Coren on Conversion, Canada, and Lies About Christianity

The veteran journalist and commentator Michael Coren reflects on his past, the present state of the West, and the future of the Church

Michael Coren is a television host, radio personality, syndicated columnist, author, and speaker based in Canada. He is the best-selling author of fourteen books, including biographies of G.K. Chesterton, H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. His book, Why Catholics Are Right, was on the Canadian best-seller list for three months. His latest book is Heresy: Ten Lies They Spread About Christianity.

Michael has received several honorary doctorates and awards for his writing and broadcasting. In 2005 he won The Ed Murrow Award for Radio Broadcasting, in 2006 The RTNDA Radio Broadcasting Award, in 2007 the Communicator Award in Hollywood and in 2008 the Omni Award for his television show. He has received several honorary doctorates and awards for his writing and broadcasting. In 2005 he won The Ed Murrow Award for Radio Broadcasting, in 2006 The RTNDA Radio Broadcasting Award, in 2007 the Communicator Award in Hollywood and in 2008 the Omni Award for his television show. In 2012 The Catholic Civil Rights League gave Coren the Archbishop Adam Exner Award for Catholic Excellence in Public Life.

He recently spoke with Catholic World Report about his journey into the Catholic Church, the state of Christianity in Canada and the West at large, and his most recent books.

Catholic World Report: You converted to Catholicism as a young man, then spent some time in Evangelical circles. What brought you back to the Catholic Church? How has that influenced your recent books, which are apologetic and controversial (in the old-school sense) in nature?

Michael Coren: I was asked to speak at a G.K. Chesterton conference in Toronto back in 1986, met a wonderful Canadian woman, fell in love, married her, and left Britain to Canada. I’d come into the church a year earlier. The Canadian Church was in a poor state, and at the height – depth – of its liberalism.

After a few years I felt so distant, so rejected. It was my fault, and better people than me stayed and continued the fight, but I think I was still vulnerable in my faith and simply drifted away into Evangelical worship. But as so many others have written and explained, it was never the full truth, never the entire picture. I longed for Christ, for His body, for the Church He left us, and that twitch upon the thread drew me back. That journey, than struggle, certainly influenced my writing, and turned me into an apologist really. I’d had to do the work, years of it, and wanted to convey all of that effort to other people, to give them what I had been given.

Catholic World Report: You’ve written several biographies, including of G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, two of the finest defenders of Christian orthodoxy of the past century. What are some of the best insights and strengths of those two men when it comes to explaining and defending Christian doctrine and practice? What are your favorite works by Chesterton and Lewis?

Michael Coren: The Father Brown stories and the journalism are still Chesterton’s finest work for me, but it’s like deciding between flavours of ice-cream. Or, as a Russian friend always says: there are two types of Vodka: good Vodka and very good Vodka. It’s all so tremendous. The same applies to Lewis. Mere Christianity remains such a pure, clear, compelling account, but The Screwtape Letters, A Grief Observed, the Narnia chronicles are all superb.

Lewis influences me every day, every single day. Lewis in particular was able to expunge faith from theology. Let me explain what I mean. Theology is supposed to the discipline of studying religion, but often it’s a method to make faith obscure, and an attempt to use esoteric language to make what should seem fairly simple and certainly accessible, difficult and distant. Lewis is the direct opposite. He was an intellectual giant who never looked down on those shorter than him – at that was most people.

I don’t have anything like his abilities, but I do seem able to explain and depict Christian truths to people who have not heard them, rejected them, or forgotten them.

Catholic World Report: You’ve been active in the public arena for close to thirty years as a writer, commentator, and journalist. What changes, for good or ill, have you seen when it comes to Christianity in the public square? Is there more or less anti-Christian bias? What are the main factors for changes over the past three or four decades?

Michael Coren: Canada, Britain, and much of Western Europe are far worse than the U.S., but America is catching up. On the one hand Catholic media has improved enormously, but on the other there is an intensity and a nastiness about anti-Christianity which is unique in the modern West. In universities across the world, Christian students are often mocked and marginalized; not by everyone, but enough to make life difficult. The context, of course, is an overall dumbing down of the culture, and this makes it far more difficult to discuss faith. If feelings triumph over truth, we’re in trouble, and that’s the case today.

Catholic World Report: The U.S. is often presented or perceived as still being very religious in many key ways, while Europe has largely embraced secularism and skepticism. Is it fair to say that Canada is somewhere in between the two? How would you describe the situation in Canada, especially the attitude toward Catholicism?

Michael Coren: Yes, I’d say that was about right. Canada is almost 50% Catholic, and most of our post-war Prime Ministers have been Catholic, but Kennedy Catholics – which is an oxymoron, really. A lot of the problems we face in Canada, and the same is true elsewhere, come down not so much to Catholic doctrine but to the Church’s position on life and sexuality. The gay community is triumphal and triumphalist in this country, and dissent is being increasingly punished. It’s very worrying. My next book, Man & Wife: A Defence of Traditional Marriage (Random House) should make me a lot of friends here. Yes, I’m joking!

Catholic World Report: What can Catholics in the U.S. learn from the experience of Catholics in Canada? And vice-versa?

Michael Coren: Nothing in particular, in that the problems are universal really. Hold your allegedly Catholic politicians to a high standard, of course. But most central is orthodoxy. The way to bring people to church, to form them and save them, is through genuine Catholic teaching. For a generation, we in the West gave people ecumenical liberalism instead of Roman Catholicism.

Catholic World Report: In Why Catholicism Is Right, you tackle a number of controversial topics, including the clergy sex scandal, the Crusades, the Holocaust, papal infallibility, and so forth. In your experience, what topics are most difficult to explain to skeptics? What are some mistakes that well-intentioned Catholics make in trying to defend and explain Church history and teaching?

Michael Coren: They’re often too defensive. Yes, Catholics have sometimes gone wrong and got it wrong. But for the most part the Church has been a light on the hill, a shining example of truth and love. People must know their stuff if they’re going to discuss it, let alone argue about it.

Most of our critics are badly read and we can defeat them with solid points, but we have to know what we’re talking about – hey, buy loads of copies of my books! Most difficult subject? Abuse crisis, by miles. It’s been used by anti-Catholics, liberal Catholics, and the media to, frankly, tell lies about the Church. I’m gentle in my approach, but I have to speak truth. The crisis was appalling, but it said nothing about the Church but much about modern society and about homosexuality.

Catholic World Report: Your most recent book, Heresy: Ten Lies They Spread About Christianity, takes on the many pervasive, commonly accepted stereotypes about traditional Christianity: it is sexist, homophobic, anti-intellectual, backwards, narrow-minded, and mean-spirited. What, in general, are the historical and philosophical roots of these charges? Which of these falsehoods is the most pernicious and damaging?

Michael Coren: There is a general ignorance that goes far beyond Christianity. People spend more time on Twitter or Facebook than in reading and thought. We live through sound bites.

The most difficult one to deal with is homophobia, which is actually a meaningless word and one I reject. However, gay people have suffered and there are still those who hate them – shame on them for being so un-Christian. But while Christianity is simply not racist or anti-women or narrow-minded, it is does possess a moral code and does not, cannot, homosexual activity. This alone puts us in opposition to the mainstream. We say and we do love everybody, but cannot condone certain activities; this doesn’t convince many people, and is going to be an increasingly difficult challenge.

Catholic World Report: In addition to your books, what other reading recommendations do you have for Christians seeking to explain their beliefs and defend Christian doctrine?

Michael Coren: Golly, a long list. There are the moderns – Scott Hahn, Karl Keating, Patrick Madrid, Steve Ray, Peter Kreeft, and so on. And then Lewis, Cardinal Newman, Ronald Knox, perhaps Aquinas if you’re up to it. A very positive thing to remember is that there have never been so many skilled apologists writing books and articles. This is a new spring for the Church.

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