Monday, January 21, 2013

The Good in the Westians

We know the bad in wake of Christopher West and his followers.


  • West has argued that sodomy is not intrinsically evil.

  • West has read graphic sexual imagery into pretty much everything in the Church, from icons of Mary to paschal candles and baptismal fonts.

  • West has argued that certain illuminated folk in the know (those who have achieved "mature purity") may dispense with custody of the eyes and gaze upon naked folk other than their spouses with impunity.  Since such gawking is not sinful in West's eyes, and since sexual desire is good, it follows that those with "mature purity" may indulge in the viewing of pornography, even if the pornographic images incite desire in the viewer, who is, remember, "maturely pure".  West does not spell this out, but it follows from his emphatic insistence that looking at naked bodies is not sinful for those in the know.

  • West's followers refuse to debate the merits of the claims of the Westians and instead characterize any criticism of these claims as calumny, slander, and uncharitable self-aggrandizement at West's expense.

  • An apparent disciple of West's, Matt McGuiness, argues that the means of avoiding the grave evil of pornography, such as virtue, mortification and confession (means advocated by the Church and Church Fathers), are a form of "scrupulosity" advocated by "moralists" and that the only way to understand our desire for porn is to give that desire free reign (even if only hypothetically).  Ignoring the admonitions of Jesus Christ (such as in Matthew 5:28 & 29) that even even a thought of sexual sin is a serious sin, and that the only adequate response to serious sin is violent repression, McGuiness claims such statements are made by mere "Catholic moralists" who are not in the know.

I could go on.  The bad that the Westians are believing and selling is very bad indeed, and we can see it clearly.

But what we don't see as clearly is the good that is motivating this bad theology and its bad consequences.

To give the devil his due, then, read on.

***

The Westians admit that pornography is wrong and that we live in a world that is sex-crazed.  They feel that a response to this that is Puritanical is inadequate.  In other words, if you are a young man bursting with hormones who is driven to spend most of your time trying to "score" some sort of sexual encounter, or if you find yourself addicted to pornography or masturbation, it won't do you much good, practically speaking, to say, "Sex is evil!  Must avoid it!"  This is a Protestant response, not a Catholic one, for the Catholic Church has always admitted that sex is good.  In fact, all creation is good, though fallen, and we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater; we should not reject all sexual desire just because that desire is easily mishandled.

A Westian would say that if a young man were better to understand his Eros, he would see that Eros is more than just an urge to "get him some".  Eros is made for something far greater than objectifying women or spilling your seed on the ground.  The key to curing our obsession with sex, say the Westians, is not to deny your Eros, but to follow it and see where it leads you.  If it leads you for a while through internet porn or anonymous glory-hold encounters at rest stops, or through the rear door of sodomy, well that's OK because it will lead you through all of these things and beyond to the real goal of Eros - love for God and unity with Him as your ultimate Bridegroom.  

***

Thus the good and the good intentions in the Westians.

Now anybody with common sense can see how dangerous this theology is, but the Westians don't see how dangerous this theology is.  They make a fundamental mistake at the very beginning of their thinking.

And that mistake is, as Alice von Hildebrand points out, confusing ontological value with moral value.  In other words, they think that since God made our desires, and since our desires are made to help us find God, then those desires are good - which is true.  But they err in thinking that any act that expresses those desires is therefore good - which is false.  

  • Is it true that sexual desire is a good, a good created by God?  Yes!
  • Is it true that this good is designed for something - not only for expressing love and making babies via the marital act, but also for experiencing, in a kind of sacramental way, unity with God and the nature of the Holy Trinity?  Yes!
  • Is marriage and the marital act and unity with God the goal of all of our expressions of sexual desire, and any act of ours motivated by this desire?  Here's where it gets tricky.

A thing may be good, but our use of that thing may not be good.

Using our desire to stare at naked pictures while telling ourselves we possess "mature purity" is not good.  Using our desire to objectify human persons by making or consuming pornography is not good.  Using our desire to read graphic and obscene sexual imagery into religious rites and icons is not good.  Using our desire to molest children is not good.  Using our desire to fornicate is not good.  Using our desire to masturbate is not good.  Nor will any of these acts (which the Church calls "sins") bring us to the end for which the desire (the original motivating force) is designed.  

Does this mean that God cannot bring good out of evil?  Of course He can.  

But we may not do evil that good may come, and we may not presume upon the grace of God that He will bring us to Him no matter what we do.

So Westians, read this carefully, it will save you much anguish and perhaps keep you from grave sin.

  • Sexual desire is good.  Inordinate sexual desire, or sexual desire that does not keep to the end for which God designed it, is bad.  Lust is what we call the thing that the good of sexual desire becomes when it is inordinate.  Acts that are motivated by lust are (like the use of pornography) sins.
  • This template can be applied to all sins.  Anger is good.  Inordinate anger is Wrath and is bad.  Any act that expresses Wrath frustrates the end for which Anger is made (justice) and is therefore sinful.  Hunger is good.  Inordinate desire for food is Gluttony and is bad.  Any act that frustrates the end for which hunger is designed by indulging in an inordinate attempt to wallow in it, even after nutrition and enjoyment has been achieved, is a sin.  And so forth.
***

These fundamental distinctions are lost on the defenders of Christopher West and West's disciples.  May they get beyond their urge to dismiss criticisms of West and McGuiness as nothing but slander against their heroes, and may they see the error of their thinking and the very bad fruit these errors are bearing all around them.

4 comments:

Benjamin. said...

Where is the separation between sexual attraction and sexual lust? When is a young man not yet married lusting and when is he simply attracted? Surely our current culture suggests that it is "repressed" not to lust, but is it "repressed" to fight attractions that are premarital? Is premarital sexual attraction different from lust?
Are both sinful?

Joey Higgins said...

Where is the separation between sexual attraction and sexual lust?

Sexual attraction is a physical reaction to someone of the opposite sex. You feel it/experience it and go about your business.

Lust is when you remember that attraction, hold on to it, think about it, dwell on it, and typically fantasize about it. Lust is more about satisfying your desire than actually making a connection with another person.

When is a young man not yet married lusting and when is he simply attracted?

Doesn't matter if you are married, lust is still sinful. It's probably worse if you are married since you are hurting someone else in addition to yourself. Although, that last point is probably debatable.

Surely our current culture suggests that it is "repressed" not to lust, but is it "repressed" to fight attractions that are premarital?

I don't know if you can fight attraction or if you should. You can definitely fight the lust with grace/knowledge/sacraments. For me, confession/adoration/Eucharist helps with the lusting. As I grow closer to God I don't want that kind of feeling because it is antithetical to love/God - there's no repression there, but a change in perspective.

Is premarital sexual attraction different from lust? Are both sinful?

Again, premarital doesn't matter. The attraction is not sinful, but to act on the attraction, or lust (see above, hopefully that answered the question) is sinful.

I hope this was helpful to you in some way, not an expert in the matter, but working on things....

Kevin said...

I think sometimes lust in the past was used a bit too broadly by people who weren't clinical moral theologians.

I.e. "lust" in some eyes merely meant an intense physical attraction with someone, or sexual urges with someone not your wife.

In this, the defenders of West are right. that isn't lust. That's human nature. There were a lot of Jansenists who confused the two throughout the ages. Something I think we all agree on.

What if you still engage in premarital sex with someone, but didn't seek to use them as an object for your gratification? What if you (wrongly) felt you did this out of love and a "gift of self."

This is where I always felt Sheen made a good analogy. You are doing a perfectly reasonable and natural act, that is only perfectly reasonable and natural from within a certain authority .

Hence a cop, while on duty, has certain authorities he has liberty to take that he simply doesn't have off-duty. (He can't just decide to make a random person walking get up against the wall for a search, but an on-duty cop can use a variety of regulations to do so.) If he is doing it as an off duty (or retired cop, or still a trainee) he is guilty of breaking the law.

The desire for union being fulfilled in the marital embrace is perfectly natural and reasonable..... between the spouses. To act outside of that is to do something you don't have the authority to do. It might not be "lust", but it's still something gravely sinful, and confession helps overcome these grave inclinations.

Paul Stilwell said...

"Sexual desire is good. Inordinate sexual desire, or sexual desire that does not keep to the end for which God designed it, is bad. Lust is what we call the thing that the good of sexual desire becomes when it is inordinate. Acts that are motivated by lust are (like the use of pornography) sins.

This template can be applied to all sins. Anger is good. Inordinate anger is Wrath and is bad. Any act that expresses Wrath frustrates the end for which Anger is made (justice) and is therefore sinful. Hunger is good. Inordinate desire for food is Gluttony and is bad. Any act that frustrates the end for which hunger is designed by indulging in an inordinate attempt to wallow in it, even after nutrition and enjoyment has been achieved, is a sin. And so forth."


Part of the problem with the Westian ethos is - because West is a limitless dualist - that the Westian will agree with the above and then say, in some open-ended manner of speaking, that wrath can be "untwisted" backwards to find true justice. Likewise, lust can be "untwisted", or "unbeserked" to find true eros.

They say, "Yes, porn is indeed a reduction of the human person (except some will say "reduction of the human body")", and then will go on to say, "So the disorderedness of lust, you see, is that it is a reduction of desire, which leads to a reduction of the human person..."

But you already addressed this in previous posts.