By Jonathon Van Maren
There has been much discussion in so-con circles surrounding Canadian broadcaster Michael Coren’s decision to leave the Catholic Church and instead join the Anglican Church of Canada. To some extent, I don’t have a dog in this denominational fight, since I myself am not Catholic. However, the fact that Coren was a somewhat prominent spokesperson for social conservative values and a frequent speaker at pro-life events is more interesting to me.
In an age where Christian orthodoxy is increasingly despised, religious quislings are very common—but generally not those who spent their entire careers defending various aspects of social conservatism and Christian belief in columns, books, television shows, and radio commentary. For Coren to pivot is not simply to join the present cultural currents. It is to abandon—and repudiate–much of his life’s work and, in the process, his credibility. Why should anyone, it must be asked, believe anything he has to say—especially when the only common thread in his career is his remarkable ability to use the very arguments he once refuted against those who enabled his career by buying into his shtick and purchasing his books?
His most recent defection, Father Raymond D’Souza pointed out recently in the National Post, begs the question Christians across the West are now asking: “Around what principles shall a church organize itself? The sexual revolution? Or divine revelation?” And defection is not uncommon, as D’Souza notes: “Coren is following the theological path of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I wouldn’t have picked the contrarian Coren to join the trendiest cause around, but that’s how cultural trends become trendy; people join them.”
Coren’s case is more interesting than most because he has not exited the so-con scene quietly. Rather, he’s devoted much of his time to loudly trashing his former followers and customers on social media and in newspaper columns, while simultaneously bemoaning the persecution he claims to be suffering from the inevitable stupid Internet comments that surface around events like these. It’s interesting because Coren is far too smart not to realize that he is using precisely the arguments against Christians that he wrote an entire book refuting. For example, he’s recently taken aim at the pro-life community by sighing at the sheer callousness of people who seem to care about the pre-born but not the born. This is one of the oldest, most tiresome, and consistently disproven pro-choice talking points— and one he argued vehemently against in his book Heresy: Ten Lies They Tell About Christians. (There’s an entire chapter dedicated to refuting the lie that “Christians are obsessed with abortion.” But that was then, and this is now.)
It’s impossible not to have the strong suspicion that once Coren decided to abandon Christian orthodoxy in regards to sexuality (this from a man who wrote extensively about CS Lewis and GK Chesterton), he needed to offload all of the other more unpopular Christian beliefs as well to ensure that he would continue landing columns in places like the Toronto Star. (One suspects that this publication that was probably delighted to run a column by Coren complaining about “the Church of Nasty” and delivering his mea culpa for advocating the backwards Christian orthodoxies that he once held.) Having intentionally alienated his Christian audience, he can now join the Sexual Revolution’s spiritual lapdogs in making the case that Christians are, after all, the bigots and homophobes the Left he once despised claims we are. It’s a rather pathetic thing to behold.
I couldn’t help but chuckle when one of his first salvoes at the Christians who were once suckered into buying his books was a column in the Winnipeg Free Press entitled “Christians losing bond to the past.” In it, he trotted out the same tired arguments that “progressive” Christians always do—that Christianity spends more much time caring about sexual orthodoxy and the killing of the pre-born than they do about other social inequalities, and that rather, their stubborn refusal to join Coren in his repudiation of thousands of years of Christian teaching actually makes them architects of social inequality. The idea that Coren, fresh from unharnessing himself from the burden of two millennia of Christian teaching, would dust himself off and accuse Christians of losing their bond to the past would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sadly ironic.
In the same column, he takes a shot at the anti-abortion campaign my organization, the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform in partnership with Campaign Life Coalition, has launched against Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s extreme abortion policies. “His policies on poverty, foreign aid, military intervention or health care, for example, are apparently irrelevant,” Coren whined. “Abortion has become one of the sacraments of the faith…” From someone who is well aware of the pro-life position and has loudly opposed Justin Trudeau for this precise reason in the past, the statement is obviously an intentionally stupid attempt to pander to those who dislike the pro-life movement.
His reversal on the abortion issue is more indicative than his reversal on Christian teachings regarding sexuality, simply because the case against abortion is an air-tight scientific case backed by an internally consistent philosophy of human rights—and one he made quite a lot of money advocating for. When Coren, the “pro-life journalist,” wrote a column calling the idea that abortion should be criminalized “repugnant” while stating that the pro-life view is “to a very large extent a religious teaching,” he revealed that his reinvention will be a rather thorough one.
I found this particular column especially laughable, since the first time I saw him in action at a pro-life conference put on by Toronto Right to Life, he reduced a teenage girl almost to tears by responding abrasively and mockingly to a question about abortion in the case of rape. His new favorite accusation is that social conservatives consistently display a lack of love—this coming from a man who has a well-known reputation not just for being contrarian, but for being mean-spirited. My colleagues and I recall quite vividly Michael Coren standing outside the St. Vincent de Paul Church in Toronto in 2012, where we were holding a pro-life presentation for one of our cross-country tours. He loudly jeered at the pro-choice protestors, at one point informing one of the girls that she “wasn’t good-looking enough to be on Sun News.” To be reprimanded for a lack of charity by a man with his record is not something pro-lifers familiar with his modus operandi will be taking very seriously.
People change their minds, and people convert. But very few people stoop to the mocking and name-calling of former audiences that Coren has preoccupied himself with. The sight of Michael Coren using his life’s work as the tinder to set his bridges alight is a rather strange one. It brings to mind a segment Coren used to host on his Sun News Network show, “The Moral Maze.” I wonder if he ever predicted that he himself would get hopelessly lost in it.