Caricaturing Christianity: An Interview with Michael Coren

Michael Coren joined C2C board member Andrea Mrozek
to talk about the state of knowledge about Christianity in
Canada today.

C2C: What led you to write the book? Is there one experience of someone slamming Christianity that stands out for you?  

MC: I wish it was just one, but it would be almost impossible to choose one, two or even a dozen. I’m particularly exposed to it, because of being involved in journalism, particularly popular journalism, talk radio, TV and so on. Especially radio: Over the years of hosting a show, there were both malicious and well-meaning people who just knew so little about Christianity….

The number of times I’ve heard people say, “Jesus says you must not judge anyone.” So, what they are saying is “Jesus says I shouldn’t have an opinion.” Now, is that really what he says? Because it seems to me, Jesus had lots of opinions. He said [that] some people would be thrown into the deepest part of the ocean with a huge weight around their neck. That sounds pretty judgmental.

They always cite the story of the woman caught in adultery. So you say, “Well, what it is really about is hypocrisy. Here’s a group of men who have all lusted after this woman, and they’ve caught her in adultery, and they are trying to test Jesus. And Jesus says, ‘Look, if any of you have never looked at her, you’ve never thought about that, fine, stone her.’ And they realize they are all being hypocrites. Then Jesus says to her, ‘You’re forgiven,’ i.e., ‘you’ve done something wrong and I forgive you,’ but two, He says, ‘Don’t do it again.’ It’s not ‘Be safe and use a condom,’ but ‘Don’t do it again.’” This is actually extremely judgmental, but also showing that there is grace and forgiveness.

It is very frustrating, [discussing Christianity] with people. You have to start at the very, very beginning.

C2C: How did we come to be this poorly educated? When do you think it all began?

MC: If you read letters written home from the Second World War, [letters written by] men who didn’t have much education and really never dreamt of going to university, they are lyrical; they are poetic. You read letters from black men who have just been freed from slavery in the American Civil War and they write letters that are something a PhD student couldn’t write today, quite beautiful. So, the first is the inevitable, that there was no alternative to the written word. No TV, no radio, no Internet. …I think the real problem is the sound bite. Everything has been crystallized down to a few moments.

We also exchanged information for feeling a few years ago. The apotheosis of that is Oprah. So now, it’s not what you know but how you feel. …C. S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters, which was first published in the 1940s, in it he has a senior devil teaching a junior devil how to “win souls,” and he says, “Look, there was a time when the other side, God, could use information and intellect and win the argument, but we’ve taken care of that.” In other words, even back then, it was a problem, and Lewis was so cerebral. So, it has been a long time in coming. I’d say [in] the last fifty years, there’s been a radical change. And I don’t want to sound like some old fart who is always saying the world is going to Hell, because you still have some wonderful people around, but if you speak to university professors, they will say to you that they are getting first year students who are barely literate. I’m not saying that to be cruel. Tweeting and e-mail, people are losing the ability to write.

When it comes to religion, you combine this with a conscious attempt to remove religion and scripture and Christianity from public education and religion has suffered the most.

C2C: In your book, you discuss both hatred of Christians and simple ignorance, which are two different things. In Canada, is not apathy a bigger problem than hatred? Could you comment on that?

MC: I would agree with you. There aren’t many people who really hate Christianity. …Generally, it is indifference; it is apathy. People assume it’s simply irrelevant. And the worst thing for Christians to do is to try and be “relevant.” They just become fashionable, and fashions change quickly, and you become completely irrelevant again. The kids today aren’t angry with the Church; they just don’t care. They don’t think it does not matter. …A little bit of persecution, and it probably would matter to them. Generally, people are indifferent to Christianity; they don’t hate it, and a lot of Christians just fade away. They can’t be bothered any more. Perhaps if there was more persecution and hatred [of Christians], they would be a bit firmer.

C2C: Some denominations call themselves Christian and actually encourage misconceptions around Christianity. Could you comment on the phenomenon of Christian heresies being nurtured from within the Church?

MC: There is the phenomenon of post-Christian churches. You have to be careful not to blanket, because there are still people in these churches who are fine, devout people. …But in the United Church, and there are degrees of this, you have people who are actually atheists. You have United Church ministers who say they do not believe in God. There are many United Church leaders who would say they do believe in a sort of God, but they don’t believe in the virgin birth.

It’s really very simple: You don’t have to be a Christian, but if you are a Christian, you have to be a Christian. You have to be able to say the Creed. If we think about the pale of orthodoxy, “mere Christianity,” and that includes quite a lot of people, you have to be able to say the Creed without your fingers crossed behind your back. If you can’t say it and believe it, then you are not a Christian. So, if you don’t believe that Jesus is the son of God, if you don’t believe in the virgin birth, if you don’t believe He died for our sins, if you don’t believe in the physical, literal Resurrection, if you don’t believe that through Him you have eternal life, then you are not a Christian. You can be a good person, but you are not a Christian. I have no problem with a Jew/Muslim/atheist/Hindu/Sikh saying, “I don’t believe that,” but I have a bit of a problem with people who are too cowardly to say, “I’m a Christian, but you’re not.” It’s not an abstract term; there’s a definition to it. If Justin Trudeau stood up to say, “I’m a conservative,” you’d say, “No, you’re not.”

C2C: Do you think Canadians realize we live in a post-Christian country? Is that knowledge lost on the majority?

MC: I don’t think people think very much about it at all, and I wouldn’t scold them for that, because they are too busy doing real things. I think most people would probably say they still lived in a Christian country. That would generally be the view; even non-Christians would probably say that, by and large. You are probably right; that probably has escaped most people. People would realize it more in Europe.

C2C: How would you place Canada in the Anglosphere? Are we further along this road? How do we compare with Europe with the state of knowledge about Christianity?

MC: In the Anglosphere, we are right in the middle, I think. The United States is still deeply religious and Britain is deeply secular, and so I’d say with Australia and New Zealand, we are in the middle.

C2C: What do you think the solutions are for rectifying the situation?

MC: I’m better on criticism than solutions, I have to admit. Someone said to me the other day, “How do we solve the problem of Catholic education in Ontario,” and I said, “Give me 500 very Catholic young teachers and we can probably take back the system in a few years.”

In terms of Christianity, there is a revival. The evangelical churches are about the same as they always were. They’ll lose people; they’ll gain people. …The Catholic Church is more orthodox than it has been in two generations, and it’s going to be smaller. It’s reached its low point and held steady; it’s coming up a bit. It’s going to be a smaller church but a much more Catholic Church.

As for solutions: If you mean having more educated, believing Christians, I don’t know what the answer is. I’d concentrate now on having a Church that was made of people who really had a solid orthodox faith. And I think that is going to happen, because I think a lot of the people who have held on to really liberal Christianity are simply leaving it now. …

There are many signs of encouragement. The most important one, of course, is that we are told the story has already been written and we are going to be fine.

~

Michael Coren is the host of The Arena, a nightly television show on Sun News. He is also a weekly columnist with the Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg Sun newspapers, and in more than a dozen other daily and weekly newspapers across 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 and most recently the author of Heresy: Ten Lies They Spread about Christianity (McClelland & Stewart, 2012). His forthcoming book to be published in January is called Man & Wife: A Defence of Traditional Marriage (Random House). He joined C2C board member Andrea Mrozek to talk about the state of knowledge about Christianity in Canada today.

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