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.
The 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.
For 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: Well, Caner’s gone as president of the seminary–but is staying on as a member of the faculty.