‘Jesus is King’ depicts the artist’s ongoing battle to escape the dictatorship of relativism
Pope Francis coined the phrase “the God of Surprises” to highlight the many ways that the Holy Spirit has orchestrated shocking events throughout salvation history. The latest example of this is the surprising events surrounding the life and faith of Kanye West.
Even more surprising is the way that Kanye’s conversion has captured the attention of Catholics, many of whom were not previously fans of his work and art. What is it about Kanye that is so attractive to Catholics?
The title of Kanye’s latest album proclaims that “Jesus is King”. This message is refreshing, especially to young Catholics who were brought up being told that Jesus is just a friend or, essentially, a first century motivational speaker.
In recent interviews, Kanye frequently reaffirms the kingly authority of Jesus and the central role that faith must play in a thriving human society. The reminder that Jesus offers us freedom in the form of surrender, not license, comes at a time when many Catholics are navigating the global decline of liberalism and the beginning of the new, post-liberal, world. In this sense, Kanye’s message is quite compatible with arguments put forth by Sohrab Ahmari in the ongoing “Ahmari vs French” debate.
Certain elements of Kanye’s latest evolution are admittedly problematic. Primarily, that Kanye has started his own church. However, Catholics have a long history of seeing beauty in the messiness of religious conversion. God reveals truth to man gradually, and man does his best to conform his life to those truths.
If Kanye had completed years of intense formation to become, for instance, an Augustinian monk, then starting his own church would be inexcusable. As things currently stand, Kanye’s Sunday Service mostly serves to convey his personal enthusiasm for the public worship of God.
Besides, there is no shortage of evidence that Kanye’s ongoing conversion could lead him to the Catholic and apostolic faith. One key example is Kanye’s decision to have his children baptized by a church of apostolic origin.
Kanye’s children, with their mother Kim Kardashian West, were recently baptized in Armenia. In the photos from the baptism we see Kim wearing a chapel veil, an act of reverence cherished by every generation — excluding, of course, the baby boomers — of Catholic women.
While we should not read too far into a few selfies posted to Instagram, we should not dismiss the way that beauty draws people nearer to God and His Church. The faith that touches our soul must first pass through our eyes and ears.
Earlier this year, millions of non-Catholics wept at the videos from Paris showing the destruction of Notre-Dame Cathedral, a clear reminder that God has placed the love for beauty in every human heart, and that He uses this love to draw His people nearer to Him. Interestingly enough, Kanye West has previously used Notre-Dame de Paris as a prominent image in his music videos.
In all of his recent statements and actions, we get the sense that Kanye is not on a journey of self-discovery, but on a quest to find the truth. We see him wrestling with the existence of an objective truth outside of himself, and the consequences that truth has for his own life. This is what makes Kanye’s conversion so fascinating to Catholics.
Benedict XVI spoke of the “dictatorship of relativism” during his time as Pope. Despite areas where Kanye gets things wrong, Catholics can identify with Kanye’s ongoing battle to escape the dictatorship of relativism in order to find what is true, beautiful, and good.
When Kanye speaks about the contradictions of modern society, he expresses a frustration that every practicing Catholic confronts on a daily basis. This, more than anything, makes Kanye attractive to Catholics. The idea that objective truth exists, and that knowledge of the truth has consequences, is a Catholic idea. It is an idea that has become strange in a world that elevates choice above truth. Kanye has chosen to embrace this strange idea and has become quite strange himself. As Catholics, we must celebrate the strangeness of our faith, instead of attempting to blend seamlessly into our surroundings. In our Church we eat the body of our founder, wear wool scapulars under our shirts, kiss the feet of statues, pray in ancient languages, and venerate the bodies of dead saints. In a world of presidents and prime ministers, we believe that Jesus is King, and that is strange too.
Kanye West is an artist known for his ability to reinvent himself time and time again. We have no way of predicting where his conversion will take him. Is the God of Surprises raising up a great saint right before our very eyes? Only time will tell. For now, let’s pray for Kanye West, and proclaim that Jesus is King.