Entrepreneur and tech author Antonio García Martínez made waves this weekend with a Substack article about his decision to to give up “Cultural Catholicism” in favor of Judaism. The main reason the message gets people talking is that García Martínez’s case of conversion has more to do with his hostility to secular modernity than a positive defense of specifically Jewish scriptures or tradition.
This makes its conversion story extremely modern.
García Martínez is best known online for an episode earlier this year in which he was hired and then quickly fired by Apple after others employees objected to passages from his book Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley which they said went against Apple’s policies on diversity and inclusion. In the months that followed, García Martínez became a leading anti-progressive gadfly on Twitter, regularly poking fun at the so-called culture of cancellation and “awakening” trends online and in the country at large.
His post announcing and explaining his conversion to Judaism is very similar to his anti-revival tweets. García Martínez defines modernity as the application of individual choice to an ever larger portion of the human world, including (via the “liberal project” which is its political corollary) morality and faith. Yet human fulfillment depends on he said, on accepting various “unselected obligations” (to family, to community, to God) that form the backdrop for a morally and spiritually satisfying life. Hence his attraction to Judaism, an ancient community-based system of law that seems far safer than our confusing and fluid world of freely chosen individuals.
Which means that García Martínez converts to Judaism to escape secular modernity – but isn’t his own decision to convert an individual choice? And as such, is it not as much the expression of the modern state of mind as any of the trends that it denounces here? and in his larger comment on social networks?
Yes, it is a choice to stop choosing, but it always bases one’s conversion on an act of the individual mind and will. García Martínez will always know that what can be chosen can also not be chosen – that he can choose to leave Judaism with an ease that would have seemed quite foreign to a premodern Jew.
This does not mean that García Martínez makes a mistake by becoming a Jew. (I have my own complicated history with Judaism, Catholicism, and conversion.) But that means it probably won’t liberate him from modernity, sending him back to the premodern world as conservatives like to imagine – a world defined by fatal obligations that individuals have no choice but to assume and dump. ‘accept with gratitude and accomplishment. .
Choosing is the fate of human beings, of whom we will never be saved.