“God is dead,” proclaimed Nietzsche through his mouthpiece Zarathustra. But if he is dead, I should not expect to hear him speaking. And yet, in the quiet hours of the morning, when my head screams from last night’s binger and my body rails against my malformed will, I hear a soft voice from inside me, but that is not me, speaking. A voice that reminds me of the grime that crusts my life, but which also offers hope that I can be made clean.
This, in a nutshell, sums up New York Post editor Sohrab Ahmari’s spiritual odyssey from nominal Muslim Iranian youth, to secularized American teenager, to Nietzsche devotee, to college Trotskyite, to atheist conservative, to believer in a non-denominational God, to baptism in the Roman Catholic Church. Ahmari’s conversion memoir From Fire, by Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith may seem remarkable for how unlikely it is on paper. But if God is not dead, should we not expect him to act in powerful and mysterious ways, and through unlikely people?
Ahmari is clearly a smart and well-read guy (his story is also an intellectual memoir, from Nietzsche, Sartre, and Camus, to Baudrillard and Foucault, to Havel, Kass, Koestler, and Strauss, to Alter, Augustine, and Ratzinger). But it was not his intellect that ultimately led him to assent first to belief in a Creator and then to Baptism. Rather, it was the, “mystery of evil and the reality of conscience.” As to evil generally, Ahmari came to understand that no amount of Marxism, or secular humanism, or scientific progress could mend the deep brokenness of man; “Human nature was so much more unfathomable, and horrible, than all that.” He felt in a visceral way that the Christian account of The Fall was the only explanation of this brokenness that made sense.
More importantly for Ahmari’s own conversion, he saw evil not simply as something out there, but a reality at home in his very soul. What he came to understand as his conscience he realized had been present in his innermost being since he was a child in Iran. And this voice, urging him to flee evil and reminding him of his self-inflicted misery after he refused, was the most potent counter to Zarathustra: God is not dead, for He speaks to me constantly.
Still, Ahmari had to answer one final question; “How to escape those flames, which had set the whole world ablaze ever since that first betrayal in the Garden.” If there is no escape, is not life a cruel and absurd place? No, for in recognizing his need for salvation, Ahmari finally came face to face with the One who could save. Life had taught him that “that our Lord’s gift of radical absolution on the Cross was the only thing capable of repairing the brokenness in me and around me.”
Ahmari’s confession will likely be inspiring to some, encouraging to others, and repulsive to the indignant Enlightened. But those who would most benefit from reading the book are those miserable youth who have been stuffed to overflowing with Consumerism, Progressivism, Liberalism, and a host of other Isms that claim power to save, but ultimately are impotent to heal one’s deep misery and brokenness. To these, Ahmari’s book is a great hope, for through it God’s voice can be heard again, reminding all that there is, “one escape hatch,” out of the infernal prison of despair, and that way is, “cruciform in shape.”
Jeffrey Wald is a juvenile prosecutor who lives and works in the Twin Cities.