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Michael Coren
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"Michael Coren has written a case for the Catholic faith that is the rarest kind of book: wonderfully readable, intellectually vigorous and stylish in its force. . . .The whole text is alive with fidelity, penetrating intelligence and the irony of our times, expressed with consummate skill. Highly recommended."
—Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Denver, Colorado
"Fearless. Unpredictable. Funny. Never boring. There's nobody and nothing like Michael Coren in journalism anywhere."
—David Frum

About the Author

MICHAEL COREN is the bestselling author of twelve books, including biographies of G.K. Chesterton, H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, J.R.R. Tolkein, and C.S. Lewis. He is the host of The Michael Coren Show, a nightly television talk show with an audience of 250,000 viewers. He also hosts a daily radio show and writes a syndicated column for ten daily newspapers.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

When I first told friends and colleagues about this book, they were intrigued by its proposed content but disturbed by its title. “Sounds a little proud,” “Is that sufficiently conciliatory for these progressive and pluralistic days?” and “You ought to be careful because it might offend people.” Which is odd in that when I suggested to them titles for other books such as Why Liberals Are Right, Why Conservatives Are Right, even Why Muslims Are Right, and especially Why Atheists Are Right, they thought the suggestions to describe the various subjects entirely reasonable and unlikely to cause any problems at all. To believe something is, self-evidently, not to believe something that is its contrary. So obvious is this that it is not questioned and seems a self-evident truth in most areas and about most subjects. It is, after all, just common sense. But to claim that being an authentic Roman Catholic necessitates believing that Roman Catholicism is correct positively terrifies many modern men and women, as though a Catholic claiming to be right was some terrible sin – not that many of these people believe in sin, of course.
If this audacious insistence that being Catholic meant, well, being Catholic and led to the persecution or killing of others who were not Catholic, it would naturally be intimidating and insulting but that is certainly not the case – even though, as we will see in the first chapter, it usually takes only a few moments during a disagreement for someone to bring up the days when Catholics did indeed give their opponents a hard time, as though in all of history only Catholics have ever got it wrong or even just acted like most people were acting at the time. So the title stands, and for a specific reason: to oblige and demand a certain clarity on the part of the book’s readers. I’m a Catholic and believe in Catholicism, and thus I believe that people who disagree with my beliefs are wrong. I do not dislike them – or at least don’t dislike all of them – nor do I wish to hurt them, even those who wish to hurt me and will probably wish to hurt me even more after they read this book, pretend to read it, or read nasty reviews of it.
I do, however, want these readers to consider what I have to say and to not abuse my beliefs in a manner and with a harshness that they would not dream of using against almost any other creed or religion. It might be a romantic hope but hope is one of those Catholic qualities we like to think of as important and helpful.
Having said this, I admit there are degrees of wrongness. Some people are only slightly wrong, others wrong most of the time and to a shocking degree. Non-Catholic Christians and in particular serious evangelicals and Eastern Orthodox believers are examples of the former. Many of them could teach many Catholics a great deal about love, charity, and devotion to God. Alleged Christians who want to edit rather than follow Christ, professional atheists who flood the Internet with their obsessions, and part-time Catholic-bashers are the latter. This brings me to the anti-Catholicism that has become the last acceptable prejudice in what passes for polite society and has become so obvious and so pronounced that to even repeat the fact seems almost banal. We have all heard comments about Catholics that if applied to almost any other group would simply not be tolerated. It’s bad enough when this is street conversation and pointless gossip, far worse when it passes for informed comment in allegedly serious newspapers. British historian and biographer Christopher Hibbert put it well when he said that historically the Pope had been thought of as “an unseen, ghost-like enemy, lurking behind clouds of wicked incense in a Satanic southern city called Rome.” In much of contemporary Anglo-Saxon culture as well as the greater modern world, this perverse caricature has found a second wind.
Philip Jenkins is a professor of history and religion at Pennsylvania State University and has written extensively about the Roman Catholic Church and some of the attacks on it. His book The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice1 outlined the history and modern experience of the phenomenon. Jenkins himself left the Church in the 1980s. When his book was published, he was asked to define its thesis. He replied, “It depends on how you define anti-Catholicism. I suggest it is a very widespread phenomenon in different degrees. For example, people would say things about the Catholic Church and condemn a religion with much more ease than they would condemn other religions, other religious traditions. I think that’s always been true to some extent, but I think that’s really shifted its basis in the last twenty-five years. It’s become much more of a left-liberal, as opposed to a right-wing prerogative.” He continued, “It makes anti-Catholicism different from other kinds of prejudice. It survives as what I call ‘the last acceptable prejudice.’ In other words, if you say something that is insensitive or hostile about most religious or ethnic groups, then those words will come back to haunt you and in many cases destroy you. . . . If you say something about Catholicism, or even something which is very hostile, really quite extreme, and in many people’s idea, constitutes outrageous bigotry, it doesn’t. Nobody really notices. You’re expected to lighten up and not take this too seriously.”
Jenkins is right. And this is all far more profound than merely responding to an achingly nasty and smothering bigotry. The importance of Catholicism is that in a culture where various forms of religious and atheistic fundamentalism, crass materialism, and clawing decadence eat away at civility and civilization the only permanent, consistent, and logically complete alternative is the Roman Catholic Church. Which is probably why it seems to so antagonize people who would usually be fair and tolerant toward a faith or ideology they did not completely understand.
I was not born a Catholic and came into the Church only in my mid-twenties. I’d grown up in a secular home in Britain with a Jewish father whose family had fled Poland in the 1890s. He wasn’t anti-Catholic but he saw the Church as something foreign and alien, from both a Jewish and a British perspective. While London in the 1960s and 1970s was hardly anti-Semitic to any meaningful degree, it’s impossible to have Jewish blood and not experience at least some prejudice and hatred. Even if it isn’t direct and personal, it’s a ghost that haunts the world, and, with the growth of both the Internet and the nuances of Middle Eastern politics and an increasing distance from the Holocaust, it has been given new life in recent years. So I know what being despised simply for being is all about. Anti-Catholicism is fundamentally different from anti-Semitism. It’s not racial or ethnic and, outside of fundamentalist Protestant circles and Islamic extremists, not even especially religious. Very few people dislike Catholicism because of its theology but many oppose it because of the moral and ethical consequences of its teachings. In spite of that, in 2008 the Internet video-sharing website YouTube hosted forty videos showing the graphic desecration of the consecrated host. They had been posted by an anti-Catholic activist who was seen burning, nailing, and stapling the Eucharist and flushing it down a toilet.
This is obviously incredibly offensive to Catholics who, as we shall see, believe the consecrated host to be the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Perhaps so, runs the standard response, but while Catholics are entitled to their opinion, those who disagree with them are allowed theirs and may be as offensive as they like as long as they do not use violence. The problem is that this approach seems to be applied to Christians and Catholics in particular far more than to others. Robert Ritchie was the director of an organization called America Needs Fatima, which compiled petitions to try to have the videos removed. He explained, “As Catholics, we believe the host is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. Witnessing the desecration of the host causes anguish to Catholics all over the world. In the past, YouTube has removed videos offensive to Jews and members of other religions, including one showing a teenager urinating on a Holocaust memorial. Why can’t Catholics be afforded the same respect for our deeply held beliefs?” The argument can be extended to any number of areas where Catholicism is treated differently from other faiths.
But in general, religious anti-Catholicism is fairly unusual. In other words, I’ve seldom met someone who dislikes me because of my views on saints or the papacy, but I have lost jobs in media because of my Catholic belief that, for example, life begins at conception and that marriage can only be between one man and one woman. Being part Jewish, on the other hand, has positively helped me in my career, whereas my serious Catholicism has led to at least two firings and many doors in media being closed. So while anti-Semitism is vile and constant, being an observant Catholic, at least in the Western world, can lead to other different but equally difficult problems.
There is evidently an anti-Catholic prejudice that is built on social and economic grounds. In Britain, for example, Catholics were often Irish immigrants and just as often working class and even poor. Although Roman Catholicism was the faith of the British for a thousand years, by the early seventeenth century it had been pushed to the fringes of society. In Northern Ireland, there were and to an extent still are Protestants who regard Catholics as morally as well as personally and theologically inferior. In North America, some of that Anglo-Celtic prejudice still exists – the Catholic Church is, in popular and sometimes even cultured circles, regarded as ...
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