Baptist University. Or at least they
thought they did.
Caner’s problem, however, is that he
may be a faux apostate–not the ex-jihadi from Turkey he claims to
have been but a kid born in Sweden and raised in Ohio who chose the
religion of his Christian mother rather than his Turkish father. Later
this month, Liberty will release a report determining whether he really
is the apostate he claims to be.
In the meantime, it might be a
good idea for the rest of us think about dialing back on apostates of
all sorts. The trouble with apostasy is that it’s too good a gig. The
passion of the convert, real or faux, connects with audiences only too
eager to hear the worst. That’s not a healthy connection.
Update: As commenter Shinar Squirrel notes, Liberty has fired Caner as dean–but retained him as a professor.