August 3, 2023

How a Secular Jew Found Faith in Christ with Andrew Klavan

Inside This Episode

No one was more surprised than bestselling crime novelist and Edgar Award-winner Andrew Klavan when, at the age of fifty, he found himself about to be baptized. Born into a secular Jewish family outside of New York City, he grew into an alienated young writer whose disconnection and rage devolved into depression and suicidal breakdown. Searching for truth in the aftermath, he started to pray, almost experimentally, and the result was a relationship with the Messiah he’d been taught most of his life to reject. 

More on Andrew Klavan:

Join The Community

Maybe God Newsletter

  • Be the first to know about new episodes
  • Exclusive content
  • Resources to help you reconstruct and grow your faith


Julie Mirlicourtois: Hey everyone, welcome to Maybe God. If you're new here, I want to extend a special welcome to you. We're a podcast community that's dedicated to inspiring doubtful believers and hopeful skeptics to boldly seek answers to our most challenging faith questions through uplifting and powerful storytelling.

If you're not already subscribed to our email list or following us on social media, we hope you'll make that happen today. We've got so many special events, in-person and virtual, right around the corner, and we don't want you to miss any of it. So head to to sign up for our email announcements and special resources and follow @maybegodpod on Instagram and Facebook.

Also a reminder for our Houston area listeners, starting Wednesday, August 9th, 2023 for four consecutive Wednesday evenings, we'll host a free in-person screening of our award-winning documentary series called Across, followed by Q&A with the Maybe God team, including host Eric Huffman. Just head to for details and to RSVP.

[00:00:59] <music>

Julie Mirlicourtois: On this episode of Maybe God...

Andrew Klavan: It was very important to my father to preserve the traditions of Judaism. He had been in World War II, he understood the Holocaust, he was very concerned about the survival of the Jewish people, all rightly so. But we didn't really believe in God.

I mean, my mother was the most convicted atheist I ever met. She lived and died a complete atheist. There was no God in our family. There was no grace said at meals. There were no nightly prayers. There was no question, what would God want you to do in this situation? Just didn't exist.

Julie Mirlicourtois: Guest host, Justin Brierley, speaks with bestselling crime novelist Andrew Klavan about his surprising conversion from secular Judaism to Christianity.

[00:01:42] <music>

Justin Brierley: Welcome to the Maybe God podcast. I'm your guest host today, Justin Brierley. Andrew Klavan is a bestselling author whose crime novels have been turned into Hollywood films starring Clint Eastwood and Michael Douglas. He's also known as a political commentator and hosts The Andrew Klavan Show.

Today we're going to be talking about Andrew's journey from secular Jewish atheist to becoming a committed Christian and how his love of literature and poetry played a part in his adult conversion. He's written about both those things in his recent autobiographical books, The Great Big Thing and The Truth and Beauty: How the Lives and Works of England's Greatest Poets Point the Way to a Deeper Understanding of the Words of Jesus.

Andrew, welcome along to the show.

Andrew Klavan: Thank you. It's nice to be here.

Justin Brierley: It's great to have you. Tell us a bit about your early life. You grew up essentially in a non-religious Jewish household, but your father was still really keen on sort of getting you to learn Hebrew. You had to endure what probably seemed like endless hours of Hebrew school at the weekends. What was life like growing up for you in that way?

Andrew Klavan: Well, it was very strange in a way. I was an all-American kid, grew up in a neighborhood that looked like... if you've ever seen a 60s sitcom about America, you know, Father Knows Best, that's what my neighborhood looked like.

I loved baseball. I loved astronauts. And then every couple of days off I would go to Hebrew school because it was very important to my father to preserve the traditions of Judaism. He had been in World War II, he understood the Holocaust, he was very concerned about the survival of the Jewish people, all rightly so. But we didn't really believe in God.

I mean, my mother was the most convicted atheist I ever met. She lived and died a complete atheist. She[00:03:24]  thought the whole thing. She used to call it hui. "It's hui." Just complete nonsense. My father was more a little bit on the fence. He was not the sort of guy who wanted to insult a gigantic invisible spirit who could kill him just by thinking about it. But really there was no God in our family. There was no grace said at meals. There were no nightly prayers. There was no question, what would God want you to do in this situation? It just didn't exist.

So for me, the problem was not Judaism per se, it was the nonsensical situation that I was in. All my life I've had this obsession with making sense. It's actually a storyteller's obsession, how can I make my story make sense? And this was really important to me. I mean, I would daydream. And even my daydreams had to fit together. They could take place in a magical world, but the magical world had to make sense. And this made no sense to me.

So by the time I was supposed to be bar mitzvah'd, and I was bar mitzvah'd, but the time I got to that point, I had no belief in it whatsoever. I had no idea why I was learning this difficult language of Hebrew. I had no idea why I was going to a place and putting on a funny hat. I had no idea why I should even care about this thing. And that was a very common experience in my neighborhood, because there were a lot of houses like mine where people were being told to cling to the traditions, but there was no interior to those traditions.

Justin Brierley: Yeah, yeah, that's interesting. I remember you saying that your dad did have quite a visceral reaction there once when he caught you as a teenager reading a gospel. So it seems like there was a bit of a threat almost to the idea of you possibly even thinking about converting to Christianity even at that point.

Andrew Klavan: Very much so, and very common among Jews, certainly of his generation, but Jews in general. And they have a point. You know, they've been tormented and chased from pillar to post and excluded often by Christians, often by Christian theology, I think misguided Christian theology, and they've come to the point where they think of the Christians as those guys. You know, the Cossacks who are coming to get them.

And my father certainly had that point of view. It was not that he was prejudiced against any individual Christian person. His partner for most of his life was a Christian guy. But he did have the sense that this outside culture was coming to get us. As he grew older, he became more and more obsessed, almost clinically, pathologically obsessed with the Holocaust returning. You know, you could never trust these people. They were always going to get you.

One day I started reading the gospels for purely literary reasons. I realized that they were part of all the great stories I loved. And so I sat down at about the age of 15 and started reading the gospel according to Luke, because it had Christmas in it and I knew about Christmas, which was about virtually all I knew of Christian theology.

And he caught me, which was very funny in a way, he was furious. He caught me reading the gospel according to St. Luke, and he was absolutely livid. I always think about this. It was kind of sad, but it was also kind of funny, because I was 15, I was reading a lot of other things I should not have been reading.

It was the 60s, and I was sexually active. He could have literally walked in on me with a girl but he walked in on me reading the gospels, and he was just furious. He screamed at me, he pointed his finger at my face, and said, "If you ever think of converting, I will disown you." It was something I thought that hadn't even flitted through my brain. It was just as if I was doing research. But he was very upset by it.

Justin Brierley: We'll come back to your story, obviously as it did develop later. To some extent, you know, your early life, God was very much, you know, not even a thought in your mind. I mean, you were bar mitzvah'd, however. So what was that and what did it mean to you at the time?

Andrew Klavan: It was very sad. I mean, I didn't want to do it. I didn't have the courage at 13 to stand up to my father and tell him... I told him I didn't want to do it, but I didn't have the courage to defy him because he insisted on it. Along with my obsession for making sense, was my obsession for what they nowadays call authenticity, which I just thought was you should say what you mean and you should be who you appear to be.

It was really a painful thing for me to stand up and say words that I didn't believe. I didn't really manage to memorize the Hebrew portion that I was supposed to read, and I actually ad-libbed some of it, which nobody knew in that neighborhood that I was making up Hebrew words to get past the lacunae, you know. And so it had a feeling of genuine hypocrisy.

At the same time, I got a great big party. There was lots of dancing, all my friends were there, and it was a very celebratory thing. On top of that, I got a lot of gifts. I grew up in a very... it wasn't a wealthy neighborhood, but it was a well-to-do upper-middle-class neighborhood. Just like at a sort of Italian wedding, I was given all these bonds and bills and gold jewelry and silver jewelry and all kinds of things, all of which I put into this leather jewelry box.

And you know, for quite a while, I was entranced by this. I had never had anything of my own before, and now I had what amounted to thousands and thousands of dollars of my own that was just in this box. Except that over the coming months, I began to feel it was ill-gotten gains. I had lied, and they had given me all this stuff. And that didn't fit very well with my obsession with making sense and being who I was.

One day, I'm guessing—I can't really remember—I'm guessing about six months after my bar mitzvah... my father was a morning radio announcer, a DJ, and so he would leave the house very early. So I woke up... and he would go to bed very early. So I got up out of bed when the whole house was asleep, I crept outside with this box full of thousands of dollars of gifts, and I threw it away. I stuffed it in the outdoor garbage can down low so nobody would find it and waited tensely for the garbage man to come and take it away. And that was supposed to be the end of my religious associations. I could see no reason why I should suffer through that kind of guilt and hypocrisy ever again.

Justin Brierley: It was always like you're physically burying the idea of God somehow subconsciously. But your story about your feelings of hypocrisy during your bar mitzvah just reminded me suddenly of, I think it's in Surprised by Joy that C.S. Lewis talks about as a young man, him going through confirmation and not believing a word of it. He says, I was eating and drinking my own condemnation as I took my first communion, you know. So there you go. There's some parallels.

Well, obviously, as your sort of interest in literature progressed, I know you were influenced by sort of the quite sort of masculine, heroic type writers, Hemingway, and others. Where was your own kind of writing going? Were you experimenting yourself at this point with a writing career?

Andrew Klavan: Yeah. I wrote my first novel when I was 14, and it was every bit as good as you would guess. But I did it. I sat there and actually typed it out on a... It was before computers. I typed it out on a typewriter. And I was very, very dedicated to it because, as you say, it wasn't just... it was the image of masculinity that I was looking for.

I grew up in a house with three brothers and a father, and I didn't really feel that I had a place or I had a role model that I wanted to model myself on. So I was looking for that in both literature and in the old films that were then the only films you could see on television.

And I found it in these tough guy characters. There was something about them that spoke to me. Not just the fAnd act that they could fight with their fists and they were tough and all this, but also a kind of honesty, a kind of level-headed cold eye that they cast on life and death that really did appeal to something in my personality.

And I think that I was looking for that, and I found it not just... First in Hemingway, certainly in guys like Humphrey Bogart on the screen, but really it was Raymond Chandler and his private detective, Philip Marlowe. Marlowe was a guy who brought the old world of knighthood into a corrupt modern world. And that was kind of the thesis that Chandler was working on.

And he had a wonderful essay on... I think it was called The Simple Art of Murder about what he wanted to do. And he said, down these mean streets is where we get this expression. Mean streets. Down these mean streets, a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.

And I remember reading that sentence and thinking, "That's what I want to be like. I want to be that guy who brings this knighthood, which I was also fascinated by the Arthurian myths, who brings that into the world that I can see is not that world. It wasn't a bad model. It was not a bad model for life. It was a good thing to try at least, even in all your failures, to have in front of you, an image to have in front of you.

Justin Brierley: As you developed in that sort of pursuit of writing career and so on, and sort of busied yourself reading all these great works of literature and so on, you were also struggling, I know, with what we would call today mental health issues. I think you recognized it, though, at the time as essentially a depression, though perhaps not recognized or treated in the same way we might do today. What were you going through in those years, in your teens and 20s and so on?

Andrew Klavan: Well, I'm really glad I went through it then before. Now they would have drugged me. I'm really happy that didn't happen. But I went through... it was bad. I mean, I started drinking pretty heavily in my teens. I was very alienated from my fellow students, very hostile toward my teachers.

Sometimes when I look back on it, I'm just ashamed of ways in which I may have physically intimidated female teachers, though I have to say in my defense, I had no idea I was doing that at the time. But I was a big hulking guy and I would just be furious. I was, as I say, sexually active when I should not have been, in ways I should not have been. I was intensely, intensely connected to that. Once you find that, it's a thing that, you know, gives you pleasure and gives you some sense of worth. So that was part of my life.

I was completely undirected toward my own career, toward my own future. I wanted to be a drifter. You know, I loved drifter stories like On the Road by Kerouac and all those songs that they were singing in those days. So I wandered around the country for years. I slept in hobo camps. I was absolutely kind of lost in this world of fantasy and trying to find out who I was. And when I did finally go to university, I really plummeted into an almost word... I almost couldn't speak. I was sleeping 15, 16, 17 hours a day. I had no idea what was happening to me.

One of the reasons I'm really happy that I wasn't drugged or didn't go to get any help from anybody is I was forced to finally say, "I've got to get out of this." And I got out of it by doing certain things that I don't usually do, you kow, like joining clubs and participating in social events and in organizations at the university. And that actually brought me out of it to the point where I became at least functional again.

Justin Brierley: I mean, you did find a woman that you fell head over heels in love with. You obviously had a child as well in your 20s. But this was going on alongside these kind of periods of depression and so on.

Andrew Klavan: Yeah, it was cyclical. They would come around. I used to call them the bolo, like a weapon that wraps itself around your throat, because sometimes it would be better and sometimes it would be worse. My wife, I've been married to her now, I picked her up hitchhiking, and I've now been married to her for 43 years. We've been together for 45 years. A gift from God.

I mean, my wife was true as steel. She was the person I turned to when I realized I was absolutely cracking up. I said, "I have to get help, something's terribly wrong with me," when it finally just spiraled into the pit. If I can congratulate myself on anything, it is the fact that I was absolutely tormented by rage and because she was the person closest to me, I was often enraged at her. And yet not once that I can remember did I ever explode at her. What I would say to her is, "I'm experiencing rage." Sometimes I'd say, "Just get away from me because I can't control myself." But I never took it out on her. I always let her know that something was happening in me that had nothing to do with her.

I'm really glad looking back that I understood that, I never abused her, emotionally or physically. But I felt it all the time. So it could be something really stupid. Like she would leave a towel lying on the floor and I would be red-eyed with rage. I was absolutely out of control. And finally I just cracked. I just cracked up. I went nuts. When I was in my late twenties, I don't know how else to say it, I went insane.

Justin Brierley: Wow. But you did come out of it again. Tell us the story. Because you're one of the people for whom you say therapy worked. It really made a difference.

Andrew Klavan: Well, that is a really interesting thing and a really interesting kind of station on my journey to Christ and just to theism in general. Because, you know, I got to the point I was having kind of weird mystic hallucinations. I was so absolutely suicidal. I was ready to go. I mean, I've dealt with suicidal people and I showed all the symptoms of being quite serious about it.

I said to my wife, "I got to get help," and she found me a psychiatrist. Again, by the grace of God, he just happened to be the right guy. He was a very smart guy. He was about 15 years older than I was. Came also from a Jewish background, totally secular guy. And he cured me, which is really rare. But he really locked into something in me and he adjusted me in ways it was almost like growing up a second time. He helped me navigate this difficult relationship I had with my father by sort of replacing him as my older brother/father figure that I could relate to.

And the reason I say it was such an interesting thing, because I went in there suicidal and came out... I was in therapy for five years, but after two years, I was a joyful... I was a completely different human being. I mean, I was just completely changed. I was happy. I was able to use my skills. I was able to live in the world and operate in the world.

But the thing that came back to me later was that everything we had said that was philosophical or Freudian or psychological wasn't true. So I was left with the question, if he cured me and he did, and yet the things that we were talking about, the kind of Freudian ideas we were talking about weren't true, what cured me?

It very quickly became clear to me, and now I see this in therapy all the time, that it was the love between us. We had a very special father, son, big brother, little brother relationship, and it was not the normal relationship. My wife's a therapist and it was not a normal thing. We connected in a certain way.

That brought me back to this idea of love, which because of the love of my wife, because of the love of this guy, because I had witnessed love in a... my one real mystical experience when my daughter was born and I actually saw myself swept into the sea of love through the love that I felt for my wife and daughter, it became a kind of central idea to me that there was this actual thing called love. And it was not an emanation of sex. It was actually the other way around. So that was a very important kind of station in my movement towards the cross.

Justin Brierley: So there were these various moments and relationships that sort of you can retrospectively look back on and see the way in which they informed your journey towards Christ. Before we kind of get to that point, I mean, coming back to the literature you were reading, I also remember reading you talking about the way that some of the novels, even in your sort of godless sort of state, did sort of speak to you about something transcendent.

I think Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment was quite significant as one particular novel that kind of impressed itself upon you in terms of the nature of morality, for instance. Do you want to talk a little about that?

Andrew Klavan: Yeah. People sometimes ask me, what's your favorite novel? And that's a question that doesn't make any sense to people who love literature. You know, there's so many novels that you love. But Crime and Punishment is the most important novel in my life because I was going to university at a time when some of the philosophy that has now taken over our culture was just seeping up into the university mind, into the academic mind.

So moral relativism was very big. The idea that words had no meaning, had no real connection to meaning, that Hamlet line that there's nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Which I now joke that Hamlet was pretending to be crazy when he said that, where my university professors were pretending to be sane.

I sat down to read Crime and Punishment, I was about 19 years old, and it's the story of a murderer who has these similar kinds of theories. And he commits murder and then realizes that, oh, no, he's trapped in this moral web that actually exists. And in the murder scene, which as a crime writers, it was one of the great crime scenes in all of literature, possibly the greatest crime scene in all of literature, he acts murders, both an old woman and her sister who is mentally retarded, you know, he's mentally defective.

And the scene is so horrifying to see a man who's not essentially evil do this thing where he drives the ax into this head of a woman who doesn't even understand what's going on. The idea that there was no such thing as actual evil became impossible to believe. Because there was nothing about that scene that couldn't have been real.

I mean, it was a fictional scene, but it could have been non-fictional. Certainly worse things have happened. How could you look at that and say, well, some people might say it's evil, some people might say it's good. It all depends on your culture. No. I thought like, No, I'm sorry. That's an evil act. And if everybody on earth thought that was a good act, except for the woman being ax murdered. It would still be an evil act. And that's an important fact. I mean, if everybody in the universe thought it was a good act, it would still be an evil act.

So that acted as a prophylactic against the relativism and the postmodernism and the where is reality and there is no reality philosophy that was then rising up and really engulfing me. So while for years I argued with that philosophy and for years I wrote novels that were kind of keyed around the problems that I think are legitimately raised by that philosophy, I never believed it. I could never believe it.

I've always said, I've only ever taken one leap of faith in my life. When Jewish people convert, they tend to convert over logic. Everyone I've met, they've never had the kind of hallelujah experience. It's always been, hmm, you know, it's not making sense to me.

But the one leap of faith I ever took in my life was to say that some things are bad and some things are good, no matter who believes what. That's my one leap of faith. I can't prove that. That's an axiom. That's a self-evident truth that to ax murder a mentally defective woman or anybody is an evil act. That's my one leap of faith. And from there, you can't get away from God. It took me, you know, 30 years to figure it out, but you're really stuck at that point.

Justin Brierley: I guess I would almost call it an intuition. And some things are almost obvious to us, but we can't give them a rational justification. I mean, if you can't see it, you can't see it. I mean, did you at any point sort of connect this with the idea that, well, if I believe there is this moral reality, there must be some kind of moral law giver, or was that sort of still some way down the line, that kind of Lewis type kind of putting the pieces together?

Andrew Klavan: No, it was worse than that. I did make the connection. I could see, I could follow the logic. I mean, the logic was just too clear. But I was in so much mental pain that I thought to believe in God would be a crutch. So I was so stubborn, such a stiff necked son of a gun, that basically I said, well, I'm not going to believe in this when I'm in so much emotional pain, instead of reaching out for the lifesaver that was being thrown to me, the hand that was clearly reaching down for me. And now looking back, I can see it almost everywhere. Instead of doing that, I thought, no. Then how will I ever believe it?

It's kind of like today when I hear somebody say, well, I took LSD and now I believe in God. I always think, well, what if you had taken LSD and saw a gigantic cartoon mouse, would you believe in Walt Disney? What does that even mean? I couldn't trust my own logic as long as I was miserable.

Justin Brierley: I mean, going back to that stage, there were moments of clarity. Again, I remember reading you talking about this one moment where you were thinking of ending it all. I guess you were looking down your nose a bit at people who talked a lot about faith in Jesus, but there was one particular... I think it was a baseball game or something on in the background that kind of suddenly came through to you. Do you want to just tell that story and the significance of it?

Andrew Klavan: Yes. I just want to say before I do that when I wrote my memoir, The Great Good Thing, it was shocking how often God was speaking to me in clearly Christian ways, clearly through Christ, and I was just absolutely blind to it.

One of my favorite ballplayers at that time was a baseball player named Gary Carter, who was a catcher on the New York Mets. And the New York Mets were having a moment that would eventually go on to win the World Series, the championship game. And Carter was just one of those characters who goes out and gives everything to every baseball game, always came away with a dirty uniform, always throwing himself at the game. And he was a Christian.

And after every game they would talk to him and he was always doing the Jesus thing. You know, yeah, thank Jesus. And it was like dropping a caterpillar bed on the back of my shirt every time he did it, because I just thought, Oh, please don't talk about that.

And I was sitting one night at what I think was the lowest emotional point in my life. And I was literally with my daughter in the nursery and my wife and the other room, I was literally thinking of climbing up on the roof and killing myself. I was thinking that they'd both be better off without me. I mean, I wish I could go back and slap that kid, but still, you know, I was thinking... you know, that's what I was thinking. I was thinking, "I don't know how to live. You know, how do I live?

And while I was doing this in the darkness, I was sitting in the dark, smoking, drinking, there was a radio on playing a baseball game in the background. And Carter won the game. He was a catcher and his knees were gone. Catchers have to squat through the whole game and his knees were just destroyed. And he hit a ground ball and beat the throw to first base. He ran so fast, he beat the throw to first base and a run scored and he was basically responsible for winning the game.

And afterwards, the interviewer came up to him and said, "How did you manage to run so fast when your knees are so bad?" Because he was famously slow. And I'm sitting there and I kind of entered my mind while I was thinking, "How do you live? How do you live?"

Normally he would have said something like, Well, Jesus, this, or Jesus this. You know, he was just that kind of guy. And I wouldn't have listened to a word he said. That would have gone right past me. But instead, he just said, "Well, sometimes you have to play in pain." That was all he said. And the minute he said it, I thought, "Oh, you know, I can do that. I'm a hard character. I can play and I can get through this. I can do this."

And I look back and it always moves me just to talk about it because I feel like God put Himself out of the picture so I could hear Him, you know, which is a powerful, powerful statement of His humility and His grace. It's like another lifetime, pal, but I can't get away from it. It was a mighty moment for me because it changed everything. I never thought of suicide again, never ever.

And I was weeks away. I was weeks away from so many revelations that would change my life for the better. Trying to figure out how to write the kind of things I could write and give meaning to it. Two weeks later, I read this wonderful British novel, The Woman in White, and I thought, ah, that's done. It was like, bang. I had a revelation in therapy that put me on a totally different track. I thought I was in the pit of hell. I was at the end of the tunnel. It was just like around the corner. So yeah, it comes back to me. It still breaks my heart that I was that close and that God was that great.

Justin Brierley: But you played through the pain. And obviously this was by no means the end of the story, but it's just great to hear the way that you can look back on those things and just, you know... obviously still brings back the emotion of that moment and what it meant seeing God's grace retrospectively in that moment.

Before we come to your conversion, I feel like we're really widening up to it here, but your writing career was taking off. At some point, you started to really get into your flow and you became very successful writing crime and mystery thrillers and so on, to the point where Hollywood came knocking. Tell us about that.

Andrew Klavan: It was hilarious, I have to say, because, you know, we lived from paycheck to paycheck. I had day jobs and I was working. There was a time when I was in the news business, I would go and write radio news at three o'clock in the morning because that's the important time. So I would work from three to 10, I'd come back, play with my kid, take a nap, and then start writing because I wanted so badly to be a writer.

I was constantly saying, "Well, we've got enough money to get through this week. We've got enough money to get through this month." Sometimes we were ahead of the game, sometimes too much. And I'm starting to publish these novels, mostly under pseudonyms, and I'm just kind of learning how to do it.

And I'm sitting on the edge of the bed with a pad and pencil trying to figure out how much money we've gotten, how long before I have to start really worrying about it and working double shifts and all this stuff. The phone rings behind me and I reach back and I pick it up and it's a guy I've never heard of before who's a Hollywood agent, but he works for my literary agent. So he's actually working for me without my knowing it. And he has sold one of my books to Hollywood for a sum that to me was like a shower of gold. Even today it's a lot of money, but it wasn't... you know, to me, it looked like I'd never have to work again. To me, it was like, I'm retiring, you know?

I remember the first time I put one of those checks into the bank, I could not believe what I was looking at. But it suddenly meant we were no longer dealing in months or weeks. We were dealing in, oh, I can live for the next year or two years. And that means so much to a writer because it means that you don't have to be distracted by this need to make a buck.

From there, I was hired to write a script, which became a Michael Caine movie, which by the way, shock to the system, it's a good movie. It actually turned out really well. It didn't do that well in the Box Office, but it turned out well. That script kind of made me the flavor of the month. So for a while I was making good Hollywood movie money and my books were all getting optioned one after another. So it really changed my life.

I used to have... I doubt we can find it now, but my wife took a picture of me once. It's hard to convey what a shocking change it was to go from, Oh, we're having spaghetti again to "we're sending a limousine to pick you up to fly you first class to Hollywood for a meeting". And I remember taking this picture of me out the window as I got into this limousine, kind of waved to her bye-bye, I'm off to Hollywood. It was pretty shocking.

Justin Brierley: I can imagine. So as you were experiencing your career taking off and suddenly you didn't have to live from week to week when it came to paying the bills and that kind of thing. And you were in this much better place personally, it sounded like. You were kind of a happier person and so on. Tell us about sort of the gradual journey then. Because you've given us lots of little milestones along the way where retrospectively you can see the hand of God and some of the reminders that He was there in the journey. But when did the God thing really start to come into focus for you?

Andrew Klavan: Well, as we started to get independent and I didn't have to be in New York anymore, which I never really liked, we moved to England. We moved to London. And I loved London. We went for a year and stayed for seven years. I got off the plane, I turned to my wife, I said, "I'm never leaving. I love this place already." I really did.

So now I was a working writer, I had two wonderful children and things were going great and we were living okay, you know, well, and I was happy. And I started to think, well, I had this idea that there had to be a God if there was a moral order. And I didn't believe it because I was miserable. Now I'm happy. Do I still believe this? Do I still believe that this is true? Slowly in struggle and not with any kind of passion or emotion, I started to think, "It does really hold together. I cannot make this work any other way."

And then one night I was lying in bed and I was reading my favorite novelist at that time, Patrick O'Brien, great adventure stories. But he's also a brilliant writer. He's really one of the best writers of his time. He had this character who was an intellectual spy and he was very admirable because he had nothing because he was not... he was very ugly, but he had this kind of brain that kept him ahead of everybody else.

I'm lying in bed and he, the character, Maturin, is also lying in bed. And he's about to go to sleep and I'm about to go to sleep. And it said, he said a prayer—because he was Catholic—he said a prayer and went to sleep. And I thought, "Well, if Maturin can say a prayer, maybe I can say a prayer. You know, come on." I mean, how proud am I going to be here? And I said this three word prayer, which was "Thank you, God", because I had come through my own little hell. And here I was and there were my two beautiful children sleeping in the next room and my wife who I've adored since the day I met her, sleeping next to me. And I thought, look, it's a wonderful life, you know, I could at least say thank you.

Fell asleep, woke up the next morning and everything had physically changed. My vision had cleared. It was a very strange experience. Suddenly everything had this incredible clarity to me. And all my life, since I was a little boy, I had thought about seeing things, the difficulty of actually seeing what's in front of me. And suddenly I did. I remember calling it the joy of my joy, because up until that moment I had been happy, but I hadn't really experienced the happiness. I mean, I knew if you had asked me, if you said, how are things going, I would have said things are going great, but I wasn't living in it. Suddenly I was. Suddenly I just felt it.

And I realized that the only thing that had changed was I had said this prayer. So I thought, well, I'm going to keep doing that. That worked out well. I'm going to continue doing that. So I would start to pray every day. Like I would walk to work and I would sort of say a prayer. And that prayer went from three words to five minutes long until finally, you know, it was a half-hour walk to work and I was praying the entire way.

And that went on for five years. And it had no theology behind it. I had at that point had read the Bible many times because of its literary value. So I was educated in it, but I didn't have any theology behind it. And in fact, some of my prayer adventures were kind of hilarious because I didn't know any prayers. I didn't have any rituals or anything like that.

So I was making them up as I went along and I was wondering, well, how far can you take this? Could you ask for a new car and you just get home and there's a new car? I don't know, you know. So I was just kind of working it out with God, but it did become very clear to me that I wasn't talking to myself. I realized information was coming in that I had no other way of getting.

And after five years or so, we had then moved back to America and we moved to Hollywood because I had started writing, actually writing for the movies. I wanted to try it. I started praying into my forties. You know, it's a young man's game. I just thought I'd try it out. And I would continue praying. One day... and at this point I'm a screenwriter, so I've got like the beautiful BMW and I'm driving around Santa Barbara in the hills, but I'm still praying behind the wheel of my BMW.

And I said to God, "My life in the five years that I've been praying has gone to a new level of understanding and depth and joy. And that's all You. You did that. The insights that I got, I got from you. That was not me. I don't know how to thank You for that because You're God and I'm... you know, as you see, I'm like a schmo." So I didn't know what I should do.

The answer came to me and it wasn't spoken aloud. It was not hearing voices. It was as close to that as you can come. You should get baptized. And I remember driving in my BMW convertible and I was praying silently, but I suddenly blurted out, "You gotta be kidding me." Because it was a mess. What a mess that would be to be baptized.

I was working in Hollywood. I was already too conservative for them. The idea that I was then to become a Christian, you know, what would that be like? My father and I, after many years had kind of made a separate piece. We were never close, but at least we were friendly with one another. I thought if he found... oh my God, you know, if he's... and I'm not going to keep it secret. I was doing interviews and things, so it was going to be in the papers. So that's going to blow up in my face.

I lived on the East and West Coast most of my life. And in London, most of the people I knew were secular. So I thought this is a bad deal. You know, I've got to go check my work. So I really spent the next five months arguing with God. It was such a clear message that I had to listen to it.

But I went back and reread the gospels, and for the first time in my life, I read them as if they were true. All that time I'd been reading them as literature. So I found meaning in them. I wrote about them. I talked about why they were so central to Western literature. But this time I thought, what if you just read them like this is a report from the ground? These guys saw this thing and now they're writing about it. And then suddenly I thought, Oh, now it makes complete sense. Now I understand entirely what was happening.

So by the end of five months... and I was also concerned because I had lived such an assimilationist life. I didn't want to turn my back on Jews. I love Jews and I love my fellow Jews. I didn't want anybody to think that I was running away from bigotry or anything like that. So it was all very, you know, fraud. And no, I found like, it all made sense. Every step, as you said, there were all these steps along the way. Every step had been a step and had made sense. And here I was, and it was really the only thing I could do to remain authentic.

My wife, as always was just as, you know... like she could have just said, this is nuts. But instead, she said, well, if that's where you are, you know at that point she did not believe in God. Though soon after she came to for entirely her own reasons. But she didn't at that point. She just said, "Look, you know, that you've always been an honest thinker, do your thing."

The thing with my father, which I thought was going to be the most fraught thing was, but not in the way that I expected, he came... we were out in California and he and my mother came out to visit us—they were in New York—and he walked in the door and I was sort of thinking this may be the moment when I have to break this door. And he walked in the door and said, "I've got to go home. I'm seeing double."

At first, this was comical to me because whenever... he had this neurotic habit, whenever he traveled, some emergency would call him home almost every time. And it always nonsense. It was always, "I have to go back to the center. Never was true. It was always cutting trips short. So I laughed, but in fact he was deathly ill and it was his death sentence.

He started to deteriorate. My priest friend was in New York, and so I would have to see my father and visit with him as he was failing. And then I would go from his house and go over and see the priest to sort of prepare for baptism. I never told my father because I thought, "Why would I? It would break his heart." And it wasn't going to change his life and he was not going to suddenly say, "Oh, hallelujah, I see the light."

So when he died... you can't make this stuff up. I mean, If I did make it up, you wouldn't believe it. He died in the week that the holy week that was both that year holy week and Passover in the middle of the week. And then I went home to California on Easter and just remember sort of being suffused with light. At the same time I was grieving. I was very sad to have lost my father, but I also had this light around me because I felt that I had found the truth of a true Father, an eternal Father. Again, you couldn't make it up. You just couldn't make it up.

Justin Brierley: Extraordinary. I guess in a sense, your Jewish background became far more relevant to you once you did become a Christian in that sense.

Andrew Klavan: I never had any feeling for it at all until I became a Christian. I never had any feeling for being Jewish, bad or good. I like being different. I liked that I had a reason to argue with people. I never wanted to escape it or anything like that, but I never felt it or cared about it and always felt it was foreign to me in almost the literal sense of the word. But yeah, that was the first time I thought like, oh, I get it. This actually culminates in this incarnation.

Justin Brierley: How costly was it in a sense you? You were obviously pursuing something that you just felt called to that was just increasingly making itself obvious to you was the truth. But you were also, you know, at this point, a fairly well-known Hollywood screenwriter. You had, I'm sure moved in fairly liberal circles and yeah, I think this was sort of the mid-2000s, right? Probably the new atheism was on the rise. It was pretty uncool frankly, to be a Christian and yet here you were converting to faith. Did it come with a cost in that sense?

Andrew Klavan: It's hard to say because not at the same time, but also I had become a political conservative by which I mean, by the way, I was a liberal, you know. I mean now all the liberalism in America is on the conservative side. I believe in leaving people alone and people should be free, government should be limited, the constitution and all those things. That's what I believe in. That may be suddenly a conservative.

And speaking out about that ended my Hollywood career, I'm convinced. So I went from making a lot of money as a Hollywood screenwriter to making nothing virtually overnight. I don't think that that had to do with Christianity because the things I was saying were specifically political.

I think over the years it has cost me some relationships. It has certainly cost me some respect among the intellectual classes. But at the same time it's so clear that the things that I'm saying make sense now. Even if they're incorrect, at least they fit within a philosophical framework and I'm not saying silly things like my friends on the left are saying, you know, that men can become women and that all cultures are equally moral and stuff like that. This stuff just doesn't hold together at all, even internally.

The price that I've paid is probably less visible to me than the rewards that I've gotten. Weeks after my baptism, mere weeks I should say after my baptism, my wife who knows me better than anyone turned to me and said, "You've entirely changed. You are serene in a way." I mean, no one would ever have described me as serene before that. But she said, "You are serene and joyful in a way I've never seen."

And that has just multiplied year by year in joy and sorrow. I mean, you can't live for even one year, but certainly as long as I've now been a Christian, you can't live without experiencing grief and joy and happiness. Through all of that, I've had this joy in living that is completely connected to Christ and knowing Christ. So it's hard to count the cost, you know.

Justin Brierley: Did it sort of change, I guess, the way you looked at your career at what may or may not be, you know, whether you are in favor or canceled or, I guess, your priorities in general about what life was about once you became a Christian?

Andrew Klavan: Yes, absolutely. It's not like I just got hit by a hammer. There was first this rush of joy and this new serenity, but then it was only over the course of months and then years that I started to think, wow, I'm still growing in this way that has totally to do with my relationship with God.

My biggest fear, seriously, of all the things that I worried about as I was struggling with conversion. My biggest fear was that I would become a Christian writer. I'm sure you've had this experience. The happy... what did Schopenhauer called it? Banal optimism. The sort of everything is great because you've got Jesus and yet everything's going to go great and now all your problems are solved and I'm highly favored and all this stuff.

I remember hearing Christians greet each other, you know, I'm blessed and highly favored. And you think like, You know, the guy's wife probably just left him and he feels that he has to sort of spew this stuff. Instead, it gave me a much darker vision of the world. I mean, the world is a dark place.

And the one thing Jesus never said, never promised anybody was that He was going to make the world a better place. I mean, He said the exact opposite. He said, the world is going to give you trouble and it's going to hate you because it hated me first. That, all of a sudden, it all made sense to me.

And as right now, I feel my country is going through a period of real moral darkness. I can see it. It pains me. I won't say it has no weight of feeling with it, but I understand it. I expect it. I see why it's happening and know that it's happening. In fact, my writing became far more realistic, far more blunt, and far more... I won't call it cynical because on the other side of it, there's a certain kind of hope and optimism, but cynical about human nature, certainly. So it made me a much more realistic writer.

Justin Brierley: I mean, I guess that's just the fact, though, that you get some forms of the Christian subculture where you get a very trite and shallow kind of rainbows and roses kind of writing. But you also have the Christian writers who are Dostoevsky and C.S. Lewis and Tolkien and the people for whom it's about actually painting the world, yes, through the eyes of the gospel, but in imaginative, creative, real ways.

And to that extent, I guess it'd be interesting just to turn, as we start to close this interview up, to kind of the ways in which some of those writers and poets have influenced you along the way. I mean, your most recent book, The Truth and Beauty, is about the lives and works of England's greatest poets and how their works point towards the truths of Jesus. Was that something you recognized before you became a Christian, the kind of the significance of the Christian meaning within some of the greatest works of literature that we know?

Andrew Klavan: Well, there was a thesis, a great critic of the Romantics named M.H. Abrams had a thesis that what the Romantics were trying to do was rebuild the Christian ethos in a world without Christianity. And I think that there's a lot of truth to that. I think that was true of the German philosophers, too, guys like Immanuel Kant, who essentially said, well, there are things you can't know, so you might as well believe that there is good and evil and that you are punished for one and rewarded for the other. No one can say you nay if you believe that.

So I did have that sense that that was those guys' missions. But basically what happened with that book is that I was talking to my son and I was saying some of the lines in the gospel, many of the lines in the gospel, I found puzzling. And every time when cracked open like a sort of Zen riddle, I found myself much more joyful. And I thought, why can't I crack open some of the most central ones, like the Sermon on the Mount?

And my son, who was a very, very brilliant guy and an excellent exegete actually, said, "I think you're trying to understand a philosophy instead of trying to get to know a person." The minute he said that to me, I thought, "That's a brilliant thought and it's obviously true."

So I decided to go back and read the gospels just to get to know the person, just the way you might read a James Bond novel to be with James Bond or Sherlock Holmes. I just thought, "I'm just going to get to know the main character of this." I taught myself Greek, though I'm not very good at such things, I read the gospel like five sentences at a time just to sort of absorb this person. As I did that, it was the lines of the romantic poets that kept coming back to me.

That sort of became what I would have to have before writing something, it became an emotional center for me about understanding those poems. So I wrote the book for people who've never read a poem, which is basically the entire population of my country. And I just thought like, It's such a strange idea that I thought, I'm just going to write this book, I'll publish it myself, I'll put it up on Amazon.

And when I finished it, and I was quite pleased with it, I thought, "Well, I know this one guy who might publish it in Christian publishing because he's a very sophisticated guy. I sent it to him, he bought it right away. And he said to me, "We're not expecting to sell a lot of copies of this book, but I believe in you and it is a lovely book and all this stuff."

And it came out and it was a bestseller. It was on the USA... The entire experience was bliss. I mean, writing it was bliss. I wrote it during the pandemic lockdown, and everybody else was walking around kind of with these long faces. And I thought, "I don't want to tell anybody, but I'm having the time of my life."

So yes, I've come back to literature, and all of it has sort of lit up. Even the works of non-believers like Beckett, you know, have all been lit up by the Gospels because it is the context in which everything we think and know takes place.

Andrew Klavan: I remember talking to, I don't know if you know her, Holly Ordway, who has a very interesting story herself. She's an adult convert herself to Catholicism in her case, but she was also a great lover of literature poetry, but grew up in a completely non-Christian setting. And it was only in her adult life that she was sort of presented with the claims of Christianity.

But it was really the imagination that was really the connection point through literature and poetry. She described to me one moment when she said, when she was having to kind of research some of the great English poets and she read this line by John Donne. It's from the beginning of his sonnet where it says, Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you as yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend.

And she said, as she read that line, she said, "It was like I touched a live wire," and she couldn't ignore the way that Christian faith shaped these extraordinary poems. I wondered if you had any similar experience of that sense of that kind of undercurrent almost, even before you perhaps could put a name to it.

Andrew Klavan: That's the entire theme of The Truth and Beauty. What you just said is the theme of The Truth and Beauty. Because I feel like the central issue of the relationship with God for us, from our side, is, is the human experience valid? Is our sense that things are good and bad, our sense that there is such a thing as love, our sense that we're not just material? Because nobody walks around thinking I'm just a sack of bones with some chemicals inside. Is this selfness that we experience valid?

And you will find, and this is not... you can't believe it when you see it, but it is absolutely true, that the people who have put their faith in materialism and in scientism will come to eventually tell you that you yourself are a hallucination. That the idea that you have a self is in fact a hallucination.

My first response is a hallucination to whom? But still this thing that you were talking about, the imagination, is what poets like Coleridge and Wordsworth and ultimately Keats were seeing as not just, Oh, I imagine this or imagine that. But the entire experience of being a human being, this idea that the thing that happens inside you is what matters. And the fact that God is incarnate as one of us is the response to that question. That is the answer to that question. The question is, am I here? Do I matter? Does my grief and joy matter? The incarnation is the answer to that, which is a resounding yes, it does.

Justin Brierley: I guess I wanted to finish this interview by asking, you know, we live in such a post-Christian culture where people don't recognize the Christian heritage. They see the way in which all of their thoughts and actions and literature and the movies they love and everything has really been shaped by the great story in that sense. How do we introduce a society that's lost sight of the grand story and has replaced it with so many smaller, more parochial stories? How do we reintroduce them to that huge story that once shaped the lives of everyone pretty much?

Andrew Klavan: I think the answer begins... I'm not sure where it ends, but it begins with telling the truth. It begins with understanding that, you know... I don't know if you saw the show Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones had some great seasons in it. What was great about it was that people acted for power, for lust of power. People died who were good people. Good people died, bad people won. It was life. It was life.

And some Christian commentator here commented, "This is terrible. He's writing as if Jesus Christ had never lived." I thought, "I believe Jesus Christ lived twice, died, and came back, but I don't see how this is anything wrong with this. So you have to tell the truth. Your stories have to be true.

One of the things that is not true, that is a lie, is that all things are equally good and bad. You know, nothing's either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. It just is not so. So you don't have to write that way, but you have to write in a world where that is a reasonable thing to think, where an intelligent person could think, you know, I don't believe and make a case for it.

One of the biggest injuries we do to young Christian persons is tell them that atheists don't know what they're talking about, they're fools, their arguments are simple. You know, posing them as kind of puppets on a string of culture just lost in the material world. Atheists can make their case equally well with ours. They just can't live with the same level of joy that we can, I think. I've never seen it done anyway. Maybe they can.

It is interesting when you listen to Richard Dawkins, a guy I really respect and admire as a biologist and as a science popularizer, I think the guy is really interesting. But when you listen, he's not making sense. He's not making sense. But you can make sense and be an atheist. I think the Marquis de Sade made sense as an atheist.

So I think that you have to allow people, you have to allow the world to be as varied as it is. You cannot have stories, I mean, except for young people, which is different, but I mean, for adults, you cannot write stories in which everything just sorts out because now you believe in Jesus. That's not the way the world works. 

I mean, Shakespeare is always my guide. I think he is just the guy who got it exactly right. He never preaches. He sometimes doesn't even include God. His world is a very harsh world, a very hilarious base, you know, physical material world, and yet it is infused with Christ. I mean, it is infused with the fact that there is a moral order.

And when you leave the moral order, like Macbeth does, life becomes meaningless. That's what happens. That's the punishment for Macbeth. It's not that he gets killed at the end because everybody dies at the end. It's that he sits there and he says, this life no longer makes any sense to me because he has left the sense that it makes, which is the moral order.

So Shakespeare is always the guide. If you can tell those stories, stories that real, that alive, that varied, that harsh, and infuse them with Christian truth. Tolkien did it. There's no mention of Christ in Tolkien and yet His presence is infused throughout the trilogy. It can be done. It takes talent and it takes incredible honesty because you want to say, Oh, look, look what I found. You can have this too.

There are moments at three o'clock in the morning when you're drinking with friends, when that may be exactly the right thing to say, but it's no way to tell a story. And I think that you have to tell stories about the world we know. That's what the stories are about. That's the only thing I can recommend because everything that I see that is labeled Christian right now is bad.

Whereas when I look back, when I hear the music of Bach, when I look at the Sistine Chapel, when I read Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov talk about a deep and disturbing view of the world through Christian eyes. They're so great. They're so brilliant. And no one has ever touched them. No one's ever come close to them.

I often talk, I won't go on forever, but I often talk about the PietĂ  of Michelangelo because I think it's the most beautiful sculpture on earth. I don't think there is a more beautiful sculpture. It's a picture of grief. It's a picture of the worst thing that can happen. The loss of a child is the worst thing that can happen in your life. And that's what it's a picture of. And it's worse than that because it's a picture of God being dead. It's all grief. And yet it's so beautiful that it makes you think even the worst thing that can happen has this beauty. Where does that come from?

Obviously, we're not all Michelangelo and we're not all Shakespeare, but still you follow the North Star and maybe you get a little closer than you thought you would. And I think that that's gotta be the right way to go.

Justin Brierley: Well, thank you for all you've been doing in your own way in pointing people towards that North Star through your own literature and your story as well, Andrew. It's been really interesting to trace it with you on today's show. If people want to find out more about Andrew, his writing, and his projects, is the place to go. And you can, of course, find Andrew on his own, Andrew Klavan podcast show as well.

So Andrew, thank you so much for being my guest on the Maybe God podcast.

Andrew Klavan: No, it was a real pleasure. It was nice to talk to you.

Julie Mirlicourtois: This episode of Maybe God was produced by Justin Brierley, Julie Mirlicourtois, and Eric and Geovanna Huffman. Our associate producer and social media manager is Adira Polite, our editor is Justin Mayer, and the director of all of our YouTube videos is Mark Calver. Please don't forget to rate us wherever you just listen to this podcast. And thanks for listening.