Book equips ‘ordinary’ Catholics to defend Church on touchy subjects
By Julie Filby
At the office water cooler or a neighbor’s dinner party the question comes up: “You’re Catholic, right?”
What tends to follow is a seemingly impossible-to-answer question like: “If Catholics ignore the Church’s teaching and use contraception, why should anyone listen to what the Church says?” or “If God created people gay, why wouldn’t he want them to have committed sexual relationships?” or one common in recent months: “Why does the Church interfere in politics? Shouldn’t it just keep to religion?”
Suddenly in the spotlight, a reluctant apologist for the Church, one can feel flustered, unprepared or defensive.
What’s next? Scrabble together a few unpersuasive thoughts? Get irritated and fly off the handle?
Either way “You didn’t manage to reframe the issue,” explained author Austen Ivereigh in his recent book “How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice: Civil Responses to Catholic Hot-button Issues” (2012, Our Sunday Visitor). “People still have the same view of the Church as before you started speaking.”
In a phone conversation with the Denver Catholic Register Nov. 19 from his home outside London, Ivereigh emphasized: “It’s about winning friends, not arguments. It’s about shedding light, not heat.
“It’s about reframing argument so hearts can be opened and minds can be inspired.”
“How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice” is the fruit of more than two years’ experience of speakers and experts preparing for and participating in interviews and debates through Catholic Voices, an organization founded to ensure the Church was well-represented in the media when Pope Benedict XVI visited the United Kingdom in 2010. Catholic Voices has since expanded as a resource for the new evangelization, growing to six countries, including the United States.
The 10-chapter, 160-page volume offers Catholics a fresh way for explaining Church teaching on contentious issues “humanly, compellingly and succinctly” when they find themselves thrust into the spotlight.
Book: “How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice: Civil Responses to Catholic Hot-button Issues”
Author: Austen Ivereigh with John Norton
“I think the book starts where most well-informed, but busy, Catholics are,” Ivereigh said. “Keen to defend the faith, but without the time to think through a lot of the ‘neuralgic’ issues that come up around the office cooler or when the dinner party freezes.”
It’s those moments they wish they had someone on-hand to brief them on the issues and explain why people “get so hot under the collar” about them.
“The book doesn’t suggest it’s as simple as memorizing a speech,” he said. “Instead it talks about what the issues really are and where the criticisms come from,” enabling every-day Catholics to understand and communicate Church teaching more effectively.
This form of apologetics is primarily a task for the “ordinary” Catholic.
“Our experience is that ‘ordinary’ Catholics are super-qualified for the task,” he said, “because this type of apologetics falls right in their laps.”
Issues addressed in the book include: why the Church gets involved in political dialogue; whether Catholic politicians should be held to their faith first; Church teaching on homosexuality, marriage, AIDS, abortion, contraception, women’s roles and end-of-life matters such as assisted suicide; and Church accountability and resolution pertaining to clergy sex abuse.
How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice: Civil Responses to Catholic Hot-button Issues (2012, Our Sunday Visitor).
“While we often know intuitively that critiques of the Church can be harsh and unjust,” he said, “most of us haven’t thought through the reasons why this is so.”
To effectively address the criticism, one must understand the underlying reasoning behind it.
“It’s lazy to say ‘They’re saying that because they hate the Church,’” he offered. “Actually what’s important is that they’re angry or indignant because they perceive the Church is violating something they hold dear: their values”—which the book refers to as positive intentions.
“The value is often a Christian value,” he said. “It may be distorted … or secularized … but nonetheless Christian.”
Positive intentions include concern for the victim, the idea of freedom or autonomy, and the notion that human beings come before dogma. The example Ivereigh shared was when the media questioned Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 statement that condoms were not a solution to the AIDS pandemic in Africa.
“Why were people so angry about this?” he asked. “It’s the perception that human lives are being sacrificed for the sake of maintaining a dogma.”
In other words the perception was since the Church is against contraception and anxious to defend that dogmatic teaching, she’s willing for millions to die.
“Well if that were true, I’d be pretty angry as well,” Ivereigh said. “(But the reality is) the Church is deeply committed to saving lives … the assumption of that critique is that somehow condoms will reduce the spread of AIDS but actually the experience in Africa is quite the opposite.”
People have a very short time to understand and reframe the underlying positive intention before losing or offending their audience.
“Basically in the first 40 seconds or so, you either manage to ‘reframe’ and engage,” he said. “Or you’re likely to be on a path leading to more sound and fury.”