This past weekend, there was the first Theology of the Body Congress. Being honest, if God is merciful, it will be the last. Before I get into this further, I guess I should outline my basic thoughts on the Theology of the Body.
For those not in the know, The Theology of the Body (from now on, TOB) was a series of lessons given by Pope John Paul II given as the first major initiative of his pontificate. He aimed at ultimately an adequate explanation and defense of the Churches ban on contraception in Humanae Vitae. In the larger picture, he attempted to provide a Catholic answer to the sexual revolution, showing how modern society misuses and abuses the human body in the realm of sexuality, relationships, and marriage. In doing so, he presented that which was ageless to a contemporary audience. Some found it controversial, but most agreed that some valuable developments were contributed.
In the wake of TOB, an explosion of scholarship and interest regarding these matters manifested. Some of it has been outstanding, providing understanding to Catholics in how they can overcome the evils of modern society, particularly in the sexual realm. Other times, various speakers have confused the manner, sparking very heated debate amongst Catholics on the way to properly understand all of these manners.
It is the contention of this author that a lot of these problems stem from a defect in the approach of these authors such as Christopher West, Dr. Janet Smith, etc. They treat TOB as a break from previous Catholic teaching. This is unmistakable. They like the vain man Ecclesiastes speaks of, sees something and says "behold, this is new!" This divorce from the greater Catholic intellectual and spiritual tradition can lead to a lot of problems. Some will counter that they get certain things right, and that provides immense benefit.
Of course they do, they are still giving Catholicism! The truth is still the truth. Yet when this truth is not sufficiently grounded in those 2,000 years of tradition, the truth is obscured. They wade into waters they have no clue of, and many times, run into some rocks along the way.
With this in mind, we look at some of the statements members of the TOB Congress said through their twitter setup this weekend. In doing so, they are doing a grave disservice to the Pope they so loved, and a grave disservice to the Catholic truth as a whole.
[Dr. Janet Smith:] The 1st thing we need to know is God is chasing us down like a lover. Every lover is a pathological stalker. God is a stalker. #TOBCongress via TweetDeck
[Dr. Helen Alvare:] Sex ed programs need to focus on teaching young people "I am a gift" & "My fertility is a gift." These programs are successful. #TOBCongress via TweetDeck
[Father Roger Landry:] God the Holy Spirit has been poured into our heart to help us live out TOB. We need to be open to that. #TOBCongress 9:37 PM Jul 29th via TweetDeck
Fr. [Thomas] Loya: TOB is not a big idea. It is THE big idea. #TOBCongress
Sr. Helena [Burns]: TOB is a locomotive: Lead, Follow or Get out of the way! #TOBCongress 1:12 PM Jul 30th via TweetDeck
Fr. Loya: For the last 500 yrs, we've been looking through a veil of unreality. #TOBCongress 1:05 PM Jul 30th via TweetDeck
[Fr. Loya, continued from above]: We have not really seen what the world looks like through true Catholic vision. JPII took away the veil to help us see! #TOBCongress 1:05 PM Jul 30th via TweetDeck
[From Sr. Helena Burns' Twitter feed:] From TOB Congress: Y'all just have to get ALL the audio CDs! Every talk is fantastic! $199.00 610-696-7795 via web
To those who claim that TOB is a "locomotive", telling us to lead follow, or get out of the way, I offer what I will call "The Gandalf Defense." I, and countless other faithful Catholics, have no intention of getting out of the way and letting such nonsense be spouted. Neither shall we lead or follow. To the extent we can, we will not allow such nonsense.
Note well my initial statement about how many of these people divorce themselves from Catholic tradition. A classic example is the statement that for the last 500 years, the Church has essentially lacked realism, and that only TOB has brought that realism. Now we go well beyond what John Paul II ever intended. The irony is not lost on me that some of the defenders of what is supposed to be an "authentic" understanding of Catholicism have taken to arguing like modernists. For the modernist, the darkest day in the Church was 500 years ago, during the Council of Trent. At this point, the evil institutional Church supressed authentic Christianity and replaced it with a defunct religion. George Sim Johnston described it as a Church of "spiritual training wheels." Only with Vatican II, so the story goes, were we finally freed from the tyranny of religion. The fact that they would use this line of argumentation tells a faithful Catholic all they need to know.
We then hear that the problem with sex education for Catholics in school is not that it is being taught (that which is the proper place of the parent and the parent alone), it's that we aren't teaching it enough! Somewhere in their wisdom, they believe that we should be teaching to a bunch of hormonally charged individuals constant talk about sex, in the hopes of getting them not to have sex. Why hasn't anyone thought of this approach before? Oh wai..........
Then we come to what I view as the greatest whopper of them all. Dr. Janet Smith describes God as a "pathological stalker." We all use analogies to attempt to arrive at a deeper understanding. There is a limit to these analogies. This one was broken long ago. Stalking implies prey. Prey implies a predator. If one stalks, they are ultimately terrorizing an individual. Their "love", long perverted by sin, has now turned into an obsession, divorced from the very concept of being a gift to someone else. Does this sound like something God would do to man? Where is stalking "holy?"
There are those who attempt to appeal to such imagery as "The Hound of Heaven", which analogizes God to watching unseen man who is always trying to avoid Him. There's a certain beauty in that understanding, but not in the context of stalking. Instead, it is the God who seeks the return of His wayward children. He pursues them, as a man pursues the one he wishes to marry. Yet in the end, the person is free to accept or reject this proposal. With stalking, such consent is irrelevant. The person is stalked, even if they make a definitive rejection.
We need to be very careful when ascribing such analogies to God. There are clear limits, and if one is not careful, ascribing human sentiments and actions towards that which is not human but the One True God is fraught with peril. Yet this is also the crowd which ascribes the dipping of the Easter Candle as a giant phallus engaging in sexual activity. The crowd which states that the bed of a husband and wife is the sacrificial Eucharistic altar. They are way beyond such careful distinctions.
We seriously need a new understanding of TOB. One that doesn't contain all of this nonsense, and is wedded to the great Catholic spiritual and intellectual tradition of these manners.
H/T to the indispensable Dawn Eden, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite joys to read.