‘Hillbilly Elegy’ author JD Vance converts to Catholic faith because it’s ‘true’
CINCINNATI, August 13, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — The author of a bestselling memoir exploring the problems in oft-overlooked white “hillbilly” culture was received into the Catholic Church.
J.D. Vance wrote Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis, which recounted his journey from poverty in the hills of Ohio to Yale Law School. Along the way, he witnessed his mother’s descent into drug addiction and failed marriages. Having been later taken in by a loving grandmother, he came to manhood while in the Marine Corps and then graduated from Ohio State University.
In an interview on Rod Dreher’s blog American Conservative, Vance admitted that the sex abuse crisis within the Church affected him, forcing him to “process the Church as a divine and a human institution, and what it would mean” for his two-year-old son. However, he said he never questioned that he would ultimately become a Catholic.
Saying he was moved to enter the Church because of its social teachings and the example set by Catholics he admired, Vance explained to Dreher his reasons for conversion:
I became persuaded over time that Catholicism was true. I was raised Christian, but never had a super-strong attachment to any denomination, and was never baptized. When I became more interested in faith, I started out with a clean slate, and looked at the church that appealed most to me intellectually.
For his patron saint, Vance chose St. Augustine of Hippo, the African theologian and philosopher whose writings about his own conversion in the 5th century A.D. have been read by Christians for centuries. When Dreher asked why he chose Augustine, a doctor of the Church, Vance replied:
A couple of reasons. One, I was pretty moved by the Confessions. I’ve probably read it in bits and pieces twice over the past 15 or so years. There’s a chapter from The City of God that’s incredibly relevant now that I’m thinking about policy. There’s just a way that Augustine is an incredibly powerful advocate for the things that the Church believes.
Saying that he once “bought into the lie” that Christians are necessarily stupid, Vance credited Augustine for offering a “strongly intellectual way” to understand the Christian faith. This has stood him in good stead because he had come from “a world that wasn’t super-intellectual about the Christian faith,” Vance said, adding that he now spends his time largely among “intellectual people who aren’t Christian.”
As for the still evolving crisis in the Church, Vance said he is optimistic. When he was asked whether he finds the current travails “daunting,” he answered:
I do in the short term, but one of the things I love about Catholicism is that it’s very old. I take a longer view. Are things more daunting than they were in the mid-19th century? In the Dark Ages? Is it as daunting as having a second pope at Avignon? I don’t think so. The hope of the Christian faith is not rooted in any short-term conquest of the material world, but in the fact that it is true, and over the long term, with various fits and starts, things will work out.
Vance’s book, Hillbilly Elegy, was published in 2016 and during the U.S. presidential campaign season. The book has been acclaimed for offering a window to the problems of white rural America, including drug addiction, marital insecurity, poverty, and unemployment. In an earlier interview with Dreher, Vance said his people in rural America “are really struggling.” Explaining Trump’s appeal to white rural Americans, Vance said no “single political candidate who speaks to those struggles” had addressed them in many years, adding, “Donald Trump at least tries.”
In his book, Vance spoke to the struggles of rural white Americans who have been either ignored or vilified by the country’s elites. Among his people, he wrote, “There is a lack of agency here — a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself.” He concludes in his book by acknowledging that government programs cannot redress the behaviors that lead to addiction and poverty. Of his people, he writes, “I believe we hillbillies are the toughest g‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑ people on this earth.” He added, “But are we tough enough to look ourselves in the mirror and admit that our conduct harms our children? Public policy can help, but there is no government that can fix these problems for us. ... I don’t know what the answer is precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better.”
Offering an antidote to the politics of grievance and identity currently reigning in the United States, he credited the Catholic faith for giving him the tools for continued growth. He told Dreher: “One of the most attractive things about Catholicism is that the concept of grace is not couched in terms of epiphany. It’s not like you receive grace and suddenly you go from being a bad person to being a good person. You’re constantly being worked on. I like that.”