As I See It by Michael Coren (Freedom Press, $21.95 paperback, 306 pages)
When I went to university in the United States, I stopped following Canadian news, but I did continue reading a few Canadian columnists on the internet. One of those columnists was Michael Coren. There are many reasons why I should not have read him. He supports more government intervention than I, an economist, would like. He has what is usually the annoying habit of writing in sentence fragments. He practices what sometimes appears to be an “on-the-one-hand, on-the-other” type of journalism that seems to be playing it safe. But for whatever reason, I needed to regularly read his columns written for the Sun Media chain.
It was not until I was in the Middle East and away from regular internet access, and thus Coren’s columns, that I realized what I was missing: his humanity. For many columnists, the privileged perch they have is used to promote a consistent and predictable ideological position, either conservative or liberal. They draw upon the learned and scholarly, quoting like-minded philosophers and think-tank studies. That is fine, good and necessary. But it is also limiting, because it lacks the human element, which is what separates Coren from his colleagues.
Coren’s world view, which also comes through in his writing style, is a marriage of age-old common sense and everyday common decency. Most of that common sense is based on religious teaching and the experience of history, and thus, his columns resonate with evangelical and Catholic social conservatives. So it is no surprise that about half of his most recent collection of columns, As I See It, spanning 2005-2009, cover religion, religious authors and moral issues. Some of them appeared, in one form or another, in The Interim.
He is best on the issue of homosexuality, where he recognizes that the battle for gay rights “hasn’t concerned toleration … for years” and thus, religious liberty is compromised by the need for “affirmation.” He wonders about the future of pluralism and co-existence, when gay fascism requires religion to bend to the wants of the gay lobby. He picks up on that theme again when he mentions the “monumentally successful campaign to marginalize pro-life opinion” by portraying all those who oppose abortion as “zealots.”
In another column, however, he effectively shows how support for eugenic abortion and euthanasia is a betrayal of the equality our society pretends to stand for. He can be downright judgmental against those who deserve more judgment than our tepid society can usually muster. He condemns Robert Latimer for killing the daughter he should have instead cared for. He condemns educators and parents who accept that the children in their care will be sexually promiscuous. He condemns so-called progressives for their support for dehumanizing and racist eugenics.
To come back to some of those annoying habits of which I complained at the beginning of this review, he often cites unnamed people or quotes without sourcing. At one point, he alludes to a television documentary without giving its title or who produced it. But those are details and he wants to get to the heart of the matter, not the news of the day.
He often writes in sentence fragments. Single words or phrases without verbs. But he is writing the way people talk. It is another way that his humanity comes through his writing. Coren displays intelligence without the trappings of learnedness. That might be a weakness is some people’ eyes, but it makes his writing accessible.
So does his sharing of raw emotions. He is capable of penetrating logic and clear rationality, but is at his best when talking from his heart. Perhaps a perfect example for this December issue is a quote from a column on Christmas, in which Coren says, “I shall bow my head and bend my knee this Christmas as I sing, speak and pray my love for Jesus and thank God for the birth of God’s son. It is my salvation.” Powerful stuff.
Coren no doubt turns off many readers with his unembarrassed and candid admissions of faith, but it is also what makes him one of Canada’s most popular columnists. He speaks from a heart that loves Christ, as millions of other Canadians do. The media pretend these people do not exist, but Coren speaks directly to them.
Because he does not tackle merely the issue of the day – the enactment of gay “marriage” or the 20th anniversary of an abortion ruling or the latest flare up in the Middle East – but also the intellectual underpinnings in which such events occur, and then applies a humane Christian common sense to them, these columns are never merely a trip down a journalistic memory lane. Instead, he reminds us of how things should be by attempting to rescue what T.S. Elliott called “the Permanent Things”: the foundational principles upon which our civilization has been built and that make our lives worth living.
Oswald Clark is The Interim’s economics reporter.