Canadian columnist and broadcaster Michael Coren has just published another controversial book about Christianity in the public square. “Heresy: Ten Lies They Spread About Christianity” is on best-seller lists in Canada. MercatorNet interviewed him about his thought-provoking arguments.
MercatorNet: Tell us a bit about your own background. You’re a convert at a time when most Catholics seem to be dropping away.
Michael Coren: My father was Jewish, but very secular. So it was a mixed family, but one with an implicit respect for God and religion. I remember studying for my history O-Levels when I was a teenager and learning about the Reformation. The assumed line was that the Catholics were the bad guys, but to me the opposite seemed the case. A love for the Church began, but it took until 1985 for the marriage to take place. Yes, people are falling away, but those who stay are stronger and better than ever and the converts coming into the Church are of the highest quality.
MercatorNet: I know that comedian Bill Maher and Comedy Central portray Christians as fanatical fruitcakes. But shouldn’t Christians just have a thicker skin? Aren’t they just crying the victim?
We do have thick skins but truth and balance are important. I think we should laugh at ourselves more, not less. But today there are ever more groups that are off limits for humour, and certainly abuse; simultaneously Christians are abused so often, and to such an extent, that it’s cruel rather than funny.
It’s one thing for an adult, but ask Christian students what university is like, or a child at school who refuses to go along with the prevailing morality because of their Christian faith.
MercatorNet: As the author of books with titles like “Why Catholics are Right” and “Heresy: the Ten Lies they Tell about Christianity”, you obviously like a good fight. What about turning the other cheek?
I so do, every day! You should see my emails and tweets. I’m known as a defender of Christianity in Canada, and the death threats, insults, and venom are as endless. But an individual Christian’s forgiving an attack and turning the other cheek is different from defending the weak and standing up for the truth of Christ and the integrity of the faith.
MercatorNet: Hostility to Christianity has a long history among intellectuals, from at least the time of Voltaire. Even well-known figures like Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, Stephen Hawking, or Jimmy Wales have been agnostics or atheists. Aren’t you pushing it uphill to persuade smart, well-educated people to be Christians?
Not at all. I wrote a biography of Wells a few years ago actually – rather a controversial one. There are clever atheists and clever Christians, and stupid atheists and stupid Christians. It’s not really an issue of intellect, although I’ve yet to hear a truly compelling case for genuine atheism. I rather thought myself into faith, and it was cerebral for me in a way, as is it for many.
That, of course, is only one of the roads to Christianity. The point, though, is that if we accept the modern idea that the clever people are the doubters, we make it very difficult for thinking people to even consider Christianity. It’s why there is an entire chapter in Heresy about this.
MercatorNet: With modern communications technology like Facebook and Twitter, people today seem to have the attention span of a particularly thoughtful rabbit. How can Christianity compete?
Yes, well said. C.S. Lewis pointed this sort of thing out in The Screwtape Letters. In his version, the devil has made intellectual argument irrelevant, so that even if Christians make a pristine argument for belief, it simply doesn’t matter. It’s yet another example of Lewis’s brilliance that he saw this long before Facebook and the like.
Yes, it is difficult, but then so is being a Christian. We can use new technology, but we also have to be careful of it. The irony that helps us here is that the easier, more accessible, and even more facile things become, the more people want the permanent things, and the most permanent is God.
MercatorNet: In an era when tolerance seems to be the premier virtue, serious Christians seem rabidly intolerant, especially on hot-button issues like abortion, homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Your comment?
The imploding notion of tolerance: tolerate everyone apart from those who do not accept tolerance. Actually it’s a misnomer. They don’t mean tolerance, they mean acceptance, even affirmation.
In Canada, for example, since gay marriage was introduced we’ve had around 300 prosecutions and firings of people who are not hateful of gays, but believe marriage is the union of man and woman. Who then is the intolerant party here? Abortion is the taking if innocent life, and we should be proud of refusing to tolerate it.
But, as you say, the rallying cry of the new generation is “I tolerate therefore I am.” It’s meaningless, and these people tend to be grotesquely intolerant of dissent, and especially Christian dissent.
MercatorNet: Is there a common thread? What is the biggest obstacle that Christianity faces in the 21st century in the West?
Difficult, because there are so many. Perhaps the death of the intellect. People are controlled by feelings, and have allowed emotion to dominate their values – witness Oprah, the death of Princess Diana, the morbid mock tears we see so regularly. Added to this is the war on self-restraint, whereas Christianity believes in order out of chaos, and the importance of dignity and self-control.
MercatorNet: Will this year’s election in the United States have an impact upon the future of Christianity?
Very much so. Obama is the first President who does not sincerely believe in the separation of church and state, which is, of course, a means to protect Christians from an established Church, not a way to save the state from Christianity. Even Clinton believed in this, and certainly the other Presidents. If Obama does win, he and some of the people around him will take serious Christianity into a new Kulturkampf. I really believe this.