Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dr. Janet Smith's "Response" Part II

After this lengthy tutorial in how to smear your opponent, Dr. Smith finally promises she will show how the evidence presented in Dawn Eden’s thesis is faulty.  It is good to know that in a near 6,000 word essay, it takes her around 2200 words to finally “engage” the thesis at hand.  Yet let us see where the evidence takes us.

 First we note that Dr. Smith again engages in poisoning the well.  She simply notes she will critique one, count it, one point Miss Eden made.  This will be representative of her whole thesis.  I offer a different alternative, the same one I offered to Sr. Lorraine.  The reason people are engaging the work only tangentially is because there are some things West says that cannot be explained away.  When the evidence is presented, West’s case collapses.

I begin to wonder however if Dr. Smith has actually even read the thesis, instead of just copying what those like Sr. Lorraine have said.  For example, Dr. Smith states:

Violating the “hermeneutic of continuity” is what Eden considers to be the most serious flaw in West’s work.  Oddly, she does not set aside any specific portion of her thesis to defend this charge. Her most direct engagement of the issue of “hermeneutic of continuity” is in her presentation of the first of ten “themes” she finds in West’s work, a section of only two pages at most.

Perhaps Dr. Smith missed the section Enabling an “Integral Vision of Man.”  This is the final section of her thesis before the conclusion, and it runs 10 pages.  After pointing out before where she thinks West went wrong, she then suggests how one can include other aspects, to give a more well-rounded analysis of Theology of the Body.  This includes:

1.)     Including greater talk about human suffering, something John Paul II himself admitted needs to be covered.  He himself simply lacked the time to do so.
2.)    In an attempt to present a balanced understanding of traditional Church teaching, reference statements where Catholics do not show prudery.  Acknowledge popular stereotypes only to show they are wrong.
3.)    Dawn Eden cites a Catholic apologist (Fr. Daniel Lord) from the pre-TOB times who wrote extensively about sexuality, and made statements quite in harmony with what John Paul II made in his general audiences.
4.)    Emphasize Church teaching about the avoidance of occasions of sin, even amongst the just (not just the one “bound by lust” as West argues in TOB Explained.  She cites with approval both Paul VI and John Paul II)
5.)    How to connect sexual desire within its rightful context of marriage, instead of making statements that are essentially identical to what secular liberals teach about sex.
6.)    That there are things more important to a marriage that grows in virtue than sex, and it would be good for West to mention them.
7.)    How the “Dark Night of the Body”, which at times involves a lack of sexual desire, can actually be one of the greatest opportunity of grace within marriage.

Other than that, she spent absolutely no time talking about the “hermeneutic of rupture” vs. the “hermeneutic of continuity.”

 She protests against the phrase “re-contextualize” by stressing that West isn’t advocating a “development” in doctrine, but rather in thought.  I think she doth protest too much.  When a certain school of thought calls for:

1.)   Interpreting even the Mass as sexual, including the idea that the Paschal Candle is a phallic symbol simulating sex
2.)  That Catholics who have been redeemed in Christ’s blood no longer need follow commands about occasions of sin.  (Or as West himself states in Theology of the Body Explained, it is only to the one “bound by lust” that Sirach’s admonitions apply to.  Interested readers are encouraged to check out the “TOB” section on this blog where I devote several articles to this concept)
3.)  Stops referring to God as Father and instead refers to God as a pathological stalker, as Dr. Smith advocated at the TOB Congress
4.)  Counsels people to start viewing heaven as the ultimate orgasm (As West does in Heaven’s Song)
5.)  Tells Catholics we must deeply ponder the size of the Blessed Virgin’s breasts
6.)  Tells Catholics that the reason The Vagina Monologues exist is essentially traditional notions of sexuality were filled with prudery

Call me crazy, but I would say they are guilty of sexualizing anything they can get their hands on.  Ironically, they cite nobody other than modern sources and John Paul II for this assertion.  Could it be that they are misinterpreting the late Pontiff?  Could it be that the way to avoid these misrepresentations is to cite the entirety of Catholic teaching throughout the ages? 

Dr. Smith then goes on to critique Miss Eden’s critique of Christopher West when he references the, in his eyes, that TOB allows us to "rediscover human existence."  Dr. Smith states the following:

I did find some interesting material there, however.  West quotes John Paul II as saying that “Since our creation as male and female is the ‘fundamental fact of human existence’ (Feb. 13, 1980), the theology of the body affords ‘the rediscovery of the meaning of the whole of existence, the meaning of life’ (Oct. 29, 1980).”
There’s only one problem with this.  Dr. Smith does not provide an actual quote.  If she did, it would be obvious this was not what John Paul II was saying.  When you quote what he actually says, you find something quite different:

1.    For a long time now, our Wednesday reflections have been centered on the following enunciation of Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mt 5:27-28)....

6. Rereading it, this appeal contained in Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount cannot be an act detached from the context of concrete existence. It always means—though only in the dimension of the act to which it referred—the rediscovery of the meaning of the whole of existence, the meaning of life, which also contains that meaning of the body which here we call "nuptial.”

As is clear from the text, the “rediscovery of the meaning of the whole of existence” comes not from the entirety of the Theology of the Body.  Rather, it comes from understanding the words of the Sermon on the Mount, specifically the statements against “lust”.  Far from being all encompassing, the statement about having “lust in the heart” is limited “in the dimension of the act to which it is referred.” 

Why is this so?  When one looks at what lust really is, it goes directly contrary to everything we were called to be.  It runs contrary to everything contained in the Sermon on the Mount.  This is extremely deep stuff, but incredibly insightful.  It is clear that it is not saying that the Theology of the Body contains the rediscovery of the meaning of existence.  Mr. West may think the Pope said this.  Dr. Smith may think Mr. West is right.  Miss Eden was simply pointing out that Christopher West stated something John Paul II did not say.  Mr. West has a habit of doing this. (Except the time he stated that John Paul II flat out got it wrong in his exegesis on 1st Corinthians!)  From a technical standpoint, Miss Eden's arrow hits the center of the target.  John Paul II might or might not be talking about this elsewhere.  He doesn't do so here.

Next, Dr. Smith goes on to say that since sometimes texts regarding sexuality are left not translated from the Latin, this shows a bit of a “repressive” attitude.  Unfortunately, Dr. Smith had just enough rope to hang herself.

If one remembers from the first section, she made a big deal about Dawn Eden criticizing the judgment of two bishops who spoke favorably about Christopher West.  She stated, for the record:

To assert that one has found serious errors (Eden’s Thesis, 63, hereafter “ET”) that have escaped the notice of bishops who have a legitimate claim to be judges of the fidelity of an author’s work suggests that one is lacking in docility and humility.

            When discussing the moral theology manuals of time past, she states:

Part VI, Let me note that when some ancient texts and moral theology textbooks were translated into English the portions on sexual morality were left in Latin. (e.g., Chapter 10 of Book II of The Instructor by: Clement of Alexander: and Chapt III of A Manual of Moral Theology by Rev. Thomas Slater, S.J.: That suggests some “repression” to me.

I’m not here to comment on the accuracy or lack thereof of the statements in the Latin.  I am only here to note that Rev. Thomas Slater’s Theology Manual has a Nihil Obstat and an Imprimatur.  On what basis does Dr. Smith accuse Bishops Davis and Bodkin, men who have “legitimate claim to be judges of the fidelity of an authors work” of repression and general prudery?  Such an approach is “lacking in docility and humility” indeed.
Perhaps a more charitable interpretation is in order.  The audience of this work, as the preface states, is not the layman.  The work is not meant for edification.  As Father Slater states:

Here, however, we must ask the reader to bear in mind that manuals of moral theology are technical works intended to help the confessor and the parish priest in the discharge of their duties. They are as technical as the textbooks of the lawyer and the doctor.  They are not intended for edification, nor do they hold up a high ideal of Christian perfection for the imitation of the faithful. They deal with what is of obligation under pain of sin; they are books of moral pathology. They are necessary for the Catholic priest to enable him to administer the sacrament of Penance and to fulfil his other duties ; they are intended to serve this purpose, and they should not be censured for not being what they were never intended to be. Ascetical and mystical literature which treats of the higher spiritual life is very abundant in the Catholic Church, and it should be consulted by those who desire to know the lofty ideals of life which the Catholic Church places before her children and encourages them to practise. Moral theology proposes to itself the humbler but still necessary task of defining what is right and what wrong in all the practical relations of the Christian life. This all, but more especially priests, should know.

In short, is work was not something meant for the average lay faithful.  This was a very technical document meant to deal in a very specific context:  assisting priests in the confessional to deal with matters of moral theology.  That there is a lot still in Latin is not surprising when these are technical documents meant for people who are well-versed in Latin, as any priest during this time would be.  Include these facts, and it suddenly becomes a little bit different.

In the very limited sense she even attempts to critique Miss Eden’s thesis, Dr. Smith falls woefully short.  Perhaps she should get around to the Paschal Candle, West praising Hugh Heffner, West praising the Vagina Monologues, his faulty understanding of the "Two Bishops" (the story of the conversion of St. Pelagia), the problem of presenting Church teaching with modesty (as Paul VI commands), etc.  All of this was mentioned in the thesis, and nobody has even tried tackling these issues.  (Except Sr. Lorraine who seemed to imply that we should take the two bishops story as an allegory, when Christopher West certainly wasn't doing so!)

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

To Part III  (Due to the sensitive nature of this post, reader discretion is advised.)

Return to Response Index


  1. Kevin,

    That is an excellent point about Fr. Slater's manual. It was not intended for laymen but for priests, especially confessors, so the fact that some parts were in Latin was almost certainly not due to some sort of "repressive" attitude but simply in case the book were to fall into the "wrong" hands (i.e., those of a layman).

    The fact that the Church has historically approached certain things, like sex education, with caution, does not at all imply a repressive attitude toward these things. Were there repressive attitudes at certain times and places? I'm sure there were. Gary Potter, in his book After the Boston Heresy Case, notes that Fr. Leonard Feeney did not go to the theater, probably because of Jansenistic tendencies he picked up from the Irish-American community in which he was raised. But Potter hastens to add that while such attitudes were found among the Irish (and presumably in the U.S. where Irish Catholicism was dominant), they were not found among Continental Europeans.

    That said, as I pointed out earlier, a cautious attitude is not the same as a repressive one. Nowadays everything is supposed to be out in the open. But is that truly healthy? Pius XI wrote, and the Holy Office decreed in response to a dubium, that classroom sex education is not permitted (cf. The Song of Songs (or Canticle of Canticles as we trads like to say :)) was highly regarded by the Jews (in fact one Rabbi -- whose name escapes me but I can look it up -- said that all of Scripture is holy but that "the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies"), yet Origen and St. Jerome tell us that they (the Jews) forbid it to be read by anyone under the age of 30. Origen himself composed a lengthy commentary on the Song of Songs, but did not feel the book was for the spiritually immature. Yet here is West, almost 1800 years after Origen, telling us that the Song of Songs is the "centerfold" of the Bible. Origen's attitude was one of caution, not one of repression (his commentary spans multiple volumes!). The spiritually immature need milk from their Mother, the Church (just as the physically immature need milk from their earthly mothers), yet it is these same spiritually immature people, deformed by our pornified culture, that West wants to eat at the glorious banquet of what he believes is the Church's true teaching on sex. If the people to whom West is reaching out are truly spiritually immature, truly deformed spiritually, then they need the spiritual milk of the Church's teaching on sex; they don't need TOB (at least not yet), still less do they need West's interpretation of it.

  2. I'm really not sure they "don't need TOB, at least not yet." Those who apply the principles of Theology of the Body in harmony with Church tradition can give another powerful witness, applying the wisdom of those audiences to their particular discplines in evangelization.

    They could point out how today's culture ultimately acts contrary to what they were designed for. for all the talk of heeding the bodies urges, one could say that their indulgence in lust actually rejects the bodies urge to be conformed to it's original purpose. This is why the sexual revolution has left a devestated vineyard of sorts in the world. Women, promised happiness and equality, have found depression and misogyny more than ever before.

    Men, promised the freedom to indulge their appetites, instead become slaves to their baser passions, and civilization goes to hell as a reuslt.

    As Dennis Prager noted in Why Judaism Rejected Homosexuality, the sex drive had to be channeled, not repressed, since indulgence in lust personified selfishness, which made society and civilization ultimately impossible.

    This line of thought I think is particularly insightful, and something that anyone, even those West likens to "eating out of the dumpster" should hear. Yet this avoids all of the talk about supposed prudery, the latent Manichean tendencies amongst every Catholic, etc.

  3. I don't think that the spiritually immature, uncatechized, "sexually wounded," etc., need TOB in the same sense that they need the Church's teaching on sexual morality taught simply and frankly. Do the "sexually wounded" really need to be told that, broadly speaking, they are committing adultery with their spouses if they "lust" after them? Will that help them channel their sex drive? I think it is more likely it will lead to scruples.

  4. Had never thought about it that way.

    On that aspect, I think you have an excellent point.

    Which I think points out all the more a need for strong spiritual direction when dealing with sins of a sexual nature, or any serious inclination to sin for that matter. Combined with the grace of the sacrament, these priests have the knowledge, wisdom, and proven tools of 2,000 years of spiritual tradition in rooting out the problem.

    In Theology of the Body Explained, you will be hard pressed to find any serious discussion on this. You find only a few references to the Sacrament of Penance in over 600 pages. While one could say "Well West was just giving a strict commentary on the text", well, if they've actually read TOB Explained they would know that's false.

    On several occasions he points out clearly he is deviating from what John Paul II stated, going so far as to say that with St. Paul, JPII didn't emphasize the power of the cross when dealing with those for whom it is better to "marry than burn." He completely ignores JPII's actually fascinating exegesis of St. Paul on this manner, and just says he flat out got it wrong.

  5. Kevin,

    The Pope exegesis - this is found in TOB 82 & 83?


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