Canadian Talk-Show Host Publishes Catholic Apologetics Book

Michael Coren discusses his conversion and the prevalent hostility to the faith.

Michael Coren is an English-Canadian columnist, author, radio and television talk-show host. Between 1999 and 2011 he hosted The Michael Coren Show on the Crossroads Television System. He now hosts The Arena on the Sun News Network.

Coren has authored many books, including biographies of G.K. Chesterton, H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle and C.S. Lewis. His most recent book is Why Catholics Are Right. He spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake about that book.

Where are you from originally? Tell me about your background growing up.

I grew up on the edge of London, in Essex. Upper-working-class family; dad a taxi driver, mum at home. Good, loving, stable, secular family. Dad was Jewish but had no time for organized religion, particularly Judaism.

What led you to consider the Catholic Church?

I first considered Catholicism as a teenager, when learning about the Reformation at high school. There was an implicit sympathy for the Protestant side, of course, but I took a different approach. The interest came again at university, but stuck only in my early 20s. I came into the Church in 1985. Things had happened very quickly for me — two books published by the time I was 24, working for The New Statesman magazine, living in the middle of London, mixing with literary lions. I thought to myself, Is this it? Is this really all there is? I searched further, heavily influenced by Chesterton and [Ronald] Knox, and my sponsor and godfather, Lord Longford [Frank Pakenham, seventh Earl of Longford].

In the introduction to Why Catholics Are Right, you mention that you’ve actually lost jobs because of your Catholic faith. Would you elaborate?

I don’t want go into details, but I still see one of the editors who fired me. He smiles; I frown inside but say nothing. As I say in the book, it’s less the faith itself than the moral consequences of having the faith — issues of life and sexuality. These close all sorts of media doors.

In your book, you ably tackle all of the ways the Church has been attacked historically — the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Galileo affair, the Holocaust, the sexual-abuse crisis, and all of the Church’s moral teachings. Overall, why is there such a high degree of ignorance, misinformation, prejudice and outright hatred leveled at the Church by supposedly learned people?

Are they learned? Some, but few. Most of the genuinely learned people I know who are not Catholic still respect the Church; it tends to be the polemicists who hate and scream. The new atheists are very angry people, and [Richard] Dawkins in particular is someone who believes in animal rights and UFOs but thinks Catholicism foolish. How funny. I do believe, however, that the Church is a mirror held up to reflect social shortcomings, and the chattering classes do not feel at all comfortable with their reflections.

The recent protests against peaceful, praying Catholic youth at World Youth Day in Madrid show the degree of hatred that’s out there. Where do you see this level of animosity headed in years to come?

Oh, and it will get far worse — no doubt at all. I often worry about what my children will have to face. The state will become more powerful in the West, and we’re already seeing human-rights commissions’ attacks and hate-crimes arrests in the U.K., Canada and Europe. The radical wing of the gay community in particular will try to silence the Catholic defense of natural-law sexuality.

Don’t you think that a lot of the hostility is due to the fact that if the Church is right then a lot of people would need to change the way they are living, and they simply don’t want to do that?

Absolutely. Most anti-Catholics don’t get upset about Church teaching on poverty, war, forgiveness or anything else, really, other than sex. It’s always about sex, and sex is the most personal and potentially selfish aspect of the human person. It may sound crass, but for many failed Catholics and anti-Catholics, the attack is based on, I want to have sex, with whomever I choose, whenever I want — and how dare you tell me otherwise.

Given that Christ told his followers that the world will hate you because it first hated him, isn’t it wishful thinking to expect the Church to receive a fair hearing or fair treatment?

To a degree, yes. But nor are we supposed to be passive and welcome martyrdom. We are to struggle with all we have in the defense of truth, but are never guaranteed victory on earth. That is for the beyond.

If it’s possible, as the world suggests, that the Church could be that wrong about that many things, how could it possibly continue to exist for 2,000 years?

There have been bad Catholics, bad popes, bad cardinals, but never a bad Church — because the Church was founded by God, and we have been given certain promises. That is why it still exists. In fact, it’s a miracle — my golly, there are still plenty of bad Catholics and bad Catholic leaders around today, I’m afraid.

Sadly, it’s not just the culture we’re up against, but very often our fellow Catholics, and sometimes religious themselves, who haven’t been educated or formed properly. Isn’t that the case, and what’s the proper response?

It’s difficult and painful. Catholic education has been in crisis since the 1960s, and generations of Catholics have left schools and colleges not knowing what they are supposed to believe. They know a little, but just enough to set them to attack the Church. It’s one thing for a formed Catholic to reject Catholicism, another for someone to not even have had the opportunity. There is a fight back, but enormous damage has been done.

Is the answer always and everywhere to turn the other cheek? There has been a modern tendency to turn Christ into a pacifist, hasn’t there? That’s really only presenting one part of the Gospel, rather than the whole — what Newman described as “the religion of the day.”

Well put. Jesus was not a pacifist, and to try to turn him into Jesus the warrior, Jesus the socialist, Jesus the Palestinian, Jesus the Zionist, Jesus the whatever is to worship the self and not the Lord. He could have made the whole world peaceful, but that was not his mission. He was sent to die, so that we could live. We are supposed to try to resemble him, not have him resemble us. Scripture shows that Jesus could use violent language, took a whip to those shaming the Temple, told followers to protect themselves, and so on. But he also called for us to be peaceful and just. Turn the other cheek, of course, but not walk away if someone else is having their cheek smashed. Pacifism is too facile, and the Church has a far more complex and Christian understanding of human nature.

Register senior writer Tim Drake writes from St. Joseph, Minnesota.