Touchstone reports “the death of historian (and Touchstone contributing editor) Elizabeth Fox-Genovese on January 2, 2007 at the age of 65. Author of many books on a dazzling array of subjects, including most recently a massive and definitive study of proslavery ideology coauthored with her husband Eugene Genovese, Betsey also was an adult convert to the Roman Catholic Church, being received in 1995. (Gene soon followed his wife, returning to the church of his youth.), This conversion seemed especially remarkable, at least on the surface, given her former visibility and influence as a lioness of academic Marxism and feminism. But in fact, there was a striking consistency in her life’s pattern, albeit one that runs so completely against the typical academic’s grain as to be unintelligible to those who think in conventional ways.

“She has told the story of her conversion in an article in the April 2000 issue of First Things (where she also was a contributing editor), and a reading of that account is a necessary starting place for assessing the background to her change. But anyone who followed the track of her published work knows that the change was not nearly as great as it might have seemed.”

Excerpts from her story:

“Although as predisposed as any to respect the claims of difference, whether of sex, class, or culture, I increasingly found this moral relativism troubling. It seemed difficult to imagine a world in which each followed his or her personal moral compass, if only because the morality of some was bound, sooner or later, to clash with the morality of others. And without some semblance of a common standard, those clashes were more than likely to end in one or another form of violence.”My more wrenching concerns, however, lay elsewhere. Thinking and writing about abortion had led me to an ever greater appreciation for the claims of life, which were so often buried beneath impassioned defenses of a woman’s right to self–determination, especially her right to sexual freedom. When I began to think seriously about the issue, my commitment to women’s right to develop their talents predisposed me to support the legality of abortion, at least up to a certain point. Even then, I found it impossible not to take seriously the life of the fetus that was being so casually cast aside. The emerging discussions of assisted suicide only intensified my discomfort, as I found myself worrying about one human being deciding whether another’s life is worth living. “How do we know?” I kept asking myself. “How ever can we know?”

“Today, it is easy to see that I was instinctively revolting against a utilitarian or instrumentalist understanding of the value of human life. For I did understand that as soon as we admit as a serious consider–ation whether our obligations to others are inconvenient, the value of any life becomes negotiable. At this point, as you will note, my internal struggles still unfolded within a secular framework, although I fully appreciated that devout Christians and Jews viewed reverence for life in its most vulnerable forms as a divine commandment. Indeed, I was slowly coming to envy the certainty that religious faith afforded, and I began to think seriously about joining a church. At the same time, I knew that no matter how noble and well–intentioned, worldly preoccupations were not an adequate reason for doing so.

“As if barring my path to church membership stood the figure of Jesus Christ. The churches I most respected all required that prospective members affirm their personal faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. I did not question the legitimacy of the requirement, but nothing in my previous life seemed to have prepared me to meet it. To the best of my knowledge, I had no personal experience of religious faith and no real grasp of its nature.”

Be sure to read it all at First Things. I’ve known a couple of people from within acadamia who converted, and they often speak of having “made a decision to live as if it were true” as the beginning of their journey into faith.

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