I think it’s fair to say that for a great many members of the Episcopal Church, even those reared within an Anglo-Catholic ethos such as myself, the issue of contraception isn’t quite ‘our’ issue. That is to say, we’re much more likely to have a heated conversation about homosexual marriage.

Regardless of the current hot button issue, the main theme of Tracy Rowland’s latest ABC Religion & Ethics article raises a number of critical issues. Rowland asks important questions about Austen Ivereigh’s How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice: Civil Responses to Catholic Hot-button Issues, wondering how far such an apologetic approach can go in a context of hyperpluralism.

Rowland found herself hooked by Ivereigh’s opening paragraph. Nota benne: I’ve substituted “Catholic” for “Episcopal”:

We know how it feels, finding yourself suddenly appointed the spokesman for the Episcopal Church while you’re standing at a photocopier, swigging a drink at the pub, or when a dinner party suddenly freezes, and all eyes lie on you.

Rowland goes on to note how difficult such conversations are, as it is nigh impossible to untangle oneself from the grammar of culture wars. Indeed, how does one begin to discuss the concept of a sacrament, let alone a sacramental marriage? The fundamental problem, according to Rowland,

is that such controversial issues can only be understood within a wider theological context that is as architectonic as a Gothic cathedral. But many people have no knowledge of the component parts of the “cathedral” of Catholic belief and tradition. They no longer live and work in a world where it is normal to operate from within one particular philosophical or theological tradition. Instead, they tacitly cobble together a series of “attitudes” from a variety of different and mutually inconsistent sources without ever examining their logical coherence.

When they suggest that the Church’s teaching, in some area or another, is weird, I think, well, no, it’s not weird if you understand trinitarian theology, the flaws in Cartesian metaphysics or the moral bankruptcy of the utilitarian world-view. To return to the cathedral metaphor, it is rather like non-Catholics are saying, what’s all the fuss about a gargoyle? When caught in these exchanges, I find myself trying to defend gargoyles by reference to some infrastructural principle, which I understand would lead to the collapse of the whole cathedral if it were to be removed – but the infrastructural principle is itself unheard of, or at least very strange, to many people.

Amidst this milieu, Rowland suggest that we remain relaxed about our sacramental differences and simply embrace the fact that crude materialism has nothing to say above love, and then blithely note its boring ethos. Overshadowed as we are by the fever of culture wars, this might be an appropriate posture to assume at the office break room.

However, I also wonder if it might be better to assume a more ‘radically orthodox’ engagement with the world – exposing its cultural assumptions as perversions of a forgotten and ultimately more liberating narrative.

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