Monday, February 27, 2012

Suffering for Us via Christopher West

Paul Stilwell at Spike is Best has vowed to make his Lenten Penance a daily post on Christopher West!

Such suffering is beyond human ken.

Two highlights so far - a distrubing look at where proto-Westianism took Eric Gill (not for the faint hearted), and a patient look at an infuriating subject, West's Apology for Pornography, in which Mr. Stilwell makes the admirable observation ...

Here's a question: Is it possible to keep talking about "the human body" without having to concede at some point (indeed, at some point very early on) that "the human body" must be this or that human body - in other words, the human body belonging to this or that particular person?

Stilwell also points out that the dignity of man resides in the Human Person, not merely in the Human Body - a point West obfuscates.

I know a lot of you want me to shut up about this. But of all the heterodoxies I've battled on this blog, I personally think this one is the most pernicious.

Why? Because ...

* Torture Defenders do not personally torture anyone.

* Lying Apologists are probably no more honest or dishonest in their everyday lives than Critics of Lying.

* But Westians are changing their behavior - to the detriment of their souls. For example, under the cover of a serious misreading of Bl. John Paul II, good and sincere and devout Catholic college kids are now openly obsessing about sex on campus and congratulating themselves for their spirutal maturity in doing so.

In my mind, panty raids are more spiritually mature than this.

West's mistaken theology has, it seems to me, done more harm than theological mistakes on torture or lying ever will.


jvc said...

"I know that a lot of you want me to shut up about this."

For the love of Truth, please do not shut up about this.

Harry said...

Is the problem the way we're talking about sex or the fact that we are talking about sex? I understand your view on the first topic, but not about the second. I do kinda think Catholic thought on sex is sort of neglected (in the scholastic age it appears to come up in a series of negative prohibitions, but little more than that). I'm not really up to date with this whole issue, but I'm definitely wary about West since the whole thing started. But maybe, accepting he does hold false views, this is like the other heresies- focus on a general problem to the exclusion of all others. What d'ya reckon?

Kevin O'Brien said...

Harry asks is it wrong to talk about sex.

Harry, the young lady on the Ink Desk who blogged about "love week" at AMU said re. talking about "sex":

"The word needs to be shouted; its deep meaning needs to be appreciated."

And I replied: "The word is being shouted all over, and its deep meaning can only be realized when you get away from the shouting."

Do you really think it's a healthy thing for hormone-surging college kids to spend a week talking about sex? Especially when they seem to have been discussing it out of context - with no reference to marriage or procreation, from what I gather in the Ink Desk post.

So, to answer your question, yes, sometimes it's very wrong to talk about sex. I once was driving to perform a show with one person in the passenger seat - an actress, who began to describe her experiences as a nudist and her bisexual adventures. On another occasion, my only passenger was an actress who began to go into explicit detail about her sexual activity and the sort of things she likes in bed.

Talking about sex in such settings is obviously wrong, is being done only for prurient reasons, and is the sort of thing that puts a married man in a very dangerous position.

And do you really think there's a problem with the traditional Church view on sex? Especially in comparison with the culture around us?

Harry said...

Sup Kevin.

You raise good points. I appreciate the fact that one's sexual exploits should not be discussed in public- ditto for tv, radio, books and other media.
Of course there's nothing wrong with the traditional Catholic view on sex- the Church is infallible. In fact, I don't accept the traditional view- I accept what the Church teaches. Not liberal or traditional, just the truth.
Of course Humanae Vitae was right. Of course contraception is sinful, and quite obviously detrimental to society.
I just think that we need to accept that misogyny in ages past is not an invention of modern day feminists- our forefathers did sometimes hold degrading views of women and occasionally marriage. Theology of the Body was a groundbreaking document- precisely because, I think, such a theology was lacking in earlier times.
I'm not suggesting a 1960's casual uncaring attitude to sex. Sexuality should be private- not out of a sense of prudishness, but out of respect for the dignity of it.
What I am suggesting is that we need to have a better exploration of sex as a theological/philosophical topic. A discussion that goes beyond saying what we can't do and how other people are wrong. It should be treated as more than a somewhat shameful necessity. Heck, I'm a Catholic who (somewhat arrogantly) regards himself as fairly knowledgeable about matters theological, but I would be at a loss if I wanted to look for a good, thorough treatment of the Catholic view of sexuality, not regarding TOB.
So yeah, West maybe wrong but he seems to get his impetus from a real problem within the Church.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Well, Harry, I'm not so sure.

I suspect the notion that the Church has tended to be misogynist is a myth.

Just look at St. Paul, for instance. Yes, there are passages where he says celebacy is more ideal than marriage - because it is.

But St. Paul also writes in Ephesians about how a man is to love his wife the way Christ loved His Church, even unto death. And he writes the great Hymn to Love, which of course includes the sexual expression of love in marriage, although that is not spelled out in the Hymn. Do you want to know about the Church teaching on sex? Read 1 Cor. 13.

And if you look at Shakespeare and the other Elizabethan playwrights, you see that in an England that was filled with Catholics (though repressed Catholics), bawdy humor and a healthy understanding of sex flows out of every play, and these plays were products of a still substantially Catholic culture.

One of the mistakes at the heart of West's theology is that Puritanism is the problem. JPII himself contradicted this. Puritanism is a poor reaction to the problem, but the problem is not Puritanism and our over-reaction against it.

Kevin O'Brien said...

In short, the way I see it (and I think I see it clearly), the problem is the way the World misunderstands sex. God made sex and the Church understands it better than the world does.

It is not the Church that made sex utterly taboo; it was the Puritans. But where in our current culture, which has reacted against Puritanism to the opposite extreme, is there the call for more shouting about sex?

TOB was not the first time the Church took on the problem of sex. TOB did not liberate sex from the misogynistic grasp of celibate clergy. TOB was not a breath of fresh air. It was Church teaching, plain and simple, and it simply affirmed what the Church has taught about love and sex from the beginning.

Harry said...

I guess you're right.
We were actually doing As You Like It today in University. It did strike me that, although my Intro to Christianity tutor did his best to dredge up misogynistic quotes from various Christian sources in order to prove how anti-women the Church was, here was a Christian play that had delightfully witty female characters who were quite the equal of their male counterparts. The same for Chaucer- according to modern anti-Christians, the Wife of Bath could never have flowed from the pen of a Christian author, especially not a medieval one.
It also bears pointing out that a celibate clergy and a monogamous population can hardly be seen as a threat to women, unlike the virile Islamic civilization which quite happily condoned polygamy, concubines and harems.
I think my real beef is with some people who flat out refuse to admit that some Church Fathers held occasionally nasty views, or that Theology of the Body was in anyway a useful contribution. This crowd is always very anxious to point out that TOB built on the teaching before it, which is correct. The problem is a mind set often lurks behind this anxiousness that thinks that Divine Teaching can never be obscured, or that doctrine develops or that the Church militant ever erred in prudential matters. Believing that old ways are better ways without regard to their content, essentially.
But these are minor quibbles. The best thing about Catholic teaching on sex is that it can be proved quite easily by observing that- horror of horrors!- removing responsibility from sex results in a debased view of women, higher divorce rates and a devaluing of children, expressed monstrously in abortion. The truth becomes more obvious with each passing day.
BTW, can you explain to me the difference between bawdy and pornographic? Obviously the one is not the other, but how do you utilize, as an actor, bawdiness as a source of humour without letting it become coarse?

Kevin O'Brien said...

I think we're in agreement, Harry.

As to your question - which is a great one - what is the difference between being bawdy and being pornographic?

I think bawdiness in literature and especially in humor is a way of recognizing the ridiculousness of our dependence on sex. There is something funny about nearly angelic beings (humans) being so utterly undone by a physical instinct, a thing that brings even great philosophers down to earth. Bawdiness celebrates the body and our dependence on it, which we deny to the peril of our souls. Bawdiness and humility go hand in hand.

Pornography, by contrast, inflames our lust so that we are indeed consumed by it.

A Westian can only claim he's spiritually mature enough not to practice "custody of the eyes" if he's filled with pride. A more sane man, certainly a humble man, realizes that a guy's desire to stare at boobs is universal and ridiculous - and we're better off making fun of that than we are trying to convince ourselves we've grown past it.

See in which I struggle with this (and in which I take Puritans to task) and about how base desires and the lowest common urges are always a part of who we are.

Harry said...

I believe we ARE in agreement- an excellent thing. Disagreements on the internet have a habit of consuming one's time, patience and inevitably raising blood pressure all round.
I think your blogs on the topic can be summed up as "Don't take sex so seriously." I think this is an excellent approach. Freud supposedly liberated us from the terrible puritans- but now it would seem that the focus on sex has enslaved us. Freud himself hardly seemed happy by his new found freedom, and the modern contraceptive worldview seems to have led us to a deep weariness and cynicism about everything- not exactly the utopia of freedom we were promised.
Anyways, keep us updated on the West front, and get around to making another Stanford Nutting film, will you? His character is accurate, as my University experience has confirmed, to a terrifying degree.

Kevin O'Brien said...

The plan is for us to start doing a regular Internet TV network this fall. Stanford will be hosting "Sharing with Stanford", for example, with lots of other characters hosting lots of other shows.