Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Personal Example

Since I'm ticked off and I'm on a roll ticking other people off, let's return to the subject of Christopher West.

I've written on West at length, infuriating some of my friends and former friends in the process.

For those who don't know West and his song and dance, the best analogy is this ...

West is to lust and Catholics what the "Prosperity Gospel" is to greed and Protestants - a slick self-serving attempt to quiet our consciences regarding the basest of human desires.  But the Westians are probably doing more damage than the Greedsters in that our bishops have given the tacit impression that West is teaching legitimate Catholic doctrine, when he's obviously not.

What's wrong with that?  Is West wrong enough and dangerous enough that the bishops should simply do their jobs and take notice?

Imagine this.  Imagine a young man eager for Christ falling in among the Prosperity Gospel crowd.  They may convince him that the love of Our Lord is synonymous with suburban affluence, that three cars in every garage is the Holy Trinity of the here and now; but even so, they'd only be getting him to rationalize a rather mean desire, greed.

But imagine a young man eager for Christ falling in among the Westians.  They may convince him that the love of Our Lord is synonymous with the lust for the naked lady on the internet, on whom this young man can gaze boldly, if he possesses "mature purity" (according to this strange system).  Now you might say that this is nothing but the rationalization of another mean desire, lust - but the problem is that West confuses lust and love, even love for the divine.

The problem is that lust is never just lust.  We're not made that way.  Lust and affection go together; the heart and the "naughty bits" are somehow connected.  And all of that strange stuff - that palpitation that you get when the cute blonde in the pretty sweater walks by in class, that thrill you get if she one day holds your hand, that ecstasy you are blessed with on your wedding night if you marry her - all of that is Eros and Agape mixed, all of that is potentially lustful and potentially loving; all of that may or may not point to self-sacrifice and point to God.

So if you're told sex sex sex sex sex sex, baby!  God is Love is Lust is Sex and Sex is Separate from Marriage and Babies - if you're told that in so many words over and over again, it will do a lot more damage than the message "Pray to God get a New Car".

Am I exaggerating?  Do you need proof?

The following is an email I recently received.  I have edited out anything that would identify the writer, who is obviously a very sensitive and well-intentioned young man.

Do you know what my first exposure to West was? I was in college, probably a sophomore. I struggled with image issues because it felt like many of the practicing, clique-oriented Catholics I knew were so obsessed with getting married, and getting married ASAP, that it suggested that people who did not marry early were deformed and less loved by God. I went to a young, charismatic priest on campus and asked him if he had any information on the "theology of the body," hoping it would provide me some spiritual relief on the subject.

So he handed me a copy of Christopher West's first book (the sodomy book) and a couple of his tapes. It did nothing for me, at all. I proceeded in this self-doubt and uncertainty all the way until late 2011, when, on a whim, I decided to Google around about the controversy between West and this woman I'd heard about, Alice von Hildebrand. I ended up finding both her critique and Dawn Eden's, printed them out, and went out to my car in my work parking lot to cry while reading them. This was the thing that I had been seeking, really, since high school.

I'm not a theologian. So, a guy like me casually surfing for answers who isn't gifted on this subject isn't going to look too deeply. When you look at this issue, West has saturated the market to such an extent that it's easy for the casual observer to think that is is a) all that is out there and b) endorsed by God, Himself.

This needs to be stopped. I look at these things from a very practical perspective. When I look on Amazon for "theology of the body," and the results are saturated with West books, I wish there was an alternative that made people aware that a controversy exists over him. I think it's huge just to plant that seed, if nothing else. It was only the "seed" of a casual remark someone had once made about Alice von Hildebrand that even made me aware that the world Christopher West has built for himself might not be authentic Catholic teaching.

Might not be, indeed.

This, my friends, is the harm bad theology can do.  It's not just academic or theoretical.

It's personal.  And it can damage young lives.


Chris said...

FYI- West just released a new book a few days ago: "Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing." The title alone seems to hint at the same old errors you point out.

ColinK said...

I think you may be on to something. I noticed the same thing in that title that Chris pointed out. His "Beginner's Guide to the Theology of the Body" was a big help for me but I haven't followed him beyond that book.

Heresy hurts and even cost lives. I hope any hidden madness is exposed and expunged asap.

Anonymous said...

Christopher West lacks the spiritual discernment and mystical depth to realize the body is an image for a deeper reality. He is misled. I am happy to learn that the beautiful Alice von Hildebrand has taken issue with him. I must look up now what she has written regarding his erroneous approach to theology of the body.

Joey Higgins said...

I wanted to read a little about the book referenced in the letter and I found this review. It seems to be fairly balanced and definitely supports what has been said about West on this website.

Having the conversation about the valid uses of sodomy seems very close to the conversation that teens usually start with, "How far can I go without sinning?"

Well, you're missing the point - while there is a hard line - if you think about "how much you can get away with" and "how it feels" rather than love and sacrifice, you're just going to end up in the same place, probably even worse in the sodomy example.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. I couldn't agree more. I know many people, even a so-called traditional priest, who ascribe to the West phenomenon. I will never forget the time I signed up for a Lenten Retreat/Day of Reflection at St. John Cantius in Chicago a few years ago. (St. John Cantius is considered a traditional dual-order parish ~ Novus Ordo and Tridentine Masses.) The room was full of mostly women ready and eager for a traditional day of lectures on perhaps the 4 Last Things, or something in that vein. What the priest proceeded to tell us his Reflections would be about is ...... Theology of the Body! I was absolutely floored. At the first break, I left. I don't know if anyone else left or not.

I find it frightening but not too surprising how popular Christopher West is. He speaks to the Modernist heart and mind and reassures you that sex/lust is normal and beautiful and divine....or something.

I remember reading an article Alice von Hildebrand wrote in response to Christopher West and found it profound.

I sure don't know what it's going to take for the West-train to be turned around and stopped, especially given the Bishops who endorse this heresy.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I just noticed that I should have signed my Comment since I'm Anonymous. My Comment containing reference to St. John Cantius should be signed by: abigail9.

Dymphna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
waywardson said...

The idea that sensual desire is the raw material of love is not Christopher West's idea, it's John Paul II's. He wrote about this in Love and Responsibility.

Sensual desire is not lust. I think this is where you have misunderstood JPII and West. Desire is good. Desire is what "gets the ball rolling." But desire must be integrated into the relationship to develop into love.

It is when it becomes disintegrated and sensuality becomes merely a source of selfish pleasure that it becomes lust.

I do have problems with some of West's work, but this is straight JPII.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Waywardson, I am not saying that sensual desire is bad. Read my post more carefully.

Deacon Jim Russell, I have deleted your comment. You are banned from this blog for life, as well as banned from at least four or five other blogs I know of.

You are disobedient to your ordinary, who has, through Msgr. Witt, told you to stop contacting me. I will be contacting Msgr. Witt again as well as the archbishop to let them know that you are harassing me. My next step is to file a restraining order against you.

Stop contacting me. I am serious.

Aged parent said...

Wayward son points out something rather obvious in this whole debate. Though he would perhaps not agree with this but the source of the trouble here, the Christopher West-type trouble, is not West. It is Pope John Paul II.

Now before everyone goes apoplectic, let us review a few things. Firstly, not every initiative or utterance of a Pope can be considered infallible or even reasonable. Catholics who know their history know that over 2,000 years we have had great and glorious Popes, good Popes, average Popes and a few bad Popes. Just being Pope does not confer sanctity. Having said that I would wish to point out that John Paul's "theology" of the body was a catastrophically poor move akin to throwing gasoline on raging hormones. All West is doing, frankly, is taking John Paul's teaching to its logical conclusions. You can split hairs all you want, but the source of the problem was the Pope's sadly misguided TOB, and I am certain that the Church will in the future condemn it.

The reason we Catholics pray for the Pope is that he doesn't lead the Church entrusted to him in false directions. It has happened before in history. It can happen again. It did happen with TOB. Sadly it is going to take perhaps decades to undo the damage caused by this "theology". When addressing these most delicate issues we have 2,000 years of writing, thinking and sound spirituality to draw upon and they are much more Catholic than what John Paul offered in his TOB.

By all means criticize West all you wish, but don't forget the source of his problem.

jvc said...

No one said sensual desire is bad in and of itself. But, when it becomes a preoccupation, as Christopher West encourages with his "holy fascination," it is indeed bad, for it has become another golden calf.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Aged Parent. I've not read the actual books by John Paul II or the Wednesday audiences that went on for so long on this pet-topic of his. But from what I gather, Christopher West has taken what JPII said and turned it on its head. I wonder if JPII were alive today, what would he say about what Mr. West is teaching in his name?


Kevin O'Brien said...

Wayward son, I am not confusing Eros and Lust. Perhaps I did not make that clear in this post. But I've written on the interplay between Eros and love at length - see these posts here.

Anonymous said...

I got an unsolicited email from the Deacon. I just played possum and didn't respond which seems to have done the trick. Posting anonymously here so as not to attract the lidless gaze again.