Thursday, September 30, 2010


Perhaps it is a lack of patience or trust in God, but I have decided to go ahead and self-publish my manuscripts.

I have been trying for 10 years to get various manuscripts, booklets, articles, and pamphlets published, but to no avail. As I said in my introduction, I have been rejected by 20 Catholic publishers. These manuscripts are not doing any good for anyone as they sit here and collect dust, so I figure I might as well go ahead and self-publish, even though by doing so I know very few people will probably ever read them.

I have met so many people over the years to whom I have said, "oh, I have written the perfect manuscript for what you are looking for, but I unfortunately have not published it yet." Now, I can go back to those same people (and to others I will encounter) and be able to give them what they need or are looking for.

The "pros" to self-publishing include full ownership (being able to put a work out exactly as you want it without having to make changes demanded by the publisher) and greater income per sale (anywhere from five to seven dollars per book sold as opposed to a little over one dollar per book sold). The "cons" to self-publishing, however, are that I would be responsible for my own marketing and publicity (which is hard work and will not get me into as many markets and garner as much notoriety as the publishing houses would provide) and as a consequence I will not make nearly as many sales. So the "five dollars a book" will actually result in less money as the "one dollar and change" per book.

In my spiritual journey, the Lord has continually, especially as of late, called me back to St. Therese's "Little Way". I find myself repeating the words my good friend from seminary told me years ago: "You might have been brought into this world to save a single soul." I think I have been too long dreaming about and thus shooting for publishing the next "best-seller" in theology. However, I think that my gazing up so long at the stars has distracted me from and blinded me from seeing the people who are already in my life or who I will meet at a local level that can and would benefit from my writings.

Therefore, if I can get my book to a few friends / acquaintances and various people in Saskatchewan and make even a small difference within my small circles or in my locale, I will be satisfied with my accomplishments.

There are four things I must do before I publish. (1) First, I must go back and self-edit my manuscripts. This has been a tedious process. Although my English is excellent (when Ignatius Press was considering publishing my manuscript, an editor proofread and only marked 50 errors, most of them minor), there are so many things I have discovered I need or want to "re-word" or add. (2) Second, I must obtain an "Imprimatur". I have spoken to my Chancellor here in Saskatoon, and it sounds like this will not be a problem. (3) Third, I want to get a "heavy-hitter", a "who's who", a "big name" to write a foreword for me. (4) Fourth, I want to establish a marketing plan.

Providence has worked powerfully in my life as of late to bring me to this point. I moved in with a young Catholic who I would later find out had just self-published a book himself and had a marketing plan in place! He has been a true Godsend, and without Him, my manuscripts would have continued to gather dust.

I will issue an update once my "books" have been published.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Withdrawing from TOB and Medjugorje Debates

I have been engaged in two debates recently - the "Theology of the Body" debate and the "Medjugorje" debate. It is not merely a coincidence that these are the two issues I wrote at length about on my blog (40 pages on Theology of the Body, 60 pages on Medjugorje).


Regarding the Medjugorje debate, I had intended to allow my 7-part series on it to be my final word. Since then, I have been pretty good about refraining from commenting and simply posting the link to my blog piece and referring people to it.

However, one "Stephen Ryan" from "Ministry Values" posted an invitation to dialogue in Patrick Madrid's combox for his latest article on Medjugorje, and I decided to take him up on it. For an account of how that went, I will refer you to that article. I will just say that the exchange left me very frustrated. Although Mr. Ryan can be excused for being, I believe, a rather recent "revert" to the Faith, "Medjugorje apologist" Ronald L. Conte cannot be. We had a charitable and engaging exchange over email, but after I corrected him on his assertion that there was such a thing as "legitimate disobedience" just as there is "legitimate dissent", and got him to admit that a religious owes "strict obedience" to his superior, he did not respond to my question on how he justified the disobedience of the Franciscan friars to "Romanis Pontificibus". This left me wondering if he just did not have time to continue, or whether it was a tacit admission that I was correct.

I have decided that since (a) I have already said everything I want to say about Medjugorje in my article series, (b) the Vatican will very soon be issuing a definitive decision on this issue, and (c) it is a waste of my time to continue to formulate good points to only have them ignored and responded to with red herrings, (x) I will be withdrawing from this debate.

There are some fellow "Medjugorje skeptics" I have met through this who I am sure will continue to post, comment, and engage. These have also helped me with their feedback, corrections, compliments, encouragement, and publicity, including Louis Belanger (of "Medjupedia"), Diane Korzeniewski, OCDS (of "Te Deum Laudamus"), Richard Chonak (of "Catholic Light"), and Dr. E. Michael Jones (of "Culture Wars"). I am also greatful for "Medjugorje believer" Ronald L. Conte (of "Catholic Planet") for reading my blog and engaging me in dialogue privately. To all of you, I thank you most fundamentally for taking the time to read my article series, which was extremely long. Just as a final note, I also sent a message to Dr. Mark Miravalle and referred him to my blog piece, but have not heard back from him (yet), so I am not sure if he has read it or plans to read it or what he thinks of it.

Theology of the Body

After I posted and publicized my blog series on Theology of the Body, I entered into a very fruitful discussion with a number of people that in the beginning seemed very promising. I met some excellent people (and some prominent figures in this debate) and carried on both private correspondence and blog exchanges with them. These included (a) "West supporters" Dr. Janet Smith,
TOB Explained Editor Sr. Marianne (Lorraine) Trouve (of "Open Wide the Doors to Christ"), Christina King (of "Embracing Your Greatness"), Marcel Lejeune (of "Aggie Catholics" [who like me is sort of "in the middle" - though more supportive of West than I am and has fewer points of disagreement]), as well as (b) "West critics" Dr. David Schindler, Dawn Eden (of "The Dawn Patrol"), Fr. Angelo Geiger (of "Mary Victrix"), Steve Kellmeyer (of "The Fifth Column"), Kevin Symonds (of "Desiderium"), and especially Kevin Tierney (of "Common Sense Catholicism"), who has been an excellent fellow-contributor and who I see "eye to eye" with on so many things in this broad spectrum which is "Catholicism". To all of you (as well as T.J. Nelson [of "Abbey Roads"], Eric Sammons [of "The Divine Life"], Dr. David Delaney [of "Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex"] Mark Shea [of "Catholic and Enjoying It"]), I also want to thank you for your feedback, corrections, compliments, encouragement, publicity, and "plugs", as well as for taking the time to read my extremely long piece. Bless you for your time - I hope it was not a waste. (x) I also wrote Christopher West (of "Theology of the Body Institute") and referred him to my blog, but I did not hear back from him, so I do not know if he ever read it or what he thought of it.

My reasons for withdrawing from this debate are many, although they are all related and consequential.

1. Frustration.
I have found that too many good points and arguments that are being made from those on "our side" of the debate (for lack of a better term) are either being ignored or the substance of our arguments are not being engaged or responded to (fallacies are used, etc.).

In fact, Dr. Schindler's initial critique still has not been responded to. I will reprint here what I have written to other "West supporters" in this debate: "Regarding
Dr. Waldstein's response to Dr. Schindler's first critique: He did not really respond to the substance of Schindler's argument, and when he addressed the first of his four points (on concupiscence), he states simply that, on the contrary, West is in fact on the mark, then goes on to "prove" this by writing "a clear outline of the Catholic position in this matter" (as Schindler described it in his response to Waldstein), with a short discussion on Jansenistic tendencies in recent Catholic history. None of this Schindler would disagree with, except for Waldstein's statement that "No, West does not contradict the Catholic teaching". Now Waldstein was understandably upset for a number of reasons and on a number of levels, and this came across in his response. He was much more calm in his second response, but once again, he only offered "a personal testimony" about listening to West's talks in Saskatoon. However, I have talked to a number of people from Saskatoon who attended those talks (as I live here), but not all of them would agree with Waldstein's positive evaluation." Now, I have yet to receive a response to this paragraph from anyone on "the other side" [I hate using this term to refer to fellow Christian brothers and sisters] of this debate. However, "West critics" have responded to this and told me that they too saw Dr. Waldstein's response as wanting.

I have also been given no response to Sr. Lorraine's critique of Dawn Eden's "Ten Themes", nor have I received a response to my challenge to "James" that even if we have "conquered" lust, we are still well advised to turn our eyes from a beautiful woman lest God withdraws that grace in the face of our self-confidence and the license we have given ourselves to look due to our perceived "high degree of mastery over lust" (to which I received enthusiastic feedback from certain "West critics" who thanked me for putting into words the very concern and objection they have had for some time but could not quite formulate or put a finger on).
The only response given by a supporter of West was a commenter who did not say a word about my argument, but went on to praise James and speak about how s/he was going to print his material off and run with it, and finished off with an ad hominem attack. This was the last straw for me. I find that the issues are being deflected with the charges of "jealously", "impure motives", "fighting fellow soldiers", "turning in on ourselves when we should be fighting 'the real enemy'", etc. To me, when I see ad hominem attacks, red herrings, and finally silence (when others have been "called on" these fallacies) dominating a discussion of issues, it is usually indicative that the other has no substantial response to the issues raised.

I also think Dawn Eden made some good points which still have not been acknowledged. The focus has all been on her error. I was hoping in a second step, after we dealt with the "errors", that we would get to what she got right, acknowledge it, and bring it to bear on our view of the issue. But I have yet to see that second step being taken, and I am not sure it will ever happen.

2. Exhaustion. I do not mind putting in the time and effort I have - if it bears fruit. However, when one puts in a great deal of time and effort, but his well-crafted and well-formulated arguments are ignored and his "opponents" in the debate turn around and post another "defense" by shifting to another aspect of the debate, one begins to feel demoralized, and this can drain a person.

3. Poor Stewardship. Considering that the dialogue continues to follow this pattern, considering such a small number of us are participating in this debate, and considering that Mr. West and other TOB presenters are probably not among those following this discussion, I believe that I am spending too much time and effort for such little effect or outcome.

4. Primary Focus. When engaging in "religious debates" (or debates of any kind), I often find that (a) I lose my peace, and (b) my prayer life suffers. These are sure signs that one is straying from the path God has called him to follow and thus must pull away or at least "detach" from the debate.

x. Conclusion: I have done my part for stating the truth as I see it and drawing attention to it. I can leave the discussion content in knowing I have done my little part, just as others who have contributed to this discussion have each done their little part. It is God's Church, it is God's World, and He will have to do the rest. Mr. West can continue to present and teach as he believes is appropriate. If there are errors that need correcting, God can see to it. If his presentation is without error and exactly as it should be, I pray God corrects me and others who land on the "critical side" of this debate.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

REF: The Christian and Death (Story about Ryan)

"Stairway to Paradise" by Thomas Kinkade (1998)

My best friend
, Ryan, came literally within centimeters of his death in 1997 (the bleeding in the brain was stopped just in time). From the time he was rushed to the hospital, his parents desperately called everyone they knew and asked for their prayers. To this day, I believe this is what saved his life.

After he "came to" following the surgery, his mother, who although relieved was still an emotional wreck from the whole ordeal, was at his bedside.

Ryan is the most laid-back guy I know. He takes everything in stride, and everything is like water off a duck's back. He is the perfect best friend for me, because I tend to be the opposite - high-strung with tendency to get fixated on "little things". I remember one day his wallet was stolen at work. He came home, mentioned it matter-of-factly, then proceeded to get on the phone to cancel his credit cards as though he was making a simple dinner reservation. I was far more anxious than he was about his missing wallet! His favourite saying is "whatever happens, happens".

Anyway, at his bedside,
his mother was surprised at how calm and relaxed he was about the whole ordeal. He did not seem at all shocked by how close he came to dying, or that grateful for being alive (any more than his general love and appreciation for life that is a constant with Ryan). She thought he should be more relieved, and should have been more afraid of dying.

This is what
he said in response to her: "Christians are a bunch of hypocrites. We talk about how our real treasure is in heaven, how it is our true destiny, and how we are living for the next life, but when we find out we might be dying, we get just as upset and afraid as people who don't believe in God". Once again, Ryan, as he often does, hit the nail on the head.

I hear from time to time about
some Christians making "provisions" for various apocalyptic scenarios (the smart card with the "666 microchip", or nuclear holocausts, etc.) by building shelters, etc. The fact is, the purpose of this world is to point us toward, lead us to, and eventually give way to heaven. When we make such provisions, it makes me think our motivation is to avoid the eschaton, and this is not Christian.

If the world gets hit with a nuclear bomb that blows up most of the world except Christians living in shelters, I would assume that this is because the world was supposed to end.

(And after all, these people who are building shelters are the ones who are talking about how "the end will take place in our lifetime". So why build the shelters then? Seems they are convinced the end is soon but they don't really want to accept or believe that - which seems odd if they think heaven is "where it's at").

Ryan makes a good point, and asks a good question: "
Why do we want to avoid death so badly?" Some might respond, "Oh, but the Lord needs me for such and such". First of all, that isn't the primary reason most do not want to die - their reasons aren't so "altrustic" that they are concerned about the Lord's needs and desires; rather, their reasons are that they love life and they are attached to this world and the things of this world. But secondly, and I am sorry to break it to anyone who maybe do not realize this, but God doesn't need us! None of us. We are all relative needs. If God needs such and such to be done, He can find someone else to do it, and if He "calls you home" (the home we all seem so eager to avoid coming home to), chances are He has someone else in mind for the task. We give ourselves far too much credit. It comes from our fallen human pride, I suppose.

St. Francis de Sales in his "Introduction to the Devout Life" has meditations on "the end for which we were created". I believe most of us "good Christians" need to spend more time in prayer on this particular meditation. A Christian who values his life too much is a Christian in name only and will not be very holy or apostolically fruitful.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Theology of the Body Debate: IV. Supplement (Additions, Correctives, Replies)

I have been pleased with the discussion this article has generated. However, in my continued discussions on this issue, I have come to realize that (a) I left out some important points, (b) I stand to be corrected on some points I made, and (c) there are a number of excellent points which have been raised that I must reply to in order to either defend my arguments or explain them better. This section will be continually updated, and I hope that I will be able to publish a "second edition" of my "thesis", but with the proper "apparatus" (footnotes and layout) so that it might capture the attention and interest of a broader audience.

A. Additions

1. Addition to III.6.: The argument that we should not criticize West because "we are all on the same team". Since the sports analogy has been brought up, I am going to run with it and make some further applications. I have been on a number of sports teams, and in fact, I have even run (managed or coached) a number of ball teams. (a) I can tell you that sometimes players need to be disciplined, which I have done in private. However, if that player continues, he sometimes needs to be "called out" in front of the whole team. You can see this in professional sports. Every time a player is "called out" publicly in front of the media, the sportscasters always speculate about whether or not in this case it was proper. Almost without exception, the sportscasters will say that if attempts to correct that player in private have failed, then it is entirely appropriate, even necessary, to "call that player out" in front of the media. (b) If certain players are not "called out" and the problems are thus left to continue, it not only affects the other players but the team as a whole. That is why Schindler was justified in doing what he did.

2. Addition to IV.E.23: Sexuality Given too Central A Role.
A good example of what Fr. Angelo speaks of when he calls Theology of the Body "this new theology of everything" is the bedtime prayers Christopher West has his children pray every night. Here is the prayer: "Thank you Jesus for making Mommy to be a woman. Thank you for making Daddy to be a man. Thank you for bringing Mommy and Daddy into the Sacrament of Marriage. Thank you for bringing [insert name(s) of children here) into the world through Mommy and Daddy's love. Help our boys grow into strong men ready to give away their bodies in love. Help our girls grow into strong women ready to give away their bodies in love. If they are called into the Sacrament of Marriage, please prepare them for their future spouse. If they are called to give themselves entirely to Jesus and the Church as a priest or religious, please prepare their hearts for that. Amen".

In every sentence, "sexuality" is what is central. It goes from the mother's "femininity" to the father's "masculinity", to the marital bond, to procreation through sexual intercourse, to the "bodies" of the male children, to the "bodies" of the female children, to their future "marriages", or their future as celibates (which is the only thing here not strictly sexual). For centuries children were taught to pray "God bless Mommy and God bless Daddy and God bless my brothers and sisters and my priests and the religious who teach me". Now, we are specifically mentioning sexuality, gender, and "bodies". I find these prayers problematic, I think these prayers demonstrate that Mr. West is too preoccupied with sexuality and the body, and I believe this points toward Fr. Angelo's description of Theology of the Body as a "theology of everything" that its most ardent proponents are turning it into. Everything must be given a Theology of the Body "twist", including bedtime prayers for children, the aforementioned liturgical symbolism, biblical exegesis, etc.

3. Addition to V. Part V.4.: "Debate Rather Than Dialogue" (and the Exchanges between Schindler, Waldstein, and Smith).

Unfortunately, similar to the Medjugorje issue (which I also wrote a lengthy piece about), the critics are now just "looking for stuff". Anything that can be used against West is being used against him. This is not helpful (in fact it is harmful).

I just read this in the Liturgy of the Hours this morning: "Make my joy complete by your unanimity, possessing the one love, united in spirit and ideals. Never act out of rivalry or conceit; rather, let all parties think humbly of others as superior to themselves" (Phillippians 2:2-4).

We need to practice the principles Vatican II laid out in Unitatis Redintegratio concerning dialogue: we must both come to the table with humility and charity and be open to learning because each side has something to offer the other. That is why I believe both sides are closer than they appear - but the problem is that each side is focusing on the areas of disagreement rather than the areas of agreement. I think following Sr. Lorraine's blog is an excellent idea - most of the bloggers who have been posting on this issue (and there have been some great thinkers) are beginning to go there for respectful debate (and I am directing more and more bloggers who are not there yet to go there as well). Sr. Lorraine has already opened up to some of what I have written, and I am opening up to some things she is saying. It is a true dialogue, and we are finding that we have more in common than it first appeared, and we are also coming to agree on other things as time goes on.
The problem is that at least in the blogosphere and on forums, this has become an argument rather than a dialogue. When people take sides and dig their heels in like that, there is no point even discussing the issue. When that happens, what is needed are two people from both sides who can calmly, charitably, and open-mindedly discuss the issue, and continue to ‘dialogue’ with the hope that it will contribute, even in some small way, to a possible resolution.

Those who responded to Schindler’s critique, namely Dr. Waldstein and Dr. Smith, seemed to be rather defensive. I can see how that could happen. However, when discussions become debates, there is that tendency to allow our emotions to override our reason, even if just a little. When that happens, although we might properly understand and accurately present the other's position, we end up responding from the paradigm "how can I prove him wrong?" rather than "where is he right and where is he not? (and where am I right and where am I not?)" This can result in many points being left unaddressed and can lead to fallacies.

I could see this, for instance, in Dr. Waldstein's response to Dr. Schindler's first critique. He did not really respond to the substance of Schindler's argument, and when he addressed the first of his four points (on concupiscence), which is the only one he addressed just to show an “example” of why Schindler was wrong, he states simply that, on the contrary, West is in fact on the mark, then goes on to ‘prove’ this by writing ‘a clear outline of the Catholic position in this matter’ (as Schindler described it in his response to Waldstein), with a short discussion on Jansenistic tendencies in recent Catholic history. None of this Schindler would disagree with, except for Waldstein's statement that ‘No, West does not contradict the Catholic teaching’. Now Waldstein was understandably upset for a number of reasons and on a number of levels, and this came across in his response. He was much more calm in his second response, but once again, he only offered ‘a personal testimony’ about listening to West's talks in Saskatoon. However, I have talked to a number of people from Saskatoon who attended those talks (as I live here), but not all of them would agree with Waldstein's positive evaluation (though many would).

On the other hand, West's work has been "misunderstood" and "misrepresented" by many of his critics, and sometimes greatly so. Ms. Eden was guilty of this in certain places.

That is why in my “thesis”, I submitted that perhaps both sides were "talking past" each other a bit, failing to see some good points that the other was bringing up, and failing also to reflect self-critically to their respective positions and being open to the possibility that perhaps, each was wrong about certain points.

4. Addition to Part IV.C.11. "First Example: The Dogma of the Superiority of Celibacy over Marriage".

From an email by Sr. Lorraine:

"In the part where you talk about the call, I might suggest a certain refinement. Before I entered the convent I read an excellent book on the theology of religious vocation. It was by a Dominican priest, (and pre-Vatican) J but I forget the title and the author’s name [I believe it was
Religious Vocation: An Unnecessary Mystery by Fr. Richard Butler]. He said something similar to what you’re saying but with a slight difference. He said that the call to religious life is a universal call, in that it’s addressed to all. But God obviously doesn’t want everyone to enter religious life, or the human race would die out. So this Dominican priest distinguished between what he called the antecedent and the consequent will of God.

That is, antecedently, in the abstract, so to speak, God calls everyone to religious life in the sense you said, like an invitation to consider. But in his consequent will, in the concrete, so to speak, God only calls some people, those who are actually suited to live religious life. Not everyone is suited for it. That is a good distinction, and I think it agrees with your point that the evangelical counsels are recommended to all."

5. Addition to I.A..5.: Other Critiques.
Fr. Angelo Geiger has also written some excellent pieces, the homepage of all his links can be found here: http://maryvictrix.wordpress.com/2009/08/06/compendium-of-tob-posts/
Another excellent piece was written by Mark Shea, who gave his general view on the TOB "phenomenon". It can be found here: http://www.insidecatholic.com/feature/noodling-the-theology-of-the-body.html

6. Addition to Part IV.D.18. "The Problematic Idealism of Chastity and TOB Speakers".

[Response to James]

You say: "I was the Pharisee in the temple telling God how great I was. I didn’t even look at porn. I think that the devil was OK with the fact that I didn’t have a problem with lust…. because my sin of spiritual pride was so very much worse."

And as Solomon said, "pride goes before a fall". St. Paul says, "let he who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall". You are correct about the danger in your spiritual pride.

However, it is also true that when we think we have "conquered" lust and our subtle pride gives us the confidence that if our eyes happen to fall upon a beautiful woman, we can keep looking upon her with the gaze of love because "we are pure", that is when the Lord will take that grace away (because it is only grace that allows us to be pure in the first place), and it is then that we will fall. The Bible also says, "do not put the Lord your God to the test". God has admonished us not to look too long upon a beautiful woman. To do so because we believe we are "redeemed enough" that we "can" disregard this admonition is a form of testing God.

This is the point Dr. Scott Hahn was trying to make when he and Mr. West got into an argument on the set of "Franciscan University Presents". It is also the critique of Dr. Schindler, who said that concupiscence dwells "objectively" in the person and thus it will always be a danger.

7. Addition to IV.C.14: "Both Examples of Errors are Perpetuated by West". The impression left by West is that there's nothing really greater about celibacy - they just "get there" (the heavenly marriage) a bit sooner than married people do.

B. Correctives

1. Corrective to 4.A.: Thesis. I spoke about this being "a non-argument from the start" in my attempt to synthesize. This is too strong a statement. The fact is that it was not a "non-argument" - there are issues in Mr. West's presentation that he needs to address. However, it is not as big a problem and it is not as much an issue as it has been made out to be, in my opinion.

2. Corrective to V.1./V.2.: West as Evangelist and Catechist. In response to an objection made by Steve Kellmeyer, who pointed out that according to Catechesi Tradendae (JP2's instruction on Catechesis in the Church), "what is said in evangelization has to map one-to-one with what is said in catechesis". My response was as follows:

I read the first few sections of Catechesi Tradendae last year – it was required reading for my Catechetics course. But I had to go back and re-read (thanks for making me hit the books again – NOT).

You make a good point and I must issue a corrective: the content of the evangelistic message must be essentially the same as the content of catechesis. There must be nothing “false” said in evangelism. Therefore, some of what West says in his attempt to evangelize IS “problematic” and should be corrected.

However, I would also say that the errors West has made in
evangelism (not speaking of his attempt at catechesis or theology here) are, on the whole, not as big an issue as some have made it out to be. If some people found their way into RCIA believing the Easter Candle was a phallic symbol, this is, in my opinion, rather minor in the grand scheme of things, even if this misunderstanding is never corrected (which it should and hopefully will be).

Keep in mind too that everyone who undergoes conversion will have his share of misunderstandings that he will bring into RCIA and beyond, such as things he misunderstood in the initial presentation of the Gospel, things he picked up in the past from the secular media, or from Hollywood, or from his anti-Catholic uncle, etc.

So I will say that Christopher West is “good” for a secular audience, but not “perfect”. He is also “effective”, but could be “more” effective. And he
should correct those portions of his presentation which are erroneous.

C. Replies

1. Reply to Steve Kellmeyer.

I disagree with this statement: “It
cannot be the case that what West is doing is good for getting people in the door, but bad for people already in the room.” Someone can be an effective evangelist but a poor catechist. Take me for instance – I am a good writer, but not much of a speaker. I am “good” for people who want a nice written reflection; I am “bad” if you want someone to give a dynamic presentation to restless teenagers.

As for this statement, “Insofar as people get to Christ after listening to West, it is DESPITE his evangelization and teaching, not because of it,” I think this is too extreme – as is your statement that what I said at the end “trashes everything” I said before.

2. Reply to Kevin Tierney (Common Sense Catholicism)
Article: "A Response to Wade St. Onge RE: TOB, West, and Related Issues".

(1a) Reply to 2A: "Prudishness". Kevin says, “let us ask ourselves however: what is “prudery? For Wade, it is the priests focusing too much on sexual sins in the confessional. It is a curious definition of ‘prudery’

I would not say this is my “definition” of prudery, but an example of prudery, or an “indication” that perhaps that there is some degree of prudishness in the Church. How would I define prudery? Essentially, the same way you do: “prudishness is an inordinate fear”, or I would also say an “inordinate focus” on sexual sin and purity. It is not enough to simply define, though. I think Mr. West must give an “explanation” of prudishness. I would state that there is always a tendency in the Church to “over-emphasize” one thing and “de-emphasize” others. So, for instance, Trent, in reacting to Protestant attacks on the Mass, heavily stressed the sacrificial nature of the Mass. However, the focus was “inordinate” in that it gave too little attention to the nature of the Mass as a community meal. Granted, the Mass is “pre-eminently” a sacrifice, but it is not “exclusively” a sacrifice, and that was the extreme to which the Church between Trent and Vatican II tended. Similarly, with sexuality, the time spent in Confession counselling penitents on sexual sin is perhaps “inordinate” – instead of spending 5 out of 5 minutes on this sin, perhaps a priest should on average only spend 2 minutes and use the other 3 minutes to discuss other sins.

(b) Kevin says, “We do know that sins of the flesh claim an inordinate amount of souls.” He then goes on to cite certain examples from the Old Testament.

However, I could do the same with oppressing the poor (including widows and orphans), worshiping idols (without reference to sex), and other transgressions. If we read the Prophets, we do not find much attention given to sexual sin – certainly less than the confessors I have spoken of here.

(c) Kevin: “We also know that in today’s hyper-sexualized culture, these kinds of sins are of particular problem and risk. The Church in her wisdom in the confessional tries to deal with those sins.”

My problem is not that priests focus on it. My problem is that priests seem to focus inordinately on it. The priest I mentioned who gave 10 minute talks on sex after confession I went to a total three times. So in total, that priest spent 30 minutes talking about sex and zero time talking about envy, anger, revenge, failing to pray, etc. Most of those 30 minutes consisted of a lecture talking about how dangerous and damaging sexual sin is and the effects (which was unnecessary considering he was not telling me anything I did not know), and very little time (if any) was spent on counselling me on how to overcome them. My problem was not that he discussed sex – my problem is that he (a) was not helping me “deal with” my envy, anger, desire for revenge, lethargy in prayer, etc., and (b) was lecturing instead of counselling me and helping me to “overcome” these. My questions to Kevin are: (1) Do you think this priest perhaps spent an “inordinate” amount of time on this sin? (2) Do you think it is problematic to focus only on one particular sin to the neglect of all others?” (3) Why does this priest focus exclusively on the sexual when there are a number of sins that need to be addressed as well?

(2a) Response to II.2.: "Analogies". Kevin: “The marital embrace is meant to be a sign of something. It is to be a sign, with all the human limitations, of the deep intimate union we are called to in Christ Jesus. Once we are in heaven, such signs are no longer necessary. We will have that perfect mystical union. ... So isn’t this the ‘ultimate climax?’ Not exactly. A ‘climax’ implies the end of an act and an exchange in a sexual act. In heaven, let us make this clear, there is not sex.”

Kevin here is focusing on the “dissimilarity” in the analogy, which is a necessary second step after speaking of the similarity. However, I can do the same with the analogy of heaven as the “ultimate city”. A city consists of people who are responsible for the operation, maintenance, and progress of that city. In fact, a city “implies” that the city is in a constant state of “flux”. But in heaven, we will not hold any “occupations” which will contribute to any of these. Just as there is “no sex in heaven”, so too there is no “construction”, no “repairing of walls”, etc. And yet, we can still refer to it as the “Heavenly Jerusalem” because, although it is not a city in the sense that we know it here, Jerusalem remains a sign of things to come, however imperfect that sign may be. So too, the pleasure of sexual union and the self-giving which is communicated through that act is a sign, however imperfect, of the pleasure and self-giving we will experience in heaven.

(b) Kevin: “The Bible and tradition is full of a ‘nuptial’ or spousal language employed to demonstrate the relationship between Christ and His Church, and with every individual Christian. This is certainly true. Yet this is not sexual.”

I would disagree with this. Granted, this language is never “explicitly” sexual, it does at times refer to sex. As I mentioned in my blog article, Jesus says on the Cross, “it is ‘consummated’” (John 19:30), which is a sexual term. Here we have “sexual” language used to convey a “spiritual” truth and a “spiritual” love. Also, the last book of the Bible is called “Revelation”, or “apokalypsis”, which is the term used for the “unveiling” of the bride, wherein the man and the woman consummated their relationship through sexual union. Once again, this language is “sexual”. Also, consider Psalm 19, which we pray in the Liturgy of the Hours. Speaking of the sun as a “sign” of Yahweh, the Psalmist says: “he has set a tent for the sun, which comes forth like a bridegroom leaving his chamber”. (Psalm 19:4-5). Here, the joy and euphoria of the bridegroom coming forth from his bridal chamber after “sexual union” is compared to the union of Christ and His Church. I agree with Kevin, however, insofar as he says that there is more to marriage than sex. That is why when the Bible uses marriage as a metaphor, the sexual is only one of many aspects of marriage that is used to describe it.

(c) Kevin: “Sex exists as a symbol here on Earth. Sex will be gone in heaven, as it will no longer have a purpose. There will be no more procreation, nor there need for a sign of deeper union. I submit that is why the Bible lacks ‘sexual’ language in describing heavenly union.”

The problem with this argument is that it backfires. Marriage is a “sign” too, and that “sign” will also “be gone in heaven”, as Jesus said (“there will be no marriage or giving in marriage). So I would object when Kevin says that:

(d) “Yet if sex will not be there, marriage will. Not in the individual sense of two individuals marrying however. Instead, there will be one giant marriage of Christ and the Church, celebrated at the wedding feast of the Lamb. As any married couple will tell you (and I’m sure I’ll learn soon enough one of these days!) marriage is about far more than sex.”

First of all, we can just as easily plug the word “sex” (or any other word) in where the word “marriage” is. We can say, “Sex will be there. Not in the individual sense of two individuals having sex, however. Instead, there will be one giant consummation between Christ and the Church, celebrated in the heavenly bridal chamber”. Secondly, although marriage is about far more than sex, “sex is still a part of marriage”. Kevin at times tends to eliminate this essential aspect. He will speak of marriage as an analogy, but wants to remove the aspect of sexual union from that metaphor, while having no problem retaining the other, non-sexual aspects of marriage in the metaphor.

(3a). Response to II.2.: "Analogies". Eros in God. Kevin: “When one begins the journey down the mystical road the spiritual writers speak of, they begin to experience a foretaste of this heavenly bliss.”

I would submit that the bliss of sexual union is also a foretaste of heavenly bliss. In fact, this is what the spiritual writers have in mind when they speak of a “spiritual marriage”. Some of the mystical experiences of the Saints have some of the same effects (albeit deeper and purer) than sexual ecstasy.

(b) “In [Plato’s] eros, it ceases being about sex and sensual love, and turns into an appreciation of what makes that person special. It becomes a love of the uniqueness of the human person.”

And yet, sex “is” a valid part of eros and an “erotic” experience.

(c) “As great as eros was meant to be, Christ elevates agape above all else. Agape is that love which is the highest of all loves. The love that asks nothing in return and instead gives. ... Eros no doubt led to this self-sacrificing love. Yet Christ baptizes eros into true agape. That, my friends, is the ‘nuptial’ and spousal imagery of the Scriptures.”

Agape may be the highest of all loves, but agape does not eliminate eros. As you say, eros led Christ to the Cross. However, as Benedict says in his encyclical “Deus Caritas Est”, eros is also the “reward” of agape. What is it like to experience “eros” or an “erotic” love? Sexual union is given us as the most profound sign of what that experience will “feel” like in heaven. That is why Christopher West calls it the “ultimate climax”, and I am not sure he is unjustified doing so.

Now, I would like to highlight three statements that I would heartily second:

(1) On Prudishness: “Their sentiment in attempting to avoid occasions of sin is laudable, yet their zealousness leads to problems of their own. I think West doesn’t treat this seriously. Prudery is indeed a serious problem. Yet a simple change of intellect is normally not enough to combat this. This requires very careful spiritual guidance from a competent director.”

(2) On Analogies: “This line of thought is practically absent from the thought of Christopher West. I would even go as far to say that as long as this is not emphasized, his theology is not “nuptial” at all. One could even go towards saying it is but a shadow of the truth.”

(3) On Eros: “How much of this understanding of eros is really present in the thought of Christopher West? Is it entirely absent? Of course not. Yet is it more focusing on it as a mere sexual love? I would wager it is."

3a. First Reply to Jane Doe #1. Response to V.2.: "West Must 'Hand Off' After He 'Brings In'". Jane: [paraphrase] "I think most people expect West to do way too much, as they do JP2 in his TOB. ... It is unreasonable to expect West to cover all of the Tradition as well as the TOB. ... These complaints do not respect the agenda they have set for themselves".

I agree with this. This was my response to Jane: "I have heard others say the same thing: namely, that expectations are too high for both JP2 and West (in fact, I quoted someone in my blog piece who said just that). I think the reason that expectations are so high for West is that there are so many deficiencies (still) in adult catechesis that many who leave West's presentations with certain imbalances (ie. deficiencies in the Church's teachings on marriage and sexuality) often do not have these supplemented elsewhere (RCIA, homilies, adult education courses, marriage prep, etc.). Some came into my class with these deficiencies, and it was fine because I supplemented them. I would say, 'Mr. West does not do a thorough job with this part', or 'Mr. West does not really address such-and-such', and the students would leave my class with a still-high regard for Mr. West's work, but also the realization that his work was only part of a broader picture. West should not be held responsible for doing the job that priests, catechists, pastoral assistants, RCIA instructors, etc. are failing to do. ...

(Continuation: Reply to IV.B.4.: "Misunderstanding Perpetuated by Presenters").

However, I do believe that because people are leaving with some misunderstandings, Mr. West should take this into account in his presentations. I would say he needs to be a bit more cautious. Then again, he is heavily bound by the fact that he is teaching 'Theology of the Body' (which as you point out is more a work of anthropology to give Humanae Vitae a stronger foundation to rest on) and not the 'totality of the Church's teaching on sex and marriage'. Not to mention he is trying to explain all this to a secular audience. But once again, I believe that because of the deficiencies in catechesis, he should make this very clear and stress this (ie. that Theology of the Body is one piece of a larger puzzle)."

3b. Second Reply to Jane Doe #1. Regarding "the Debate".

... When discussions become debates, there is that tendency to allow our emotions to override our reason, even if just a little. When that happens, although we might properly understand and accurately present the other's position, we end up responding from the paradigm "how can I prove him wrong?" rather than "where is he right and where is he not? (and where am I right and where am I not?)" This can result in many points being left unaddressed and can lead to fallacies.

I could see this, for instance, in Dr. Waldstein's response to Dr. Schindler's first critique (I just re-read them all in chronological order). He did not really respond to the substance of Schindler's argument, and when he addressed the first of his four points (on concupiscence), he states simply that, on the contrary, West is in fact on the mark, then goes on to "prove" this by writing "a clear outline of the Catholic position in this matter" (as Schindler described it in his response to Waldstein), with a short discussion on Jansenistic tendencies in recent Catholic history. None of this Schindler would disagree with, except for Waldstein's statement that "No, West does not contradict the Catholic teaching". Now Waldstein was understandably upset for a number of reasons and on a number of levels, and this came across in his response. He was much more calm in his second response, but once again, he only offered "a personal testimony" about listening to West's talks in Saskatoon. However, I have talked to a number of people from Saskatoon who attended those talks (as I live here), but not all of them would agree with Waldstein's positive evaluation (though many would). Granted, some of them do not have degrees in Theology, but Dr. Schindler does.

On the other hand, West's work has been "misunderstood" and "misrepresented" by many of his critics, and sometimes greatly so.

That is why in my blog article, I submitted that perhaps both sides were "talking past" each other a bit, failing to see some good points that the other was bringing up, and failing also to reflect self-critically to their respective positions and being open to the possibility that perhaps, each was wrong about certain points.

4. Comment on Fr. Geiger's blog combox regarding "the Debate".

Like you, I am beginning to tire. I continue the dialogue on Sr. Lorraine’s site because it continues to be charitable, fair, and I think both sides are listening openly to the other.

But I would rather this just be resolved. It is like the Medjugorje issue, which I also wrote a lengthy article on. That remains my “definitive response” to the question on what I think of Medjugorje, and for those who are interested in hearing what I have to say, it is there for all to read.

Regarding Theology of the Body, I have said my say on my blog, and that is where I send everyone who wants to argue with me about it. If they do not wish to read it, that is where I end our conversation.

By the way, the most frustrating thing for me is that the substance of Dr. Schindler’s initial critique has still not been responded to. Waldstein’s two replies did not address the issues or counter the attacks, but the mere fact that he replied convinced many that Schindler was wrong and West right. That is the frustrating thing, and makes me believe that indeed, as you say, it has become a “propaganda war” where reason is trumped by emotion.

Among many, there is a seeming inability to “stick to the issues”, and there are many people who have been impacted positively by West that will disagree prima facie with any critique because their positive experiences with West’s materials “prove” to them the critiques are misplaced, just as Medjugorje supporters point to their conversions there as “proof” that Mary is really appearing there

5a. First Reply to Sr. Lorraine. (Open Wide the Doors to Christ!)
Article: "Putting Christopher West In Context: A Critique of Dawn Eden's Thesis"

You say that the “ten themes” chosen by Ms. Eden do not always “correspond to what he is actually saying”. You say that she “fails to thoroughly consider his complete position on various issues, and does not fully take into account his major work”. Perhaps this is true. But on the flip side, the question could also be asked: Does Mr. West’s audience “consider his complete position on various issues” by “fully taking into account his major work?” I will tell you why this is a problem:

You go through Dawn’s “points” and show how she is misrepresenting West on each one of them. However, I would bet that before this thesis was published, if you were to give a “true and false” quiz to every person who has listened to or read West, a quiz which consisted of ten questions, and those ten questions were word-for-word Dawn’s “ten points”, and the question to all of them was, “True or False. Christopher West teaches ...”, I believe many people would answer “True” to many if not all the questions. In fact, I would have answered “true” to most of them and still would.

You went through and clarified these “misunderstandings” through quotations from Theology of the Body Explained. But how many of our hypothetical quiz-takers have read or will ever read this work? And if they do not, how are they going to avoid these misunderstandings? You refer at times to the original Theology of the Body to clear up these confusions. But how many of our quiz-takers do that or will do that? The original has been untouched and will remain untouched by most. You yourself say that until West came along, it was practically a dead letter, because as you say, he “used language that even theologians found difficult”. Do you believe most people are going to leave those lectures any more capable of understanding this “language” that “even theologians find difficult?” They might be a little more equipped, but not to a degree they will be able to read and understand, and what is more common, they will put it down in a short amount of time out of frustration.

So although you have gone through all his works (including his magnum opus, his “big one”) to clarify it, most who have listened to or read West are, to quote you, “ordinary, average Catholics” who have “no formal training in philosophy or theology”. These are most likely going to come away (and have come away) believing that Dawn’s ten points are indeed what West is teaching.

I find that much of what you say in reference to Ms. Eden acts as a double-edged sword in that it can be said in reference to Mr. West as well. I will mention four of them.

1. So you say, “In today’s media culture, people often find themselves afloat on a sea of information, carried here and there by currents they can’t control. All this makes it difficult to find the time and resources to investigate things they hear.” But aren’t West’s presentations part of that “media culture”? And can’t “a little learning be a dangerous thing”? Isn’t it “difficult” to “find the time and resources” to “investigate” possible misunderstandings they have derived from West (ie. going to his Theology of the Body Explained to ensure they are properly understanding him)? Isn’t it also difficult to “find the time and resources” to immerse themselves in what the Church has taught about sex and marriage in the 1950 years before Theology of the Body – which is the indispensible context from which every Catholic must interpret that work in order to ensure its proper interpretation and keep from a skewed understanding of the Church’s teaching regarding sex and marriage (as I spoke about in my critique on my blog).

2. You say about Dawn’s thesis, “But not all advice is sound advice. It has to be weighed, considered, and sometimes even rejected. Sound advice comes from a solid knowledge of the territory, one that knows the obstacles as well as the opportunities the explorer faces.” This could also be said of certain pieces of advice West gives in his presentations, if you consider “explorers” to be Christians in his audience who are on their journey throughout this world. Not all “teachings” or “presentations” or “attempts at catechesis” are “sound”. Such things have to be “weighed, considered, and sometimes even rejected”. This is what Dr. Schindler did. But Dr. Waldstein, on the other hand, “weighed and considered” and came out with a different conclusion. So how is our average “quiz-taker” supposed to know? And what about Mr. West? A “solid knowledge of the territory” includes what the Church has taught on the subjects of sex and marriage long before John Paul II held his Wednesday audiences. As I submitted in my blog piece, it seems that Mr. West may have some deficiencies in his grasp and knowledge of the sources of Tradition on various issues. Now, if one of the “obstacles” that the “explorer” (the “average Catholic” or even non-Catholic or non-believer who listens to West) faces is the fact that he is not rooted in the Tradition, if he is unable to apply a “hermeneutic of continuity” to what is being taught, could we not say that West has to some of his “teachings”, his “presentations, his “catecheses” are not completely “sound”?

3. You say regarding the manner in which she posted her “ten themes”: “A casual reader, not knowing this background [West making adjustments based on feedback over time], could easily come away with the impression that West has been doing the same thing for fifteen years.” However, could it not also be said that a “casual” reader or viewer of some of West’s work, especially one who does not have a good grasp of the Catholic Tradition and teaching on sex and marriage, could also come away with faulty “impressions” – including some of the ten points Ms. Eden raised?

4. You say, “Eden has taken on such a broad project that she can't do it justice.” But could it not also be said that West has done the same in his attempt to take these profound ideas of the Pope and “present them to average Catholics” – a work that many TOB commentators have said is still “not fully understood” and will take “centuries” to unpack? Eden has taken on a “broad project”, but so has West. The latter may have greater “quantity”, but the former has a deeper and more complicated “quality”. You say it is “quite a task” for Mr. West to present all this, and I would say the same for Ms. Eden. But I do not think you can say that she “can’t do [it] justice” without saying the same about Mr. West and what he has attempted to do.

5. You say: “She simply states the themes without saying much else about them. Rather, she presents the themes in such a way that the reader tends to get a negative impression of West’s work. This is partly due to the use of selective quotes, many of which seem to have been picked for sounding somewhat provocative. This impression is reinforced by the use of quotes around many short words and phrases, and sometimes even just one word. This method of quoting raises some red flags that West is being taken out of context.” Mr. West sometimes does the same in his presentations. He presents certain “themes” in ways that give the wrong “impression”. He “selectively quotes” from the Tradition, as I showed in my blog piece. They too are chosen to “sound somewhat provocative”, such as his oft-used quote from “Love and Responsibility” in which the Pope said couples should try to achieve climax at the same time. He also uses “short words and phrases” and sometimes “even just one word”. It should not surprise us, then, that just as Dawn’s method has “raised red flags”, so has West’s method raised “red flags” with his critics.

You say: “Christopher West has been a pioneer in presenting TOB to audiences of ordinary, average Catholics, most of whom have never heard of John Paul II’s talks on the subject.” The problem, as I have said, is when he attempts to give those same presentations to “extraordinary, above-average Catholics”, some who have “formal training in philosophy and theology” or at least have read a fair bit of it on their own, and who are “well immersed” in the Catholic Tradition on this issue – including what Church Fathers, Doctors, Popes, and Councils have said. This is where the problems begin, as I stated in my thesis. I agree, however, that he “deserves tremendous credit for being a pioneer”, and that such a pioneer may “veer off course a bit”. He has been willing to change, and hopefully he will continue to show that willingness.

Now, for some agreement on your critiques:

Ms. Eden was sometimes irresponsible in the use of her language, such as when she speaks about giving “a comprehensive overview of West’s presentation of TOB.” To do what she stated she was going to do, yes, she would have had to evaluate 15 years worth of his work. However, to pinpoint certain problems in his presentations and teachings merely requires that she review his most recent material. To what extent she did this, I do not know. She should have instead stated, and attempted, that she would “identify some points in his presentations that are problematic”. The word “comprehensive” must be used with extreme caution.

Ms. Eden also made the serious error of not using “Theology of the Body Explained” more than she did (as her “primary text”, as you say). She should have brought this work to bear on every one of her ten points.

I have no problem with Eden speculating on how Mr. West’s time in the Mother of God could have contributed to his belief that prudishness has long been a problem in the Church. However, she should state this as a possibility, and as you say, this opens herself up to the same charge.

Now, for the statement I could not agree more on: “The debate about TOB will surely continue. As it unfolds, may it do so in a spirit of charity and truth, for in the end “faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). And ultimately, isn’t that what TOB is all about?” As long as this is the case, let the debate continue! “In necessariis unitas, In dubiis libertas, In omnibus autem caritas”. (In essentials unity, In doubtful things liberty, In all things charity” [St. Augustine].

5b. Second Reply to Sr. Lorraine (and Mrs. Christina King).

First, let me say straight off that I believe both Sr. Lorraine and Mrs. King [blog combox commenter] have done an excellent job in showing that Ms. Eden’s thesis has its share of problems. I believe (1) Ms. Eden has failed at times to represent West accurately, and that (2) she was at times irresponsible and reckless in her formulations, phrases, and choice of words. This I acknowledge and agree with (and in fact I pointed out some of them on my blog article, II.4.).

Of course, Ms. Eden also makes a number of excellent points in her thesis. But whereas Sr. Lorraine is pointing out the errors in Eden’s thesis, I am pointing out areas of concern in West’s, and these are both necessary to arrive at the truth in this matter.

1. Point 1. Sr. Lorraine: “There are really two different tasks involved here. One [West] is learning about a subject. The second task ... is an academic paper in which she critiques the work of another. That is a very different task”.

Rebuttal: I agree that the tasks are different, but there are similarities in both tasks. West also “requires” that the “person being [read and explained to others] is presented [accurately], in such a way that John Paul II can say, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what I mean’”. It can then happen that just as Dawn’s critique is “not a fair and impartial one” because she holds a “bias”, West too holds his own “biases” (as I suggested in my blog article, especially IV.C.9-10 and IV.F.31), which I think is also evident from how he presents TOB.

2. Point 2. Sr. Lorraine: “I agree it's entirely possible that a person like West presenting the faith may have deficiencies in his approach. Again, though, that has to be shown to be true. And that's where the careful analysis has to come in.”

Rebuttal: I believe that a distinction must be made between West’s “Theology of the Body Explained” and his “popular” presentations. I believe there are fewer deficiencies and problems in the former than in the latter. In fact, I thought he did admirably on one issue I spoke about in my blog article – namely, the superiority of celibacy. But he does not do as well in his “popular” presentations. The former was written for a more “advanced” audience; the latter is geared towards those who are either “on the fringe” or “on the outside looking in”. Once again this goes to my thesis – namely, that these presentations are not appropriate or best for all audiences.

3. Point 3: “People can read the Gospels and come away with the wrong impression, and that has certainly happened too. Jesus has been misunderstood and his teachings used in the wrong way. Is that the fault of Jesus? Obviously, no.”

Rebuttal: But people can also get the wrong impression because things are perhaps not presented as properly or as accurately as they could and should be. This is not the reason that Jesus’s listeners or readers misunderstood him; but it sometimes has been the reason some of West’s listeners have come away with misunderstandings. At other times, yes, West has done a great job and the listeners have come away with misunderstandings for the same reason Christ’s followers have.

4. Point 4. Sr. Lorraine: “The debate should be framed on the underlying questions.”

Rebuttal: I agree, which is why supporters of West should not respond to the points we raise with “oh, they are just envious” and leave it at that, or “quit picking on your brother Catholics and go after the ‘real enemies’.” These are fallacies and red herrings, but it is quite common to see the replies limited to such remarks.

5. Response to Dawn. Sr. Lorraine: I didn't see him making any connections between those experiences and his understanding of TOB.

Rebuttal: I believe that this can be inferred. It logically follows based on what he said (as Dawn explained here earlier). But as you say, two people can react differently to the same situation. However, given enough information, we can usually tell that they have reacted differently and how they reacted differently.

6. What I agree with:

Sr. Lorraine: “An academic paper written to defend a thesis has to be limited in scope. If it's not, the thesis can't be dealt with adequately. Dawn should have picked a more limited topic, possibly exploring only one question concerning the TOB debate.”

Sr. Lorraine. “By putting West's whole work on the line, she has put him under a cloud of doubt in such a way that could do harm to him personally as he pursues his work.”

7. Christina: “Christopher West is simply the Institute's popular lecturer and spokesman, not the founder and director who founded the Institute to promote ‘his’ interpretations of TOB to priest and layperson.”

Rebuttal: And yet, it is his interpretation that does predominate, and I would think that TOB Institute would not hire Dr. Schindler or Fr. Jose Granados because the TOB Institute as a whole is more on board with Mr. West’s presentations (they are “defenders” and “supporters” of his work), than they are Schindler and Granados.

8. Christina: “Ms. Dawn Eden has not attended any courses taught at the Theology of The Body Institute. Ms. Eden has not viewed any video or listened to any taped presentations from the Institute as they are not recorded."

Rebuttal: Most of the people Mr. West “reaches” also have not attended courses taught at TOB Institute. My point is that even if his TOB Institute courses like to his Theology of the Body Explained, have fewer deficiencies and are less problematic, this is not what most people are exposed to, but rather, his “popular” presentations. Therefore, our concern would not be as much in regards to the people who attend the Institute (the minority), but rather those who have listened to his “popular” presentations (by far the majority). So if Ms. Eden simply focuses on the latter, and thus listens to “Naked Without Shame” and watches “Introduction to Theology of the Body” (as I have), I do not have a huge problem with this.

However, I would agree that what she said she was going to attempt to do in her thesis she did not do.

9. Sr. Lorraine: “I'm saying that if there is a case to be made against West, the case has to be made well. In my opinion, Dawn's case should be thrown out of court, so to speak, because it is a superficial case based on a misreading and misunderstanding of West's work, as I pointed out in the long post.

Rebuttal: Sr. Lorraine, once it gets “thrown out of court”, I have another case to bring to the court, as laid out in my blog article!

5c. Third Reply to Sr. Lorraine: "A Response to Sr. Lorraine's Critique of Dawn's 'Ten Themes'".

I am going to attempt a response to "The Ten Themes".

A. Once again, I believe Ms. Eden ought to have been more careful with her language. The implication is that these are THE “ten major themes” of West’s presentation of TOB. In reality, these are ten particular ideas found in Christopher West’s presentations that she finds problematic. These are only ten ideas out of hundreds that West teaches, and these ten are not necessarily “inventions” but perhaps misinterpretations or misunderstandings of John Paul II and various Saints from our Tradition who have spoken on these subjects. Granted, some of these themes are central to West’s presentation and understanding of TOB; others, however, are not. So I have no problem with her “selecting certain themes that better suit her criticisms of West” IF her thesis was to focus on that which was problematic in his presentations rather than his work as a whole. So at the outset, this is a fundamental error – namely, that since he has but “ten major themes”, and since he is wrong about all of these “themes”, his work is to be completely discarded.

B. And again, Ms. Eden was careless in attempting to critique his work at the TOB Institute and state she was doing so when she had never attended a course there. Perhaps this is not essential (because, after all, I do not believe West’s popular presentations differ substantially from his course instruction), but at the very least, one loses moral authority in the eyes of others, indicates that one was perhaps not thorough or “comprehensive” enough in one’s research, and indicates there may be a bias (a desire to “believe the worst” rather than giving every opportunity to be shown that one is perhaps just misunderstanding the other).

C. I see a certain problem with your critique of Eden’s thesis that tends to run throughout. You seek to demonstrate how she is “wrong” about certain points by showing how it is “not” one of Christopher West’s “top ten key points”. By doing so, you commit somewhat of a “red herring”. Readers sympathetic to your overall views will take your proving that this or that “theme” is not as central as other themes Eden did not mention, and either conclude that “there is nothing wrong with this theme” or that “this is not a theme of West’s at all”. Sometimes, she does mischaracterize his view in her “themes”; but sometimes she explains it accurately.

1a. First Theme. I believe Eden is justified in stating this. Perhaps “recontextualize” is too strong a word, but this is certainly a theme of West’s. West quoted Weigel in Part II of his “Introduction to Theology of the Body” DVD as saying that JP2’s TOB: “has ramifications for all of theology. ... Virtually every thesis in theology – God, Christ, the Trinity, grace, the Church, the sacraments – could be seen in a new light if theologians explored in depth the rich personalism implied in [this] theology of the body” (pg. 343). West paraphrases this by saying TOB will compel a dramatic development regarding every article of the Creed. Notice they do not say it will “affect many areas”; rather, they say “every article” will be seen “in a new light”.

No, religious educators don’t “have to” do anything (there is no compulsion); but inevitably, the Church will be lead in a direction in which this will happen. But I think Weigel and West say more than merely that TOB allows us to “rediscover” truths we have lost sight of. And I do not believe Eden is saying it is going to “change” the articles of our Creed, as though we will be reciting something differently at Mass in the future.

1b. Imago Dei. You say this is her interpretation of West. I believe you are splitting hairs here. You make a distinction between “the body” and “the meaning of the body”; but implicit in saying “the body” as Eden does is the idea that it is “the meaning of the body”. But once again, she should be more careful about her formulations. You go on to say that West was referring to the call to nuptial love rather than the “imago Dei”. But his quotation began with “everything God wants to tell us on earth about who he is ...”. “Who he is” is a communion of life and love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (the “Imago Dei”). In other words, West is saying in this quote more than what John Paul II said in the paragraph immediately previous. So when you say: “She’s suggesting that his ideas about the nuptial mystery actually refers to the imago Dei”, I am not sure that is a valid criticism of Eden, nor do I think this misrepresents West all that much. West said in Part VIII of his DVD series that understanding God’s plan for the body and sexuality plunges us into the teaching of the whole Gospel and of Jesus Christ. The teaching of Jesus Christ includes the teaching about the “Imago Dei”.

2. The Second Theme. No, this is not necessarily a “major theme” of TOB, but West does frequently mention it. Your main critique here is not against the substance of the theme, but rather that Eden gives the impression that it is more important to West than contraception, which you show is not true. Once again, this is the fault of Eden, who by not laying out her intent in listing these “themes”, and her implication that these are THE “top ten themes” in West`s presentation, opens herself up to these responses. However, I gather from your response, then, that you agree this is something West does teach, though perhaps not in those same words.

3. The Third Theme. You say that West does not refer to this theme often. However, it is something that his listeners clearly remember – probably more clearly than anything he says about contraception. West has some vivid analogies, and simply by using it once, people can come away from even one audience where this has been mentioned once and remember it for years. And it is one of the last things they will forget from his presentations. So I would say it is quite “central” in his presentation.

He also makes some provocative statements that “stick with a person”. When I read his description of heaven as the “eternal orgasm” for the first time, this idea was branded into my memory. I have re-read this since then, but even without any re-readings, I would remember this one until I die. Therefore, to say he does not mention it often is not to say it is not central or key.

4. The Fourth Theme. I think what you argue here is a stretch. You say that West intends to use the “third” of the “five” definitions found in the dictionary. West might be stressing that God fills us with divine life, but his use of “impregnate” is once again to show how the sexual is a sign of the divine. He may have had the third meaning in mind as it concerned the infusion of grace, but I think he certainly had the first definition in mind when he decided to use that word. He was essentially saying, “just as the man impregnates the woman with life-giving seed, so God fills us with life-giving grace”. I am sure he was taking this from St. Louis de Montfort, but that does not mean he did not read this analogy into him rather than actually getting it from him. Furthermore, usually when a person uses a word, it is the first definition they have in mind (because the first definition is the most common). I doubt in his “popular presentations” that he would use a word that most in his audience understand only in one way (the marital/sexual) to indicate something that is foreign to his audience. I think at least on this theme you should have given Ms. Eden this one.

4b. Men and receptivity. I am not sure Eden’s omission of what John Paul II said gives the impression that West is more provocative than he is. I believe her reason for omitting what John Paul II said is that one only has so much room in a thesis. She believes it was not important to reprint what John Paul II wrote, and most of the time that is the case. What West says in commenting on what John Paul II wrote is not necessarily completely faithful to what JP2 said (and did not say). JP2 said each man and woman are in a sense “Bride” (after all, the Church is “Bride” and “we are Church”). West, however, makes a sexual reference by saying men of the Church “surrender to him in a union of love like a bride surrenders to the loving embrace of her bridegroom”. “Loving embrace”, I would argue, is sexual (i.e. “marital embrace), and if it is not intended to be that way, most listeners will still make that connection. Most listeners, it should be added, will also not have this “clarified” by reading pages 28-30 of his magnum opus (most will not read it). However, for the sake of Ms. Eden’s thesis, she should have certainly referenced TOB Explained and grappled with what he said there.

5. The Fifth Theme. Once again, I do not like her choice of terms. “Modeled upon” makes it sound as though sexual union was the blueprint from which the early Church’s liturgists designed the Mass. Certainly, the liturgy has spousal references and is analogous in some ways to marriage / sexuality. However, once again, on a point where you do not find much disagreement with her, you seem to want to make sure you evaluate this theme negatively as well, and thus you go back to how this is “not a central theme”. I would humbly submit, Sister, that this may indicate a bit of a bias (against Ms. Eden) on your part as well.

6. The Sixth Theme. West does say this, but what confuses me is that I do not think he needs to be defended for saying this. I think it is true and thus legitimate. Every joy on earth is meant to be a foretaste “in some way” of the joys of heaven.

7. The Seventh Theme. I think this is where West gets into trouble, and I think it speaks to Dr. Schindler’s critique, who addresses this in Point 8 of his Response to Drs. Waldstein and Smith. I will quote him at length:

“Love has its roots most basically in the soul, and ultimately in God. Sex and gender do not, properly speaking, exist in persons who are not embodied – angels and God – but rather indicate the new form that love takes when it takes form in the human-embodied person. ... In a word, what is proper to the love that begins in the spirit and ultimately in God is revealed in the body in a new and different way, in the sexual difference. ... Regardindg the human body itself. John Paul II says that the body in its “original solitude” is “substantially prior” to the body in its “original unity” and hence in its sexual difference (see Man and Woman He Created Them, p. 157; General Audience, 7 November 1979). This means that the body in its most original sense is made for God. The body, we may say, bears what is first a filial relation to God. As a creature (hence child) of God, I bear a basic relation to or capacity for God, and only consequently, though simultaneously, inside this relation, do I bear a capacity for another human being. Indeed, this filial relation is rightly understood as a “virginal” relation – bearing a different shape in the celibate and married states – because it involves the whole of my being in relation to the whole God. It is crucial to understand that this original filial relation to God retains its priority within the relation between spouses, though the filial and spousal relations ... each illuminate the inner meaning of the other, in their own distinct ways. In the terms of Joseph Ratzinger, filial love is the “content” (Inhalt), and spousal love the “consequence” (Folge) of the imago Dei. ... Sexual-spousal love participates in this more original filial relation to God as its sign and expression, but does so only as consequent to and distinct from this more original filial relation. The filial love proper to the body in its original solitude establishes the primacy of the virginal state already in the natural order, and thus indicates that there is a virginal fruitfulness that takes priority over marital-sexual fruitfulness. ... One must always be clear that the theology of the body is not synonymous with a theology of sexuality. ... It is crucial to understand that this original filial relation to God retains its priority within the relation between spouses, though the filial and spousal relations ... each illuminate the inner meaning of the other, in their own distinct ways. In the terms of Joseph Ratzinger, filial love is the “content” (Inhalt), and spousal love the “consequence” (Folge) of the imago Dei. ... Sexual-spousal love participates in this more original filial relation to God as its sign and expression, but does so only as consequent to and distinct from this more original filial relation. The filial love proper to the body in its original solitude establishes the primacy of the virginal state already in the natural order, and thus indicates that there is a virginal fruitfulness that takes priority over marital-sexual fruitfulness. ... One must always be clear that the theology of the body is not synonymous with a theology of sexuality.”

So for West to say “God created sexual desire as the power to love as [God] loves” is erroneous. Man, when in the state of “original solitude” (before the creation of Eve), already had the power to love as God loved! Thus, this is a poorly worded phrase by Mr. West. The truth he is trying to elucidate is fine, but he must word this better.

Once again, I am not sure we can draw such a sharp distinction between “sexual desire itself” and “the understanding of sexual love as it was meant to be”. West seems to indicate that the “desire” itself is the “power” to love; however, of course West would say that desire has to be properly ordered and fully realized. I do not think he had in mind merely “understanding” sexual love, because a mere understanding is not sufficient to ensure that “sexual love” will be “as it was meant to be”. One must put that understanding into practice.

8. The Eighth Theme. I agree with you here.

9. The Ninth Theme. Regarding your quote from Origen, I think it is important to note that besides writing a commentary on Song of Songs, he also wrote an equally-long commentary on Leviticus (the least-read book in the Bible). So I do not think what Origen says here speaks to his belief in the importance of Song of Songs, any more than his work on Leviticus speaks to his belief in the centrality of that book to our Christian Faith. The only other thing I would like to add here is that I have addressed the issue of Song of Songs in my blog article.

10. The Tenth Theme. I do not think the quote you gave from TOB Explained disagrees with the “tenth theme” as stated by Eden. She states that marriage is “encapsulated” in intercourse; or in other words, that the essence of marriage is expressed in sexual union. What is the “meaning” of marriage? I think it is similar to the nuptial “meaning” of the body, which is “the body’s capacity of expressing love: that love precisely in which the person becomes a gift and – by means of this gift – fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence”. (John Paul II, as quoted in Good News, p.22). In other words, the “meaning” of marriage is to give oneself to another and thus fulfill the very meaning of his existence (which is to love). This loving as God loves is the essence of marriage, and nothing expresses this more profoundly, or as West would say it, more “specifically”, than sexual union. Going back to your quote, West would no doubt say that sexual union is meant to be an expression of the love they are to show each other throughout “the whole of married life”, and also that it is in sexual union that the meaning of masculinity and femininity is expressed and even achieved in the most profound way.

5d. Fourth Reply to Sr. Lorraine: "Suggestions to Ms. Eden on how to improve her thesis":

Sr. Lorraine,

Yes, I agree with you regarding the themes as they are laid out and the content (or lack thereof).

I also agree that she should have returned to them. She should have done what your friend Aquinas did and issued "responses" to the "themes" at the end.

If I was to make suggestions on how she should revise this thesis, I would offer the following:

1. (a) Opening with her "Ten Themes" is fine, but she should speak of them as being "ten themes which seem to have originated with West rather than John Paul II" instead of "the ten main themes of his presentation of TOB". (b) And she should take care to "prove" this.

2. I believe the "Ten Themes" can be shortened to perhaps Six themes. I would combine 2/3, 4/5/10, and 6/7. For instance, "marriage is encapsulated in intercourse" can be discussed under the nuptial analogy being envisioned in sexual terms. This will save her space.

3. The biographical information should be shortened and moved to her discussion of "the prudish Church".

4. (a) Her account of the Nightline appearance and the fallout from that should be excised. (b) The only thing relevant here is the substance of Dr. Schindler's critique, and the fact that his arguments were never directly and properly responded to.

5. (a) Her middle section should evaluate the "ten themes" and show how West is wrong about them. (b) She does not need to begin this section with Lowery; rather, he can be cited when his critiques speak to the particular theme she is addressing.

6. The final section should once again take each theme and issue "correctives".

7. She should also do as I did and focus more on the discord that exists between some of these teachings and the pre-Vatican II sources (many of which I cited).

8. She should also be more careful about her choice of terms as well as her arguments (she must do a better job anticipating possible objections).

9. She should ensure she reads the relevant passages in "Theology of the Body Explained" before issuing any kind of critique in case West clears up the matter in his "magnum opus".

10. She should attend and actively participate in his courses at TOB Institute, if nothing else to counter the objection that until she does, she has no moral authority to speak on the issue.

6. Reply to "James", poster on Sr. Lorraine's blog combox regarding his defense of the "two bishops" story as used by West as well as West's take on concupiscence and redemption of the body.

"James, you explain your point well. My only concern is really that you have heard Christopher West over 100 times. Is that necessary? Or do you work for the Institute, perhaps (which would be understandable).

With all respect, I am not sure it is good to spend so much time on Theology of the Body, and more specifically, one man's presentation of Theology of the Body. Our Faith is much broader than that.

I spoke about this inordinate focus on my blog article.