WADE ST. ONGE

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Friday, February 10, 2012

TOB "Smoking Guns" of West's Theology

Many who followed (or attempted to follow) the Theology of the Body debate that ensued after Dr. David Schindler went public with concerns about the theology of his former pupil, Christopher West, following the latter’s appearance on “Nightline”, were not sure how to sift through all the arguments on both sides and come to a conclusion. Some who may have become leery of his theology or who may have leaned in that direction have since forgotten about the criticisms and changed their minds back. This is understandable considering the support and praise he receives all around us in the orthodox Catholic circles and most especially among bishops (most of whom are as unfamiliar with the content of his teaching as much as his critics are accused of being) and big-name Catholic speakers. Sheer numbers seem to influence most of us.

Even I myself begin to question whether or not my criticisms are valid. However, when I begin to think of the evidence on both sides, my mind often goes back to a few things that confirm my initial position. There are, I believe, some “red flags” that taken together sift through all the many voices and arguments and make a clear case against Dr. Janet Smith’s judgment that the theology of Christopher West is “perfectly sound”. What makes it even more convincing is that most of these have never been responded to or given substantial justification by West or any of West's most prominent defenders.

This is something I was intending to write over a year ago at the “height” of the debate. Thanks to the discussion that broke out after Kevin O’Brien wrote a series of articles on his blog, I was reminded and motivated to finally write it.


A. “Mature Purity” (including West’s doctrines of “Shameless Nakedness” and “The Pure Gaze of Love”).

1. The argument between Dr. Scott Hahn and Christopher West on the set of “Franciscan University Presents” which turned Dr. Hahn into a “closet critic” of West and his theology after West disagreed with Hahn when Hahn said the proper response if he was to see his colleague's naked wife's would be to turn his eyes away.


When Christopher West was a guest on EWTN’s “Franciscan University Presents” a few years ago, Dr. Scott Hahn, who is a regular on the program, got into an argument with him on this very issue. James Simons was in the audience when the program was recorded, and in his article in defense of West, entitled “Should We Look Away or Not Lust?”, he recounts the exchange:

During a university TV interview of Christopher West [actually, a panel discussion on “Franciscan University Presents”] a professor [Dr. Scott Hahn] told West that if he were to see a friend’s wife [the friend being fellow panellist Dr. Regis Martin] naked, it would be his responsibility to look away. West responded, ‘No, it would be to not lust.’ [Hahn] and West took turns repeating themselves until the moderator called for a break in the program.” [1] Drawing upon other accounts, this exchange began when West began speaking about his doctrine of “mature purity”, whereby when we grow enough in chastity, we should dispense with practicing “custody of the eyes” which is merely an initial “negative” step for those in the “purgative stage” of purity, and should instead look upon women and their God-given beauty with the “pure gaze of love”. Considering how contrary this is to the Catholic Tradition (as will be shown later), Hahn objected and told West we could never be sure we were in that state and that we would remain in that state if we gazed. During the commercial break, Hahn had some sharp words for West.

That day, Dr. Scott Hahn became a closet-critic of Christopher West and his understanding of theology of the body, and remains so to this day. In and of itself this is not telling – Hahn could be wrong and West right. But those on both sides of this debate fully flesh-out their positions and attempt to defend their own and critique the other, it becomes quite clear that Hahn represents the orthodox position while West’s position is novel and contradicts the Catholic Tradition.

2. Long-time disciple of Christopher West borders on advocating Christian nudism and other long-time disciples defend him.

James J. Simons, who by his own admission listened to West over 100 times, [2] provided, in the aforementioned article, an apologia for nudism. Simons argued that it is right to baptize people naked in front of an entire church so everyone can see them and it is right for women to read in church topless. He chided men for not being able to look at naked women and not lust, and chided Dr. Scott Hahn for saying that if he saw his colleague’s wife naked the proper response would be to turn his eyes away. He said we should see the naked body as simply a naked body and nothing more, and that to look away when seeing a naked body is actually an objectification of women. [3] Terri Kimmel, who attributes the beginning of her conversion to the listening of West’s presentation of Theology of the Body, [4] defended Simons’ arguments in the combox. [5] “Lauretta”, who has also listened to West over 100 times, [6] likewise defended James and professed the same “doctrine of mature purity”. [7]

It cannot be argued that both James and Lauretta have misunderstood West in the over 100 times they listened to him. Rather, it becomes clear, when listening to and reading West, especially pages 169-172 of the original edition of Theology of the Body Explained, that they have understood him perfectly well. They have just taken his teachings, which he never fully fleshes out and which always masterfully couches in orthodoxy and connects to Magisterial documents, to their logical ends and stated explicitly what West is careful not to present publicly.

Genevieve S. Kineke, author of The Authentic Catholic Woman, which she asked Christopher West to wrote the foreword for, [8] seemed to begin to recognize the problems with West’s theology only when seeing its logical conclusions fleshed out by his disciples: “I am reading this with absolute astonishment, as though enough parsing of texts and clever citations are cause to abandon all common sense … ‘Pride goeth before a fall …’ and I believe only pride could cause a man to think he was beyond temptation in this realm, especially since he’s naturally hard-wired to act on certain stimuli – Saint Francis knew this well, and humbly heaved himself into the thorn bushes rather than taking any chances”. [9] This article made Ms. Kineke realize something may be seriously wrong with West’s theology, and after presumably scrutinizing more carefully the debate surrounding West’s work, continues to offer objections to his errors. [10]

3. The work and writings of West disciple, Father Thomas Loya, including the use of erotic images on the homepage of his TOB website and his advice to Christian men that they “check women out”.

Loya is a faithful supporter of and believer in the theology of Christopher West, something West acknowledges and which seems to be mutual. [11]

Anyone well-grounded in the Catholic Tradition as it concerns purity and modesty will consider the erotic images on Loya’s Theology of the Body website, “Tabor Life”, [12] to be proof enough. The fact that the reader has to be warned at this point that clicking on the website may be an occasion of sin should be a red flag in itself.

For further confirmation, Loya’s advice in the first step of his “See-Pray-Pass On” technique for chastity provides it: “Alright Look at her!! That’s right, look at her!! Look at her butt, her breasts, but don’t stop there. Look at every aspect of her magnificent femininity! Take her in completely and say, ‘How many are your works, O Lord, in wisdom you have made them all!’ (Psalm 103)”. After all, “A true freedom in the Spirit, a true, lasting and integrated purity of heart comes not from ‘looking away’ from the human body. Rather it is in learning to look ‘at’ the human body with the eyes of God, with the deep soul of true Catholicism and the sacramental worldview”. [13] Anyone for whom this may be scandalous should be told at this point: this is not Catholic and is even more scandalous and dangerous because it is being taught by a priest whose work is recommended by Christopher West, whose word of approval is accepted without question by his most devoted disciples.


B. Overemphasis on Sex (or Sexualizing Christianity)

4. The novelty of Christopher West’s “Bedtime Prayers for Children” wherein “sexuality” and “the body” become central themes over our “personhood” and our “souls” even in one’s personal prayer.


This is the bedtime prayer Christopher West has taught his children to pray every night: “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”. [14]

In every sentence, “sexuality” is central. It goes from the mother’s “femininity” to the father’s “masculinity”, then to the marital bond, to procreation through sexual intercourse, then to the “bodies” of the male children and 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). None of the religious saints ever taught their spiritual children to pray with so much focus on sexuality, gender, and bodies. They focused on “persons” and “souls”. Clearly, these prayers demonstrate West’s inordinate preoccupation and even obsession with sexuality and the body. West seems to feel the need to sexualize everything, including even a child’s bedtime prayers.

5. “Song of Songs” as the favourite of all 73 books of the Bible, including the Gospels.
Ask West what his favourite book of the Bible is, and you are certain to hear, “Song of Songs”, just like the many students at Steubenville who are enthusiastic fans and disciples of West. This is usually justified by an appeal to the (false) belief that many of the Saints considered it their favourite too. Perhaps a few mystics may choose this book to be their favourite, but these were all celibates who allegorized it to a point where the focus was strictly on the “spiritual sense” of the soul’s relationship with God to the veritable exclusion of its “literal sense” of sexual qualities manifested in the body and bodily sexual union. That is why even those who West believes might have thought it to be their favourite due to the fact they wrote commentaries on it probably did not consider it their favourite but rather the most apt description of their relationship to God. Chances are they received more spiritual nourishment from the Gospels than the Song of Songs.

Origen warned that only the “spiritually mature” should read Song of Songs and also continued the Jewish admonition that it should be read by no one under the age of 30. This is why.

6. It is called the “seminary” because it is where priests are prepared to “inseminate” the Church.

West asks: “Where does a man go to train to be a priest? The seminary. What is he learning to do in the seminary? Where do we get that word, ‘seminary’? He is learning how to ‘inseminate’. Who is he learning to inseminate? The Church, with his spiritual seed”. [15] It is true that the word “seminary” comes from the Latin word "semen", which simply means "seed". However, this is not why "seminary" was given a name based on the word "semen". Rather, it was because vocations begin as a “seed” and need to be nurtured and grown and raised to full maturity before that vocation is ready to “blossom” and be exposed to the world in such a way that it will survive and effectively thrive. But because West is disposed to connect everything with sex or give a sexual interpretation to everything, he commits this error.


C. Hermeneutic of Discontinuity.

7. Doctors and Fathers of the Church dismissed as being wrong and accused of having “Manichaean tendencies” when it is shown they contradict West’s teachings and it being said of Popes they “just don’t get it” when shown to contradict West.


Responding to Lauretta’s statement that “the marital embrace is the highest expression of self-gift”, I quoted from St. Francis de Sales’ classic on lay spirituality, Introduction to the Devout Life and asked how what West teaches harmonizes with it: “Married people ought not to keep their affections fixed on the sensual pleasures of their vocation, but ought afterwards to wash their hearts to purify them as soon as possible, so that they may then with a calm mind devote themselves to other purer and higher activities” [16]. I asked, “if the marital act is the ‘highest expression of self-gift’, how can St. Francis say there are ‘activities’ in the married vocation that are ‘higher’ and ‘purer’ than sexual union?” [17] Christopher West’s editor, Sr. Lorraine, responded: “Well, Wade, it seems to me that the quote from St Francis de Sales perhaps has a bit of the attitude of suspicion, as John Paul might call it … Even some of the saints had traces of Manichaean attitudes” [18]. Later, when challenged on it, she defended her initial position, and added: “You can find plenty of other statements from various saints to the same effect … They too were affected by negative attitudes toward the body that have always been present to some extent. To maintain otherwise is just simply not true”. [19] Kevin Tierney did an excellent job of showing that in fact de Sales was not Manichaean but perfectly in line with Catholic theology and doctrine. [20]

Another example is that of Deacon Jim Russell, who was defending West’s doctrine of mature purity. According to Christopher West, one who achieves a state of “mature purity” should dispense with practicing “custody of the eyes”, which is merely an initial “negative” step for those in the “purgative stage” of purity, and should instead look upon women and their God-given beauty with the “pure gaze of love”. [21] But when it was pointed out to Deacon Jim Russell that Pius XII, in his encyclical Sacra Virginitas, stated that it was the teaching of both the Fathers and Doctors of the Church that it was better to “flee” temptations rather than fight them directly, [22] Deacon Jim actually said it was “apparent” that Pius XII just “didn’t quite get” it. [23] I also pointed out that when Pius XII mentioned that it was the teaching of the Church Fathers and Doctors, he footnoted The True Spouse of Jesus Christ by St. Alphonsus Liguori, who in the history of the Church is to moral theology what St. Thomas Aquinas was to systematic theology. In the chapter on “mortification of the eyes”, St. Alphonsus says, among other things, the following: “Gaze not upon another’s beauty; for from looks arise evil imaginations, by which an impure fire is lighted up … ‘If,’ says St. Augustine, ‘our eyes should by chance fall upon others, let us take care never to fix them upon any one’ … The saints were particularly cautious not to look at persons of a different sex … Brother Roger, a Franciscan of singular purity, being once asked why he was so reserved in his intercourse with women, replied, that when men avoid the occasions of sin, God preserves them; but when they expose themselves to danger, they are justly abandoned by the Lord, and easily fall into some grievous transgressions” [24] [this last excerpt contradicted Deacon Jim’s profession that men who asked for the grace to be able to “look rightly” at provocatively dressed women would receive the grace to “see purely”] [25]. Conveniently, Deacon Jim did not respond to what St. Alphonsus said, even after he was asked twice to do so. Were he or West to be probed on this, St. Alphonsus would no doubt also have to be accused of Manichaean attitudes because his teaching clearly contradicts West’s. For his part, Deacon Jim emailed me afterwards, and, continuing to ignore what St. Alphonsus wrote, cited this quote from John Paul II: “In mature purity, man enjoys the fruits of victory over concupiscence”. I was asked, “Wade, what do you think this means?” I replied, “Thanks to one non-contextualized quotation from John Paul II, we can not only dispense with everything that all of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church taught with regards to custody of the eyes, but we can re-define the scriptural and patristic notion of ‘spiritual warfare’ to mean that we continue to look upon scantily-clad women rather than looking away because the latter can in no way be classified as ‘fighting temptation’” [26] [previously Deacon Jim said that to turn one’s eyes rather than remain looking would be “fleeing” instead of “fighting” – the latter being the a different though complementary approach that the Lord recommends to us – according to Deacon Jim] [27]

Commenting on this, Thomas Leith, a longtime acquaintance of mine, who previously was unfamiliar with the specifics of West's doctrine of mature purity, [28] stated: "If he's saying that unavoidable near occasions of sin present an opportunity to practice virtue, he's right. If he's saying this does not at least begin with keeping custody of the eyes, he wrong. Very wrong. Stupidly wrong. ... If he's advising [this] he should be stripped of his EWTN Rock Star status as Fr. Corapi was and denounced as a heretic; then every bit of media he ever produced should be consigned to the Memory Hole." [29]

8. St. Francis of Assisi rolling in the rosebush when experiencing temptations of the flesh and the Saints using long-standing and praiseworthy ascetic practices such as self-flagellation did so from a disordered view of the body and were lacking in their understanding of a true Catholic theology of the body.

If corroborated, this would clearly show West is misinterpreting and misunderstanding Theology of the Body. According to Steve Kellmeyer, “West has, on numerous occasions, publicly said that anyone who mortifies the flesh in this fashion [self-flagellation] does not really understand the Theology of the Body. He has mocked the saints who have undertaken physical mortifications, especially self-inflicted physical mortification, as not fully understanding the theology of the body. According to West, such individuals showed their spiritual immaturity, their failure to plumb the full richness of Christian teaching, when they did these things”. [30] In the past Kellmeyer has said that West cites as one example of this “misunderstanding of the Theology of the Body” the example of how St. Francis threw himself into a thorn bush when temptations against chastity flared up – something the saint has been praised for throughout the history of the Church and in the hagiography. But considering how the author of Theology of the Body himself practiced self-flagellation, West is certainly misinterpreting.


D. Personal Issues.

9. Christopher West telling young women he just met that they are “beautiful”.
When Christopher West came here to Saskatoon for a Theology of the Body Conference, a meeting was arranged between him and a class of attendees from a local post-secondary institution that runs a one-year program of formation. When introducing himself to the females, West would ask their name. When the young woman would say, “I’m Jane”, West would look her in the eye and say, “Jane, you are a very beautiful woman”. He introduced himself to the next woman, and did the same thing, saying, “you’re a beautiful woman too”. Now, if I was to do that with young Catholic women I just met, I would be labeled as “creepy” and shunned and maybe even slapped out, and rightfully so. But Christopher West is allowed to get away with it because he is Christopher West. Nonetheless, the behaviour is indeed creepy and indicative of deeper problems – with him personally and with his theology and sense of modesty (which would exclude statements such as this).

As "Julia" (who I have email contact with) says in the comment box at Fr. Angelo's website: "So far, no one has ... asked the question, 'If West puts so much energy into unveiling sexuality by relentlessly promoting 'nakedness without shame', what effect does that have on his private life?' According to West, the way we think about sexuality deeply affects the way we behave. I, for one, will not be surprised to someday hear that West’s very questionable teachings have been taken to their logical conclusion and translated into seriously questionable actions. With his kind of thinking, it’s only a matter of time". [31]


E. Miscellaneous

10. West criticizing “flat-chested” images of Mary in art while encouraging Catholics to “rediscover Mary’s ... abundant breasts”.

This is a quotation taken from Dr. Schindler's initial critique of West, which Schindler pulled from the March, 2002 edition of Crisis Magazine. I would hope that this argument and these statements by West are so prima facie wrong that it need not require commentary from me, but no doubt some defenders of West will even provide an apologia for this. When they do, I will respond at length. For now, Dr. von Hildebrand's response to this should be sufficient:

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 ... 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.


Summary:

So we have the following: Dr. Scott Hahn becomes a “closet critic” of Christopher West after West lays out his theology of “mature purity” and tells Dr. Hahn he is wrong to “look away” if he sees his colleague’s wife naked; a long-time disciple of Christopher West borders on advocating Christian nudism and other long-time disciples defend him; the work and writings of West disciple, Father Thomas Loya, including the use of erotic images on the homepage of his TOB website and his advice to Christian men that they “check women out”; the novelty of Christopher West’s “Bedtime Prayers for Children” wherein “sexuality” and “the body” become central themes over our “personhood” and our “souls” even in one’s personal prayer; “Song of Songs” as the favourite of all 73 books of the Bible, including the Gospels; that “seminaries” are called what they are because it is where priests are prepared to “inseminate” the Church; Doctors and Fathers of the Church are dismissed as being wrong and accused of having “Manichaean tendencies” when it is shown they contradict West’s teachings and it being said of Popes they “just don’t get it” when shown to contradict West; St. Francis of Assisi rolling in the rosebush when experiencing temptations of the flesh and the Saints using long-standing and praiseworthy ascetic practices such as self-flagellation are considered to have done so due to ignorance of a true theology of the body; West telling young women he just met that they are “beautiful” women; and saying that painting Mary flat-chested is a prudish act and that she should be physically represented as having "abundant [large] breasts".

These are not the kinds of ideas one comes up with when receiving a good formation and catechesis on modesty and purity from the rich sources of our Catholic Tradition and then reading and interpreting Theology of the Body in the light of that Tradition; rather, these are the kinds of ideas one gets when one has been formed by and has learned from the post-sexual revolution secular world and then reads Theology of the Body without first immersing themselves in the Catholic Tradition and allow that Tradition to correct and reform previous ideas and behaviours. Theology of the Body alone is not sufficient for this considering its specific focus and its limitations, which John Paul II admitted in his last Wednesday audience.


Conclusion:

I still believe West does more good than harm as I have stated many times. He will be here in Saskatoon for "Fill These Hearts" on the same day I will be leading a retreat on "the single life", and when I was asked by the organizers of West's event if we could work together and help promote each other's events, I enthusiastically agreed - and not just for my sake but for the sake of those also who will benefit from West.

However, harm is still being done, and therefore it is important that West acknowledge his errors and correct them. Unfortunately, it appears he is certain that his misunderstandings of the theology of John Paul II, some of which are quite serious, are true to the late Holy Father. It appears he has become even more certain, buoyed as he is by the many bishops and respected Catholic speakers and theologians who enthusiastically endorse his work. I have attempted to contribute to this discussion in the hopes it would have some impact. However, I have done all I can do. There are more pressing matters, such as the completion and publication of my manuscripts, which I believe to be very timely and will be, God willing, an important contribution to the life of the Church and the world. These I must focus on instead.


1. James J. Simons: “Should We Look Away or Not Lust?” http://catholicexchange.com/2010/11/01/140186/
[Note: Catholic Exchange has since replaced it with another article. You can see the original at: http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH]
2. http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/09/concupiscence-and-two-bishops.html, Comment #4
3. http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH
4. http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH, Comment #26
5. http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH, Comments #8, 9, 12, 14, 16, 17, 26, 27, 28, 32, 45, 51, 52, 56
6. http://cosmos-liturgy-sex.com/2010/10/06/concupiscence-west-schindler-debat/, Comment #61[Note: blog no longer online. Original can be found at: http://www.freezepage.com/1287860618NCCZQRDRCO]
7. http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2010/12/tob-debate-summary-of-west-errors.html, Exhibit #4
8. http://www.amazon.ca/Authentic-Catholic-Woman-Genevieve-Kineke/dp/0867167688
9. http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH, Comment # 37, 88
10. http://catholiclane.com/christopher-west-refines-his-answers-but-questions-remain/, Comment #1
11. http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/archive/ldn/2009/oct/09102209
12. http://www.taborlife.org/
13. http://maryvictrix.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/theology-of-the-body-and-the-mystical-magical-train/
14. http://www.saltriverproductions.com/_blog/Chuck%27s_Blog/post/Christopher_West%E2%80%99s_Bedtime_Prayer_for_Kids/
15. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59hZz6U9uZ0 Minutes 0:52-1.23
16. Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 39: “The Sanctity of the Marriage Bed”.
17. http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/10/janet-smith-responds-to-alice-von.html, Comment #24
18. http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/10/janet-smith-responds-to-alice-von.html, Comment #25
19. http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/10/janet-smith-responds-to-alice-von.html, Comment #126
20. http://commonsensecatholicism.blogspot.com/2010/10/hermeneutic-of-suspicion.html
21. This was substantiated in the main body of my letter to Cardinal Rigali. http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2012/02/letter-to-cardinal-rigali-regarding.html
22. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/pope-pius-xii-contradicts-christopher.html
23. http://www.freezepage.com/1328707607DFPGWWPSTS, Comment #3[I had to reproduce a snapshot of the page taken earlier because these comments were later removed by the moderator]
24. http://www.cathinfo.com/catholic.php?a=topic&t=14334
25. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/west-breast-chest-sex.html, Comment #78
26. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/west-and-his-followers-misquoting-john.html
27. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/pope-pius-xii-contradicts-christopher.html, Comments #13 and #18
28. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/west-and-his-followers-misquoting-john.html, Comments #3, 8, 11
29. http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/west-and-his-followers-misquoting-john.html
, Comment #13
30. http://skellmeyer.blogspot.com/2009/11/discipline.html
31. http://maryvictrix.wordpress.com/2009/10/30/a-response-to-christopher-west/, Comment #4

35 comments:

  1. Dear Mr St. Onge:

    You have written an excellent article once again which needs very little charitable criticism, save for one important point. You continually refer to this as "Christopher West's theology". But it is not West's theology; it is John Paul II's "theology", and that is at the very heart of the problem.

    I'm not sure how much more blunt I can make this: the Pope was wrong. Full stop.

    The Church is filled with disastrous papal actions and words. Any good, solid, honest Catholic history will support that statement. If it is true that Popes of the past could have made horrible prudential judgments why is it so difficult for people to realize that John Paul II made several awful decisions? Do we really need to catalog them once again? Surely not. The effects of his decisions are all around us and we are willfully blind to reality if we choose to ignore them.

    West is simply following to its perfectly logical conclusions this terrible, indeed idiotic teaching of the late Pontiff. When a Pope tries to equate mere sexual relations almost to the same level as Holy Communion what else would you expect someone like West to say?The origin of the problem is not in West; it is in John Paul.

    There is not the slightest doubt in the world that the Church will, in a sane future, condemn this "theology of the body" for the incitement to lust that it is. But even now with all the beautiful literature out there on this most delicate matter, stated with the combined wisdom of 7,000 years of recorded human history and taught by the Church for 2,000 years why would anyone take an interest in John Paul's non-dogmatic and frankly somewhat infantile musings on the marriage act?

    Well, we know why. It gives a sort of Catholic "imprimatur" to the lust that engulfs the world at the present moment. That is a strong statement. But before condemning the statement it would be useful to read the Pope's TOB.

    John Paul was a disciple of some pretty dicey "theologians", among them two Jews (Levinas and Martin Buber)whose views on faith and morals are hardly in sync with Christ's Church. He was also fond of dicey Catholic thinkers like deLubac and Urs von Balthasar. And it is here where we can trace the origins of some of John Paul's cloudy thinking.

    The best response to TOB is to fight against it. And if anyone suggests that since a Pope introduced it then it must be good you might recommend he hit the Catholic history books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. JPII was taught by Jews, thus he is untrustworthy.
      You mind taking those anti-Semitic leanings and putting them in the trash where they belong? With the rest of your Rad Trad rubbish too, if you don't mind.

      Delete
    2. Are you a troll? If not, way to ignore Dan's whole point. The reference to Jews has nothing to do with anti-semitism and everything to do with being influenced by non-Catholic theologians. To take a passing reference to the fact that the late Holy Father was influenced by non-Catholics and accuse someone of anti-semitism is out of line. I cannot be bothered to respond to the 'rad trad' thing.

      Wade's article was great, and Dan's addition was also useful.

      Delete
    3. Hi Dan,

      while I agree with much of your comments, I disagree with you about Buber being negative influence: and I am not sure how much Buber influenced JPII. Buber was a deeply insightful Philosopher, and I think that reading him as Christian is useful. Yes, his language is vague, but he did emphasis the dignity of people and the need to respect all persons.

      St Thomas Aquinas said that all truth, no matter who says it, comes from the Holy Spirit.

      One of the insights that I was given about TOB was that JPII's formative years as a pastor was at a university. So he was concerned with the problems of young people in their late teens/early twenties. Also they generally came from bourgeois families and therefore they had a limited experience of the adult world of work and service - so it was almost like out of Jane Austen novel.

      Thus, the main concern of these young people was of course their "relationships", marriages, unexpected pregnancies, sexuality &c., rather than adult concerns. Unfortunately, the young JPII extrapolated this experience to the whole Church and humanity.

      If you can read his play "The Jeweller's Shop" you can see that JPII never really developed from the rather naïve and simplistic portrayals of married life.

      Bear

      This is why I think that sexuality received the inordinate attention during his pontificate.

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  2. Johannes Faber, it's mostly rad-trads who are opposed to Theology of the Body. Besides, neither you nor Dan are theologians, so neither of you have the competence, ability, or authority to just decide John Paul II was wrong about Theology of the Body. How very arrogant and temerarious to think like that!

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. Well, at least the world will know that at 10:13 a.m. on Feb 11, 2012, I *tried* to respond to Wade...But he deleted my comment....

    God bless,

    Deacon Jim Russell

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  5. I decided to repost Deacon Jim Russell's comments here. I initially removed it because I decided to ban him from my blog (just as he has been banned from other blogs). His comments say more about him than it does me, and from it you can see why I have cut off all correspondence with him.

    .....

    Dear Wade--please remove my name from your unfounded critique of Mr. West.

    Or, if you prefer, please quote my *entire* quote from which you cherry-picked the words "apparent" and "didn't quite get" in order to support a false representation of what I *did* say. I rather dislike being misquoted. And your "footnote" doesn't work as a citation since the blog-owner *deleted* my comment, so it's incumbent upon you to provide the original comment, Wade.

    Also, if you continue to reference our prior public conversation, please make sure to indicate that my lack of response regarding anything Liguori said wasn't "convenient"--it was a result of being *banned* from continuing discussion by the blog owner.

    Also also, if you continue to reference our prior *private* conversation, please present it *accurately*. It went like this:

    I wrote:
    “In mature purity, man enjoys the fruits of victory over concupiscence”
    Wade--what do you think this means? God bless,Deacon Jim Russell

    Wade wrote:
    "Not what you think it does. Just ask St. Alphonsus Liguori."

    I wrote:
    "His death centuries ago makes that highly problematic. Is there a Liguori quote you'd care to share?"

    Wade never responded and our private conversation ended.

    God bless you, Wade.

    Deacon Jim Russell

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  6. Wade--thanks for posting the above. As for not corresponding, I think that you should reconsider that.

    I think we should have a discussion of JPII's "Theology of the Body" #58 and compare that to your quotes from St. Alphonsus Liguori.

    Just sayin'--but, if you would find that inconvenient, I will understand.

    God bless,

    Deacon Jim Russell


    PS--please do stop misquoting me in your "smoking gun" thing--or, if you insist you have quoted me correctly, produce the evidence instead of your cherry-picking. Thank you.

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  7. Isn't "Catholic Tradition" the use of "mature purity" in its Art??? Am I supposed to shield my eyes if I come upon a statue of The David? Are classical paintings of Adam and Eve naked in the garden considered porno? Your arguments simply cannot stand because of this.

    I PRAISE St. Francis for jumping in a thorn bush at the SAME time I praise someone who says it is a holy and noble goal to reach a point in one's spirituality when one is not tempted by the naked body....a darn necessity these days in our culture or we're ALL doomed! IF in theory one can look at a naked body and NOT lust, NOT objectify, NOT abuse the person's dignity, then doesn't that make one a victor over the vice?

    It was an exhaustive hit piece on Christopher West, but nothing outside of gross speculation and personal opinions....or the odd use of random quotes from comment boxes??? What?! And your analysis of "Seminary" was so bad...I'm sorry. All vocations begin as a seed??? Nuns or Engaged Couples don't attend a seminary and THEY have vocations too! And if Priests ARE married to the church, why does the idea of spiritually "planting seeds" offend you so? You DON'T "get it" and for that I'm so sorry :(

    I'm ashamed that the National Catholic Register linked me to this article on my Kindle. They WILL be hearing from me. I want to go on but I think it's a lost cause...all will be revealed someday! God Bless.

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  8. Pamela, thank you for your excellent questions: you forced me to 'hit the books'.

    I will answer your questions ... and then I will ask you a couple.

    Regarding "mature purity" in art, JP2 speaks of the difference between "art" proper and "pornovision". The intention behind the former is to depict the human form purely, while the intention of the latter is to depict the human form in a sensual way.

    However, even when the intention is only to depict the human form purely, one might still look and end up lusting. When I was in the art museum at St. Louis, I had to avert my eyes from one of the paintings depicting two beautiful nudes because this was beginning to happen to me.

    ....

    Now, JP2 makes two very important distinctions which leads to a third very important distinction:

    (1) The difference between the statue of David and a nude photograph:

    "In painting or sculpture the human body always remains a model, undergoing specific elaboration on the part of the artist. In the film, and even more in the photographic art, it is not the model that is transfigured, but the living man is reproduced. In this case man, the human body, is not a model for the work of art, but the object of a reproduction". (Audience #60)

    Therefore, although you will see nude art in churches, you will never see a nude photograph of a saint. The importance of this distinction becomes relevant as we examine the second distinction:

    (2) The difference between the person "in the flesh" and the depiction of that person in art:

    "The artistic objectivation [sic] of the human body in its male and female nakedness, in order to make it first of all a model and then the subject of the work of art, is always to a certain extent a going outside of this original and, for the body, its specific configuration of interpersonal donation. In a way, that constitutes an uprooting of the human body from this configuration and its transfer to the dimension of artistic objectivation ... [Thus] the human body loses that deeply subjective meaning of the gift. It becomes an object destined for the knowledge of many ... A problem arises here ... Following personal sensitivity, man does not wish to become an object for others through his own anonymous nakedness. Nor does he wish the other to become an object for him in a similar way". (Audience #61)

    In other words, if someone were to sculpt me, it's not really "me" but the "human form" that is depicted.

    (3) That brings us to the conclusion: "The deep governing rule related to the communion of persons is in profound agreement with the vast and differentiated area of communication. The human body in its nakedness ... understood as a manifestation of the person and as his gift ... who is conscious of the gift, and who is chosen and resolved to respond to it in an equally personal way, becomes the source of a particular interpersonal communication" (Audience #62).

    Conclusion: Thus, if in a statue I remain a model but in a photograph the "living man" that is me is reproduced, and thus when represented as a statue the "human form" is conveyed rather than "me" as a living subject, I would be making a gift of myself to humanity if the intention of the artist was to portray me in such a way that I would convey the truth about my humanity (which I share with all people) through the depiction of my human form (which reveals the person, as JP2 says: "the body reveals the person").

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2tbind.htm

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  9. ....

    So what you are saying is that St. Francis and St. Benedict and St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Augustine did not reach "mature purity" but that many today who have put the principles of Theology of the Body into practice have?

    ....

    I gave more than random quotes from comment boxes. I gave quotations from one of the 33 Doctors of the Church and the greatest moral theologian in Church history, St. Alphonsus Liguori. If you can achieve a synthesis between what St. Alphonsus writes in his chapter on "mortification of the eyes" and Christopher West's doctrine of mature purity, I would be happy to read it. You can either post it here or on your blog - it's your choice.

    ....

    If my analysis of West's definition of seminary was bad, then please correct me: why did the Fathers of the Council of Trent use the term "seminary" to identify schools in which priests would be trained? Educate me and all my readers on why the Church calls it a "seminary".

    ....

    "All will be revealed someday". Indeed. And I am doing my part to make that day come sooner than later. I imagine that will happen when the Magisterium makes a dogmatic statement on practicing custody of the eyes, which is already infallible by virtue of the ordinary Magisterium.

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  10. Now, my questions to you:

    (1) Do you agree that the Church teaches us to practice modesty in dress? What is the purpose of modesty? Why does the Church teach us to clothe ourselves appropriately?

    (2) Do you disagree with any of the quotations I gave from St. Alphonsus in the article above, as taken from his chapter on "mortification of the eyes"? If so or if not, why? And if so, how does what St. Alphonsus say reconcile with what West teaches?

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  11. This is a really interesting article. Thanks for writing. I'm a big fan of TOB and Chris West, but this does make some good points. My biggest question is your criticism of West calling women beautiful. Is the problem that women are not beautiful and he is lying? or is it that telling women the truth about their dignity is creepy? I realize that affirming women that we don't know well isn't common, but as our sisters in Christ, why shouldn't it be?
    God bless
    AMDG

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  12. I think the last point out about West's personal issues should actually be put much higher on the list, and that the influence is perhaps the other way around- his personal life and behaviors are substantially influencing his ideas. We often underestimate the impact of one's biography on someone's views but it is often very significant; our ideas are often about rationalizing our lives.

    For example, one wonders about he and his family having lived in the cult-like community where they did seem to practice repressive ideas, and this perhaps explains his idea that most catholics/christians are in such a mode of thinking. I also wonder if what could be labeled as his notion of personal infallibility may have come from the unquestioned obedience the superiors in this community were to be given, and that to question them was to block the work of the Spirit. This mirror's West's response to critics- often at his lectures- that they must be blocking the Holy Spirit, while he is not to be questioned as he sees himself to be on a divinely-appointed mission.

    One also has to wonder about his past sexual/porn addiction and whether any effects from this still linger(his obessesion with sexual matters); even when people are healed of the actual activity, residual effects can remain for long afterwards, and the obsessive tendencies are often transferred to another area or lay dormant.

    At times he has openly admitted that he promotes practices which he and his wife engage in, as models for others to do(e.g. blessing their genitals with holy water before relations.) Especially if he sees himself as being on a special mission it would almost be expected that he would promote what he practices. This is also clearly seen in the promotion of the prayers for children, as this is what he wrote for his own kids.

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  13. 2OpenHands, I think that is a good question, and I think what I am going to do is ask some of my female friends how they would feel if Catholic men they just met looked them in the eye and after calling them by their name told them they were beautiful women. More importantly, I am going to ask why they would feel that way. I'll get back to you with the results. In the meantime, I would encourage you to ask your female friends that same question.

    I have a feeling it will have something to do with the sense of "positive shame" they have - something West does not seem to have a firm understanding of or respect for.

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  14. I would like to offer some points in reply to "anonymous" on February 10th, who seemed to take serious offense at some remarks I have made vis-a-vis the thinking of Pope John Paul II.

    In particular, I gather he was upset by my mentioning the name of two of the Pope's prominent mentors, Buber and Levinas, who happen to be Jews. I would like to respectfully point out to anonymous that whether they were Jews, Muslims, Shintoists or Animists is not the central point. The central point is that they are not Catholics and therefore do not share in the sound thinking of the Church. And Popes, who can avail themselves of twenty centuries of brilliant Catholic teachers, Saints and theologians would do better to consult those sources when performing their duties of the Papacy, and not non-Christians. I hardly think it necessary to remind people that to rely on non-Catholic thinkers when proclaiming Church teachings is not the best way to transfer the Faith. It is in his absorbing of these bad ideas that has led this Pope to come up with this scandalous and unnecessary "TOB".

    It might be helpful too for anonymous and others who are excited about this weird papal teaching to put down modern theological speculations and to begin reading the great Catholic thinkers of the past. This is my main recommendation to anyone who gets involved in TOB. Now this may bring upon me accusations of being a "rad-trad", whatever that is. But since I was baptized into the Catholic Church and remain a practicing member I have always considered myself as a Catholic, nothing more.

    Mr St Onge brings up the perfectly logical point that we have a natural modesty as Catholics in speech, dress and thought, and I would add that TOB is hardly in tune with that sense of modesty. And again, it is silly to blame Mr West for his blatherings; he is only taking his cues from John Paul's bad thinking, which was influenced by bad philosophers. While avoiding puritanism, which is a heresy against the Faith and was one of the bad principles upon which America was founded, we should not go to the other extreme of exalting the ogling of naked flesh to the level of a mystical experience, which is what the Pope's false TOB in fact attempts to do and what West teaches therefrom. When John Paul II allowed his august person to be witness to topless young females in one of his endless journeys to pagan lands - and those nubile young things were not backward, illiterate peasants; they were college girls - I knew something was seriously amiss with this man. So his idiotic TOB doesn't surprise me. What does surprise me, and depresses me, is that so many good Catholics are accepting it. This is tragedy indeed. It is also farce.

    One last suggestion for "anonymous". I would refrain, sir, from throwing around the cliche accusation of "anti-semitism" lightly. "Anti-semitism", which by definition constitutes hatred of semites merely because of their race, is a sin. Semitic peoples include Arabs, Lebanese, Jews, Iranians, Syrians, etc. by the way. On the other hand, opposing Jewish Naturalism and their Revolutionary spirit, which has been at war with the Church since the time of Christ, is not "antisemitism". It could more accurately be called self-preservation. So I suggest you be more careful in throwing around epithets thoughtlessly.

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    1. St Thomas Aquinas learned something from Aristotle, a pagan, Moses Maimonides, a Jew, and Averroes and Avicenna, both Muslims. So perhaps it's OK for JPII to learn something from Buber and Levinas.

      I would be careful about equating West's views with those of JPII. If I have Mr. St. Onge right, West is actually *misinterpreting* JPII, and that his TOB does not advocate what Mr. West does.

      I also would be careful about labeling TOB "idiotic," "false," and "weird." As the writing of a pope, it should be accorded more respect, even though it is not a formal expression of his teaching office. If nothing else, he has been declared "blessed" by the Church, which includes an official confirmation that his writings (papal and otherwise) are free from moral and doctrinal error.

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  15. If a strange man walked up to me, gave me the stalker stare and told me that I was beautiful I'd back up, say thanks and hurry away. Unless you're in a club, where everybody is doing the mating dance, or they wouldn't be there approaching an unknown woman that way is just plain creepy.

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    1. I think the difference is how it's done. If I'm at a gathering and someone introduces me to those I do not know, and one man says, "Hi, Mary, nice to meet you. You are beautiful," I would be embarrassed, but flattered, and would wish he hadn't said it. In this case, he was most likely hitting on me, or at best, attempting to lift up my womanhood in honor, but failing.

      But if a man wishes to truly lift me up, he would treat me as beautiful, not say it. I suppose if he made it obvious that he was calling every woman at the party beautiful, I wouldn't be blushing over it, but still, actions speak louder than words.

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    2. Ladies,
      thanks for the insight. Do you think it would be a turn for the better or worse if "he's hitting on me" wasn't the first thing that came to your mind when a man told you that you were beautiful? I understand why that is your first thought (because that seems to be the only "appropriate" reason to to say those words these days) but why shouldn't we foster a society where men tell women that they are beautiful simply because it's true?
      I couldn't agree more though, that actions speak louder than words.
      on a related note, I'm curious what you would think if someone you didn't know smiled, gave you this letter attached to a carnation, and walked away.
      http://2openhands.wordpress.com/2011/06/18/beautiful-2

      (sorry about posting as anonymous, the site isn't recognizing my 2openhands wordpress login...)

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    3. 2Open Hands, forgive me for putting this way, but your posts are validating Dr. von Hildebrand's main criticism of West, or more to the point, the main error she believes West has committed: namely, a dull sense of "positive shame" or "pudeur" as she refers to it as.

      Here is what Dr. von Hildebrand says, and therein lies the answer to your question to my female posters:

      "Key to my concerns is West’s hyper-sexualized approach to the Theology of the Body. The French have a wonderful word to capture the veiling of one’s intimate feelings, out of a proper sense of shame — pudeur, a 'holy bashfulness,' so to speak ... West practically ignores the importance of pudeur".

      In short, 2OpenHands, some things are inappropriate because they display a level of intimacy that is only suitably expressed by someone who is a significant other. A woman wants to hear she is beautiful and embrace that affirmation, but only when it is given by someone she has developed a trust and affinity for. A stranger does not fit that bill. The reason for this is "pudeur" or "positive shame". Because West conflates "pudeur" with "prudishness", he does not see anything wrong with telling perfect strangers they are "beautiful women" (in fact, he believes there is something wrong with us when we *don't* do it or criticize the practice). He has similarly misled his followers.

      A generic letter to all women telling them they are beautiful for being created in the image and likeness of God is one thing; looking a woman in the eye, calling her name, and telling her she is a "beautiful woman" is another. Let me illustrate: do you respond differently when you are one of 100 people who get the same text message saying "Merry Christmas Everyone" as when that person comes to your house, says your name, wishes you "Merry Christmas", and hands you a personalized card? Of course you do. The former is impersonal and distant; the latter is personal and proximate.

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    4. You make a good point Wade and I'm not really trying to argue against it. I have come to recognize that my approach to many of the women in my life is probably more intimate than it should be. The whole flower and note thing, was something that I was sincerely curious about. I have received a great deal of positive feedback from Christian women who have read it, but wasn't sure how that approach would be received.
      I do think there is a legitimate question though of what a true culture of life, love and respect should look like. And I think West makes a valid point in arguing that we aren't there yet. According to your statement above, the only appropriate place to tell someone that they are beautiful is with a significant other. So those without a significant other should never here that they are beautiful? I find it especially interesting that you use the term "significant other". The whole personalistic norm which JPII advocated (in TOB and everything else he wrote and said) was a call to the world to realize that each and every person around us is a Significant Other. No “other” is insignificant.
      I agree that that there is a level of intimacy which is only appropriate in a committed relationship (both physical and emotional). But I also think that the Christian community (and practicing Catholic community in particular) has set that bar so low that it starves people outside of a committed relationship.
      We are all brothers and sisters in Christ and my general litmus test is to determine if my actions or words (or thoughts) would be ones I would consider appropriate with my sister. I do my best to give my sister a huge hug and tell her that she is beautiful every time that I see her (even and especially in front of her husband!) and I know she doesn't think it's creepy. I think the problem is that we walk into church and see people of the opposite sex first as possible soulmates (or creeps) and second as brothers and sisters. THAT is what I think needs to be addressed. I shouldn't be looking at women trying to decide if they are my sister OR my future bride. I should be recognizing that they are ALL my sister and later discerning if they are also my bride-to-be.
      I also liked your analogy about the Christmas card/note. The individual effort is certainly more personal, but do you think it would be bad form when you first register at a parish for one of the church members to stop at your door and say “Merry Christmas!” and hand you a personalized card (maybe even with a candy cane)?
      AMDG

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    5. I. 2OpenHands, you continue to make my point. You read Theology of the Body in a vacuum rather than immersing it in the rest of the Tradition.

      This quote makes it clear: "I find it especially interesting that you use the term 'significant other'. The whole personalistic norm which JPII advocated (in TOB and everything else he wrote and said) was a call to the world to realize that each and every person around us is a Significant Other. No 'other' is insignificant."

      Josef Pieper, in his book "About Love", speaks about "special loves", such as parents and friends, and how that is not contrary to "universal charity". Dietrich von Hildebrand also teaches this throughout his writings, including "The Heart". It is absolutely *essential* that we read things other than JP2's TOB - if you did, you would see that when JP2 speaks about the "personalistic norm", he does *not* mean there are no "special loves".

      II. Indeed, we aren't in a true culture of life, love, and respect. But when has the world ever been? If you want to see what a true culture of life, love, and respect looks like, read the lives of the saints. They paint a truer picture than what West does (because some of what West teaches does not line up with what the Saints teach - as I pointed out here and in other articles on this blog).

      III. Please be careful not to misconstrue what I say. I didn't say the only time that we can legitimately tell someone they are beautiful is if they are a "significant other". I said it is not appropriate to tell a "stranger" that. I have told female *friends* of mine they are beautiful - but only *after* I discerned that we were already at a deep level of intimacy and familiarity and there was clarity about what our relationship was (and was not).

      IV. The fact that the Catholic community starves people outside of a committed relationship has more to do with a lack of a culture of hospitality than anything. I have felt more loved and welcomed on secular sports teams than in Catholic churches - so it really has little to do with implementing West's understanding of Theology of the Body.

      V. You cannot always gauge what is appropriate based on what you would say to or do with your sister. A female stranger is not your sister. And we should no more hug a woman we are not very close to than we should hug a man we've only met a couple times and don't really know. I would not tell a stranger my deepest and darkest secrets, but I would tell them (and do tell them) to my best friend Ryan. Once again, you are proving my point - West lacks any sense of "positive shame" or "pudeur" as von Hildebrand calls it and his followers learn the same.

      VI. Going to the home of someone who has just registered at your parish and wishing them "Merry Christmas" is a nice gesture and would be appreciated. Going to their home, looking them in the eye, telling them they are beautiful, and hugging them, especially if it is a man, violates the sense of positive shame and guarded intimacy that women do (and should) feel. I would not equate the two.

      VII. Thanks for your insights, 2OpenHands - although I disagree with some things I do think you make some good points.

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    6. Thanks for the response Wade. I agree with a few caveats:
      I. I wasn’t arguing that there are no “special loves.” I was simply pointing out that calling someone a “significant other” implies that there are “others” who are not “significant”. I specifically agreed in the last post that “there is a level of intimacy which is only appropriate in a committed relationship.” I just think that we (as a society in general and as a Catholic community) could benefit from evaluating where we draw the lines in those “special loves”.
      II. I agree completely that we should look at the lives and recommendations of the saints. How about Peter and Paul? Both advocated greeting others with a loving/holy kiss (1 Peter 5:14 / Romans 16:16). I think you would feel just as much shame being kissed by the guy from church who stopped by as you would from being called beautiful. I certainly would. It’s the culture that we live in…
      III. I agree that discernment and trusting environment is important in having deeper conversations and more meaningful affirmations, but I also think that there are many people in this world who don’t have any friends that close to them to pass that word. And I am hesitant to disregard those who I am not close friends with. JPII was famous for looking at people he had just met with intent and admiration and affirming his belief in them and hope for them. I don’t see why we should see someone’s God-given beauty differently than their God-given talent. Both are aspects of their dignity. To recognize both only seems like over-sexualization if you have grown accustomed to ignoring that aspect of people’s dignity. I can certainly see how you would take issue with the fact that West doesn’t address any of the other aspects of human dignity though.
      IV. I couldn’t agree with you more. We do need a better culture of hospitality and with that I think we will more readily develop the relationships that we can affirm each other more openly both in what we say and how we treat each other.
      V. A female stranger is my sister in Christ. And if Peter and Paul suggested we kiss, why not hug (guys or girls)? I wouldn’t tell a stranger my deepest secrets either, but Christ said that all of them will be shouted from the rooftops at some point, so maybe I should…
      VI. see point II. I agree that positive shame is important (and I recall West advocating it as well when I heard him speak). But the question is, should positive shame involve shying away from affirmations that are well intended or avoiding situations in which affirmations are actually an assault on your dignity. Positive shame keeps us from walking nude down the street because there are people who would look at us and lust. If I allow my “positive” shame to prevent me from accepting a genuine affirmation of my God-given beauty, I’m not sure I would really call that positive. The problem in this culture is figuring out who is being genuine…
      VII. I’m really enjoying this conversation as well. And I’m gaining some really important perspective. Thanks.
      VIII. I should be clear that I’m not a spokesman for Christopher West. I haven’t heard much of his newer stuff (in the last few years). But I have read and listened to quite a few of his older works as well as JPIIs actual works (Love and Responsibility and TOB). I’ve gained some really important and useful insight from West’s work and it has been key in my struggle for purity over the last few years. That being said, I still have a long way to go, and can’t rule out the possibility that I have fallen for some lies along the way interspersed with the truth.
      AMDG

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    7. I appreciate your comments, 2OpenHands, and your willingness to learn.

      Kissing a male friend on each cheek I have no problem with. It's liturgical. I used to do it with my good friend from seminary, (now Fr.) Francesco. Don't forget - I said these things were fine if you built up a relationship/friendship with these people.

      You mention Peter and Paul. What about St. Alphonsus Liguori? What about St. Jean Vianney? What about St. Benedict? What did they do around women they had just met? Not what West does, and not what you say we should do. Do you think they did not see strangers as "sisters in Christ"? They did, but they had a strong sense of positive shame that they developed from their immersion in the wealth of our Catholic Tradition - something that you need to do more of. It is dangerous simply to read JP2 only and accept one man's interpretation of it (i.e. West), esepcially when that interpreter has been shown to seriously misrepresent JP2 and in doing so contradict many truths from our Tradition.

      West does speak about "positive shame", but he conflates it with negative shame (as I have described elsewhere on my blog). To West, "positive shame" means "it's *good* to cover up to protect ourselves from lustful looks". Well, actually, that's "negative shame". "Positive" shame is not "positive" in the sense that it's "good" or "beneficial". It's called "positive" shame but it means that nakedness is like a secret and is an intimate part of ourselves that is only appropriately shared with a select few.

      Oh, one more thing: If West is calling women "beautiful" because of their inner-beauty, why wasn't he calling any of the men he met "beautiful"? Therein lies the rub.

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    8. I’m half Italian. I grew up kissing pretty much everyone on the cheek or lips (male or female, acquaintance or family). I only started feeling weird about it when I got more immersed in the American style. Do you think that was an increase in positive modesty?
      I would like to read more about the other saints’ take on modesty and how they practiced it. I will be the first to admit that I haven’t really done that much research. I am familiar with the story of St Francis tossing himself into the rose/ thorn bush when he caught himself lusting after a woman and I think that goes well with the teachings that I read about that we should take every effort that we can to avoid lusting. I think one of the reasons that JPII (and West) is so popular is the fact that they are presenting a systematic study of sexuality in its relation to Theology. I’m sure that somewhere in the Suma, St Thomas Aquinas addresses it in depth too, but this was a pope (who was fairly well versed in our tradition and Tradition) who felt compelled to share his insights as one of the first major works of his pontificate talking to our generation. I think that is at the very least a good starting point. I also think it’s worth pointing out that none of us has a perfect Theology as an individual. Not you, certainly not me, and not even Aquinas or Liguori (or JPII). The fact that many individual saints took a very restrictive approach to sexuality does not necessarily mean that it was the correct one. What do the actual infallible church teachings say? How is it stated in the Catechisms? From what I recall, I’m pretty sure they leave room for some flexibility. It is extremely clear that Marriage is the only environment in which sexual intercourse is given the appropriate dignity and protection that it requires. It flows logically that those acts which serve no other real purpose but to precede intercourse would fall into that category as well. Beyond that though, there is little discussion that I know of about living out our manhood or womanhood in everyday life.
      I’m glad that you corrected me on the positive/negative shame tidbit. I’m not sure if that was truly West’s error or just mine. I agree that even within trusted relationships we should maintain an element of the mystery and exclusivity of our bodies. I recall quite clearly that West advocated the same during talks that I attended. Once again, My question is not whether we should save our bodies for marriage, but how much should we save?
      “All of it!” seems like the knee-jerk reaction when I put it that way, But if we take that to its extreme, that would mean taking a lesson from the Muslims and covering our entire bodies at all times and never having any real interaction with women. I know you are not advocating that (since you admit that a certain degree of intimacy/ trust allows a certain degree of physicality) but that isn’t really far from the last two centuries (and probably what Liguori and Veaney would have advocated). I should also point out that I actually have a great deal of admiration for the Muslim concept of modesty in its genuine form. I just don’t think it is coincident with the true Christian ideal.
      West could rightly call all men beautiful, and I’m pretty sure that he has in some of his talks, but calling a guy beautiful doesn’t speak to his soul the same way that it does to a woman’s. Men are made to be providers, Warriors, Heroes. That’s what speaks to us. And that is how West usually appeals to us.
      AMDG

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    9. 2Open Hands: "Calling a guy beautiful doesn’t speak to [a man's] soul the same way that it does to a woman’s. Men are made to be providers, Warriors, Heroes. That’s what speaks to us. And that is how West usually appeals to us."

      (1) But does that speak to us merely because that is the American culture we live in? If so, then maybe West, who believes in being counter-cultural and certainly act against any prudish hang-ups our culture has, should tell me they are beautiful, no?

      (2) West teaches us that Song of Songs was the favourite book of the mystics. In that book, "every man" is the "beloved", the "bride", and it is said of the bride many times that she is "beautiful" and "fair". Certainly the saints considered themselves "beautiful" and appreciated hearing that from God because they thought of their "soul" in that respect.

      Therefore, I am not so sure this is why West is telling women he just met that they are "beautiful" but not telling "men". More likely, the impression of physical beauty and attraction that strikes him leads him to make those statements rather than a profound sense of the beauty of their souls.

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    10. Point one is where I might just disagree with you. I think any look through history or the bible would show that in almost every culture men sought to be Warriors, Heroes and Leaders more than they sought to be “beautiful”. That's also something that other writers have spoken to independent of West. If anything, our culture is changing things by encouraging us to get more in touch with our "feminine side" which isn't necessarily bad.
      I really don't want to go too far into song of songs because I have not done too deep a study, but I do recall both the lover and beloved being called beautiful. Once again, I'm not arguing the truth of that statement (nor do I think West is), just the fact that it speaks to us differently. And I'm pretty sure West calls old grandma's beautiful when he meets them too. The understanding that I always got from hearing/ reading West was that ALL women are beautiful as a simple part of their dignity and nature. I can't judge West's heart (and I would caution you against it too), but I can say that I never got the impression that beauty was to be equated simply with physical characteristics (hence the note I posted earlier).
      Thanks again for the insight.
      God bless
      AMDG

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    11. If our culture is encouraging us to get more in touch with our "feminine side", and if West considers Song of Songs to be so central to his spirituality, then he should be consistent and call men "beautiful" too (including "old grandpas").

      2OpenHands: "The understanding that I always got from hearing/ reading West was that ALL women are beautiful as a simple part of their dignity and nature".

      And all men are beautiful as a simple part of their dignity and nature as well. It is just that the beauty of the soul is physically manifested most profoundly in the woman. The problem is that West focuses so much on the body and so little on the soul that he notices physical beauty, which is manifested most profoundly in women, and overlooks spiritual beauty, which is common to people of both sexes and which the beauty of the woman merely points us toward. In other words, he is too focused on the "sign" (the physical manifestation of the soul) rather than the "reality" (the spiritual).

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  16. Dymphna and Mary, thanks for sharing. I would encourage other women who would feel comfortable to do so as well. Thank you!

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  17. I have a certain dread that there may one day be a terrible scandal involving West and some of his many female followers. I pray it's not a religious.

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  18. You people are very strange. Admit it, you are anti-Pope John-PaulII and his Theology of the body.
    On JPII's friendship with Jews and his being influenced by them in his theology, I can't speak to, but I can say that after having studied Judaism in great depth that Orthodox Judaism does not think in these Theology of the Body terms. They teach in imagery, and mystical prose especially Hasidic groups like Chabad and would not agree with Mr. West's interpretation.

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  19. Pope Pius XII, St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, and further saints, etc. on Holy Modesty and Purity.

    Modesty is something very lacking nowadays. It is a virtue. It never changes.

    Immodesty in religious art does not justify immodesty in people. And yes, it happens even in the Vatican.

    One can listen to the saints or sinners -- and bear the consequences of that choice.

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