LOPEZ: You are all about the “neuralgic issues,” the issues that make people “squeal”? Why is engaging so important? Why can’t we just live and let live already?
IVEREIGH: What makes an issue “neuralgic” is the apparent or real clash between what the Church says (or is heard as saying) and the values of wider society, which often turn on the “pelvic issues” — questions of sexuality. It’s what makes for news stories and dinner conversations. It’s what interests people. It’s where we find people turning towards us — often with an expression of horror — and asking us to explain ourselves. It’s where contemporary society and Church clash; it’s where Catholicism scandalizes. And that’s where, simply, the opportunity to communicate exists. Either we’re comfortable inhabiting that zone and learn to speak there, or we don’t communicate at all — or, if we do, we can’t expect to find anybody listening.
Pope Benedict is passionate about what’s being called the “new” evangelization, whose concern is to re-propose, in fresh and positive ways, the Church’s faith and teaching to post-Christian societies that think they know Christianity and have rejected it. Think of a person waving a hand over his face, saying, “Yeah, yeah, we know what the Church has to say on that one” — that’s what modern society is like. You engage people with that attitude by being surprising, by showing how they don’t, in fact, know what the Church says. Then, when you’ve got their attention, you can then tell the real story — the story they thought they knew but in fact didn’t. It’s what in Catholic Voices and in the book we call “reframing.” And it works. We have plenty of examples of radio and TV interviews in which the presenter says to the Catholic Voice: “Now that’s surprising. Tell me more.” The Church’s critic turns out to be dull and dogmatic — performing a role that is almost scripted in its predictability — while the Catholic Voice is fresh, dynamic, and compelling.
Why engage? Because we care — about others, about society, about the common good. And because we think the public conversation is poorer without us.
LOPEZ: Why don’t we just give up on opposing same-sex marriage? You make some great arguments about the nature of marriage and false equality, but it’s hard to break through the narrative that this is the next great civil-rights struggle. And who wants to be uncomfortable around friends and family with homosexual attractions?
IVEREIGH: The same-sex-marriage debate, just like abortion or assisted suicide or almost any other neuralgic issue, involves a very narrow moral matrix, one centered on equality and autonomy. I don’t think the arguments in favor are completely false; they are just impossibly narrow, and make assumptions about marriage that reflect a very superficial view of it: as an emotional bond between two people who choose to make a commitment. So our task here is quite considerable. We have to point to a much broader matrix. We have to say, “Equality is an important value, but it is not the appropriate one in this case,” and then point to the things that have been left out of the picture: the difference between marriage and other relationships of love, which is that marriage provides for the rearing and raising of children by their biological parents, and the fact that the benefits of that institution are the reason for the state’s promotion of it. And then to point out that same-sex marriage does not expand the meaning of marriage to accommodate a minority but radically redefines marriage for everyone, dismantling one of the core features — gender complementarity — that makes it different from all other kinds of relationship. By doing this, we are not arguing with the equality premise, but showing that it is inappropriate in this case.
But speaking as someone with almost a year’s experience arguing this one in the U.K., I don’t claim that it’s easy, because when we talk about the meaning of marriage we sound like people from a distant culture. People say, “That may be your understanding, but we think it’s just about people saying ‘yes’ to each other’s love. We don’t see why the state should discriminate against that kind of love; I mean, how does it harm anyone else for them to recognize it?” There’s no conception that marriage might have an intrinsic meaning, or that it is a civil institution that has grown out of human experience, and that this character should be respected. The call for SSM presupposes a very, very ‘thin’ view of culture — we’re just individuals, and the state exists to protect us and promote our freedom and happiness. Going up against that is hard, especially when the frame is, “If you’re against SSM you’re against equality / gay rights / civil rights.” Stay inside that frame, and of course no one wants to oppose it. But most people are not. Most people understand, intuitively and from experience, that marriage is a heterosexual institution whose public good is linked to children. But they find it almost impossible to articulate that. Like most of the most important things in our lives, we don’t really have a language to speak about their value.