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By Brad Miner   
Monday, 20 June 2011

This review of Why Catholics Are Right must begin with a disclaimer: The author, Michael Coren, has been a friend for several decades. In 1992, we brainstormed the launch of a magazine meant to be a kind of Catholic People. I think we were going to call it Credo, and we wanted Mel Gibson for our first cover. Reality intervened, and we never got past the concept to funding and publishing, but we laughed a lot (especially with friends such as George Marlin), and I was impressed with Michael’s great good humor, his range of knowledge (he’d already written three books, including Gilbert: The Man Who Was G.K. Chesterton), and I was sorry he lived in Canada and not in a more uncivilized place like New York City, where I was.

Then I watched with fascination and no little concern as Michael, an English convert to Catholicism from a Jewish background, became an Evangelical Protestant. He returned to the Church in 2004, although I’m not sure he ever really left. He did traverse a spiritual desert, perhaps confirming what Mr. Chesterton wrote at the start of The Everlasting Man: “There are two ways of getting home, and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place.”

Our Catholic faith has faced no period of crisis as challenging as ours, except that sixteenth-century unpleasantness, the Protestant Reformation. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a hundred times: I didn’t leave the Church, the Church left me. And this is what makes Why Catholics Are Right so well-timed – and so boldly opposed to the anti-Catholic spirit of our time. Mr. Coren cites the rant of one media critic, a bizarre fantasy about bombing the Vatican and “pursuing the Pope through the sewers of Europe till he is caught and riddled with bullets.” That’s extreme; not atypical. Why such rancor? Well, to invert one of Mel Gibson’s more famous, drunken tirades: The Church has caused all the wars in the world! It’s the reason why there were Crusades, Inquisitions, and the Holocaust!

Michael Coren’s response to such libel isn’t to slander the slanderers, thus inflaming their fictions, but to coolly reason from facts in evidence. I was briefly concerned that his breezy take on complex history might slide into revisionism – the sort that understates the slaughter of Jews and Muslims by crusaders during the sack of Jerusalem in 1099. Not so. Mr. Coren knows perfectly well, and expertly describes, the dark truth of those bloody days. What he revises is the new meme on Catholic history, the real revisionism, which in the case of the First Crusade is that it was an unprovoked attack against peace-loving Islam. It wasn’t. The early Crusades were a defensive campaign against militant Muslim attacks on peaceful Christian communities, from Israel to Iberia. Recent book-length studies have made a more detailed case, but you won’t find a better summary of the truth than Coren presents in Why Catholics Are Right:

The crusaders treated their Muslim enemies as they treated their Christian enemies at home in Europe and exactly how they expected to be treated – and were – by their Muslim enemies in the Middle East.

Michael Coren will not read back into the eleventh-century the sentimentality of the twenty-first. As Chesterton wrote of historiography in Lunacy & Letters: “Applaud, admire, reverence, denounce, execrate. But judge not, that ye be not judged.”

As for the Inquisition, Coren offers one especially apposite thought, a preview of his later refutations of anti-Catholic spin on current events: estimates of those affected by the Spanish Inquisition have been “vastly exaggerated – more babies are killed in abortions every two days in North America alone” than ever died under the regime of Tom├ís de Torquemada.


        Michael Coren: Defender of the faith
 

And then there is the Holocaust, the Shoah. There’s insufficient space here for a summary of Coren’s views about the role of the Church (especially in the person of Pope Pius XII) in the history of the Shoah, a history which – on sparse and selective evidence – Catholic haters insist was shameful. But I’ll note that he cites a number of paeans from Jewish leaders (Gold Meir, for instance) about the character and humanity of the pope. (We await the Vatican’s promised release of the archives his papacy, at which point reasoned discussion about Pius XII, the Church, Nazism, and the Holocaust may truly begin.)

The focus of Why Catholics Are Right moves from history to doctrine, and you’ll find few more able defenses of papal infallibility, transubstantiation, confession, apostolic succession, and the veneration of saints and our Blessed Mother. And of life: Coren’s summaries of Church teaching on abortion, euthanasia, fetal stem-cell research, and same-sex marriage are notably clear and concise.

On abortion, an issue about which opinion is strong and sharply divided, “pro-choice” advocates remain reluctant to address first principles, largely because the logic of natural law is irrefutable. When these principles are confronted, opponents panic: “[T]hey’d rather be ignorant,” Coren writes, “than uncomfortable.” The catchphrase of the pro-choice movement is “Safe, legal, and rare,” but after fifty-million dead children, those words should be ashes in their mouths. And when the Church speaks the truth, it is “accused of interfering in areas that should not concern it.”

Mr. Coren concludes with observations about the Dan Brown-like wackiness of contemporary anti-Catholicism and shines light through the smoke, the mist, the shadows of all the capitalist-socialist, rich-poor, modernist-ultramontane, male-female, gay-straight dualities that send the enemies of Christ into frothing fits of fanatical foolishness. What really drives them nuts? Easy: that Catholics are right.


Brad Miner
, a former literary editor of National Review, is senior editor of The Catholic Thing and a senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute. One of his books, The Compleat Gentleman, was recently published in a revised edition.
 
 

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (4)Add Comment
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written by Jacob R, June 20, 2011
"They'd rather be ignorant than uncomfortable."

Words to define the last several generations.
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written by Daniel W, June 20, 2011
This seems like a fascinating book that I would definitely like to read. Though I would consider myself an evangelical protestant, I have a high opinion of the Church Fathers, the liturgy, and the traditions of the Church. Even though I disagree with Catholics in enough areas to prevent me from becoming one up until now, I often find myself taking the position of defending Catholics and Catholicism to some of my Protestant peers. Not only would this book help me in that defense, it would also help in the defense of Christianity in general, as history before the Reformation is more or less our collective Western Christian history.
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written by Martial Artist, June 20, 2011
In re the sentence eliciting the comment of Jacob R:

It is the first truly plausible explanation I have heard proffered. The sad part is that, in the majority of cases, their "ignorance" is most definitely NOT invincible.

Pax et bonum,
Keith Töpfer
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written by Aeneas, June 20, 2011
Nice review of the book! I was planning on buying it later anyway, but your review helped push me over the edge, I guess I'll be buying it sooner than I thought!

One comment though, specifically about the Crusades: its a common misconception that the jews were slaughtered in the sack of Jerusalem in 1099, modern evidence suggests otherwise. Read Rodney Stark's great book on the Crusades, "God's Battalions" for more info. Its also worth mentiong that the slaughter of muslims during the sack of Jerusalem was standard practice in the warfare of that era, whether you be Christian, Muslim, or Pagan, when a city was besieged, the defenders of the city would be spared if they surrendered, but if they chose to resist they would be slaughtered should they lose. That was standard Medieval warfare on all sides.

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