A review of the autobiography of Joseph Pearce
On December 12, 1985, a twenty-four year-old radical white supremacist named Joe Pearce stood in the dock at London’s Old Bailey and was convicted of violating the British Race Relations Act. He was sentenced to twelve months in prison. Four years later, on March 19, 1989, this same Joseph Pearce was received into the Catholic Church. As a professional race-baiter, Joe Pearce was known for his provocative articles and hateful speeches. Now, as a Catholic public figure, Joseph Pearce is known for his “literary biographies,” and has written about Chesterton, Tolkien, Belloc, Shakespeare, and, Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Race With the Devil (2013, St. Benedict Press) is Joseph Pearce’s own account of how this incredible transformation took place.
Pearce likens his early childhood in rural England to Tolkien’s Shire: innocent, idyllic, peaceful. But due to the negative influence of the adults in his life, by the time he was fifteen years old racial politics had completely dominated his life. He lied about his age to join the National Front (the leading white supremacist organization in Britain) and by seventeen he was working for them full-time. He stirred up hatred between white and black youths, incited riots, and distributed racist literature at football stadiums. He scaled up his pro-British fanaticism by participating in demonstrations in Northern Ireland and joining the anti-Catholic Orange Order.
What eventually landed him in jail was his editorship of The Bulldog, the official newspaper of the National Front. In 1981 and again in 1985, Pearce was charged with “publishing material likely to incite racial hatred,” which in Britain is characterized as a “hate crime.” His first stint in prison merely annealed his white, Anglocentric bigotry. But his second incarceration was different, because by that time he had discovered authors who challenged his racist worldview, including Solzhenitsyn, Belloc, and, most importantly, G. K. Chesterton, in whose writing he found “the light of sanctity shining forth in the darkness.”
This is an amazing conversion story. Joseph Pearce was truly a hard case, someone whose entry into the Catholic Church you would never dare predict. But Pearce takes the trouble to weave into his story the small things that, with hindsight, make his conversion appear inevitable: his voracious appetite for books that led him to Chesterton and other Christian authors, his experiences of beauty in rural England and elsewhere that “baptized his imagination,” and small acts of kindness from strangers that struck him as remarkable even in the midst of his angry young man period. His inside look at radical movements is fascinating, as is the discussion of the books that formed him, for good and for ill.
A highly recommended and encouraging story of the power of God’s grace to change lives.
To purchase this inspiring story of transformation, click here.
This review is adapted from a similar piece that originally appeared in The National Catholic Register on 11/23/13: https://www.ncregister.com/news/radical-conversion-from-racial-hatred-to-rational-love