Sunday, October 24, 2010

St. Frances De Sales and Christopher West

Earlier this year, I had went to lunch with a friend and his girlfriend before a baseball game.  At another table near us sat around 5 or 6 very attractive women our age.  My friend was fixated on them the entire time.  I could tell his girlfriend was not too thrilled about it.  When he stepped away for a smoke, I followed and we talked about it.  When I expressed dismay at his behavior, his response was telling:

Were you not looking at them as well?
I tried pointing out to him the difference between a single person noticing them in passing, and someone committed to another staring at them.  This was lost on him.  Of course, my friend is not Catholic, so I'm a bit more indulgent with him.  (Though not too much of course!)

I mention this story because I believe it sets the tone properly for the discussion I wish to have.  My friend would honestly fit in right at home with my friends across the aisle in their defense of Christopher West.  In civil society, my friend was being a pig.  Yet if he only knew the truth of the Theology of the Body (according to Christopher West) he could simply tell his girlfriend "relax baby, I'm simply admiring the beauty of woman as God created them!"  Some may think I'm exaggerating.  I believe the evidence will be with me though.  After establishing that evidence, I would like to focus on what I believe is something Mr. West cannot overcome:  the teachings of St. Frances De Sales.  Indeed, to some of West's defenders, St. Frances' admonitions smacked of prudery and "suspicion."  (See this thread, where Mr. West's editor and a very vocal lay defender of him state precisely this.)

First, let us go to the evidence, we will be discussing the story of the "two Bishops" as Mr. West presents it, and a certain incident that Mr. West claims happened to him at Holy Mass.  In discussing "mature purity" as opposed to mere "continence" Mr. West gives the following "historical" example.

The following story illustrates what mature Christian purity looks like. Two bishops walked out of a cathedral just as a scantily clad prostitute passed by. One bishop immediately turned away. The other bishop looked at her intently. The bishop who turned away exclaimed, “Brother bishop, what are you doing? Turn your eyes!” When the bishop turned around, he lamented with tears streaming down his face, “How tragic that such beauty is being sold to the lusts of men.” Which one of those bishops was vivified with the ethos of redemption? Which one had passed over from merely meeting the demands of the law to a superabounding fulfillment of the law? (Theology of the Body Explained, Revised Edition, page 215)
When I first read this passage, I thought "certainly West isn't asserting that a holy man is to spend his time looking at a half-naked prostitute!"  Apparently I was the "other bishop" in this story.  Claiming a fascination with a prostitute's (half-naked in West's eyes) body is a path to holiness doesn't sound right.  Yet this is exactly what Mr. West is saying:

...It is generally reported that upon seeing the half-naked Pelagia parading through the streets of Antioch while his brother bishops turned away, Bishop Nonnus looked upon her with love and great delight. She noticed his look of love and was eventually converted through his counsel and preaching. She is known as St. Pelagia of Antioch.
In short, when you see a woman, stare at her, become fascinated with her body.  Of course, do so with purity.  Who knows, she might notice and convert!  If this sounds silly and absurd, it is.  While it might seem like an interesting story, it is only that, a "story."  The real life example of St. Nonnus happened nothing like this.  As Dawn Eden relates in her masters thesis:

In a footnote, West cites Helen Waddell’s account of Nonnus and Pelagia in The Desert Fathers.  However, the story she relates, translated from Eustochius’s Latin version of James
the Deacon’s Greek account, differs from his own on many key points. Nonnus’s tears are not
because “such beauty is being sold to the lusts of men.” Rather, the bishop feels ashamed upon
witnessing the effort that the harlot puts into preparing her appearance for men, for he believes
he has not put nearly so much effort into his appearance before God. Returning to his chamber,
he flings himself upon the floor and repents to Christ: “for a single day’s adorning of a harlot is
far beyond the adorning of my soul.”

The original story also counters West’s implication that casting a look of “mature purity”
upon a “scantily clad prostitute” may cause her to notice the loving gaze and so discover God’s
love. Pelagia, in Waddell’s account, does not notice that Nonnus looks at her on the street; her
conversion comes about afterwards, when she hears him preach. Most significantly, when
Pelagia then writes to the bishop and asks to see him, he agrees only on the condition that there
be other bishops present. “[S]eek not to tempt my weakness,” he writes.
Mr. West continues his very curious views when he relates a story that occurred during Mass.  He discusses an experience where he felt a rush going through him during Mass at the sight of a beautiful woman not his wife and her hair.  In prayer, he believes God told him that such attraction was given to point Mr. West to the power of the Eucharistic sacrifice.  (The account is told at length in TOB Explained, 398.)

I'm not going to comment at length on this particular incident.  Speaking personally, I find it highly unlikely, if not outright laughable.  Yet that's just me, and if someone seriously made that connection and this caused a far higher bit of reverence at Mass, more power to them!  Color me suspicious.  While West indeed notes that if people are impure, they shouldn't be thinking these things, he believes his purity gave him the power to do so.

Here's my only question:  Where was his wife during all of this?  What does she think about Mr. West and others who claim that the best way to overcome impurity is for her husband to constantly stare at another woman at Mass?  Mr. West nowhere expresses sorrow for this incident.  Rather, it was incredibly revealing for him he says.  Fr. Thomas Loya gives similar instruction when he tells someone who struggles with impurity:

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)
I speak only as a brother who has a sister.  If someone told a man in an audience to learn who my sister is as a woman by staring at her butt and breasts, we would be having some problems!  If I were in that audience, I honestly would probably say something along the lines of "be glad you are a priest."

Is my repulsion evidence of some nascent prudery or disgust with the human body?  To answer this and the story above about Mr. West, I bring forth St. Frances De Sales.  In writing on marriage, St. Frances says the following in his masterpiece Introduction to the Devout Life:

The first effect of this love is the indissoluble union of your hearts. If you glue together two pieces of deal, provided that the glue be strong, their union will be so close that the stick will break more easily in any other part than where it is joined. Now God unites husband and wife so closely in Himself, that it should be easier to sunder soul from body than husband from wife; nor is this union to be considered as mainly of the body, but yet more a union of the heart, its affections and love.

The second effect of this love should be an inviolable fidelity to one another. In olden times finger-rings were wont to be graven as seals. We read of it in Holy Scripture, and this explains the meaning of the marriage ceremony, when the Church, by the hand of her priest, blesses a ring, and gives it first to the man in token that she sets a seal on his heart by this Sacrament, so that no thought of any other woman may ever enter therein so long as she, who now is given to him, shall live. Then the bridegroom places the ring on the bride’s hand, so that she in her turn may know that she must never conceive any affection in her heart for any other man so long as he shall live, who is now given to her by our Lord Himself.
So I ask again:  Where was his wife?  Was Mr. West honoring the wise counsel of this great spiritual master?  What does Fr. Loya say to the married man who took his advice?  In light of this wise teaching, would it be okay to do this simply if the girl were single, since before the foundation of the world, a man was made for her if her vocation is marriage?  It should be a blatantly obvious truism that a man looks upon his wife differently than other women.  Of what purpose and benefit is another woman to him?  God did not make that woman for him and his sanctification, only his wife.  What compelling reason is there to reject the sound principles of St. Frances here?

There are those who will read this statement, and will respond "this is impossible."  They will reason that men, as visual creatures, will always turn their gaze towards that which is around them.  There is indeed a certain truth to this.  Yet even if true, it is not to be commended.  We are fallen creatures.  While we make such oaths, nobody ever fulfills them perfectly.  While a man's gaze might in passing notice a woman not his wife, he should not focus his gaze in this instance.  If by chance he finds himself focusing his gaze on her, he should immediately call to mind the oath that he made which was signified by that ring.  He should then also immediately call to mind the pearl of wisdom St. Gregory of Nazianzen teaches: you cannot expect your spouse to fulfill obligations you yourself are refusing to fulfill.

We should never set the standard aside because we view it impossible.  With God, all things are possible.  Mr. West often declares he refuses to limit the power of the Cross in transforming our desires.  I will agree with him.  For those who find the counsel of St. Frances impossible, grace makes it possible.  In the end, a true love illuminated by divine grace makes up for our shortcomings, we fulfill our obligations through that love.
I would say this is the tradition of the Church in these matters.  It is impossible to understand the mystery of "man and woman He created them" apart from this tradition.  Those who say likewise may indeed "know" the teaching, but they do not fully understand or comprehend it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Why the Incarnation Matters: Isaiah's Call

When pondering the lives of the prophets, we can do no higher than pondering the life of Isaiah.  We will be spending several posts on this prophet's message, because he was a prophet without equal in the Old Testament. 

He lived during a time of great peril and great change in the world.  It was during his time that the Kingdoms of Judah and Samaria first came into conflict with the mighty Assyrians.  During his time, the Kingdom of Samaria was actually destroyed by the same Assyrian Empire.  The Kingdom of Judah was originally meant to serve as God's way of bringing the light to the nations.  During this period, that light is about to be extinguished.  Isaiah appears to not only comfort his people, but also to remind them of their calling. 

By the time he walked the earth, Judah had indeed fallen far from their calling.  After the righteous reigns of Uzziah and Jotham, Ahaz ascended to the throne.  Ahaz turned away from God, and committed sins even greater than that of the people of Samaria.  He sacrificed his (at the time) only son to pagan idols.  He removed the altar of God from the temple, and replaced it with a copy of the Syrian altar in the great temple of Damascus.  In his desperation, he swore allegiance to the King of Assyria becoming his vassal, begging the King to bring vengeance upon Samaria.  (In a true irony, what he relied upon for salvation ended up nearly becoming his doom.)

This was the time during which Isaiah lived.  We know from the introduction that he was the son of Amoz, a man of high nobility.  He was born during the reign of Uzziah, and promoted the true worship of Yahweh during his reign.  No doubt he had fallen out of favor with the powers that be during the reign of Ahaz.  Yet it is during this time that he begins to build his reputation.

What is this reputation?  He indicts with great rhetorical power the sins of Judah.  The first chapter is full of a seething condemnation of Judah for her sins and hypocrisy.  Their hypocrisy if anything makes them worse than the pagans.  The pagans knew no better.  Judah had the truth, and they had turned their back on it.  Here the prophet calls on them to forsake this path in what could be called the summation of Isaiah's entire message:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:  though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.  If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
This is a prophecy of restoration.  He calls them back not only to the practices of the previous Kings, but to their original calling from Adam, to Abraham and to Moses.  They must not only put away the evil they did, but learn to do something in place of it.  Many times the people of Judah and her kings would repent of the evil they did, but they continued to do it.  There was no real change in their behavior.  If anything, the sacrifices they offered were being used as an excuse for loose living.  The prophet points out that God does not accept the sacrifices offered unless a real change of heart occurs.

Instead, we must replace our evil with that which is righteous.  If we do so, God will bless the land and leave them in security.  His message was a great challenge to the people.  His next prophesy gives us insight into the fruits of this repentance and conversion.  May we likewise repent of our evils and experience true conversion in our hearts and souls.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Hermeneutic of Suspicion

In many of the discussions surrounding Christopher West's interpretation of "Theology of the Body", West invokes John Paul II talking about the "Hermeneutic of Suspicion."  I'd like to offer a very brief outline of this understanding.

As anyone who studies Church history knows, the Church has dealt with various heresies.  Sometimes, those heretical concepts colored the judgement of even good and honorable men, some even saints!  St. Hippolytus was an anti-pope.  Tertullian died outside of the Church due to his Montanism.  St. Cyprian through his rigorous orthodoxy at times lacked Christian charity towards the lapsed, and Pope St. Stephen rebuked him for it.

That this mindset has also colored the worldview of some Catholics throughout the years in the battle to present an authentically Christian view of sexuality is not surprising.  We know that the Manichean influences that Augustine was once associated with at times led to some problematic statements he made regarding sexuality.  While one should be very careful in substantiating the charge, there are those throughout Church history, even saints, who had a very dismissive view of sex and sexuality.  This is why we must take great care to understand their statements in a wide context.  Charity requires that we first attempt to reconcile their statements with the greater Catholic tradition. 

I believe the precise opposite has happened with the debate surrounding Christopher West and those who defend him.  A classic example of this occurs in the comboxes at Sr. Lorraine's blog.  After what was a fairly boilerplate discussion, the topic turned to the importance of the marital embrace within marriage.  Some were arguing that it was the "central" and "fullest" way of understanding the "spousal meaning of the body."  Wade St. Onge objected to this line of thought, and used St. Frances De Sales to buttress his claims:

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. (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 39: “The Sanctity of the Marriage Bed”)

The response of Sr. Lorraine was telling.

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.....  But when he says "wash their hearts to purify them" he seems to imply that they were somehow made impure by conjugal union. But authentic conjugal union marked by love is not an impure activity, so why would they need to be thereafter purified? Even some of the saints had traces of Manichaean attitudes, as probably most of us do still have them in some ways.

I find this troubling in a number of ways.  Most importantly, she's accusing a Doctor of the Church of Manichean tendencies.  Not just any doctor, but one of the great spiritual masters of the Church, of whom Pope Pius XI said the following:

What is more, it appears that Francis de Sales was given to the Church by God for a very special mission. His task was to give the lie to a prejudice which in his lifetime was deeply rooted and has not been destroyed even today, that the ideal of genuine sanctity held up for our imitation by the Church is impossible of attainment or, at best, is so difficult that it surpasses the capabilities of the great majority of the faithful and is, therefore, to be thought of as the exclusive possession of a few great souls. St. Francis likewise disproved the false idea that holiness was so hedged around by annoyances and hardships that it is inadaptable to a life lived outside cloister walls. (Rerum Omnium Perturbationem )
I submit it is quite imprudent to charge one of the great spiritual masters with Manichean tendencies, unless you have some real evidence.  Sister Lorraine provides none.  While some may find the quote Wade cited troubling, reading the context helps give a far better understanding of the text in mind.  I submit that not only is the great Doctor assured of his spiritual orthodoxy, but he provides a large problem for the partisans of Mr. West.

There is one problem with the quote:  depending on which version you have, it will or will not exist.  An interesting discussion for scholars of St. Frances, but we need not bother ourselves with this debate.  The context of the discussion surrounds that of over-indulgence.  In giving his advice on the marriage bed, St. Frances says the following:

The marriage bed must be undefiled, as the apostle says, that is to say, kept free from uncleanness and all profane filthiness. Holy wedlock was first instituted in the earthly paradise, where as yet there never had been any disorder of concupiscence or of anything immodest.

We see here that St. Frances talks about the divine origin of marriage.  God instituted marriage, and it is something that helps the spouses grow in holiness.  There are those who take their warped views into the bedroom, and give us all kinds of perversity.  (A popular example is Dr. Gregory Popcak's "one rule" which states that almost anything goes in the bedroom, provided contraception isn't used and the spouse's fulfillment is in mind.)

He then goes on to point out that like anything else, humans can abuse what was given to us by God.  He demonstrates how to eat is holy, but people abuse eating into gluttony:

Just as to eat, not for the preservation of life, but to keep up that mutual intercourse and consideration which we owe to each other, is a thing in itself both very just and lawful, so the mutual and lawful compliance of the persons united in holy marriage is called by St. Paul a debt. But it is a debt so great that he allows neither of the parties exemption from it without the free and voluntary consent of the other....
After talking about the varying degrees of which indulgence is permitted (provided the primary purpose of marriage not thwarted), St. Frances says:

In truth, nuptial commerce, which is so holy, just and commendable in itself and most profitable to the commonwealth, is yet in certain cases dangerous to those that exercise it. Sometimes it causes their souls to be seriously ill with venial sin, as in cases of simple excess. Sometimes it kills it effectually by mortal sin, as when the order appointed for the procreation of children is violated and perverted. In this latter case according as one departs more or less from this order, the sins are more or less abominable, but they are always mortal. The procreation of children is the first and principal end of marriage. Hence no one may ever lawfully depart from the due order that that end requires.
Let us remember that above all, St. Frances was a pastor of souls.  He understood well that sexual temptation is a serious issue, even in marriage.  Even in marriage, even in the just, there can still be the temptation to use and exploit another person for your own ends.  The more one focuses on the sensual, the greater that danger is, just as the more one focuses on the pleasure food provides, the greater the risk of gluttony and over-eating.  It is in this context that the quote from Wade is given.  St. Frances continues afterwards:

In this advice consists the perfect practice of that excellent doctrine which St. Paul gave to the Corinthians: "The time is short," said he, "it remaineth that they also who have wives be as though they have none." According to St. Gregory,' that man has a wife as if he had none, who takes bodily consolation with her in such a manner as not to be diverted from spiritual demands. What is said of the husband is understood likewise of the wife. "Let those that use the world," says the same apostle, "be as though they used it not".... We should enjoy spiritual things but only use corporal. When their use is turned into enjoyment, our rational soul is also changed into a brutish and beastly soul.
St. Frances is not saying that the marital embrace is unholy.  Quite the contrary.  He is telling people to exercises it properly, and to never let it interfere with your spiritual duties, especially those towards your spouse.  Good as the marital embrace may be, it is not the epitome of marriage.  Though it is a readily available sign of the union of husband and wife that they are "one flesh", one can think of even greater signs.  (Indeed, St. Joseph did not partake in marital relations with the Blessed Mother, yet in John Paul II's eyes they practiced the spousal meaning of the body par excellence.)

Now is St. Frances saying that one can take no enjoyment from the marital embrace?  Certainly not.  What he is saying is that the said enjoyment of yourself should never be the main focus.  How many people do we know, even in marriage, who are only thinking of themselves and their "needs."  The more one focuses on their needs, the more likely they will start neglecting their spouse.  If indeed the marital embrace is supposed to provide (however faint) a glimpse of the enjoyment we spend in heaven, should we not afterwards stay focused on what that is, instead of what gave that enjoyment?

I believe I have demonstrated that on this area, and so many others, the great doctor is truly above "suspicion."  The question becomes:  Why is he not taken at his word?  I believe that if we do take this great spiritual master at his word, the positions of Mr. West and his associates are quite hard to justify, as I intend to prove another time.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dr. Smith Issues a Response to Dr. Von Hildebrand

For what it's worth, the tone is leagues better compared to her previous response to Dawn Eden.  Dr. Smith said she would be taking that into account, and she deserves commendation for it.  I may write a little bit more on this later, but will simply make a few brief points as I read the article today:

1.)  The Philosopher and Evangelist

Dr. Smith states:

She is ferociously loyal to those she loves and the ideas she champions.  With most audiences, she is a terrific hit.  Some, however, observe that she may not fully appreciate what truth there may be in false philosophies or why so many are drawn to error.
I think one needs to consider the audiences.  Dr. Von Hildebrand's work was not meant as an analysis for why people feel the way they do, at least from what I can tell.  The focus of her work was to contrast two different approaches, and why she feels the approach of Christopher West ultimately falls short.  Those of our friends on the other side of the aisle have stated time and time again that West is meant to be the one who takes Church teaching and makes it accessible, that he's not a theologian.  I would say the Dr. Von Hildebrand's of the world are necessary to challenge the likes of Mr. West and others to make sure their thinking is consistent.  Make the message accessible no doubt, but make sure that both that the "wounded" can benefit from it, even the redeemed wounded.  (I've never really cared for this connotation.  We are all wounded in every aspect of our lives by sin, even if we have been redeemed by Christ.  It smacks of the idea that West's critics are just a bunch of Pharisees, in need of no physician, while West is going to those in need of healing.)

I have taught three courses for the Theology of the Body Institute, which also promotes the work of Christopher West.
If nothing else, I think this once and for settles the debate.  Dawn Eden's critics generated what many of us felt was a storm out of nothing over her assertion that the TOB institute promotes the works of Christopher West.  It was rather self-evident.  Putting seriousness aside for the moment, I hope Christina King and friends read this statement.  :)

There is one troubling theme I note throughout Dr. Smith's essay, and I do not feel she is being consistent.  One on hand, she claims Dr. Von Hildebrand doesn't cite evidence.  On the other, Dr. Smith:

  • Criticizes those who have she claims have never read TOB, and yet use Dr. Von Hildebrand's essay to go after West
  • That Dr. Von Hildebrand's essay is in essence corrupted by the influence of certain people who criticize West, one could say even implying that someone else wrote parts of the essay!
Nowhere does she cite any actual evidence of either instance.  She just leaves the charge out there hanging.  I do not think this is fair treatment, especially since Dr. Smith decries this alleged offense in her critics.

On "Junk Food"

Dr. Smith finds shock that anyone would view pornography as something other than "junk food."  Today for lunch, I had what could be called "junk food."  I had myself a double cheeseburger meal large sized with onion rings from Burger King.  While not ideal, the food has some nutrients in it, and is okay in moderation.  Pornography is never okay, and there are no nutrients in it whatsoever.  As Dr. Von Hildebrand said, it is poisonous.  That Mr. West opposes pornography is to be commended.  Yet in describing these things the way he does, it has been the assertion of his critics that the issue is confused. 

The same could be said about one who eats out of the dumpster.  There are those who through homelessness have been forced to eat out of the garbage can.  They are doing so out of desperation, yet are still being fed with nutrients.  While one might question what they are doing, to do so is not sinful.  Viewing pornography is again, always sinful.  While some may turn to it out of desperation, some people willingly turn to it.  West makes little mention of this in his presentations.  Everybody is just wounded and unable to find healing because of prudery.  Dr. Von Hildebrand was simply pointing out that some people know no limits in their depravity, and it is simply foolish to think it is just because of prudery.

On "Hefner"

When Dr. Von Hildebrand mentions West's praise for Hugh Hefner, Dr. Smith find astonishment that anyone would find fault with this.  She left out a few important points.  The way in which he praised Hefner was by comparing him to John Paul II, and viewing them as both opposing prudery.  The image was given in essence that they would be on the same side.  As James Akin pointed out, that is preposterous.  As I have mentioned elsewhere, prudery stems from a noble sentiment, yet a lack of balance.  There is nothing noble about what Mr. Hefner has done.  One could make a far easier case that his warped views on things came not from prudery, but his grandfather being a pedophile.  Elsewhere, Mr. Hefner was constantly cheated on by women.  If one is putting on their psychoanalysis hat, it was these things, not prudery which led him to what he did.  Of course, one could also say that Mr. Hefner is a very depraved man, with a complete hatred for women.  (This is demonstrated by the fact that the founder of playboy boasts of the fact he has always refused to sleep with intelligent women, because he has no clue what to do with them.)  Yet since Mr. West views everything through the lens of prudery, he overlooks these facts.

On "Tragic"

When one thinks of "tragic", even in the Greek world, it is more than merely a "great man has knowingly performed a very wrong action" as Dr. Smith states.  Many of the great tragedies of literature and cinema (including in the Greek world) involve the hero doing a grave evil despite having the best of intentions.  Great artists have throughout the centuries looked to portray the ills of this pragmatic impulse through telling these tragedies.  What noble intention exists in pornography?  I submit there are none, and that is why it is so heinous, not "tragic."  One watches The Godfather and notices the "tragic" nature of Michael Corleone:  he is a man who, out of a desire to protect his family, committed evil.  As the years went on, that noble intent to protect his family was gone, and all that existed was a cruel monster who orders the murder of his own brother.

The story of David and Bathsheba, there was no noble impulse David was looking to satisfy when he committed adultery, and then ordered the murder of her husband so he could not take revenge.  That is what made the sin so heinous.  There was no justification for it, and nothing that could reconcile the compounding of an even graver sin upon an already grave one.  Such a tale is a caution for even the just:  the inordinate desires of the flesh are never fully extinguished, and if we aren't careful, they can lead us to a very dark place.  Luckily, David repented.  We should not be so presumptuous about ourselves.

On "Intent" and "This isn't Central."

In far too many places to count, Dr. Smith protests that critics are reading West the wrong way, and how what we are criticizing "isn't essential."  Whether or not Dr. Smith realizes it, she has just proven the point of Dr. Von Hildebrand, Dawn Eden, and others.

If issue after issue is merely "tangential", how long before someone notices a trend?  You demonstrate how the tangential leads to serious problems.  Like the original heroes in the tragedies, they make a decision that is certainly "tangential" at first, but ends up leading to greater problems.  It is the assertion of Mr. West's critics that these problems which are indeed tangential reveal some even bigger problems in his methodology as a whole.

The alleged phallic nature of the paschal candle is a perfect example of how West's overall presentation is far too sexualized.  There is something sexual in absolutely everything, from the marital embrace to the Hail Mary to the Eucharist.  Dr. Smith is correct that in TOB, JP II rarely uses "sex" to refer to the verb, but rather the noun, our creation as male and female.  The question is:  does Mr. West?

I might develop some of these thoughts individually in later writings.  Dr. Smith's essay provides food for thought.  There is no surprise I disagree with it, yet I think she has finally managed to enter this discussion in a civil manner.  Hopefully now, 6 months later, we can finally get to the actual evidence, a debate I know many of us across the way are more than happy to have.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why The Incarnation Matters: Back to the Future

Having covered the prophets Elijah and Elisha in previous installments, we now make our way to the group known as the “Major” Prophets in the Old Testament: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. With these individuals, the Incarnational aspect of our faith undergoes considerable development. In modern language, when many people see “prophet” they think of someone telling the future. I would suggest the meaning is far deeper than this.

While these men do indeed predict the future, I would say they also spend time on the past. They remind Israel of their sins. For the future, they attempt to point Israel back to their initial calling. One could even say that there is precious little “new” about their ministry. The “newness” comes from the fulfillment of that original calling, and how will be carried out.

The prophets, despite living millennia ago, also live during a time which is quite relevant for our reflection. In one sense or another, they all lived during a time of apostasy. Those who were meant to act as custodians of the faith of Yahweh allowed the faith to weaken, whether through negligence or an active persecution of the true faith. In their varied walks of life, they used the understanding gained from these experiences to confront those leaders.

Is this not what we see today? The errors of the world have in many cases infected many Christians, even those whose job it is to guard the faith. In the world at large, they have not simply turned their back on God. Rather, they turn to face him, and raise their swords. This is a war man cannot win.

Like our heroes of old, God sends prophets into the world even today. Not in the sense of giving new revelation, but in the sense I described above. These prophets are meant to call the Church and the world back to what they were meant to be. They are meant to point out the folly of idols, whether they are actual “gods” or the self. Yet many times a fair question can be asked: where are today’s prophets? It seems that the Church grows weaker and weaker by the day, because there are no prophets to guide her message.

If one is upset over this state of events, we can blame nobody but ourselves. We are called to be today’s prophets. Through our baptism (of which we will discuss more in the future), we become citizens of Christ’s Kingdom, His Church. We are meant to proclaim God’s truth about man’s calling and destiny to both the secular and the religious. It is for this reason that we must turn to these great heroes.

Unfortunately, today’s Church frequently neglects the Prophets. They are viewed in two ways. Firstly, as those who were relevant millennia ago, and only dealt with issues particular to their time. Others look at the Prophets solely in light of prophesies about the Messiah. With those prophesies fulfilled in Christ, their value for the Christian today is minimal. Both are tragic, and nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is their message timeless, their message takes on a higher meaning in Christ. He never did away with their message, since He came to fulfill, not destroy. Indeed, the Incarnation of Our Lord elevates this message to an entirely new level. We read the message of the prophets in light of Christ’s elevation of their work.

It is with this understanding that we shall continue our study, beginning with the one known as the greatest prophet of them all, Isaiah.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

On Dr. Smith's "Revised" Response

It must be nice being able to be able to choose where you will publish something. I’m sure this thought had to have crossed the mind of Dr. Janet Smith. True to her word, she has revised her hit-piece on Dawn Eden, and this time posted it in a different venue. Instead of Catholic Exchange, she has it up at the Catholic Education Resource Center. Unfortunately, there’s no comments section at that site like there was at CE. Probably best for Dr. Smith, as now people cannot interact with what she said right in public.  The last time the plebeians were allowed their say, it didn't end well. Nonetheless, she prefers the “old media” style of publishing where people cannot interact right away with it, and it takes a more academic tone. Such is her right.

Such is the right of her critics, however, to point out that she still really hasn’t engaged with much of the evidence. I also think she did a little bit of whitewashing the record, and I think this should be pointed out. The article on Catholic Exchange is still there, at least for now.

Unfortunately, I might just be doing an exercise in futility. Dr. Smith hints of even further revisions:

While it may merit even further revision, I need to get on to other projects. In the end, I believe the substance of my critique is sound.

Is it that hard for Dr. Smith to refrain from writing until she is relatively certain what she is writing won’t need to be changed? Why isn’t that caveat also with her main work? Is this meant to inspire confidence in the reader? “The substance is sound” is classic double-speak for leaving enough wiggle room should you end up getting proven wrong yet again. Perhaps Dr. Smith should have never gotten involved. She certainly would’ve saved a lot of people the trouble for trying to figure out if what she says today will be the same as what she says tomorrow!

Ironically enough, Dr. Smith starts out her essay with a footnote, in which she says:

In my initial version of this critique, I critiqued Eden's tone first, simply because as a thesis reader, I work my way through a piece step by step. But I found in presenting the critique publically, readers took my comments on her tone to infer that I focused on the "accidental" features of Eden's work and did not pay enough attention to the substance. The approach also served to display such frustration with her tone that readers were less able to assess fairly my critique of the substance of the work. Indeed, I committed the same offense I accused Eden of: "biasing" the reader before a critique was offered. Mea culpa. I have deleted some portions on tone and added a few general comments. So in this version, I begin with substance, since it is unarguably more important than tone. I do turn to tone at the end, because it, too, is important.

I will only speak for myself. It wasn’t the tone; it was the substance of how she critiqued the tone. Confusing? Allow me to elaborate.

I for one think at times, we are far too genteel a society. Whenever someone comes up with a stinging criticism, it is automatically dismissed as a personal attack. If one reads the great masters of rhetoric throughout history (even the Catholic ones!) they recognized at times that a less than cordial approach was required. When dealing with the followers of Marcion, Tertullian stated the following:

But why call His body bread, and not rather (some other edible thing, say) a melon, which Marcion must have had in lieu of a heart! (Against Marcion)

St. Jerome stated of Helvidius:

If I choose to say, the apostle Paul before he went to Spain was put in fetters at Rome, or (as I certainly might) Helvidius, before he repented, was cut off by death, must Paul on being released at once go to Spain, or must Helvidius repent after death, although the Scripture says In sheol who shall give you thanks?

Lest someone think this was just against a heretic, Jerome answered much the same way during his dispute with Augustine. Sometimes rhetorical wit can prove an argument better than any genteel discussion ever could. St. Frances De Sales knew this well. His The Catholic Controversies was many times a masterpiece of rhetoric. Even in the academic world, then Cardinal Ratzinger worded responses to Cardinal Kasper that many found surprising for a break in the rather genteel decorum such disputes normally have. Neither took it personally.

Their very combative tones never prevented them from being rightly lionized as Catholic heroes. If Dr. Smith wanted to take a combative tone against Miss Eden’s thesis, such is her right. Indeed, if it were as bad as she says it is, such a response would probably be merited. Whenever one employs rhetoric, we must ask ourselves: does it further making your point?

To this I ask:

1.) Does stating your opponent lacks any shame (since essentially they disagree with your assessment) further the discussion?

2.) Does stating they lack any humility or docility further the discussion?

3.) Does insinuating she whines further the discussion?

4.) Does stating that she had a hidden agenda of using her thesis to turn her from an obscure graduate student into a big name on the lecture circuit to get rich further the discussion?

The problem wasn’t tone. The problem was, in making her assessment, she engaged in pure character assassination. There was absolutely no point to any of her charges, other than to sling as much mud as possible. While she may have done this in anger or haste, that does not change it for the fact of what it was. Something tells me if Dr. Smith had alerted her readers to this, they would tend to think rather lowly of her work. As I said, it must be great to be able to choose your own venues!

Dr. Smith starts out her revised critique not looking to assassinate this time, but rather provides personal testimonies of why Mr. West’s work is great. For someone who begged her opponents to engage in an academic discussion, I find this line of argumentation curious.

All the personal references in the world can’t prove a thing one way or the other. I am equally certain Dawn Eden could mention the people whose lives have been changed by her works or talks. I myself am aware of a few personally. Yet does that make her thesis any more or less worthy of belief from the standpoint of the truth? Of course not. No doubt Caesar could say the women around him had their lives transformed and improved. This didn’t take away from the fact that Caesar was still a womanizer and serial adulterer.

While obviously dealing with lesser circumstances, all the personal stories in the world will not make what Christopher West is doing right or wrong. If anything, appealing to emotion is a sure sign you aren’t winning the discussion. After Dr. David Schindler delivered stinging critique of Christopher West, Drs. Smith and Waldstein, a long with Matthew Pinto, essentially made their main argument “but look how many people are change?” This is not a compelling argument.

While watering down her criticisms, Dr. Smith still poisons the well. She keeps the line that, if she were so inclined, she could refute Miss Eden’s entire thesis. If you aren’t going to do it, don’t say it. Stick with the facts you intend to interact with.

As for the majority of the essay, my original work still stands. I refer the reader specifically to parts II through IV. I would like to talk about very briefly one of the subtle but serious changes she makes: the discussion about the Latin in previous works where a sexual nature is discussed.

As readers of this blog were aware, the door was blown wide open on her original argument. It was mocked by many as lacking all seriousness, and rightly so. In short, her original argument stated that since two works had mainly been written in Latin when discussing sexuality, it was evidence of repression from the faithful.

As I and others demonstrated, the work she cites was never meant for the average Catholic faithful. In the preface, the author specifically rejects the idea his work is meant for edification. It was meant for very specific instances of assisting priests in the confessional on how to deal with issues of moral theology.

The only area that was in Latin dealt with sins contrary to nature. One of them listed was bestiality. As Steve Kellmeyer noted (in a mocking tone that Dr. Smith deserved every bit of):

Are lay Catholics being repressed when they are not offered a discussion of how to hear the confession of someone who has had unnatural relations with livestock?

Dr. Smith has changed the argument a bit. Shockingly, she has managed to make it even less scholarly:

Undoubtedly there were some good reasons for that practice, but it suggests some "repression" to me. I believe it is not only because fewer priests today can read Latin, that passages about sex are no longer written in Latin; certainly a willingness to talk about matters of sexuality more openly today, has also led the Church to stop that practice.

In short there is repression because……. Repression because……. Dr. Smith says so, that’s why! She fully concedes now there were good reasons to keep it in Latin. Yet it still suggests repression? She offers no evidence for why this is the case. She just asserts it. If anyone is thinking Dr. Smith is letting her bias show, go to the head of the class.

I’d like to broaden my original argument I made about the sources she cites even further. Since Dr. Smith has provided the link, I was able to do some fact-checking. In the sections that are in English, the following is mentioned:

1.) There is a section on incest and why it is wrong

2.) There is a section on rape, and why it is wrong

3.) “Venereal pleasure” is talked about 6 times, and when it is, and isn’t sinful

4.) “Dirty talk” has a section as well as “immodest touching.”

5.) Finally, a discussion about a dispute amongst theologians on impure touching and kissing, and the gravity of sin associated with it.

What honestly is repressed here? Is Dr. Smith upset that a moral theologian, writing a moral theology manual, didn’t talk about sex in extremely explicit or popular phrases? As I stated before, it’s obvious she didn’t read what she cited. She just saw an area on impurity in Latin, automatically thought that the book was trying to hide the truth from the faithful, and ran with it. In her original, she at least had an argument: Latin equals repression. Now, in her revised work, she doesn’t even have any evidence, it just “seems” repressive. Or maybe, just maybe, Dr. Smith has blinders on. We could just as easily take a page from the playbook of the man she defends. Dr. Smith, if you find this work problematic, perhaps you should ponder deep in your soul and see what hang ups you have that cause you to view a work approved by two august bishops as evidence of repression.

There is one more issues that needs to be commented on. Dr. Smith states:

In fact, if Eden is still confident that her work exposes serious errors in West's work and that he is a danger to others, I believe she has a moral obligation to submit her concerns to bishops (perhaps the committee on catechesis would be a place to start) and they can decide whether they need to challenge the imprimaturs and endorsements that have been given by members of their own rank.

Many have asked me for my thoughts on this, and I will repeat what I told them. There’s no reason to go to the Bishop’s on this. One goes to the Bishop’s when somebody is denying doctrine. For the majority of people in this debate, they are not stating that Mr. West is some heretic. Miss Eden never even implies such in her thesis. Instead, on several occasions she notes the precise opposite, and notes, with Dr. Schindler, that West would “jump in front of a bus” for the Church.

Such a move would poison the well in regards to this. In the eyes of the public, such a move would certainly be interpreted that Mr. West is in doctrinal trouble. Even if he were in the end vindicated, his livelihood would be ruined during the endless investigations, inquiries, appeals etc. Nobody wants to see a faithful son of the Church dragged through such a process when it is not warranted.

No, what we have here is quite different. Since both sides profess to believe the same thing (JP II’s Theology of the Body must be interpreted alongside previous Church teachings), the question is how to achieve that. We have two rival schools of thought on the manner. Church law gives even lay Catholics the right to have these discussions (Canon 212).  How much more so for theologians? If the work is really as poor as Dr. Smith alleges, let the readers compare the work of Dawn Eden and Christopher West. So far, the mere fact that Dr. Smith felt the need to become involved tells you how that one is playing out. 

However, the reverse of this is that people are also under no obligation to do anything in regards to the Bishop, except obey if one gives a ruling that is within their competence to give.  (No such thing has been given.)  Even if they did find him denying doctrine, they are free to denounce him in public all they want.  To say one is under a moral obligation, is to say that someone is committing a sin of omission by refusing to step up.  Church law says nothing of the sort.

Besides, during an on-going inquiry, would not charity require that both sides not speak on the manner until such a formal judgment was reached? If one were to say the intent of some were to sweep this thesis under the rug and engage in damage control, this would be an ideal situation. The Bishops would eventually not become involved or state “West is not a heretic.” Partisans of various ideological persuasions can then spin it into a victory, when it was the wrong battle all along. This is a smokescreen, plain and simple. Provided people engage in this discussion with charity, there need not be one dogmatic way to approach a subject. I myself am comfortable with this approach.  I get the feeling our friends across the way are not. If that’s the case, let them write to the Bishops conferences (which really have no authority to settle the question) then to Rome herself.

That’s really all that can be said. Dr. Smith’s work, instead of being an outright class in character assassination, is now an attempted instructional in how to do it with subtlety. The only problem is that she falls short on both accounts. Furthermore, in her attempt to “tone down” her arguments, she leaves them even more lacking in scholarship than before.

Since she isn’t going to say anymore on the matter, I don’t think either side should, until Mr. West himself speaks. Nothing much has changed. His defenders still have not engaged the actual evidence, try though they might. There’s a reason for this. In the end, the majority of what Miss Eden says in her thesis I believe cannot be assailed. Truth is the best defense.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dr. Janet Smith: Back to the Drawing Board

Probably for the best that she re-write it.

However, a note to Catholic Exchange.  This is twice now that you've invited someone to engage Miss Eden's thesis, and twice it's wound you in hot water requiring later modifications (or in the case of the first one, you removed it from your site entirely.)

I think you guys need to hire another editor, or at least someone who can go over these works as a "hostile witness."  Will save you lots of embarrassment, because you can bet several of us are saving the original copies.  :)

Hopefully Dr. Smith also apologizes to Dawn Eden personally as well.  In the end, we are "all on the same team."  It would be good if our friends across the way remember that.  I promise we will here in this small Kingdom.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Why the Incarnation Matters: The Divine Kingmaker

Concluding the studies on the prophets Elijah and Elisha, let us accomplish two things. The first will be a very brief recap of the events in their lives, and how these events will shape the future for God’s people.

Elijah appeared during what could be called one of the darkest times in the entire region for God’s people. Paganism was wide-spread. Though the Kingdom of Judah during this time was undergoing something of a religious revival (under the good kings Asa and Jehoshaphat), they Kingdom of Judah soon become little better than vassals of Samaria. (Omri’s intermarriages with Judah gave his house brief control over Judah even.) Pagan worship flourished.

Elijah challenged the pagans boldly, and won at Mt. Carmel. During one of his (many) forced exiles from Samaria, he receives God in a cave atop Mt. Horeb. God tells him:

“Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria; and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint as King over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And him who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay, and him who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Ba’al, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:15-18)
When people look at this text, they see God putting kings in place to execute his wrath upon the house of Ahab. I would like to take a step backwards. On what basis does God make these claims? While one can understand why Jehu would be interested in securing the support of Elijah (through his successor Elisha), of what good is an Israelite anointing a Syrian king?

God can make these proclamations through His universal kingship over the entire Earth. In his treatise on the Incarnation, St. Athanasius the Great likened God to a King, and the Earth to a city he founded. The areas of the Earth were ruled by the temporal rulers in his mind as regents. If their work was poor, God could choose to dismiss them at His will. Even in those areas which reject His authority, this does not change God’s dominion over these lands. If he wills a new ruler to be installed, such is His right.

In addition to the two Kingdoms, God reveals two more players in this “game.” Elisha will become the successor to Elijah. There can also be seen a prophecy in the final sentence from God. He states 7,000 would be left in Israel who has not been stained by the idolatry rampant around them. If they are left, implied is that the others wouldn’t be. Here we see the destruction of the Kingdom of Samaria foretold I believe. With the 7,000, we see the beginnings of the Church in a certain way.

This prophesy also has much to say for the Kingdom of Judah, though we may not realize it at first. Those 7,000 exist in Samaria, in the world. They are not part (at least by their original nature in birth) of the Davidic Kingdom. Yet we know that the Davidic Kingdom would reign forever once the Messiah became King. I believe the only way to explain this anomaly is through what is known as the Social Kingship of Christ.

When we say the Kingship of Christ, it is not meant in terms of an earthly theocracy, ruled by the Pope acting in the person of Christ. While at times this has been how it appeared, it really is much deeper than this. With Christ as King, He claims dominion over all of heaven and earth. Though there continue to be earthly princes and rulers, they are called to acknowledge Christ’s superior Kingship over them, just as a vassal may be left with full autonomy, yet he is still required to acknowledge who his lord is.

Those 7,000 are his heralds. They are the ones who call upon the people and rulers of nations to acknowledge the supremacy of this ruler. Is this not the Catholic Church? Are we not made up from the world? Yet do we not serve the eternal King of David’s house? Do we not make disciples of all nations to follow and serve this King?

Yet who is this ruler? What will he be? How will he rule? The prophet Isaiah provides the most exhaustive prophecy concerning the rule of the anointed King of Judah, as such he will be our next figure.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Response to Dr. Smith

For easier navigation, the now 5 part response to Dr. Smith's article that critiques Dawn Eden's Master's Thesis

Part I:  On "Tone" and Poisoning the Well

Part II:  On "Substance", Anachronistic Interpretation, Misquoting the Pope, and "Repression"

Part III:  More on "Repression" (reader discretion is advised)

Part IV:  Addenda to Response

Part VI:  Where are we Now?  An Appeal to Restore Civility

The TOB Debate: Where are we Now?

In an attempt to be a bridge builder, Wade Michael St. Onge has written his latest.  He repeats his thesis from before in an attempt to find common ground on both sides of the aisle in the TOB debate that was sparked by Dr. Schlinder's critique of his former student, as well as escalated by Dawn Eden's Master's thesis on the issue.  He re-states part of his thesis as follows:

West's approach is good for the particular audience he is catering to. However, West's approach is not suited to the “spiritually mature” or those with a firm grasp of Catholic doctrine. These Catholics can get some good things out of it and enjoy it, but they can also be rightly bothered by some of the things he says and see them as problematic.
While this might have some merit, in the end I believe the objective reader is forced to reject this thesis.  The key to why this is so I will attempt to explain.  I fully concede I may be viewed as a biased observer, having worked on this issue with Dawn Eden, Steve Kellmeyer, and others.  I make no apologies for my work.  For the most part, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have noted my civil yet tenacious tone in this debate.

1.)  "Mature" Audiences

Wade's thesis ultimately falls short for one simple reason:  Mr. West and his defenders (outside of perhaps Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve) reject this characterization of Mr. West's work.  They would not hold that their work is of little value to the "spiritually mature."  Whenever we hear that Mr. West's work is not that of a theologian, but an evangelist, there is never a discussion of how his work can be harmonized with the more  allegedly "advanced" material for Catholics "eating out of the banquet" instead of the dumpster.  Instead, we are told that for the ones in the dumpster, there are the talks and lectures of Mr. West.  For the more spiritually "mature", there is Heaven's Song and Theology of the Body Explained, both books by Mr. West.  For the one "mature", there is the Theology of the Body Institute, an institute that if not the catholic equivalent of an intellectual shell company for Christopher West, is dominated by his influence and his school of thought nonetheless.

The "mature" works are where the focus of a lot of criticism is.  I have noted that I find Mr. West's exegesis of Sirach which he used in Theology of the Body Explained troubling, amongst other issues.  In her thesis, Dawn Eden finds his treatment of continence and virtue in TOB explained problematic.  Many of us objected when the "mature" audience at the TOB Congress advocated calling God a stalker, and stating that before John Paul II, the Church was in darkness in regards to sexuality.  (As Fr. Loya famously said.)

2.)  What are we?

I believe the second problem is that of our critics assessment of us and our positions.  Speaking bluntly, they do not view us as "spiritually mature."  When Catholic luminary Alice Von Hildebrand spoke up against Christopher West, the general consensus of her critics was that she is an old out of touch prude.  Dawn Eden's thesis has been lampooned as the work of someone with a vendetta against Christopher West at best, a cynical marketing ploy to make herself rich by tearing down faithful Catholics and Bishops at worst.  (As Dr. Janet Smith recently said in her response to Miss Eden.)  Miss Eden is also viewed as obstinate, with a blatant refusal to acknowledge she is wrong.

On the other side for the most part, we have been willing to grant them much.  Dawn Eden spoke at length in the introduction to her thesis about the positive influence Christopher West was in her own life.  She talks about how he is to be applauded for bringing souls to the Church.  Fr. Angelo spoke about how the problem of prudery in the Church is real, and the difficulties in presenting something so philosophically rich to a popular audience.  (In short, one can be more forgiving in this arena.)  Now some of my friends across the aisle will point to the works of Steve Kellmeyer, who could be called highly polemical in his works against Christopher West.  Yet if one looks at his works, one finds in the comments section those on his side who have had a gentleman's disagreement with him in regards to tone.

For the record, I believe that Mr. Kellmeyer's tone is no worse than that of Christopher West.  In fact, I will say it is better, for reasons I will expound upon later.  Mr. Kellmeyer's role is the one who rallies the troops.  Most of his audience already agrees with him.  He is the provider of "red meat."  It certainly isn't for everyone.  Yet if anyone comes there from the opposite side in charity and attempts to have a dialogue with him (As Christina King has done), one sees a very civil discussion going on.  His last three posts on the issue have lacked a lot of the polemical tone that previous ones have.

Why do I say that his behavior is better than those of my opponents across the aisle?  In the eyes of Mr. West, those who disagree with him are part of the "religious right."  We are Manichean's.  We are prudes.    In the eyes of Dr. Janet Smith, we are those who seek to "repress" the truth about sexuality, and are guilty of hidden agendas, to say nothing of launching a campaign against Bishops "known for their fidelity to the Magesterium."  They are the Optimates, we are the Populares.  (1)

I for one have heard nobody across the aisle step up and condemn this kind of argumentation.  Even Sr. Lorraine, who has attempted to provide a civil forum for discussion of these manners (and has been a model of civility), has not issued (at least in public) any criticism of this approach.  How do these examples encourage a civil debate?

For what it is worth, I do not think my friends across the aisle are being deceptive.  I do not believe they are engaging in grandstanding to score points in some debate.  They really believe what they say.  They think their critics have Manichean tendencies, and are full of hidden agendas.  As long as this is the case, there is a wide chasm that I believe cannot be bridged.

I am not sure if the first issue can be resolved.  I am however certain the second issue can.  I believe my friends across the aisle are mistaken on certain things.  Yet I have never doubted their sincerity.  I believe at times their passions get the best of them.  Such happens to even the best of men.  When Dr. Smith found herself guilty of this, she had the integrity to admit it, and deserves the utmost of commendation for this.  (3)  They believe a good man is being unfairly criticized, and have rallied to his defense.  Such is understandable, even laudable.  I hope should I ever find myself in controversy in the future, I can have such zealous allies.

When commenting on this issue, Mr. Brian Killian stated the following:

My impression from following this debate is that everyone is partially right and partially wrong.

What everyone should do is stop the merry-go-round of criticizing the other person, and sit down and look for what is wrong in their own approach or their own content. Each person in this debate should find one thing that their critics are right about. That should move the discussion forward a bit!

Maybe we should set up a group blog where everyone involved in the debate can discuss matters in a civil and charitable manner.
I am skeptical that such a group project would have any fruit.  Yet I can get completely behind a call for civility.  I write this post with the hope that my friends across the aisle can see where their critics are coming from.  Small though my voice may be, I invite them to engage in charity.  Do not doubt our motives, our agendas.  As they are so fond of saying, we are all "on the same team."  Provided charity is upheld, we can then move onto the issues of substance.  I am not sure if they can be resolved as I said earlier.  However, I do think that if done in a civil and cordial manner, everyone can learn.


In the interest of fairness, Mrs. Christina King commented in the comboxes below, protesting some of the things that I had said.  One of the statements I did not have the full information on (I really could not have known), and the other, I believe while the case can be made, really distracts from the issues at hand, and has the potential to turn things into mud-slinging.  To try and keep the bridges built, I have removed these two specific charges from the article.  I regret and apologize for any misunderstanding that arose as a result of incomplete information, and I expect to be held accountable to keep the dialogue going with civility.  Anything that contributes to the opposite I hope to avoid.

1.)  In the final days of the Roman Republic, the defenders of the Senate viewed themselves the Optimates, or "good men."  They viewed their opponents as populares, many times little better than an angry mob who, if given any authority, would ruin Rome.

2.)  What comes of this of course is hard to say.  The charges are still up in her essay that she now admits were uncharitable.  She has however promised that she has an essay forthcoming analyzing Dr. Von Hildebrand's criticism of Mr. West, and promised a far more irenic tone.  I for one look forward to reading this.

To Part V, Addenda

Return to Response Index

Friday, October 1, 2010

Addenda to Response

Dr: Smith has stated the following in the comments section of a series of responses in regards to her original critique of Dawn Eden's thesis:

Dear Dr. Nadal,
I agree that the debate over CW’s work has become too polarized. I am afraid that I may have contributed to that. While I believe my criticisms of Eden’s thesis are justified, I also think they may be overdone. I needn’t have pointed out so many instances of objectionable tone, for instance. By doing so, I committed the very error that I found in her work. I set a tone of unrelenting opposition to Eden and defensiveness about West’s work. That is ironic and humbling!

I was puzzled about how to respond to Eden’s work; I wanted to make my response not too long but nonetheless effective. I generally find it takes on the average 5-10 sentences to correct one erroneous claim! All of us have limited time and critiquing a master’s thesis for which I am not a reader is not an item high on my agenda. But I know people who are using Eden’s thesis and Alice Von Hildebrand’s critique of West to pressure priests and organizations not to use West’s work. That is a real shame in my view and merited my involvement. I have been on the circuit for years and I don’t know if I have ever seen anyone who is as successful as West in converting people away from sexual immorality. Perhaps he has made missteps but they are not of the sort to seriously vitiate his work.

I do hope that those of us who are engaged in the debate about the merits of West’s work can find a more generous and civil way of conducting our arguments. I will soon be posting a critique of Alice von Hildebrand’s critique of West; I hope I get the tone right there.

Janet Smith
For the record, that should be pointed out.  She has recognized that she was a bit out of line with some of her remarks.  That takes integrity to do so.  My small voice would simply request that the entire paper be re-worked.  The latter section of her essay contributes something to the debate (even if people might disagree with the conclusions) and deserves a fair hearing.  The first portion takes a tone of simply looking to bury Dawn Eden.  While you can't "unring the bell", one can stop further damage.  In my mind, there is no doubt Dr. Smith's contribution, far from providing an opportunity for spirited yet civil debate, has absolutely poisoned the well.  Left as is, I believe it will do far more harm to her "side" than good, though all sides would suffer as a result.

There is more to say about that, but I think everyone should wait and see how this plays out.

Return to Response Index

Return to TOB Index

Return to Common Sense Catholicism