By Kathleen Adamson, November 26, 2021
The Rebel Christ, Michael Coren, Dundurn Press, October 19, 2021, 180 pp., $19.99
Michael Coren’s new book The Rebel Christ is an inspired pleasure to read. It’s clear and well-paced arguments reveal a refreshingly fierce optimism, and an indignation that springs from Coren’s passion for Christianity’s potential.
Coren’s religious life has been lived out a bit more publicly than most. He was born into a family with a Jewish background, baptized and confirmed as a Roman Catholic in 1984, becoming a vocal advocate of conversative Catholicism. He was a regular speaker and writer on the Christian conservative circuit for many years, opposing abortion rights and gay marriage, among other things. Then around 2013, his spiritual world fell apart. As he writes in The Rebel Christ, “I’d always believed in God, always embraced the Christian message, but now it seemed that I’d got it all wrong …”
His personal account of spiritual crisis, remorse, and new understanding is a moving one, particularly rare in these times when courses are taught on professional apologizing. Coren is open and sincere and, after explaining the evolution of his point of view, he gets straight to the point—the Scriptural support for a radical Christ.
Nowadays, we associate close readings and adherence to scriptural traditions with fundamentalism, regardless of the religion. Christianity in North America has become defined by Biblical literalists and fundamentalists, who are often more identifiable by their ring wing politics than their spiritual tradition. In The Rebel Christ, Coren is not the first to point out the (to a modern eye) absurd rules proscribed in the Bible that even fundamentalists ignore, but the argument has a different sense when marshalled by someone other than a Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens-style cynic. Indeed, he points out that, in addition to the trivial regulations on menstruating women and blended fabrics, there are other, more central Biblical injunctions ignored by conservative fundamentalists.
Jesus instructs followers that to become a true disciple of Christ, one must rid themselves of wealth; Matthew 6:19–20: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth … But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (KJV).
The New Testament also emphasizes the importance of loving care for children. One has only to look at Talia Levin’s new series on the physical abuse of children in Christian families to see how far the religion has fallen, and prosperity gospel preaching is well known, as is its association with bigotry.
The Rebel Christ is a well written, well-argued summary of how far modern Christianity has departed from its original counterculture, anti-materialist intentions, which were in direct opposition to exclusionary practices. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,” says Jesus in Mark 10:25 (KJV). And in Mark 23:12, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”
Christ makes no bones about which side of the fence He’s sitting on.
Approaches to Christianity such as liberation theology, though often negatively associated with radical movements, are much more in line with the original teachings of the New Testament. And, at a time where the world is threatened everywhere by instability and climate change, it is worth remembering the power of angry young spiritualists against natural disaster and bloated, self-interested authority.
Kathleen Adamson is a musician, composer, academic, and community activist based in Montreal, Canada.
Other reviews by Kathleen Adamson
Jigging for Halibut with Tsinii: Its relatively still waters run deep September 24, 2021
Marcus Aurelius: No abstracted ponderer July 8, 2021