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:
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.
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.
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
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