WADE ST. ONGE

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

TOB: The Silence that Speaks Volumes

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One of the great paradoxes that amaze me is how often people say more by what they don’t say than in what they do say. In the Theology of the Body debate, what struck me most was not what West’s defenders said, but what they failed or refused to respond to. It was as though they were practicing Lincoln’s dictum: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt”. This can be seen in the exchanges I had with two of Christopher West’s main defenders – Dr. Janet Smith and Sr. Lorraine.

When West's disciples James J. Simons and Lauretta seemed to be professing and advocating West’s doctrine of “mature purity” and the “pure gaze of love” in the combox of Dr. David Delaney’s article about the need to continue to practice custody of the eyes regardless of one’s level of purity, I had to repeatedly bring up the issue because it was met with silence and remind Sr. Lorraine and Dr. Smith that they had not responded. In the end, when pressed for a clear answer, Sr. Lorraine responded, but dodged the issue and was careful not to commit herself to a clear position and avoid making a clear judgment upon West’s position.

In post #46, Dr. Smith, critiquing Dr. Delaney’s article, stated: “Delaney spends some time discussing what behavior West thinks possible for those who have achieved ‘mature purity.’ He seems to acknowledge that West is not advising imprudent behavior. Yet, he tells us that West believes that ‘mature purity’ means that ‘Rather than turning away from temptations, it is an achievement in which one no longer need turn away.’ Delaney gives us no passages where West says this. He certainly doesn’t say this in his presabbatical statement”.

In post #49, I replied with the following: “What Dr. Smith is saying West ‘does not’ believe is something one of his most avid listeners ‘does’ believe he is saying. ‘James’, on Sr. Lorraine’s blog, who has heard West over 100 times, does not seem to have these same distinctions in his mind that West has in his”. [This was the same James who would write an article which bordered on advocating Christian nudism - something Sr. Lorraine and Dr. Smith never responded to and remained silent on, both here and when it was brought to their attention afterwards in other comboxes].

In post #59, I substantiated this from West's own works: “I am currently reading my notes for Presentation #4 in West’s revised [DVD] ‘An Introduction to the Theology of the Body’. According to my notes (some of this is word for word, some of it is paraphrased), West asks, ‘Do we stare at the sidewalks for the rest of our lives?’ No, he says, this is merely the ‘purgative stage’. We must get to the ‘illuminative stage’, which is where ‘we begin to see things through God’s eyes’. ‘Christ’s words are an invitation to look at the body ‘purely’. We become more and more filled with love, making it safe’. He then says, ‘the goal is the virtue of purity: an ever greater awareness of the gratuitous beauty of the human body’. He concludes with a quote from St. John Climacus: ‘someone at the sight of a beautiful body should feel impelled to glorify the Creator and be filled with Love’ (No caveats issued here) [Wade: The full context of the quote (Step 15: On Incorruptible Purity and Chastity) from St. John's The Ladder of Divine Ascent proves more against West's position than for it, but that is for another post]. I think he ended this presentation with the ‘story of the two bishops’ as well ... Bishop Nonnus was ‘virtuous’ for ‘staring intently’ at a ‘beautiful half-naked prostitute’, while the other bishop was merely ‘continent’. West rhetorically asks his audience, ‘Which bishop has experienced the ethos of the redemption of the body?’ This is what the audience takes from this: ‘I want to be able to stare at a woman for an extended period of time like ‘the virtuous bishop’ did and not lust’. And that is the goal they strive for and what they set out to do and ‘practice’ attaining”.

In post #67, I asked for a response. In post #68, Sr. Lorraine responded to another poster, but did not tackle my challenge. In post #75, I once again asked for a response to these previous posts. Diane of Te Deum Laudamus also called attention to this in a couple of her posts, reprinting things I had written earlier and asking for a response.

Finally, in post #76, Sr. Lorraine responded: “Hello Wade, In regard to your comment about James and Lauretta’s posts, if James says that in his case the sight of naked people in various contexts has not led him to lust, then we have to take him at his word. Maybe his experience is not typical. In one of his comments he does quote the place where West says he’s not recommending that men look for opportunities to ‘test’ their purity by looking at scantily clad women. From reading his comments, I got the sense that he was basing them largely on his own experience. If other people react to such situations differently, then they should turn away. He also said he’s not recommending nude beaches. In any case, I think that Lauretta’s point brings out the ways that West has tried to help his audiences deal with lust. To see the person is an effective way, because lust depersonalizes people into objects. I think he has the same goal and goes about it in a different way. Perhaps I’m not clear as to exactly what your position is. Are you saying it’s always wrong to look at an exposed or partially exposed body? But wouldn’t it depend on the context? I think we would agree that in medical situations it is certainly necessary. So it’s not something that’s intrinsically evil. It would also depend on a person’s own tendencies and how well they can control them”.

Notice how this dodges the issue: namely, whether West teaches that we no longer need to practice custody of the eyes once we attain “mature purity”.

So in post #78, I respond,
(1) “Sr. Lorraine ... you say, Perhaps I’m not clear as to exactly what your position is. Are you saying it’s always wrong to look at an exposed or partially exposed body?Not exactly. What I am saying is that no matter how pure we are, we need to still practice ‘custody of the eyes’ ... Maybe [James’] case is ‘not typical’, but West leads his listeners to believe that it ‘can’ and ‘should’ and even ‘will’ be ‘typical’ if we would only ‘practice’ the teachings of ‘Theology of the Body’. But does this harmonize with the Catholic Tradition?
(2) You say, ‘In one of his comments he does quote the place where West says he’s not recommending that men look for opportunities to ‘test’ their purity by looking at scantily clad women’. But Sister, West is more specific than this. Look at the quote from West that James reprinted on Post #12 in your blog combox: ‘I am not suggesting the average man should look for opportunities to ‘test’ his purity by gazing upon scantily clad women. Indeed, the large majority of men must heed the Old Testament admonition to ‘turn away your eyes.’ But John Paul II is calling men to so much more.’ This is what Christopher West is saying: The ‘average men’ (i.e. like the ‘continent but not yet virtuous’ bishop) should not gaze upon scantily-clad women. The ‘large majority’ of men are like that bishop and thus should practice custody of the eyes. ‘But’ John Paul II is calling us to ‘much more’ because we *can* and *should* become like the ‘virtuous bishop’ and lovingly and confidently continue to gaze at a scantily-clad woman without lusting. I believe this quote shows that it is not a simple misunderstanding, but that West is teaching this ‘explicitly’.
(3) Also, Sister Lorraine, how would you respond to my notes on Mr. West’s lecture ... Do you agree that this can easily lead West’s listeners to a position that both Lauretta and James take?

Sr. Lorraine responded in post #79 but did not really address the point. She said, “I agree with your saying that we need to both see the person and exercise continence. But I think somehow we’re talking past each other because there are other aspects to this whole question”. She goes on to quote Sirach’s admonition to “turn away your eyes from a shapely woman”, and says that this “retains its value”. However, the point John Paul II makes in his treatment of Sirach is that “Sirach does not represent the highest aspect of ethos. So a crucial question here is just what that transformation of ethos entails and how that bears on all of this?” At this point it appears Sr. Lorraine will address post #78. Instead, she ends up avoiding the issue by juxtaposing ethic and ethos, or legalism and interior transformation. She tells us that for Sirach, a woman “appears more often as an occasion of sin or as a downright seducer of whom to beware”, whereas in the Sermon on the Mount, “Jesus transforms that ethos because he makes it more a matter of the person’s interior heart”. She then goes on to quote John Paul: “The look expresses what is in the heart.” In other words, Sr. Lorraine says, “who we are is how we look”. Concluding, she says: “I think that’s the key point, the transformation of the heart. It’s the difference between a lustful look that comes out of a lustful heart, and [a pure look] that comes out of a pure heart”. Finally, she gets to the issue, but although she seems to contradict West, she makes a statement that is equivocal enough to be interpreted in a way agreeable to West’s position: “Yes, at times a person with a pure heart may need to look away if a temptation arises. But that’s very different from someone whose heart is already given over to lust, and is seeking an outlet for that desire by ogling women”. On the one hand, she seems to agree with me that custody of the eyes is not completely indispensible for the man of mature purity because he may have to look away (although he may not have to). However, on the other hand, she could be speaking hypothetically. She could be saying, in harmony with West, that “a man of mature purity would have to look away if a temptation arises, but a man who has achieved mature purity, by definition, will not experience temptation – he will have the ‘pure gaze of love’.”

Because Sr. Lorraine took an equivocal position, I formulated directed questions in order to force her to take a clear position. I will reproduce selections from post #84, which included my directed questions, with selections from post #90 directly underneath each, which consist of Sr. Lorraine’s responses. Notice again she responds equivocally:

5. John Paul II does speak about “a pure way of looking at others” and the “capability of respecting the spousal meaning of the body”. But you (and West) make the leap to, “He doesn’t say looking away from others, but looking at them.” That is where I disagree, at least with the implication you are both drawing.
5. I think John Paul in speaking of looking at others means that we gradually grow to that point of having greater purity of heart. My quoting of him earlier in that regard was meant to emphasize that, and not to deny the need to look away at times.

7. Now, with that in mind, I would argue that the man who attains “mature purity” will “continue” to practice custody of the eyes, and therefore, very seldom will his gaze ever dwell for a lengthy period of time on a beautiful woman.
7. yes, agreed that practicing custody of the eyes should be done as needed.

8. “Mature purity” is “not enough” to guarantee a man will never lust if he stares at a beautiful woman, and that is because of (a) concupiscence and because of (b) the devil. In fact, the longer he continues to stare, the greater the possibility that his eyes and his mind will begin to turn towards her sexual value, he will get aroused, and he will be tempted and perhaps sin. Thus, if there is no need to stare at such a woman, a man should not stare.
8. yes, agreed, don’t stare if there’s no need

Notice what Sr. Lorraine does. In the 7th point, she says “yes” following my statement that the man who attains “mature purity” will continue to practice custody of the eyes, but then qualifies it: "yes, agreed that practicing custody of the eyes should be done as needed”. But that is not what I said. That was her way of framing what I said so she could agree with my position but also allow herself the necessary “wiggle room” to agree with West. She can say, if asked by West, “all I said was that custody of the eyes should be done as needed. I didn’t say the man who has attained mature purity would have to regularly practice custody of the eyes rather than look with the pure gaze of love”. But if asked by me, she can say, “Wade, I said ‘yes’ when you asked if I agree with your 7th point”. She does the same thing with the 8th point – she says “yes” to my position, but then said that what she “agrees” with was that we “[not] stare if there’s no need”. That is beside my point. Of course we should not stare if there is “no need” (and in hindsight, I wish I would have just omitted that last sentence, as it provided an "out"), but that does not answer the question of what a man who has attained “mature purity” should do when he sees a provocatively-dressed woman, and why he should take that action.

In post #93, I gave it one last crack. I said, “I think we need to discuss: ‘how far does the transformation of ethos go in this life?’ I think for this answer, we must look to the lives of the saints. I do not know of any examples of saints who stopped practicing continence or ever claimed total victory over concupiscence (they remained ‘on their guard’ until death)”.
In post #95, I gave some concession and stated: “Sr. Lorraine, we are in substantial agreement. However, based on what they have said, James and Lauretta would not agree (or would not have agreed) with some of what we agreed on. ... It seems apparent to me that West’s audience is leaving with misunderstandings ... I will once again refer you back to the notes I took of his DVD recording ... I will once again ask the question: ‘Why is Mr. West’s listeners leaving his presentations with these misunderstandings? Why do they not have the distinctions Sr. Lorraine and I agreed on straight in their minds?’

However, Sr. Lorraine did not give a response to these posts, so that is where our conversation on this issue ended. I never did get a clear answer from Sr. Lorraine as to whether she agreed with West’s position as outlined in Post #59 or whether she disagreed with any of his understandings.

Dr. Smith, for her part, did not equivocate. In fact, most of the time she was quite clear. However, she used a different strategy in her defense of West. The main responses – and one might even argue the “official” responses – given to (a) Dawn Eden’s thesis – “Towards a Climate of Chastity: Bringing Catechesis on the Theology of the Body Into the Hermeneutic of Continuity”, and (b) Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s essay – “Dietrich von Hildebrand, Catholic Philosopher, and Christopher West, Modern Enthusiast: Two Very Different Approaches to Love, Marriage, and Sex”, were authored by Dr. Janet Smith in her respective articles, “Engaging Dawn Eden’s Thesis”, and “The Need to Read Carefully” – both of which I responded to (here and here).

In the combox of my response to Dr. Smith’s critique of Dr. von Hildebrand, “dcs” aptly described her approach: “It seems as though West's defenders believe it is enough to answer just a couple of points from each of West’s detractors, and that will suffice to dismiss their work even though substantial points are left unanswered. I had not read Dr. von Hildebrand's essay in full for some time so I had forgotten just how many substantial arguments she made against West's work. (And if one followed the reasoning of West's defenders, the fact that Dr. von Hildebrand has brought a number of flaws in West's approach to light is sufficient to reject West's work in toto.)

It is a similar approach to that of Dr. Waldstein in his response to Dr. Schindler’s critique, as I described in my response to Dr. Smith’s critique of Ms. Eden’s thesis: “Dr. Smith states that ‘I am going to assess only one criticism that Eden makes of West: the claim that West’s view of the Theology of the Body as causing a ‘revolution’ is not faithful to a ‘hermeneutic of continuity’.’ When I read this, I thought back to Dr. Waldstein’s response to Dr. Schindler’s critique. Dr. Waldstein too said he would only respond to ‘one’ of Schindler’s criticisms, and by doing so he would demonstrate that the rest of Schindler’s charges were unfounded. As I have said elsewhere regarding Waldstein’s response, ‘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, II.7), with a short discussion on Jansenistic tendencies in recent Catholic history. None of this Schindler would disagree with, except for Waldstein’s simple assertion that ‘No, West does not contradict the Catholic teaching’.

In fact, when Dr. Waldstein and Dr. Smith issued their responses to Dr. Schindler’s critique, what caught my attention was that neither of them really responded to the actual substance of Schindler’s arguments. Dr. Smith would do the same in her rebuttals to the critiques of Ms. Eden and Dr. von Hildebrand. In fairness, when I pointed this out to Dr. Smith, she countered with what she said from the beginning – namely, that Dr. Schindler did not substantiate his points with citations from West’s work and therefore neither West nor his defenders had the obligation to respond. [Of course, when I did later substantiate some of his points and make some of my own with actual citations from West's work, which included the notes from his DVD series I reprinted in the combox of Dr. Delaney's article (Post #59), there was no response, and still has not been].

Kevin Tierney of Common Sense Catholicism, in his response to Dr. Smith’s critique of Ms. Eden’s thesis, describes this strategy of dismantling the flaws found in style and tone and nitpicking the weakest argument without touching the substance of the main (and stronger) arguments and the thesis as a whole:

At least half the essay deals with no evidence Miss Eden cited, but simply ‘the tone’ and how it is off putting ... Before any substance is dealt with, Dr: Smith says Miss Eden: (1) Lacks shame in admitting she is wrong. (In the paragraph “Refusal to admit error); (2) Lacking in docility and humility, in essence, arrogant (“Teaching Authority”); (3) Full of Chutzpah; (4) Orchestrated a marketing ploy to get rich by timing the release of her thesis with the holding of the TOB Congress, turning her from an obscure graduate student to someone flying around the country to give talks; (5) Whiny; (6) Disrespects the intelligence of her readers (in other words, engages in intellectual dishonesty). ... [The implication is that] this should limit if not outright cancel anything Miss Eden says”.

He continues: “In a near 6,000 word essay, it takes her around 2200 words to finally ‘engage’ the thesis at hand. ... [But] Dr. Smith again engages in poisoning the well. She simply notes she will critique one, count it, one point Miss Eden made. This will be representative of her whole thesis. I offer a different alternative, the same one I offered to Sr. Lorraine. The reason people are engaging the work only tangentially is because there are some things West says that cannot be explained away. When the evidence is presented, West’s case collapses”.

Mr. Tierney then goes on to demonstrate how Dr. Smith’s critique fails to convincingly dismantle even the one point she attempted to tackle. (This can also be seen in my own response to Dr. Smith’s critique of Ms. Eden’s thesis).

In the end, Mr. Tierney points out the issues Dr. Smith failed to respond to, including West's "faulty understanding of the 'Two Bishops' (the story of the conversion of St. Pelagia)" and the need for "presenting Church teaching with modesty (as Paul VI commands)", to which I would add the primacy of filiality over sexuality – one of the strongest arguments against West and one that Dr. Schindler also pointed out in his critiques].

He then goes on to say: "So far the main critiques of Miss Eden’s thesis have involved an author whose character assassinations were so wild Catholic Exchange removed them (Christina King), someone who says that West’s interpretations of things require absolutely no evidence (Fr. Loya), someone who admitted they didn’t have time to really critique the work (Sr. Lorraine) and now someone who spends 2200 words engaging in the most uncharitable of mud-slinging ... I will repeat my call: Can we get some of our friends on the other side of the aisle to actually deal with the evidence presented?

The reference Mr. Tierney made to Fr. Loya is another excellent example of the failure to cite evidence. This begun when Dr. Smith defended Christopher West’s phallic interpretation of the submersion of the Easter candle into the baptismal font. In his defense, she wrote:

When I heard West in his first series of talks claim that the submersion of the Easter Candle into the holy water font was sexual imagery used by the Church to show that, through baptism, spiritual children are born, I was appalled. Actually any reference to phallic symbols appalls me – I think mine may be a prudish response – and, in this context, I thought it was vulgar and irreverent. Imagine my surprise to learn that liturgists and theologians from the early days of the Church have understood the Easter Candle just as West does”.

However, after repeated demands to actually cite a single “liturgist or theologian from the early days of the Church” or “Church Father” were all met with silence, West supporter, Fr. Thomas Loya, finally decided to take a shot at it. Once again, Mr. Tierney explains:

After stating that it is clear that the Eastern Church looks at the paschal candle in a phallic sexual way (that the descent of the Paschal Candle into holy water 3 times is analogous to a husband penetrating his wife in coitus), we hear [from Fr. Thomas Loya] this gem (bold is my emphasis):

Acknowledging the Paschal candle’s phallic imagery does not require a quote from a particular Father of the Church. It is only one example of the spousal character of the church’s entire liturgical life’.

Fr. Loya states Christopher West, the fathers and mystics of the Church, and John Paul II are right, and their critics are wrong. (1) He has yet to show One Church Father who says the immersion of the candle in the waters is akin to sexual intercourse; (2) He has yet to name one mystic who believes this; (3) He hasn't even tried to show where Pope John Paul II said this”.

Just as Dr. Smith did with Ms. Eden's thesis, so did she do with Dr. von Hildebrand’s essay. In my response to Dr. Smith’s critique, I stated the following:

As I said in response to Dr. Smith’s critique of von Hildebrand’s essay, I too noticed a number of errors, poorly-made arguments, and straw men in the essay. Part of this, I believe, is that she relied too heavily on arguments made by others – specifically, others who worked from a bias that led them to make some invalid critiques. Part of this, too, is that von Hildebrand, admittedly, has little familiarity with West and his work, although despite that, I believe that, contrary to Dr. Smith’s statement that ‘many of us who have heard and read West do not find the West we have come to know in von Hildebrand’s depiction of him’, von Hildebrand does in large part properly understand West.

1. However, although I agree with much of what Dr. Smith says in this essay, there are certain arguments I disagree with. I would like to respond to these briefly.

2. I also said the following in my combox response: ‘I also noticed some excellent points in von Hildebrand’s essay that I believe remain valid and applicable. These are points you did not address here, which makes sense considering your focus was on that which she had wrong.’ As a result, what I would like to do after responding to selected arguments made by Dr. Smith, is highlight (reprint) some points in von Hildebrand’s essay that I believe are strong and that bear repeating and which I also believe demand a response. Those who have followed the debate on my blog or in various comboxes I have contributed to know that one of my main points of contention is that a number of excellent arguments and critiques have not received responses, sometimes repeatedly.

I will give a sample of those arguments from Dr. von Hildebrand that did not receive a response from Dr. Smith nor any of West’s defenders:

REVERENCE
II.1.a. “Dietrich would have vigorously opposed Popcak's so-called ‘one rule’--that married couples ‘may do whatever they wish,’ as long as they don’t use contraception, ‘both feel loved and respected,’ and the marital act culminates within the woman. (p. 193 [Holy Sex]). As another reviewer commented, this reduces marital love to a lowest common denominator, where ‘everything else can be left to the judgment of each couple. A variety of sexual positions, oral sex, sexual toys, and role playing are all judged permissible as long as couples follow the ‘one rule.’’ (Catholicbookreviews.org, 2008). ... These ideas would have struck Dietrich von Hildebrand as abhorrent. It is precisely because the marital bed is sacred that one should approach acts within it with enormous reverence. Degrading and perverse sexual behavior-- even it is it done by a married couple, who do not practice contraception-- should be condemned, as an assault on human dignity. The ‘pornification’ of marriage should be resisted as vigorously as the pornification of our culture. ... In this context, it is important for couples to avoid what Canon Jacques Leclerc calls ‘any corruption of love’ in the marital bed. He writes: ‘There are many who believe that once they are married, they may do whatever they like.’ But ‘they do not understand,’ he continues, that ‘the search for every means of increasing pleasure can be a perversion.’ He cautions: ‘Now, there are even among the most Christian young people many who know nothing of the moral aspect of the problem and have only the rudimentary idea that everything is forbidden outside marriage, but that within marriage everything is allowed. It is thus a good thing to remember that the morality of conjugal relations does not allow that pleasure should be sought by every means, but calls for a sexual life that is at the same time healthy, simple and normal.’ (Marriage: A Great Sacrament, 1951, p. 88). These are sentiments which my husband, Dietrich von Hildebrand, would have thoroughly approved”.

ANALOGY and MYSTERY
IV.4.2.a. “Dietrich von Hildebrand, who came from a privileged cultural and artistic background, and had been acquainted with holy paintings since his earliest youth, would never have made remarks about the size of the Holy Virgin’s bosom, as West has, repeating with praise an exhortation for Catholics to ‘rediscover’ Mary’s ‘abundant breasts’ (Crisis magazine, March , 2002) To Dietrich’s mind, this would be an act of irreverence. Her breasts were sacred and the response to the sacred is awe and not a critical approach to the size of ‘the blessed breasts that sucked thee’. True religious art has always understood this ... One of the requirements of sacred art is that the artist succeeds in creating, through visible means, an atmosphere of sacredness. When Mary is represented, the crucial element is that the image inspires in the viewer a feeling of reverence; whether she is painted with ‘abundant breasts’ is totally irrelevant—otherwise, most other icons would have to be discarded. It suffices for the faithful believer to be inspired by a work of art; he or she should never be titillated by it.

ASCETICISM AND SUFFERING
III.4.e. “Why is asceticism so stressed in religious orders and in authentic Catholic tradition, be it hair shirts, abstinence, the discipline, or the limiting of one's sleep to a minimum? Is that ever mentioned by Christopher West? Does he not know that John Paul II himself engaged in acts of self-mortification?
I.5. “Why did St. Benedict throw himself into a thorny bush? Why did St. Francis engage in self-mortification? Because, following Scripture, they believed that disciplining their bodily desires, was indispensable to overcoming temptation ... It is sheer illusion to believe that moral perfection can be pursued without this purifying discipline”.

SHAME
II.2.b. “English does not distinguish between shame in the negative sense (response to what is ugly, disgusting, repulsive, filthy) and shame that is positive (in the sense of personal, private, intimate, mysterious)”.
III.4.a. “Christopher West confuses "shame" in a negative sense (ugly, disgusting, repulsive, morally repugnant) with pudeur—the aforementioned French word which refers to the reverence we should have toward what is personal, mysterious, private, or sacred ... Reverence and humility were always regarded as keys to maintaining our purity. The idea of trying to be ‘naked without shame’ was never contemplated, and for good reasons”.

Just as with Ms. Eden, Dr. von Hildebrand made excellent points which still have not been acknowledged. There still has been no attempt from West’s defenders to acknowledge what Ms. Eden and Dr. von Hildebrand got right and bring it to bear on West's theology and teaching.

Still, Dr. Janet Smith declares, “Sister Lorraine and I have answered many of Eden's 'charges' against West and shown that they don't stick. I will soon have a piece out on Alice von Hildebrand's critique. It fares no better”.

Of course, she, along with other West defenders, left substantial portions unanswered from not only Ms. Eden and Dr. von Hildebrand, but also myself. As I said also in my response to Dr. Smith’s critique of Dr. von Hildebrand’s essay: “[West’s] defenders seem to only focus on those critiques that have the potential of ‘doing more damage’, while other critiques, which might be much less prone to error and make much stronger cases, are ignored because they are having ‘little impact on West’s apostolate’. It is a good strategy, but less honest if one is truly concerned about examining West’s work for potential errors”.

To see how effective these strategies are, you need only read what West’s supporters have to say about the critiques. Scott Maentz, in a combox following an article he had written, mentioned Dr. Smith’s “intelligent” critique of Ms. Eden's "contentious" thesis repeatedly. However, when challenged by Mr. Tierney, Mr. Maentz, to his credit, did visit Mr. Tierney’s blog. However, rather than respond to any of the excellent points Mr. Tierney made on his blog, Mr. Maentz made an ad hominem attack on Mr. Tierney’s air of “intellectual superiority” and gave a speech about what true Christianity is vis-a-vis intellectual pride and phariseeism. Of course, a West supporter reading it would have taken Mr. Maentz’ ad hominem attack to be a sufficient refutation of everything Mr. Tierney wrote on his blog, just as Mr. Maentz took Dr. Smith’s responses to Ms. Eden and Dr. von Hildebrand to be sufficient even though she did not respond to most of their main points.

As I said when I first withdrew from this debate out of frustration: “I have … 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 … The issues are being deflected with the charges of ‘jealously’, ‘impure motives’, ‘fighting fellow soldiers’, [lacking charity], 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”. The response - or non-response - given by Mr. Maentz to Mr. Tierney after reading the latter's blog provide a textbook example of this.

2 comments:

  1. +J.M.J+

    I'm only reading this old post now for the first time and would like to make an observation about this alleged "pure gaze of love."

    If I knew that a man was staring at my body, trying to appreciate it as a "beautiful creation of God," I would still feel objectified by his stare. He would still be treating me like an object to be looked at rather than a person to relate to.

    God created lovely flowers, cute puppies, and beautiful sunsets for us to gaze upon and enjoy, seeing some of His eternal Beauty in them. These are all things that God has made for human use. He made humans, OTOH, not to be used but for relationship; to relate person-to-person with one another and with Him. Since the human body is part and parcel of a human person, I submit that it is not legitimate to stare at the body of a human person as one would a flower or a sunset. This reduces a person to the level of a thing.

    Didn't Bl. John Paul II said that, after the Fall, Adam and Eve saw each other's bodies as a thing to use for selfish gratification. Prior to that they had seen each other in the totality of their personhood, not merely as objects. To me, this indicates that objectification of a human being, even as an "object of beauty," is more characteristic of the Fall than God's original design. For He intends human persons to have relationships with one another, not to stare at each other as one would stare at a painting or statue.

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  2. Thank you for your insight, Rosemarie. Once again, I think Dr. Schindler's point is supported by the views of women such as yourself - West has a too-male view of Theology of the Body which is not properly balanced by the feminine, or as Schindler would say, it lacks a "Marian dimension".

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