Friday, February 3, 2012

Questions for Christopher West

  • Is any man in this life able to overcome concupiscene completely, and be sanctified to such an extent that any thing this man does will not be sinful? In other words, can a saint on earth look at internet porn without sin?

  • Can a saint on earth experience lust and engage in fornication and adultery and masturbation and yet not be sinning because his human will has been joined with the Divine Will?

  • Can one use pornography to find God?

  • Are there a select few, a group of illuminati, for whom sex is sacred and all of their sexual activity holy, though viewed by the unenlighted prudes as sinful?

  • Is there a group of those who Know and who, when they engage in acts commonly known as "fornication", "adultery" or "masturbation" are doing something pleasing to God and expressive of God?

  • Does the Divine Will ever erase or consume the human will on this earth and in this mortal life?

These goes to the heart of West's heterodoxy, couched as his heterodoxy is in implication and enthusiasm.


Scott W. said...

West seems to have fallen into the usual trap of trying to "nuance" straight-forward teachings. One of my protestant visitors said this is going on there as well:

For example, there are bloggers (I’m told, by someone who reads it) at a sort of would-be-artsy-intellectual site called The Rabbit Room who talk exactly like this–all this stuff about how you can watch any movie because as a Christian you shouldn’t be “afraid” of anything. Jesus casts out “fear,” or some such nonsense. One of their reviewers got extremely testy when a reader asked why he went and watched a particular movie given its advertised content. “I don’t use content lists. They don’t tell you anything. Context is everything,” blah, blah. All with a Christian spin to it. And legalism is the big boogy man. Yep, that’s the real problem in our churches today–legalism.

Recently a very popular Protestant pastor with his wife (!) published a graphic sex book advocating all manner of…shall we say…problematic things. Song of Songs is in the Bible for a reason, etc., etc. Check.

It’s starting to sound like they’re all reading from the same playbook.

Scott W.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Amen, Scott W. I would have pressed the "like" button on your comment if it had had one!

Deacon Jim Russell said...


You're ready to accuse West of heresy?

Heresy as defined in #2089 of the CCC is the "obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same."

But you are already on record as stating:

"I will add one thing first - it's obvious to me that this is not a dispute about something de fide. In other words, West and his approach are open to interpretation. I know many good Catholics who think West is fine and dandy. I don't."

If it's not a "dispute about something de fide," as you say, then, based on the definition of heresy, you should not be referring to West as teaching heresy....right?

Deacon Jim R

Kevin O'Brien said...

I am not calling him a heretic. I'm saying that if he's teaching this form of gnosticism, it's heretical teaching.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Kevin--you wrote: "These goes to the heart of West's heresy, couched as his heresy is in implication and enthusiasm."

I don't notice an "if" in that statement (as in "if he's teaching..."). You seem to be asserting that West already is "in" heresy. If I've got that wrong, let me know.

The problem is that "heresy" as in the phrase "West's heresy" by definition must involve something he denies that we must believe with divine and catholic faith. You've thus referred to this as a form of "gnosticism".

Can you be more specific--what is he denying that we're supposed to believe with "divine and catholic faith"?

Keep in mind that I have my own concerns about West's approach, so I'm not here in the role of West "disciple", but we've got to be willing to uphold a person's basic dignity and use all charity in addressing concerns and making criticisms. I just don't see how using the word "heresy" is either factual or in keeping with your prior comment that we're not dealing with anything "de fide" here...

God bless,

Jim R

Scott W. said...

In a way, this reminds me a bit of the "enhanced interrogation" discussions which are usually couched in terms of "How much can I get away with?" The other thing it reminds me of is Life Teen and the liturgy. I don't want to open a can of worms on LT in general, but there was a period where they practiced liturgical innovation kind of like how Germany annexed the Sudetenland--that is, 1). do or say something controversial, 2). if you encounter any resistance back off, 3). win or lose, on to the next controversy. In other words, people like West can do this all day and avoid a charge of heresy because underneath it all is this amorphous, plausibly deniable attitude that the Church is not a stable rock, but a sponge for soaking up novelty.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Deacon Jim,

A person can teach heresy without being a heretic. My assertion is that West would answer the above questions improperly, thus betraying a form of gnosticism in his thinking. I confess that most of what West teaches is orthodox, though a bit unbalanced. And if he is teaching heresy, it may be that he is doing so unawares.

West only becomes a formal heretic if he is called out on his errors by an episcopal authority and then digs in his heels and continues to teach what's heterodox. He has not done that. Only theologians (lay and clerical) are raising red flags about West. So he can not be "a heretic".

I will go one step further and say he appears to be doing his best. But I do indeed think he would get the answers to these questions wrong, and that's a problem.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Scott W., are you aware of the sexual improprieties of the founder of Life Teen and his formal renunciation of the Catholic Church? I agree with you on this shared technique.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Hi, Scott W.--but that's not how "heresy" really works in the Catholic Church. Don't we Catholics know what we're supposed to believe with divine and catholic faith? If we do, then when one claims someone possesses a "heresy," it should be definable, contrasted as it is with what we *all* are supposed to believe with divine and catholic faith.

Thus it seems reasonable to *only* use the term "heresy"--especially in relation to a brother Catholic--if you can really define what is being denied (or doubted).

I think it's only fair to Christopher West. No one else--Dawn Eden, Von Hildebrand, etc.--uses the term "heresy" in their critiques, do they?

Jim R

Kevin O'Brien said...

Deacon Jim,

How about if I scrub "heresy" and replace it with "heterodoxy"? I might still be wrong, but would that be more charitable, do you think?

Scott W. said...

If you'll notice, I didn't mention the H-word once. That's the problem--people operating under "How much can I get away with without crossing the line?" Like "enhanced interrogation", West is not outright denying Church teaching, he's weaving a web of fog around it.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Hi, Kevin--regarding your last comment, doesn't the question remain: "What is 'West's heresy'"?

First, he hasn't (obviously) answered the questions yet--can you use the term heresy relative to a hypothetical response?

Second, if we can't readily articulate where he is denying something we should believe with divine and catholic faith, why resort to the term heresy? Why not just leave that term for those who actually do have the authority to go all the way and call someone a "heretic"? It would seem better, as I see it.

West remains a brother in Christ who deserves the benefit of the doubt, given that his life has been devoted to working the frontlines in a mission field that is also a minefield. I'm sure we can afford to show him some charity even while giving a critical examination of his work.

Thanks once more for the discussion, as it's really helpful to me.

Jim R

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Kevin--thanks for the suggestion. I do think "heterodoxy" gets more at what you're suggesting.

I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I get reallly squeamish with what Scott referenced as the "H" word.

I bet West would appreciate the distinction--if I were in your place, Kevin, I'd change it.

Jim R

Tom Leith said...

> You're ready to accuse West of heresy?

My personal (untrained, inexpert, meaningless) opinion finds in West sententia de haeresi suspecta at worst. Oh, and very poor judgement.

Mrs. von Hildebrand gratefully acknowledges "the incontestable merits of West's presentation" of the Theology of the Body. She also says West "at times, lose[s] sight of the 'golden chain of tradition.'"

I hope more of his episcopal sponsors do a thorough examination. One hopes they would brook none of this.

Kevin O'Brien said...

I will change the H word in the post to another H word.

I do think in five more years we'll know a lot more about whether or not West is harboring a gnostic heterodoxy. It will play itself out.

Meanwhile, I hope I'm wrong.

Anonymous said...

To say West is unbalanced seems quite accurate. In a nutshell he seems to obsessed with sexual matters and views everything through that lens. The logical conclusions of his views are very problematic, contrary to Catholic tradition, and are, practically speaking, very dangerous, e.g., giving men the impression that they have become redeemed and normalized if they get to the point that they can look at a women's body and not experience some hesitation, shame, or possible temptation; while the person who would rightfully experience these things has something wrong with him, is a "prude", "puritanical", etc.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Kevin—with due credit to the Feb. 1, 2012, Deborah Arca "Patheos Book Club" interview of West (from which the following quotes come-- ), here is what I think could be considered a summary response from West himself to the questions you raise in this post:

Christopher West:
In terms of things that I continue to learn, I'd say I'm coming to a deeper appreciation of John Paul II's teaching that Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount show us "how deep down it is necessary to go, how the innermost recesses of the human heart must be thoroughly revealed" if we are to live the "purity of heart" to which Christ calls us (TOB 43:5). In his teaching on the stages of purification through which we all must pass, St. John of the Cross observes that a person may spend many years in a stable place of service to the Lord before the need for deeper purification presents itself. One of the dangers of this extended place of stability, he says, is that of becoming "too secure" in the progress we've made. To rescue us from this trap, God allows us to undergo various external and internal trials that reveal to us new depths of our own poverty.

I'd say that pretty well sums up the last few years of my life. In some ways, I think I had become "too secure" in the healing I had received through John Paul II's teaching. As a result, I convinced myself that I had some sort of "strength" to offer the Church and the world. The Lord, in his mercy, has been helping me see that all I really have to offer is my weakness. The TOB is a message of how God's grace is sufficient for us, and how God's power is made perfect in our weakness. That's been the wisdom of the TOB that I've been taking to heart. We carry a treasure in fragile, earthen vessels. And the only thing we have to boast in is our weakness.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Deacon Jim, I have nothing to object to in what West said in that quote - as far as it goes. I don't know how it applies to the questions at hand, or even if West intends it to apply to anything beyond his own inner journey.

I still see red flags in the rest of the material. I concede that the fault may be mine - I was immersed in the teachings of Jung when I was an atheist, and West's approach reeks of all that.

I hope I'm wrong.

I think time will tell.

Sam Schmitt said...

From what I've read and listened to of West, his answers to all these quetsions would be a resounding NO.

I think people are confusing the ideal West holds up and what he knows to be the reality on the ground.

As indicated by the quotation from Deacon Jim Russell (6:21 am) - which I see as very relevant to the discussion - West is far from advocating some sort of Gnostic "super-Catholic" who is somehow free from temptation or concupiscence, as you seem to imply in your questions to him. He makes clear that if he had any illusions in this direction himself, his own experinces have definitely ruled it out.