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Being Truly Catholic Now
It’s a big Church that believes.

Austen Ivereigh, co-founder of Catholic Voices

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LOPEZ: How is it not patronizing to suggest, as you do, that we “should have compassion for people who are not ready or willing to embrace conjugal love”?

IVEREIGH: Compassion means feel for them and with them. Conjugal love — the love that underpins marriage — is difficult to imagine and scary for many people. For many, marriage embodies a huge, subconscious fear — that of being trapped in a relationship with another who does not love you. No wonder people delay it, run away from it, try to avoid it; it’s easier to reject marriage than confront your own subconscious fears about love. I am the child of divorce, so I know something about this. As a church, we need to teach people how to love and commit; it’s not something that can be handed down by society any more. The more people experience marriage breakdown, the harder it becomes even to imagine marriage, let alone enter it.

 

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LOPEZ: “Society is losing the vocabulary to speak about intense friendships between people of the same sex,” you write. We’re also completely unable to find chaste friendships between men and women believable — friends with “benefits,” for sure. But chaste? Freaky! How does that turn around, short of radical conversions among culture-makers?

IVEREIGH: I find this is something everyone can agree is regrettable: the sexualization of friendship. It is the flip side of another new phenomenon: the desexualization of marriage. The Church finds itself having to say not just that sex is for marriage, but also that marriage is for sex, in the sense that it’s where sex has its home and works at its best, helping to forge two into one. Outside that context, it’s like a riderless chariot with blades sticking out of its wheels, pulled by a stallion; the collateral damage just piles up. Keeping sex to marriage not only means less destruction; it also opens up friendship with both sexes. I think a capacity for friendship is necessary for love; only when we know how to be chaste, loving friends with many can we choose one as our lover. Is this going to catch on? I’ll pass on that one. But as I say in the book, this in many ways is the easiest case of all to make: Just look at the ocean of unhappiness and low self-esteem that casual sex has launched us into.

LOPEZ: You, citing Catholic Social Teaching (CST), talk a lot in the book about the “common good.” But who is to say what that is? Why does the Church have any say in determining it?

IVEREIGH: The concept of the “common good” is a key weapon in our armory when we challenge the narrow ethic of autonomy. In CST, the common good is not what is good for most people (that’s utilitarianism) but the social conditions that enable people to reach human fulfillment. In other words, it’s about how we organize society to enable us to flourish. So it’s really the criterion for political action and judgment, and it opens up a big canvas for deciding whether a course of action or a policy is justified. It takes us away from this very narrow view of the state as a policeman and regulator, whose task is to prevent us from harming others — or worse, the state as a kind of nanny or teacher — and it enables us to concentrate the state on providing the framework for flourishing. Who defines flourishing? No one person or body. The best that can happen is that narratives about human flourishing are brought into the political arena, providing an ethical underpinning to our political debates. Those narratives may differ, but keeping an eye firmly on the common good prevents us from descending into the kind of politics in which different lobbies try to capture the state to impose ideologies. The common good is an inherently democratic and pluralist idea.

LOPEZ: You certainly appear to be a fan of Cardinal Dolan, judging from the number of times you quote him in the book. Is he a model Catholic Voice? Or is it something different?

IVEREIGH: Yes, a big fan — and that’s without us ever meeting. The cardinal embodies, and has helped us to identify ourselves with, the approach or movement I referred to earlier, known as “affirmative orthodoxy.” He constantly stresses the good, the true, and the beautiful in the Church’s approach, and manages to connect with peoples’ concerns. And I like his historian’s vision of our age; I’m an historian by training also. Maybe I can give him the last word? He tells John Allen in a recent book-long interview, A People of Hope: “Somehow we have to recapture the notion that the Church isn’t primarily about running institutions or winning political debates. It’s about reaching deep inside the human heart and stirring what’s best in it, and then boldly going out into the world and insisting that the better angels of our nature can prevail, that cynicism and ego don’t have to be the last word about the kind of culture we pass on to our children, and that the Church is an ally in every positive stirring and hopeful current in that culture. That’s a vision worth devoting one’s life to, and if that’s not affirmative orthodoxy, what is?”

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is an editor-at-large at National Review Online.



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