"Revels in Pious Outrage and Constant Failure"

Until stumbling upon this article today, I had not heard of Michael Coren.  He's Canadian, known primarily for existing in that narrow subculture known as "Catholic apologetics," along with the Catholic Answers crowd, Scott Hahn, Mark Shea, etc.  Most of those folks are converts, and Coren was as well.  He wrote books with frying pan-to-the-face titles like "Why Catholics Are Right."

I should say he was part of that crowd, because now he is part of the Anglican Church of Canada.  His reasons for leaving Catholicism are not unique--LGBT issues primarily--but perhaps a little surprising for someone who used to walk in those circles.  Still, his discussion of why he left seems honest and heart-felt, and certainly something I can relate to very easily.  He is walking the line that I am walking, and so I wish him nothing but the best.

What was interesting to me is his discussion of the reaction from his former fellow travelers to his decision.  I suppose I can understand the sense of betrayal that the Catholic apologetics crowd might feel to seeing one of there own repudiate his, and their, work.  But Coren is really talking about something else--a fundamentally mean spirit that seems to pervade those circles, now directed at him.

Now, it may be the case that Coren is a victim of his own medicine.  His most recent book is entitled Hatred: Islam’s War on Christianity, another bludgeoning title unlikely to foster good will and constructive dialogue between religious traditions.  This piece suggests that Coren would have been at the forefront of savaging someone like Coren for abandoning Catholicism, and perhaps that's true.

Be that as it may, a message is not invalidated by problems with the messenger.  Consider what Coren has to say:

Let me stress here that this is not about Christian orthodoxy. I know orthodox Christians, evangelical as well as Catholic, who are self-denying and saintly. Historically it was such people who battled against slavery, racism and exploitation, who worked for a welfare state, public medicine, shorter working hours and peace. I myself am orthodox in my faith and it was precisely because of and not in spite of my Christian beliefs that I felt the invincible need to change. Christianity is a permanent revolution, a constant questioning of what is around us and who we are.

The pain of another is personal pain, we are our neighbour, we exist and live in a collective of grace and to exclude any other person is to exclude God. It’s a message that should positively bleed from our very soul. It’s when orthodoxy melts into paranoia and reaction and when it adopts a political face that we see problems. To my shame I was sometimes guilty of that, part of a group that revels in pious outrage and constant failure.

If any single characteristic dominates the mindset and ideology of such people it is fear. They have built themselves a hobbit-hole of seclusion, a bunker of protection against the outside world. Nor can this simply be blamed on their age because some of the fiercest and cruellest of them are fairly young. The fear is a result of their socialization, their mingling of church and state and their desire for a cause in an era they see as corrupt and immoral.

Coren calls this the "Church of Nasty," but I don't think that fully covers it.  Before all doctrines or dogmas, before all the words that make up the faith, Christianity is a religion of actions.  Specifically, it is about loving actions toward the people around us.  Folks like Jimmy Akin may think that their abstract, natural law analysis of homosexuality is unchallengable and self-evident.  But even if that is true (spoiler: it's not), if that viewpoint doesn't result in loving acts toward others, then all of that analysis is meaningless.  And many, many of the most vocal members of the Catholic Right, and the Christian Right generally, are failing this test.

They are failing because, as Coren correct diagnoses, the primary engine fueling their positions is their visceral fear of the modern world.  They are afraid of a world that doesn't act according to previously established rules, a world in which they hold an unchallenged place.  This fear, whatever its origins, is fundamentally incompatible with the kind of love that Christians are supposed to be about.  St. John tells us "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love."  (1 John 4:18).  Or, as another great moral philosopher once said "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering."

But Mr. Coren is not done yet.  He makes the point that is lost in all of this handing wringing about gay marriage or whatever.

I don’t see that corruption and immorality. I see the same challenges, the same greatness and the same brokenness that has always been. But here’s the paradox: while Canada may be less explicitly Christian than ever before, it has arguably become in its sense of equality, fairness and downright decency more Christian than ever. Perhaps that’s why my new friends are so angry with me, with Canada and with pretty much everything.

Hear, hear.  The world is simply not as bleak as these people see it.  Crisis is in the eye of the beholder.  Our culture is beautiful and monstrous at the same time, just as most cultures, past or present, are.  Even if I thought there was something truly terrible about LGBT folks getting married, I cannot fathom preferring the past, with its pornographic violence and casual brutality, to our present.  To even countenance such a view is to truly be "obsessed" with the narrow question of who is having sex with whom.

So, basically, I think Coren is completely right.  It is not simply enough to say that the "Catholic Right" and their fellow travelers are wrong about this or that issue.  We need to say that what they are doing, and more importantly the way they are doing it, is inconsistent with (and often opposed to) the message of the Gospel.


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