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Candace Owens turns Catholic: another political Christian

The picture shared by Candace Owens to mark her conversion. Credit: Candace Owens/X

April 24, 2024 - 10:00am

Candace Owens declared this week that she had converted to Catholicism, having previously identified as a Reformed Evangelical Protestant. Her baptism into the Church was clearly influenced by the fact that she is married to George Farmer, the CEO of recently relaunched conservative social media app Parler, who is himself a devout Catholic. But it also points to a broader trend on the radical Right.

Large portions of this political grouping have adopted cultural Christianity, less as a theological outlook or spiritual enterprise and more as a tribal marker which is closer to nationalism and other forms of secular radicalism than to traditional forms of faith. This is happening as broader adherence to established Christianity has declined across the Western world in recent decades, with church attendances reaching record lows. The idea of “defending” Christian Europe or Christian values, whether from godless secular liberalism and “degenerate wokeness” or the supposed threat of Islamic domination, has been a motif in the rhetoric of the radical Right for years.

Because of Christianity’s origins as an upstart movement persecuted by the most powerful empire of the time, it’s almost irresistible to claim the mantle of the humble believer marginalised for standing up for virtue and truth amidst a decadent and corrupt society. Owens herself has previously leaned into this identity politics, saying that Christianity is being “persecuted” by “demonic Hollywood” and that “people who despise Christ removed him from the classrooms, then encouraged atheism and never-ending protestant sects in His place.” In some cases, it is not dissimilar to those Islamists who adopt Islam and its aesthetic markers to encapsulate their cultural alienation from contemporary Western society.

Catholicism is particularly attractive for this type of branding because its development is deeply enmeshed with the political history of Europe, while there is a library of art and ritual surrounding it which provides aesthetic virtue. Its ornate emblems and iconography have been deployed by nationalists for their own purposes, whether it was the Catholic fascists in the early 20th century or the radical Right of today.

It’s hard to deny that contemporary society is lacking in beauty. Everything from architecture to art is beholden to utility and functionality, not to mention the cash nexus: devoid of the character and numinous depth that moves the human imagination in profound degrees. The great buildings and art that the Catholic Church built and sponsored can seem like a zenith of cultural excellence that has yet to be matched, which provokes the nostalgia one sees among the “trad Right”.

Society is now atomised, considerably more mobile and constantly in upheaval. Catholicism — or at least the idea of it, with its firm structure, baroque aesthetics and rituals — then becomes a means of asserting those values, establishing some form of identity and tribal solidarity to anchor them in a world that appears to be running wildly out of control. A world that has no foundation, no identity, no definition, no legacy to pass on.

Religion as identity politics is a product and symptom of this social void, even if it advertises itself as a solution to it. There is a reason, after all, why Marx said that religion is the “heart of the heartless world; the spirit of the spiritless situation”.


Ralph Leonard is a British-Nigerian writer on international politics, religion, culture and humanism.

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Arthur G
Arthur G
26 days ago

Why does the author simply dismiss the possibility that Owens actually came to believe what the Church teaches? Would he label any leftist that stopped believing a “political atheist”? The disdain for religion among our chattering classes is getting past its sell-by date.

Aidan Twomey
Aidan Twomey
26 days ago

God bless Candace. My hope for her is that Catholics have to be in this world but not of it. I think that she is correct about Hollywood, but let the demons have it, it’s all trash. Our energies have to be divided between this world and the next, not consumed by fighting over things that are passing away anyway.

Archibald Tennyson
Archibald Tennyson
26 days ago

Maybe the problem is that we keep perceiving everything in narrow political terms – a phenomenon that, ironically, forms part of a religious worldview.
Let’s all put our sight on the Kingdom of Heaven, then things might get better in the here and now. Reject the obsessive politicking. Get back in touch with the words of Christ.
God bless.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
26 days ago

Or maybe she simply switched from one sect of Christianity to another? Sometimes a square peg is just a square peg.

rob clark
rob clark
26 days ago

What a shallow article! I saw that favorite progressive derogatory adjective “Radical Right” employed 3 times in such a short piece, did I miss one?

George K
George K
26 days ago
Reply to  rob clark

I’d probably agree with Candace on almost everything but it’s hard to believe that her conversion is the result of a long spiritual search rather political expediency

Nicholas Galiardo
Nicholas Galiardo
25 days ago
Reply to  George K

As a devout Catholic myself, and someone who would agree with much of Candace’s positions (though certainly not all), I find it hard to buy into the argument that claiming any degree of fidelity to Christianity is politically expedient. Even on the political Right in the US, the decline in morals and religious participation in recent years has been drastic. So seems to me if she was looking to be politically expedient she would have been better off going in the opposite direction…

Phillip De Vous
Phillip De Vous
26 days ago

Just a dumb piece that didn’t need to be written by someone who doesn’t really understand the topic.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
26 days ago

Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s

Arkadian Arkadian
Arkadian Arkadian
26 days ago

“having previously *identified* as…”

Must we really use the “i” word?

John Mullen
John Mullen
26 days ago

In James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man when the main character stops being Catholic and is asked by his friend whether he will become Protestant, he replies: “I said that I had lost the faith . . . but not that I had lost self-respect. What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent?” Maybe Candace just discovered something similar.

William Amos
William Amos
26 days ago

I always thought she was sound on the Trans issue?
Transubstantion, I mean.
In all seriousness, I would be intrigued to know how her views on The Immaculate Conception, Papal Infallibility, The Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Purgatory, the Invocation of Saints, the sufficiency of scripture, the sacrifice of the Mass and the priesthood of all believers changed prior to swimming the Tiber. Or are these adiaphora in her eyes? The same applies to Revd Robinson, Gavin Ashenden and Bishop Nazir Ali.
Her choice of the Oratory (or The Church of The Immaculate Heart of Mary as called) for her conversion is also intriguing.
I wonder if as an American she is aware (or has been made aware) of the contentious history of the Oxford Movement in Britain and of Newman in particular who could be said to have pioneered the techniques of entryism and relativism. Of making Truth into a word-game. His ‘Illative sense’ in particular which asserts that ‘everyone who reasons is his own centre’ is the forerunner of the ‘My Truth’ phenomenon we see in university campuses today.

Nathan Ngumi
Nathan Ngumi
26 days ago

Profound.
Many people are always quick to judge when controversial public figures or intellectuals on the Right publicly embrace Christianity. Tammy Peterson. Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Candace Owens.
Why are people bothered? Why would the faith (or lack thereof) of someone bother another person? Are people so dissatisfied with their own lives that they seek comfort in looking down on others?

Nathan Sapio
Nathan Sapio
25 days ago
Reply to  Nathan Ngumi

Graciousness… That you put Candace Owens in the same sentence as Tammy Peterson or Ayaan Hirsi Ali is beyond all proportion

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
26 days ago

As an Englishman in earlier times might exclaim, what piffle. This article looks like it was written by someone just learning to read. The author deems himself capable of entering Ms. Owen’s most private reflections and assigning her spiritual choices to a series of utterly banal platitudes. It’s a laughable, vapid and trite history lesson. Hogwash. Unherd should feel profoundly embarrassed by this.

Paul Monahan
Paul Monahan
25 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

hee hee, you made laugh, thanks 🙂

T Redd
T Redd
26 days ago

Candance, lots more activity when you are Catholic…I mean hit the knees, stand, walk, knees again. Religion is religion but I like being Catholic….welcome kid

Sisyphus Jones
Sisyphus Jones
26 days ago

What a weird article. Catholics have long been a reliable Democrat voting block. If you’re looking for the radical-right caricature your imagination demands, you’ll not want to look in my Parish.
There’s been a lot of not-very-smart writing popping up on Unherd lately. It all seems to have a lamentable progressive shrillness to it. You know what I mean, the kind of writing that treats the dim slogans of the Leftist blogshpere as axiomatic. Unherd can and should do better.

Wyatt W
Wyatt W
26 days ago

Contrary to the rest of the commentators, I actually think the article makes a good point (except the “far right” boogeyman trope). There are many people recently claiming “Christ is King” but using that in reference to political things or tied to “America First”. Candace herself did that with the whole DW feud, as if she were being persecuted, which was ridiculous.
As much as I want America to have stronger Christian values (and I will certainly vote and advocate that way), ultimately Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. The cultural Christians remind me of the Jews who expected Jesus to come overthrow the Roman Empire.
I don’t think attaching that point to Candace Owens makes much sense though since it could be a genuine conversion, only God knows her heart.

Hendrik Mentz
Hendrik Mentz
25 days ago
Reply to  Wyatt W

Although, as Jung foresaw in his ‘Answer to Job’, it was destined to turn out political:

‘The eye of John (in the Book of Revelation) penetrates into the distant future of the Christian aeon and into the dark abyss of those forces which his Christianity kept in equilibrium. What burst upon him in the storm of the times, the premonition of a tremendous enantiodromia [ 
 ] (demanding) man’s *fear* of the unfathomable Godhead’ (p. 135 of the 1958 Routledge & Kegan Paul edition)

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
25 days ago
Reply to  Wyatt W

An article about the temptation to use religion as a political tool could be quite interesting.

Shrunken Genepool
Shrunken Genepool
26 days ago

Or, having questioned the material ist individualist leftist progressive ideology, she was pulled inexorably towards the conception of natural law – that is older, much older than Christianity, but found its most perfect expression in the Jewish imago Dei as it unfolded into Catholic Christianity, faith, and reason. Neither you, nor I have any reason to doubt the authenticity of her conversion, no for cynicism. Her husband is a cradle Catholic. She’s just had a baby. Marriage and motherhood are about covenant. If these life experiences don’t prime you, for Jesus, then nothing will. I just wish Candace had a better sense of the unity of the Jewish and Christian journey. Maybe she will come to that in time as well. God willing. But I think UnHerd can do better than this kind of cheap shot

Ex Nihilo
Ex Nihilo
25 days ago

Progressives love to draw attention to outlandish “conservatives” like Candace Owens because they are such easy targets and reinforce the false image of conservatives as nutters. Why don’t they engage or refer to thoughtful conservatives like Coleman Hughes or Niall Ferguson? Because they have no effective answer to them. Organized religion in the west has been in steep decline for half a century and yet dopes like Leonard speak of it as if we are on the brink of another age of Inquisition and quote ancient socialists like Marx who died in 1883 when Christianity was a vastly greater part of Western consciousness. Come on, Leonard, put on your big boy pants and tell us something about the world we actually live in.

Madas A. Hatter
Madas A. Hatter
25 days ago

This article is so far Unherd’s usual standard I’m assuming the writer has other, covert credentials other than his insights. He dismisses in a single line the possibility that her conversion is for the usual reason – faith. And then goes on to say … well, nothing. And the credentials? There do seem to be a lot of Nigerians writing on Unherd at the moment. Something going on?

Matthew Jones
Matthew Jones
25 days ago

How does the author know what goes on in another person’s heart? That he assumes such knowledge is perhaps a manifestation of excessive pride. He should speak to a priest about it.

Santiago Excilio
Santiago Excilio
25 days ago

Who?

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
25 days ago

I can’t see any particular reason this author thinks CO didn’t in fact convert for spiritual or theological reasons.
There could be some interesting things to be said about a link between these elements the author is talking about and the conversion of a number of conservatives in the last year. But those aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive experiences. It’s often the case that coming to see a positive role that a religious structure, that at first glance may seem archaic or illogical to some, plays in creating a just or compassionate or stable society, can cause a person to consider it’s theology or psychological insights or other elements in new ways.
Or to put it another way, if someone deeply values a view of justice, rationality, human dignity, or even art, that they come to realize arises from a certain type of metaphysical position or set of practices, it’s logical that they might give some really significant consideration to the truth of that metaphysics and practice. At least if they don’t want to give up on the values.

Rita X Stafford
Rita X Stafford
25 days ago

Catholic fascists? Is this some kind of Bertolucci thing?

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
25 days ago

I am grateful to Roman Catholicism for providing the bedrock of my conservatism while expressing no desire to return to Church and be confronted by all the zombified hypocrites in their community there.
Better for Christianity to mutate into something else, such as a moral crusade against neoliberal cultural politics.

William Amos
William Amos
25 days ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Take care, brother
Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest: Luke 18:10-14 

James Lennox
James Lennox
25 days ago

This is Candace justifying her opposition to the Middle Eastern war on behalf of the Palestinians catholics should not fall for it

charlie martell
charlie martell
24 days ago

A shallow, presumptive, cliche ridden piece.

Vito Quattrocchi
Vito Quattrocchi
11 days ago

“Religion as identity politics is a product and symptom of this social void, even if it advertises itself as a solution to it.”
The author seems to believe, like Marx, that religion was created to fill his social void (“the opium of the people”) when it’s more likely that the social void we’re experiencing very acutely right now was formed by the collapse of religious structures that once filled it (a la Nietzsche). In other words, he’s got things exactly backwards.
If “religion as identity politics is a product and symptom of this social void” then the “social void” is a “product and symptom” of a bunch of stupid ideas about human nature and the nature of reality that have left Western people totally directionless and bereft. Logic dictates that if we correct our stupid ideas, accept the reality of our natures and of the spiritual world, fill the “social void” with meaning again via resurgent religious conviction and the concurrent revitalization of our culture, then no new ersatz identity politics should be needed.
Religion “advertises” itself as the solution to the problem of meaninglessness because everything else we’ve tried in our misguided 400 year materialist holiday from reality some still call the “Enlightenment” has failed. People are reaching for religion again out of horror and desperation because it’s become clear that when we banish God, horrific ghouls and goblins of disorder and confusion stream into the void. We lose our minds, we begin believing obvious falsehoods, and we tear ourselves apart.