WADE ST. ONGE

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

THE STUMPER

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

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

If NAY ...

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

If YAY ...

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

ON THE CONTRARY, JOHN PAUL II SAYS ...

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

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

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

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

THE EXCHANGE ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 13, 2012

Periodic Suspension of Blog

As some of you may have noticed, my blog briefly "disappeared".

I changed my settings to "private" as I was applying for a position in the Church. I did not want any prospective employers to google-search my name and find this blog, because I feared it would keep me off the short-list for sure (and it probably would). However, as a reader pointed out to me, everything is "cached", although he said employers probably would not be sophisticated enough to get that far.

I was not shortlisted for that position, and I'm applying for another one, but whatevs: throw caution to the wind as that's just how I "roll".