Sunday, February 5, 2012

West Contradicts Blessed John Paul II

On page 251 of Christopher West's book At the Heart of the Gospel, he quotes Sarracino and Scott's book The Porning of America.

"Pornography ... typically has an essentially Puritan point of view on sensuality and sex ... Porn revels in what Puritanism rejects."

This has been a linchpin in West's argument - the great sin is Puritanism, and Puritanism gives rise to the sinful endeavors of a disordered libido, such as pornography. The problem with pornography, West tells us, is that it attempts to react against Puritanism, but does so by going to the opposite extreme. And in my last post, West chides a Catholic priest for averting his eyes from naked women because "As John Paul II observes, 'the essential error of the Manichean ethos consists precisely in this.'"

In other words, for West the Cardinal Sin that gives rise to perhaps all of the sins he deals with in his teachings is not lust, but the Puritanical and Manichean repression of lust.

Not only does this mistaken notion that the Repression of Lust is a Cardinal Sin imply that its opposite (the Expression of Lust) is the corresponding Cardinal Virtue, this mistaken notion flatly contradicts the teachings of John Paul II, the man West always uses as a weapon against his (West's) critics.

For this is what Blessed John Paul actually says.

"The whole problem of pornovision and pornography is not the effect of a puritanical mentality or of a narrow moralism, just as it is not the product of a thought imbued with Manichaeism." - John Paul II, Art Must not Violate the Right to Privacy.

And elsewhere West argues that honoring limits (such as "custody of the eyes") dishonors the spirit of JP2's teachings ... well, as far as that bit of spurious nonsense goes, John Paul also says ...

The truth about man, about what is particularly personal and interior in him—precisely because of his body and his sex (femininity-masculinity)—creates here precise limits which it is unlawful to exceed.

Among those limits which it is unlawful to exceed, always and everywhere for all men and women, regardless of the degree of sanctity to which they have, by God's grace, attained, is pornography.

I call on Christopher West to state this clearly and unambiguously - that the use of pornography is always and everywhere a sin, exceeding as it does those "precise limits" "it is unlawful to exceed", as John Paul teaches, and as the Catholic Church and the Law written in our hearts has always taught us.

John Paul concludes ...

It is a question of an extremely important, fundamental sphere of values. Before it, man cannot remain indifferent because of the dignity of humanity, the personal character and the eloquence of the human body.


Deacon Jim Russell said...

Kevin--please be clear--West does not "chide a Catholic priest"--you have IDed the commenter, whose identity seems decidedly not essential to the point West makes in the quote. He's addressing the argument, not the person.

But on the light side--a typo from a commenter below regarding what we think when we see a "beast-feeding woman"---totally made me laugh....

Cheers, Kevin--can't wait to get my copy of the West book, but I'm appreciating your citing where you think the landmines are.

Jim R

Anonymous said...

It looks like it is more of the same from the Westians, posting comments on this blog. They feel the need to nitpick because they can't argue the facts of West. You see this from liberals about politics on every level.

West's trashing of Father Angelo is deplorable. To accuse him numerous times of lust is nothing short of disgusting. Shame on West and shame on you, Jim, for celebrating this writing without substantiation.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Anonymous, in defense of Deacon Jim, I think he's just trying to clarify things here or play devil's advocate.

And please understand, Anonymous, that West maintains the form of orthodoxy, indeed much of the content of orthodoxy, and that much of what we object to is what is implied in his teaching. What we object to is where his ideas and his emphases lead his followers. This is a hard case to make to those who don't see the implications.

So not every defender of West is a Westian, so to speak.

This is why I am asking West to clarify things and answer questions. If we're wrong, and he's not implying what he seems to be, then we need to know that so we can stop picking on him.

However, if we're right and West really believes that we need not to avoid evil but engage it, integrate it and redeem it, then he's a very dangerous teacher.

Also, for all Anonymous posters, please sign your posts.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Dear Anonymous above:

I don't know what a "Westian" is, but I'm not one. I know what a "liberal" is (or at least what it's not), and I'm not one. I know what a "cleric" is, and I *am* one.

And so is my *Archbishop*, who "celebrates" West's writing *with* substantiation, I would say, based on what he wrote about West's latest book as found at the front of West's latest book:

"Christopher West has gone to the desert...and come back stronger than ever. Those who may previously have thought his work was one-sided in its celebration of the body and sexuality will find here, brought out more clearly than ever, the deep balance and integration that has always been the foundation of his work."

Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson, Archbishop of St. Louis, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations

For anyone under this shepherd's care, this is a pretty ringing endorsement if you ask me.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Hi, Kevin--you wrote: "Not only does this mistaken notion that the Repression of Lust is a Cardinal Sin imply that its opposite (the Expression of Lust) is the corresponding Cardinal Virtue, this mistaken notion flatly contradicts the teachings of John Paul II, the man West always uses as a weapon against his (West's) critics."

We've got to slow down the train on this one a bit, because West clearly does *not* point to the "expression of lust" as a "corresponding Cardinal Virtue" to a "Cardinal Sin" of purtianism. This should be clear from the previous excerpt you've quoted re Fr. Angelo's comments. Lust is exactly the *center* of the problem, with two extremes--the "puritanism" you mention *and* its antithesis--the cultural response that wantonly and lustfully says "anything goes".

West makes very clear that there is no "virtue" in either extreme--for the same problem of lust is the root of both extremes.

I can't see how this contradicts anything JPII has said on the issue.

Rather, West looks to *grace* as the antitode to concupiscence and lust (just as Aquinas did). In doing so, he embraces the notion (just as Aquinas did) that it is possible for one's response to grace to bring about a "fettering" or control of concupiscence.

I think you agree with both of these things, too, Kevin, in that you do make the claim, for example, that the pole-dancer silhouette in your previous post does not present an occasion of sin for you nor require a "custody of the eyes." In that case, your response to grace is sufficient for you to ward off any temptations brought about by your disordered appetites.

At heart, I think this is precisely what West is trying to say, and perhaps what he "over-said" in the past.

Thanks, Kevin--I appreciate the chance to consider this topic.

Deacon Jim R

Wade St. Onge said...

Deacon Jim: "For anyone under this shepherd's care, this is a pretty ringing endorsement if you ask me."

As Kevin mentioned before, this is the whole problem: we trust our Shepherds to discern these matters for us, but they are not discerning properly.

I doubt Bishop Carlson could respond adequately to the substantiated arguments I made in my letter to Cardinal Rigali. I do not think he is even aware of the problems with West's theology. That should give us cause for concern.

This is going to sound audacious, but the bishops cannot be trusted in their judgment of the theology of Christopher West.

Wade St. Onge said...

"West looks to *grace* as the antitode to concupiscence and lust (just as Aquinas did). In doing so, he embraces the notion (just as Aquinas did) that it is possible for one's response to grace to bring about a 'fettering' or control of concupiscence".

But as I said in a previous combox, Deacon Jim, West goes further than that. He believes in the actual "healing" of concupiscence to a point it is practically eradicated rather than merely its "control".

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Hi, Wade--

Aquinas also believes that grace can practically "eradicate" or heal concupiscence.

I think the crux of the difference of view is whether one sees West as having asserted that this is a "existing" condition (sort of like a "once-saved/always-saved" approach) instead of an "ongoing" project.

Based on West's recent comments, I think he sees it as an ongoing project, which I think would concur with Aquinas' take on grace "remedying" concupiscence.

Of particular interest is Aquinas' approach to the "fullness of grace" stopping concupiscence in its tracks ("fettering" it) in the Blessed Virgin Mary, while it is the Presence of Christ in the womb that Aquinas saw as "eradicating" (my term) concupiscence in Mary from that point forward.

I think that's a fair paraphrase of what I've read in Aquinas on this. Maybe you can read Aquinas on this and tell me what you think.


Jim R

Kevin said...

Since I haven't yet gotten a copy of the book (probably sometime this week) can someone answer a question:

How often does West mention the sacrament of confession in his book? He mentioned it a whopping 0 times in TOB explained. He never once advised careful spiritual direction.

He basically intellectualizes the struggle with lust, and as long as one "believes" the truth of TOB enough, it heals.

I guess that's my problem with West's thought. He treats the issue of lust as simply an academic discussion, that can be overcome by academic means.

Nowhere does he talk about as you conform yourself to Christ, you gain "custody of the eyes." It isn't a negative thing. At that point, you don't turn your eyes away out of lust. You turn your eyes away from that, and focus more on Christ.

He completely misses the point of Sirach. Sirach wasn't saying turn away your eyes from a shapely woman, lest you burn up with lust and go to hell. (Though that certainly is true in some cases.)

The issue is, you are a married man. Turn your eyes away from the temptations of the world, because even indulging in such temptations makes a mockery of your marriage vows. To stare at a woman not your wife (and I would argue even such obsession with one who IS your wife) obscures the human person, and is not befitting conduct of a redeemed individual. Its rude to stare. ;)

Wade St. Onge said...

Deacon Jim,

Could you please give me a reference number for this particular part of the Summa? I would like to read the pertinent section.

I think West believes it is actually both, if that is possible. He says that it is ongoing, but then acts and teaches others to act as though it is not, as though it is an existing condition. Once again, read TOB Explained, 169-172. His position on "custody of the eyes" and "mature purity" confirm this.

Once again, Deacon Jim, time will tell - if he comes out and issues clarifications and corrects his misguided followers, as Kevin said in another combox, then we will know that is the case. So far, he has not done that, and until he does, then I will continue to allege much the same as I have hitherto.

As for the fullness of grace in the Blessed Virgin Mary, one huge difference - she did not have original sin, we do. Once again, would like a Summa citation.

Wade St. Onge said...

Actually, what I would love to see is a good Dominican Aquinas scholar evaluate West's doctrine of "mature purity" and "custody of the eyes" from a Thomistic perspective.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Hi, Wade--

Look at the Summa, Part III, Question 27, probably Article 3 in particular.

You will see there that Aquinas asserts that the abundance of grace given to Mary "fetters" concupiscence (fomes) but does not eradicate it. Rather, the "eradication" of the fomes comes later when that state "redounds" from the Son in her womb to the Mother, as Aquinas says.

From this arises my understanding that a) grace is the remedy for concupiscence b) grace in sufficient "quantity" (so to speak) has the capacity to "fetter" concupiscence without actually doing away with it altogether c) Aquinas believes that the abundance of grace given to Mary is what "fettered" concupiscence in her up until the time the presence of the Son in her womb did away with it.

That's the gist. God bless!

Deacon Jim Russell

Wade St. Onge said...

Deacon Jim, another thing we have to keep in mind when citing the Summa on this point is that St. Thomas did not believe in the Immaculate Conception as it was dogmatically defined by Pius XII.

That said ...

Grace does indeed remedy concupiscence, but that remedy is only partial in this world - it will never be full because the effects of original sin will remain until after death. Otherwise, as Schindler pointed out, those of us who achieved "mature purity" would continue to live forever, physical death being an effect of original sin.

Thus, no human being in this life will ever achieve grace in "sufficient quantity" to do what West (and yourself) says it will.

The crux of this issue still lies in the two questions I re-presented to you in the combox of the other article we have been dialoguing on.