Mr. Michael J. Knowles is an author of a book without words, an accomplished actor, contributor at the Daily Wire and host of the Michael Knowles Show. Aside from his commendable taste in cigars (smoking a stogie at his recommendation as of this writing), Michael is a man of faith and in the richest sense of the phrase, he is one of those Catholic men. You can follow Michael Knowles’ podcast for free HERE.
Q: You are an actor from New York of the millennial generation and a Yale graduate who lives in California. As a midwesterner with a reflexive skepticism of the coasts, it would be reasonable to conclude from these facts about you that you are a political liberal whose religious proclivities amount to a distracted agnosticism or insistent atheism. Yet, you are a practicing Roman Catholic and a political conservative. What formed your convictions? Did they evolve? How?
I was baptized as an infant, the most engaged student in my CCD class, and by the time I was confirmed in the Church I would have called myself an atheist. My mother predicted that atheism would be a fleeting identity and wisely advised me to be confirmed anyway, so I chose the confirmation name Thomas as a nod to my doubts. I persisted in varying degrees of atheism until college. At Yale, virtually everyone was an atheist, but I noticed the smartest people were not only theistic but Christian. Alvin Plantinga’s formulation of the modal ontological argument convinced me that God exists, and books by C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and Fr. George W. Rutler compelled my reversion to Christianity. It was only at this point after intellectual conversion that I recognized numinous experiences, though from what I gather it is more common for the intellectual conversion to follow some sort of religious experience.
Q: To many, the popular Late Night host Stephen Colbert is as he claims: the most notable American Catholic. His candid references to his faith (reciting the Creed on the Colbert Report, keeping his ashes on Ash Wednesday visible on his forehead, his confessional bit on Late Night as well as his somewhat awkward attempts at evangelizing prominent atheists such as Bill Maher and Ricky Gervais ). This is an interesting phenomena considering his politically liberal views in concert with the otherwise stodgy reputation of the Roman Catholic Church as a patriarchal and conservative institution. It highlights an intriguing spectrum in Roman Catholicism and American politics (A Church that attempts to house Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner, Stephen Colbert and Michael Knowles etc.). Is American Catholicism liberal? Or conservative?
Were the Catholic Church merely a sect founded by men, its clergy and laity might fall neatly into one political party or another. But the Church was instituted by Christ on earth, and so it evades ideological categories and rationalist abridgement.
The catholicity and divine institution of the Church does not excuse self-described Catholic figures’ preaching heresy. But the Bible is replete with examples of God’s using imperfect and downright despicable figures for good, and if Stephen Colbert can sandwich an invitation to communion between inane comedy routines and thereby pull some portion of his audience toward God, more power to him.
Q: What role does religious devotion play in politics, not simply religious affiliation, but an actual personal commitment to an orthodoxy of some sort?
Please excuse a litany of clichés: if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything; everybody’s got to serve somebody; and ideas have consequences. The secular Left disingenuously decries “legislating morality,” but politics is the mechanism of governing, which inherently carries moral weight on every question from tax rates to the welfare state. Andrew Breitbart liked to observe that politics sits downstream of culture. Culture derives from the same word as cult—it expresses what a society worships. A society that worships money will be more materialistic; a society that worships sex will be more lecherous. A politician who ignores God is likely to become a narcissistic grotesque because a man wrapped up in himself makes a small package indeed. A politician who looks toward God may accomplish great and good things, but he must take care to worship the right one.
Q: As a follow up to the previous question: I frequently listen to The Daily Wire , I’ve heard your show (and Ben Shapiro’s and Andrew Klavan’s). One thing I value greatly is all of your respective abilities to discuss matters of the state while reverencing your individual faiths. Tell me about your Catholic faith and how it influences your political sensibilities. How do you suppose it influences their’s? What’s the connection between you all as believers and patriots? Is there one?
The Daily Wire practices nothing if not religious tolerance: its three shows feature an orthodox Jew, a Protestant, and a Catholic. My Catholic perspective emphasizes the importance of human dignity and ordered liberty in conservative thought, but more than that it underscores my aversion to ideology, which Michael Oakeshott defined as “the formalized abridgement of the supposed sub-stratum of rational truth contained in the tradition.” Ideology by definition cannot contain reality, and consequently ideologies like communism, fascism, and Naziism have wrought unspeakable horror on the world. Christianity has also had the effect of making my politics ultimately hopeful, as the Christian world is ultimately comedic. I wouldn’t presume to know the effect of religious thought on Ben’s and Drew’s thinking, but all three of us at the Daily Wire take faith seriously, and those foundations certainly affect our political views.
Q: Fr. Julian Carron, head of the lay movement Communion and Liberation, said “If you do not see Pope Francis as the cure, you do not grasp the disease”. As a conservative and a Roman Catholic, does Pope Francis make you nervous?
Like the Church he leads, Pope Francis evades simple political categorization. He has expressed his hope that President Trump will not repeal Barack Obama’s executive amnesty, and he has voiced support for increased government regulations regarding the environment, but he has also referred to the lobby for redefining marriage to include same-sex unions as “a machination of the Father of Lies who seeks to deceive and confuse the children of God.” In any case, Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI are some of the greatest men in the history of the Church, so if Pope Francis falls short of that bar he may be forgiven. As a priest once reminded me, our Lord has even given us bad popes, and perhaps that was to remind us that the pope is fallible except when he’s infallible.
Q: The Alt-Right and Antifa have come centerstage in the political conversation of our time. At the same time, millennials are regarded the generation of “nones” (that is, they do not affiliate with any religious institution). Do you think that these movements are at all symptomatic of a generation that is attempting to find a religion after having rejected religion?
The Alt-Right and Antifa are wholly products of a post-Christian culture. Of course the Resurrection precludes the possibility of “post-Christianity,” but cultures are free to reject the Church, and both Antifa and the Alt-Right encapsulate a Nietzschean vision of the world that Pilate summed up in three words: “What is truth?” Both camps are historically ignorant and philosophically incoherent, but while the fundamental ethno-nationalism of the Alt-Right constitutes a vanishingly small fragment of the American Right, the censorship and thuggery of Antifa pervades the mainstream American Left and is infecting corporate boardrooms, university campuses, and cultural institutions across the country.
Q: Are you hopeful for the future?
Of course I’m hopeful. As Andrew Klavan explains whenever he’s asked why he’s always smiling, “My Savior lives!”
Q: Finally, from one Catholic to another, have you sought an Imprimatur for your best selling book?
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa : indeed I did not seek an imprimatur before publishing my magnum opus, but I cite Matthew 5:37 to justify my conviction that nihil obstat.