WADE ST. ONGE

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

TOB: My Q&A Session with Dr. Peter Kreeft

My friend and fellow Knight, Jonathan, a solid young man in his early 20s from a good Catholic family, successfully petitioned his local council to bring in Dr. Peter Kreeft to speak here in Saskatoon. Tickets for the evening were $50, and this included two talks intermitted by a supper. Although very reasonably priced for an event such as this, I was initially not going to attend as I do not believe in spending this kind of money just to hear a popular Catholic come in and give us the cliff’s notes version of books I have already read and articles I could get for free. I am not caught up in the “Catholic cult of celebrity” and in fact I find the phenomenon repugnant.

However, I changed my mind due to a combination of the following factors: (1) His second talk was entitled “God and Sex” and was on Theology of the Body; (2) There would be a Q&A session following the talks; (3) Dr. Kreeft’s article, “Is There Sex in Heaven”, had what I considered some serious errors and ran contrary to John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body”; (4) I found out Dr. Kreeft had just been hired to join Christopher West on the faculty of the “Theology of the Body Institute”; and (5) I had been heavily involved in the second round of the “Theology of the Body debates” following the publication of Dawn Eden’s thesis.

When you take on a man of Dr. Peter Kreeft’s intelligence and stature, it is imperative that you do your homework and come fully prepared and anticipate all possible rejoinders. That is what I did. My question was going to be directed towards the argument he made in the aforementioned article. Here is the pertinent excerpt:

Intercourse on earth is a shadow or symbol of intercourse in Heaven. ... This spiritual intercourse would mean something more specific than universal charity. It would be special communion with the sexually complementary; something a man can have only with a woman and a woman only with a man ... The relationship need not be confined to one in Heaven. Monogamy is for earth. ... The relationship may not extend to all persons of the opposite sex, at least not in the same way or degree. If it did extend to all, it would treat each differently simply because each is different – sexually as well as in other ways. I think there must be some special "kindred souls" in Heaven that we are designed to feel a special sexual love for. That would be the Heavenly solution to the earthly riddle of why in the world John falls for Mary, of all people, and not for Jane.

THE STUMPER

I was going to apply to this position the following question:
In heaven, are there some women Jesus has a special sexual love for? And are there some men that Mary has a special sexual love for?

I was going to tell him that this question puts him in a quandary, because either way he answers, there will be serious theological problems that would invalidate his argument:

If NAY ...

If he answered, “No, Jesus and Mary do not because they were virgins and that continued in heaven”, then I would ask him why the Church means when it teaches that celibacy is an “eschatological sign?” If he had trouble answering (because his article made it clear to me he was very fuzzy on this issue), I would assist him by telling him that celibacy is the state of universal charity that sexual love and expression is a sign of, and that the intimacy that one has with the person of the opposite sex that he is married to is a foretaste of what that person will have with God forever in heaven and with everyone in the communion of saints irregardless of sex. The whole point of virginity, I would say to him, is that one gives up an earthly good in order to embrace a heavenly good, and that the life the virgin lives is an earthly example of the love we will have in heaven: namely, university charity, which is the same kind of love that the article says love will “not” be restricted to in heaven. The self-forgetful love of the other in marriage and family life is but a “school” of love that is meant to train and form the married man and woman so that they can go out and love “all” people with that same self-forgetful love and experience the ecstasy of that love in their relationships with everyone, which will be fulfilled even more intensely in heaven.

If YAY ...

However, if he answered, “Yes, Jesus and Mary do” (which I highly doubt he would), then I would follow that up with the question, “Does this mean Jesus and Mary had a special sexual love for certain persons of the opposite sex while on earth?” This opens up numerous absurdities and theological problems which I had in my arsenal but which for the sake of brevity I will not reproduce here, other than to say this: Kreeft says in his article that the only point of sexual intercourse in heaven would be the desire to express personal love. But if Jesus expressed personal love in non-sexual ways on earth, why would he then express personal love in sexual ways to some selected women (but not men) in heaven? If Christ’s sexual love was restricted to women alone, then would that not mean there must be higher expressions of love? And if that was so, then what would be the point of sexual love in heaven at all? Dr. Kreeft would probably be forced to admit that this “sexual love” was sexual simply insofar as Jesus was a man and loved certain members of the opposite sex more intimately (such as female saints) while Mary was a woman and loved certain members of the opposite sex more intimately. But is that "sexual love?" I would tell Dr. Kreeft, "I am friends with Ryan and I am friends with Penny. Is my love for Ryan non-sexual and my love for Penny sexual?" This would put him in another quandary. If he said that it was a sexual love that I had for Penny insofar as she was a woman and I was a man, then I would point out that in his article, this is not what he means by "sexual" when speaking about "sexual love" in heaven. He is clearly talking about a sort of romantic love rather than a love of friends that I have with Ryan just the same as I have with Penny.

ON THE CONTRARY, JOHN PAUL II SAYS ...

Either way, I would point out how his article clearly contradicts John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. In Audience #68 (December 16, 1981), he states the following:

Virginity, or rather the virginal state of the body, will be totally manifested as the eschatological fulfillment of the nuptial meaning of the body ... [This will mean] a new, perfect intersubjectivity of all ... For this reason we profess faith in the 'communion of saints' (communio sanctorum) ... Christ’s words which affirm that in the other world, 'They neither marry nor are given in marriage' are at the basis of this (December 16, 1981)

In the following catechesis, Audience #69, he states the following:

In the unity of the [original] couple [the human being] becomes male and female, discovering the nuptial meaning of his body as a personal subject. Subsequently, the meaning of being a body and, in particular, being male and female in the body, is connected with marriage and procreation (that is, with fatherhood and motherhood). However, the original and fundamental significance of being a body, as well as being, by reason of the body, male and female—that is precisely that nuptial significance—is united with the fact that man is created as a person and called to a life in communione personarum [the communion of persons]. Marriage and procreation in itself do not determine definitively the original and fundamental meaning of being a body or of being, as a body, male and female. Marriage and procreation merely give a concrete reality to that meaning in the dimensions of history ... The resurrection indicates the end of the historical dimension. The words, 'When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage' (Mk 12:25), express univocally not only the meaning which the human body will not have in the future world. But they enable us also to deduce that the nuptial meaning of the body in the resurrection to the future life will correspond perfectly both to the fact that man, as a male-female, is a person created in the ‘image and likeness of God,’ and to the fact that this image is realized in the communion of persons(January 13, 1982)

THE EXCHANGE ...

Thus I came equipped to ask my question. When the Q&A started, I was second in line.
The first was a woman who objected to something Dr. Kreeft said that was unrelated to sex. He dealt with her very condescendingly, and the poor woman was further humiliated when Dr. Kreeft made a sharp one-liner and the audience burst into applause. I said under my breath, “This is not right”. So admittedly, I had a bit of an edge when I got up to the microphone.

I addressed Dr. Kreeft, then quoted the above passage from his article. I followed his quote by asking, “Do you still stand by what you wrote here? Do you still believe this?” He said, “Well, I was just speculating. I used a lot of ‘if’s’, ‘perhaps’, etc.” Now, I knew he would probably try to use these “loopholes” in his article to wiggle his way out if the questions became too difficult to respond to, and I came prepared. I said, “You wrote, 'I believe there must be some kindred souls we have a special sexual love for’. That is a statement of belief, not speculation”. He replied, “I am willing to admit that these speculations could be wrong if it is shown that they contradict what the Church teaches”. I said, “They do. Audience #69. Would you like me to read it for you?” He said, “No, that’s fine, I will read it on my own later”. As he was saying this, he pulled out a notepad and jotted something down – presumably the audience number.

Now, this is one thing I was not expecting. I thought I would have to go through and demonstrate why he was wrong. Instead, he simply just conceded my point. Here was a professor who was hired by Theology of the Body Institute to teach Theology of the Body, and he simply took my word for it that his article contradicted it. He never said, “What subject was that audience on? Could you jog my memory and tell me the gist of that particular audience?” No, he simply surrendered.

That was the perfect set-up for the final question I had prepared for him. I proceeded to ask it: “Have you actually even read Theology of the Body cover to cover? If you have, then why are you teaching something so contrary to it? And if you have not, then why would the Theology of the Body Institute hire you to teach Theology of the Body?” He responded, “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask them”. The audience laughed – which was a clear indication to me that he won back his devoted audience and thus did not have to answer my question. Indeed, he never did, which was another clear indication: that, no, he has never read Theology of the Body. His defense was simply to give some kind of explanation as to how he was drawing on Catholic principles.

In his talk, the only three things he really even said about JP2 or Theology of the Body was: (1) Theology of the Body is the greatest piece of theology since the Summa. (2) TOB teaches that in our sexuality we image the Trinity. (3) TOB did a better job of explaining why contraception was wrong than Humanae Vitae. In fact, he used Aristotle more than he used JP2 in laying out his theology of sexuality.

I think I am just as fortunate (or maybe more fortunate) as he that I had left the microphone before he answered, “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask them”. I also came prepared with a response to that. Had I still been at the mike, I would have said, “I don’t need to ask them because I already know why they hired you, and I think you do too, but if you do not, I can inform you privately afterwards if you like”. Dr. Peter Kreeft was hired for one reason: because he is a “big name” and thus he will provide the Theology of the Body Institute, and by extension, Christopher West, with more credibility. Having lost the debate over West’s theology, the game plan is now to appeal to authority. The Amazon page for Christopher West’s latest book gives a lengthy string of endorsements from a carefully chosen cross-section of “big names” with a short citation of their “credentials” afterwards. For instance, it begins with “Christoph Cardinal Schonborn”, which is followed by the credential, “general editor, Catechism of the Catholic Church; and grand chancellor, International Theological Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family”. The next is “Most Reverend Joseph P. McFadden, Bishop of Harrisburg, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Catholic Education”. The point of doing so is to get the reader to say, “well, if the editor of the Catechism and the bishop in charge of Christian education think West’s work is sound, then it must be”. That is not an honest approach, but it works so they use it. For proof, just look at the comments in this recent blog article.

What is ignored is the fact that many other “heavy hitters” are on the other side of the fence. Ironically enough, that also includes Dr. Peter Kreeft. A few questions later, Dr. Kreeft was asked what he thought of Christopher West’s theology. Kreeft said that on certain issues, West was “flaky” and “went off the deep end”, especially with regards to “modesty”.

Once again, however, I was the victim of the "cult of celebrity". Mere hours after the talk, a friend informed me that he heard from "a string of people" in our "young adult" community that I had the audacity to challenge Dr. Kreeft and was disrespectful to him and demonstrated a lack of class. No one, however, had any problems with the way Dr. Kreeft handled the questioner who proceeded me. He was more disrespectful and classless than I, but because he is a Catholic celebrity and because I am not, he is considered blameless and I am criticized. In doing so, we demonstrate our hypocrisy. We decry the double-standards the secular society sets against Christians, but then we apply our own.

Fortunately, I can back up the sequents of events recounted here because it was all video-recorded by Jonathan. I will be getting a copy in the near future.

16 comments:

  1. I'd say he saw you coming a mile away.

    Your level of preparation evidenced here reveal an intention to rope Dr. Kreeft in a "gotcha moment" and lure him into a disputation.

    Perhaps this is appropriate for a formal debate, but not for Q&A following a parish talk. Context my friend.

    Here's my advice, stay away from those Catholics that have a disordered understanding of love and truth and then want to bludgeon public Catholics with it.

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  2. I would agree: he knew what was coming so rather than allowing me to demonstrate he was wrong, he copped out.

    And I think your advice is excellent.

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  3. While I applaud your not being smitten with Big Names in the Catholic sphere, I'm sure there were some who were there out of respect for the man and not his popularity. But I give you credit-- you went in well armed, and you were certain that you had all the ammunition that was necessary to trap him and boast, "Gotcha!" This reminds me of a story where some very smart men intended to put Jesus on the spot and trap him. These men were prepared to pounce Christ whichever way he answered their clever question, but they ended up looking like the fools instead. I do not equate Kreeft to Christ, mind you-- for all I know he is a jerk. But your post here ends up saying more about you than it does about Kreeft. And you say (with relish) that you've got the video like you are some undercover agent? It's PHILOSOPHY!

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  4. My dear young friend:

    I wish to offer you encouragement in this. One can see that there is something in the back of your mind that is troubling you about this business, and you are right: there is something troubling about it.

    Let us dispense with Mr Kreeft right away. He is a theological lightweight, a classic "neocon", a man with no understanding of the difference between infallibility and impeccability (or, if he does understand the difference he is being quite dishonest in his writings) and a man whose writings are the usual pietistic bores that leave thinking readers scratching their heads. In short, he is a nonentity.

    Let us now look at the crucial, main issue. I must be blunt here. The whole "theology of the body" thing is the product of a troubled mind. That troubled mind was John Paul IIs. Now, before you dismiss me to the ranks of dolts I respectfully ask that you consider a few things.

    In the twenty centuries that Christ's Church has been in existence, not a single Saint, philosopher, teacher, Pope or theologian has ever taught, let alone heard of, a concept as ridiculous - and prone to the awakenings of sinful desires - as the TOB. On such a delicate matter as marital relations the Church has for two millenia preached prudence, circumspection and extreme caution. If you doubt this pick up any Catholic book written before, say, 1940 to see how these things were handled. It will shock you to see the differences between the Church of the past with the scandalous - yes, alas, scandalous - musings of John Paul II. It will hit you like a slap in the face. We modern Catholics have been so cut off from our past by the misguided innovators of recent decades that we are now almost off-balanced. Look at the shocking remarks of Benedict XVI in his recent book on Our Lord. They are in almost contradiction to 2,000 years of Church teaching. At least Benedict warns us in his Foreword that these are only his opinions and not to be taken as dogma (how could they be?), but John Paul does no such thing. He creates out of the thinnest air a "theology" whose only effect will be to encourage those with raging hormones to think that every marital act they perform is akin to Holy Communion. You doubt me? Well, look at Mr West. I don't know why some are criticizing him; he is merely carrying the TOB to its perfectly logical conclusion. He really cannot be blamed too much. If the seed is bad, the fruit will be bad.

    ...to be continued.

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  5. Continued from previous post:

    In an age sodden with vice, both natural and unnatural, we have a Pope coming up with a dubious "theology" that does nothing but pour gasoline on a roaring fire. You can spend all the time you want picking out this nice phrase or that out of this theology, but it will be to no avail. It is wrong-headed. TOB awakens passions that are both bizarre and wrong, despite all the "holy" phrases contained therein. That is its greatest danger. And we must never forget that this idiotic "theology" of our previous Pontiff does not fall under the charism of infallibility. And we must further not forget that throughout the Church's history many, many Popes have made disastrously bad decisions (why do you think we need to pray for them?) that have negatively affected the Church. Again, read some solid, pre-1940 Church history books. Read the great Catholic authors and historians. None of these things are taught, let alone even spoken of, in today's modernist-infested Church.

    The Church will survive. It will even survive TOB. But if it is to survive we need to put "papolatry" behind us. You are right to be wary of this "cult" status that has grown up around incompetents like Kreeft, von Baltasar, deLubac and their ilk. That cult status has certainly grown over the very over-rated papacy of John Paul II. We must face this.

    Are their serious, scholarly, respectful writings available that expose TOB for what it is? Yes, thank goodness. Granted these are in the minority and are, of course, being ignored or ridiculed by the pro-TOB folks, but they are out there.

    We are in a serious mess. Rome is stumbling and, sadly, inept these days (that won't last forever). Look at how they're handling the homosexual infestation...quite badly. We have high-profile prelates like Nichols in London and a few in America allowing special "queer masses" in their diocese. Are you shocked? You shouldn't be. This is what happens when the Supreme Leader of the Church has a troubled mind and a lack of interest in governing the Church entrusted to him.

    Pray for the Pope.

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  6. From your writing I understand that you see yourself as theologian and a big deal in our small prairie city, but what value is there in doing something like this, outside of puffing yourself up? As it was stated before, it wasn't a debate. You took potshots at a well-respected academic at a friendly event. What value was it for the people attending?

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  7. Stella:

    At $50 a head, most people were there due to his popularity. Nobody would pay that much to hear a local professor, no matter how qualified he may be, give talks on those two topics.

    Do you really give me credit, or are you being sarcastic?

    You are correct, Dr. Kreeft is not Jesus. If he were, he would have been able to refute what I said. But instead he conceded my point.

    I know how I came across that night and believe me, I am paying the price for it.

    If it's merely "philosophy" and no big deal, why did 300 people pay $50 each for it? It is more important than "just philosophy".

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  8. Dan:

    I agree with the jist of what you say, though I would not take it to the extent you do. The danger with Theology of the Body is that it is over-rated and given a pre-eminence over what the Church has taught on these matters the previous 2,000 years.

    As long as Theology of the Body is read in light of the Tradition (and corrected and tempered by that same Tradition), then it can be of some value. However, West and most others do not read it in light of that Tradition.

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  11. Anonymous #2:

    I generally do not allow anonymous comments, especially when they are critical of the author, but in this case, I will allow it because it is obvious you were in the audience.

    I do wish you would email me privately and identify yourself. I can take constructive criticism and would welcome it more than an anonymous post.

    I suppose it could be called "potshots" but by definition that implies I was correct with regards to my position. However, although I was right, I admit I was not right about how I went about it.

    As for it being a "friendly event", there was an attempt to sell tickets to atheists in the hope they would be "converted". And he was not so gentle about how he spoke of the atheist position at times. So in that case, it was "friendly" for the members of the choir he was preaching to - which includes you.

    As for the "value" of what I did, my only response would be to say I did wrong due to what I wrote in paragraphs 7a, 7b, and 7c of this post:
    http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2010/07/reflection-batman-dark-knight-response.html

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  12. By the way, here is what Dr. Kreeft went on to say in his article (but which I did not read back to him nor quote in this article):

    ... But would it ever take the form of physical sexual intercourse? We should explore this question ... Since there are bodies in Heaven, able to eat and be touched, like Christ's resurrection body, there is the possibility of physical intercourse. But why might the possibility be actualized? What are its possible purposes and meanings? ... Specifically human reasons for intercourse include (1) consummating a monogamous marriage and (2) the desire to express personal love. As to the first, there is no marriage in Heaven. But what of the second? ... If the possibility of intercourse in Heaven is not actualized, it is only for the same reason earthly lovers do not eat candy during intercourse: there is something much better to do".

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  13. The reason Kreeft balked your question is because it did not come from a spirit of love and common inquiry, but one of divisiveness and contention. Not everything is a fight my friend. You will influence people more by dropping the standoffish tone. I know from personal experience.

    Also, Kreeft is so popular for good reason. He is one of the most well read erudite scholars in the world. He has as dialectic a mind as anyone's. Better not to assume he doesn't take objections seriously.

    Is there some other reason he offends you? I would guess there is. Do some persons you have fallen out with, read him?

    eternalstoke@yahoo.com

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  14. Clearly, there is no point in taking on "Catholic celebrities" who have a personality cult built up around them by Catholics who hypocritically claim to be against such cults based on the teachings of their holy book's own Gospels.

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  15. 1. I have no idea if the crying woman is a hypersensitive person who asked an heretical question.
    2. Sounds like you have more of a problem with te audience, and with your own holy Church, than you do with Dr. Kreeft.
    3. If you were to correct Dr. Kreeft on some point, I Am confident he would admit it. I have seen it happen, you presumably haven't. It seems you aren't interested in factual correction though, but instead, you are confident that he needs moral correction- without knowing him.
    4. I am a psychiatrist. Let me say a word about personality. Kreeft is very shy interpersonally and probably has schizoid defenses. You on the other hand strike me as OCPD organized. Which is a very rigid and standoffish personality.
    5. Your statement about cult of personality means there can't be any heroes in the Church, like Joan of Arc, or the late Pope. Which is absurd. So your suspicion is false.
    - Tom

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  16. 1. What does it matter? Dr. Kreeft was a jerk towards her - something that doesn't matter to you because Kreeft is a Catholic superstar and therefore all his behaviour is justified or can be excused.

    2. I have a problem with those parts of my church that need reforming - we all should.

    3.4. Tom, you are obviously a friend of Dr. Kreeft. Which means you are not objective with regards to this matter. Which means I should not bother discussing the issue any further with you.

    5. I am all for heroes in the church - as long as it has to do with holiness and not gift of gab or how many books they've published, and that we don't mistake the latter for the former.

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