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!
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.
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.
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.