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.


  1. re the Medjugorje debate and your withdrawl... Our Lady had this to say in her latest message (September 25, 2010): “I urge you, little children, to speak less and to work more on your personal conversion so that your witness may be fruitful.”

    And yes, trusting in the Lord, rather than our own opinions and arguements, can be a positive step forward in the daily conversion process we are all invited to undertake. Humility is not an easy virtue to take on board, but again in her latest message, Our Lady invites us to do so: “I urge you to live your life of faith even more, because you are still weak and are not humble.”


  2. I must be out of the loop. What was Dawn Eden's error?

    -Kevin Symonds

  3. At at talk West recently gave at my college he said that he was going to write a group of articles that will individually deal with the different objections. I do how ever understand that the these debates can take a toll on ones nerves. It is good that you are praying about this. I pray you will find peace.

    God bless,


  4. Wade wrote: 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.

    The temptation for all of is to be “right” which can lead to a sense of “righteousness”. In today first reading (Wednesday, ordinary time, year 2) Job spoke to his friends: “Indeed, I know it is as you say; how can man be in the right against God?”

    And in yesterday’s Gospel, James and John were rebuked by the Lord for wanting to bring down fire from heaven and burn those who would not receive Jesus. Our sense of righteousness, even indignation, can lead us down many blind alleys, and most certainly disturb our peace and the peace of others, a sure sign that we are being distracted from the path that Jesus invites us to take when he says “Follow me” (see today’s Gospel, Luke 9 : 57-62).

  5. I didn't comment on you TOB article, but I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your insights on that matter. I have not engaged publicly with the debates surrounding TOB and West's treatment of it, mainly because most of my efforts are taken up with liturgical music arguments, which is my academic specialty. Nevertheless, I've followed the debates with great curiosity, usually feeling that both sides were talking past each other, and inadequately addressing some of the issues. I was very impressed with your take. It provided my husband and I with much food for thought and conversation, and we both think that you have the most sensible and balanced approach of any of the articles we've read on the subject. You have been able to articulate some of the things we've been thinking but couldn't express, and have done so without the acrimony that so often intrudes on otherwise good debate online.

    It is probably just as well that you leave the subject alone now. Far better for you to turn your energies toward new subjects than to stop here and end up burnt-out. You've done well so far, and I look forward to hearing what else you have to say.

  6. Thank you for your insights, "pilgrim". You come across as someone who has a deep faith and intimate relationship with Our Lord. Bless you.

    Kevin, you'll have to refer to Sr. Lorraine's piece critiquing Dawn's "ten themes". I personally do not think Sister is right about most of her critiques, but I do think she did point out a few problematic things with Dawn's thesis.

    Megs, what did you think of his talk? Does it sound like his presentations are any different? I am looking forward to what he will have to say in these articles - hopefully it will clear up some confusion. Also, have you ever attended the Latin Mass at Blessed Sacrament in Kansas City?

    Jane, I very much appreciate these compliments. I have actually received high praise from people on "both" sides of this issue, which makes me believe I am on the right track. Your observation is correct - there has been a lot of "talking past each other", which is the exact phrase I have been using when addressing both sides of this issue. Bless you.

  7. I will agree with my old friend Kevin Symonds. (hope all is well with you by the way!) As I have told Wade, the good Sister's "critque" established nothing, and, with all due respect to a religious, was every bit as "simplicstic" as she accuses Dawn Eden of being. Though one can read my comments on it at the work referenced.

    Wade, I do hope your time away proves fruitful. For reasons we discussed in private, I think you provided some valuable contributions. I would not think "all is lost" however. One need only look at Catholic Exchange, whenever they post something sympathetic to those of the school of thought Mr. West personifies. Not only myself or DCS, but several others point out devestating arguments against their side. Whenever people read them, they will see it. More importantly, they will see the silence. If you are not actively participating, I still hope you will be a "silent contributor" with your research and insight for all involved.

    I for one do not think West's time off has caused a change of heart in anything. He compares his critics to ignorant fundamentalist rubes (calling us "the religious right"), states we are Manichean, etc. I for one pray he dials it back a bit, and a civil discussion can occur. Yet I'm a realist and a cynic.

    Kevin Tierney

  8. Thanks, Kevin. I can tell from some of the responses my efforts have not been in vain.

    As I posted on your blog, time will tell whether or not there will be any changes in Christopher West's presentations.

  9. Today, my husband and I found out that our daughter has a broken arm. We missed it for days because she wasn't in any pain, just afraid to use it. We had an x-ray taken and discovered the truth of it being broken. Before we knew the truth from the x-ray, we thought she was fine. We were wrong. Boy do we feel dumb, but so glad that she will heal properly.

    Tomorrow is the feast day of St. Therese, Child of Jesus and Doctor of the Church. Let us pray that she intercedes for us to help overcome our weaknesses and take some "heavenly" x-rays to shed light on the truth of both TOB and Medjugorje. So, like my daughter's arm, we can be protected, strengthened, united and healed.