Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A New Life Has Been Born

(The following excerpt is from an interview I gave to The American Spectator back in March of 2001. )

TAS: How did you become a Catholic?

Kudlow: I had a problem with alcohol and cocaine. In the winter of 1993 I had spent a month in a treatment center here in New York. It taught the twelve-step program. God plays a role, but it's more the spiritual God of your choice. But at least there's something. I was not raised religious but I was searching for help. I remember that in this little prep school that I went to, the Dwight Englewood School in New Jersey, we had to say the Lord's Prayer in homeroom. Every morning at your desk you put your head down and say the Lord's Prayer. I was there grade seven through twelve, so it's something you remember. When I was going into this dark abyss with alcohol and cocaine, after some terrible binge, I can remember lying in bed desperate and I started saying the Lord's Prayer. What made me do that? Just--I was desperate, I was trying to ask for help. You know, who was going to get me out of this? I started searching for God.

TAS: So then what happened?

Kudlow: It was Jeff Bell, an old supply-side ally, who actually got me started with the Church. That same winter I was in the treatment center I bumped into Jeff on the street. I was still at Bear Stearns so it was 45th and Park. Now I knew that somewhere along the line he had converted to Catholicism. We started talking, and I told him--I don't know why because not many people knew about my problem yet--I told him that I was taking some steps that had recreated my faith in God. I didn't really tell him much. Then one day Father C. John McCloskey appeared at Bear Stearns. My secretary said, "This priest is here to see you." No appointment, but a lot of the partners donated to various charities. So I was ready to pull out my checkbook and write a thousand dollars to whatever. But this guy didn't want any money. He was a friend of Jeff Bell's and he wanted to talk to me. And he was a very engaging man.

TAS: Wasn't he a gold trader before becoming a priest?

Kudlow: Right. At Merrill. But that day he said he had been watching me on TV on the financial shows. "You've changed," he said. He was right. I was trying to be more restrained, calmer, things they taught me in treatment. So then he asked me, "Do you believe in the hereafter?" My answer was yes, because that's what you're taught in the Jewish faith, though I had not been raised very religious and I hadn't been in a temple since I was fifteen. Then, "Do you believe in Jesus Christ?" And I said I didn't know. But I didn't say no. He gave me a book or two to read and then said: "Why don't you try going to Mass?" I told him I had never been. "Do you have any opposition to it?" I said no. But, I would feel a little odd just walking into a Catholic Church. He said, well, lots of people do it. Then he introduced me to a friend who went to St. Thomas More on 89th and Madison, near where I lived. And I loved it. I loved the Mass.

TAS: Why?

Kudlow: If done right it has a certain mystical quality, and it appealed to me. It was different from anything I had been exposed to. I went to a retreat and I didn't like it because I didn't understand it, mostly. But it wasn't church. The church part is what I liked, the actual Mass. I liked the robes, the smoke. I loved it. All these rituals and rules. I began to realize that for the past eight or ten years I had been living without them. I was the rule. I was so self-centered. I'd just do whatever I felt like. I was in my master-of-the-universe period. You can't live that way. Nobody can. I knew it wasn't good and the drugs and the booze were part of it.

TAS: How are drugs part of that?

Kudlow: You become so self-centered and self-willed that you decide you can do anything, without regard for others. I wasn't showing up for events, for friends, for my wife. I'd go missing in action for days. I've made amends to people directly, but still, I'm ashamed about that period. But the church offered me a regulated regime for life, as did my twelve-step program. The two are similar because Bill Wilson, the founder of A.A., had been part of the Oxford Group, and a Catholic priest from St. Louis was his mentor. Anyhow, I knew this was something I should be doing, just from a selfish standpoint. I needed regulation. I needed to be taught rules of the road. It took me awhile to get my arms around it. But as I hit bottom, Ilost jobs, lost all income, lost friends, and very nearly lost my wife. I was willing to surrender and take it on faith that I had to change my life.

TAS: But you became a Catholic. So you had to stand up and say I believe some very specific things.

Kudlow: I was going to Mass on Sundays. And we recite the Nicene Creed, the church's statement of beliefs. There came this one day when I stopped just mouthing it and read it in an intellectual, cognitive way, and realized there's a whole story here. If you read the eucharistic part of the Mass, there's a whole story there and it's a fabulous story.

TAS: What is that?

Kudlow: It's--we are partaking of the body and blood of Christ. That's what I understand the Eucharist to be. We are pledging our faith in him and what he taught and all of a sudden it clicked, that Jesus Christ does not want me to touch alcohol or drugs because I wreck my body and I wreck his body and I wreck my life. Jesus died for me, too. And that is my redemption. I'm not a Catholic intellectual. I will never be one. I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in how I live my life each day. How I conduct my relationships with people. My view of Lord Jesus is very basic in that sense, though I have read some books that are interesting to me, including Fr. Richard John Neuhaus's recent book, Death on a Friday Afternoon.

TAS: He's a priest in New York, edits First Things.

Kudlow: The basic thought in the book is that even we optimistic Americans mustn't ever forget that Jesus spent that time on the cross, painfully. His crown of thorns was sticking into his skull, he was nailed to the cross, and it was horrible. The book had an impact on me, because in my own mundane, low-level way, I was on the cross. I don't know if I've had salvation, but I have had a change. Sobriety is one of the keys to my faith. And that's good because for me to destroy my life is a rejection of Jesus. In my worst moments--and I still get a few--the reason I don't go out and do something crazy is because I don't want to break my bond with God.

TAS: Sometimes people forget how tough addictions can be.

Kudlow: You see, what this journey is really about is changing along Christian principles. I still do stupid things, but I also go to confession. One of the things I like about Mass is that you go on your knees for part of the time. It is a wonderful thing to learn some humility. I was at Mass the other day and I was having some trouble, and I prayed. I didn't ask for an outcome, just help. Please show me some clarity, some calmness, give me a sign, and it worked. Took about a day, but it worked. I don't pray for stuff that I want. I ask help for stuff that I believe I need.

TAS: The Pope would say that the original reason God gave us liberty was to complete his creation. And that does take us back to economics and politics. It's no accident that your favorite dead economist, Joseph Schumpeter, focused on creativity.

Kudlow: That's why "supply side" doesn't really capture it. The reason we have the best economic and stock market record in the world is we are the freest country in the world. We call it supply-side economics, but what we're really fighting for is more freedom. Not unlimited freedom, and that's where faith comes in. Since God granted us our liberty, for which we are eternally grateful, we must reflect that by abiding by his rules. It's the rule part that I've come to acknowledge and frankly love. This is part of that mystery of faith, but I believe Jesus is with me. He enters my body and mind as long as I'm open to him and prevents me from doing something really stupid or from misbehaving. I believe that. Last Saturday, when I was at sixes and sevens in my own head, which is a risky real-estate section to be in, I believe Jesus came to me. I believe he somehow entered into my head for the next 48 hours and helped me get through this little patch. People brought Jesus to me: Fr. McCloskey, Jeff Bell, my mentor Sim Johnston. And He helps keep me sober every day and helps me to discharge my responsibilities.

TAS: Do you think you will write more about this?

Kudlow: I believe it is possible that the Holy Spirit can bring a certain ability to explain my faith. But not in an intellectual way. I don't possess those tools. Just in a personal way: Here's why I go to Mass, here's what it's done for me. Some people want me to carry the sword of Catholicism the way I carry the sword of free-market economics. It's not my goal and if it does happen, it will not be by my design. It's very personal. Jesus is my Father. He's also my Supreme Court because the court has rules and if you break them you get into trouble. In my twelve-step program there's all these young kids who went to Catholic school and rebelled. And they always get up and say how they rebelled against the Church and its rules. I just nod my head and kid them. I say, well, you don't understand how wonderful those rules are. Take it from me. I came to it late in life, but that's exactly the way it was supposed to be. I wrecked my life. It was literally destroyed. My old life was taken and a new life has been born. I understand now that all that had to happen. There's a script here. It's just that I didn't write it.