Wednesday, January 16, 2013

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Well, my post Pornography - Gateway to Communion and Liberation, about the really bad CNA article on porn, is "trending" as they say.

And one of the commenters there has just said that McGuiness is right, we should indulge our desire for porn SO THAT we may feel remorse about how empty that desire actually is.  Indeed, she argues, the whole point of the Parable of the Prodigal Son - a Parable Jesus Himself told us! - is that we OUGHT TO SIN so that we may feel remorse.  And not only did I misunderstand this parable, but so (apparently) did St. Paul when he told the Romans that we are not to sin so that good may come.

But more than that, I am the Jealous Older Brother in the parable.  I'm the one who "refuses to join the party" - meaning, in this case, I'm wrong and puritanical to get angry that other guys are masturbating to online porn while I do my best not to.  Instead, I should "join the party".  I should get off my high horse and sin.  Who the heck do I think I am anyway?


I am very glad this article was written, for they're coming out of the woodwork.  Christopher West's writings have smelled funny for a long time, but he's clever enough to spray some perfume to cover up the odd odor. But Matt McGuiness and his supporters are less skilled, less coy, less able to couch their true intent in fancy words that sound theological.  Maybe they don't own the right kind of perfume.


Yep, you can't make this stuff up.

And that's the state of the Church among "conservative Catholics" these days.


ADDENDUM - You know, I've been thinking.  This heretical interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son cannot be something Ms. Anonymous came up with on her own.  It's apparently being preached or taught.  It's probably a meme of sorts.  It's most likely a part of the secret knowledge of the initiated, of the insiders who are getting the real-deal from Christopher West and his ilk.  Well, I don't know the origin of it, but I can't believe it's with her.


Anonymous said...

I'll say up front that I've only read one of West's books, Theology of the Body for Beginners, so there may things he's written that go far beyond that, of which I'm not aware. But I suspect many of his defenders are upset about what seem to be exaggerations or mis-statements of what he has written.

As an example, in the case of the more recent author (I forget his name; the one from C&L), you say that he is promoting sin, encouraging people to go and "sin, and sin boldly". I believe you are reading him in the worst possible light and with a complete lack of charity (is that not a sin as well by the way, or were you demonstrating the concept of sinning boldly?). When he encouraged people to go all in with the porn, was he not speaking to people who "dabble" in it, who aren't obsessed with it but who keep coming back to it, and perhaps have themselves convinced that it's not a problem or detriment to their spiritual well-being? Could he not be simply trying to get people to see that they are deluding themselves by trying to keep a foot in both boats, and that if they can really understand how empty porn is, they will choose to abandon it and embrace purity?

As someone who has struggled with this issue, I have to agree that will-power alone doesn't seem to get you far, at least not for more than a day or two. Maybe some people need to hit rock bottom. I agree it's a controversial teaching (if that is even what he's saying), but then address the problem with the teaching. The issue people are having is that you really seem to be attacking these guys personally (whether you intend to or not). I hadn't heard about this new fellow until today, but from what I've seen and read of West, he seems like a sincere guy who wants to bring out of the muck this fallen and perverse society we've become. He certainly believes in sin, including sexual sin. It sounds like you choose a specific point these guys are making, however minor or tangential they may be to the whole of what they are saying, and blow them up to the point where you are condemning everything they have written as "poison". Many readers struggling to escape sexual sin have found much help in West's work (and not help in the sense of "don't worry, just do whatever feels good"). Many other faithful Catholics have also endorsed his work, including Janet Smith as an example.

If there's some specific point about West's teaching you disagree with, why not address that directly, rather than describe his years of work in this area as "poison"? He's shown a willingness in the past to adjust his teaching where valid criticisms have been made. But could you at least show some Christian charity to the guy (as well as the fellow with the recent article)? At least he's making an effort. The reality is that the old message of "just don't do it" isn't making much of an impact in our world anymore. He's trying to fix that. Are you, or are you just attacking those who are trying?


Kevin O'Brien said...

Avin, I have been very specific about West.  Read the stuff I've written on this blog alone.  Go back to the early posts in this long line of posts and you'll see me tearing what he says apart bit by bit, specifically and systematically, quoting him directly and responding to him direclty.

 If you don't believe there's a problem with this new Theology that Encourages Sin, then how is it that West's defenders say the things they do, which is what this post you're commenting on is all about?  If this Anonymous gal did not get this garbage from West and his followers, where did she get it from?

As to struggling with porn, I've been there too, and feel free to read what I wrote about that.

As to the proper way of dealing with porn according to the Magisterium, contrary to what West and McGuiness suggest, read this.

Kevin O'Brien said...

By the way, there are hot links in my above comment, Alvin, but you can't see them at times unless you hover your mouse over them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for mentioning the links; I only noticed the last one because you wrote "read this"; the others I had missed, so I spent some time searching out your critique of West.

I also had a chance to read McGuiness' article in full (I had only read your excerpts before). I'm now more convinced that he is being misread by his critics. In particular, the part that is characterized as encouraging men to indulge in porn, is actually sub-titled "A Thought Experiment". And it makes a good point. The sad reality is that porn use is rampant among Christian men. Could he be trying to get us to look at it as a choice between Jesus and porn, in suggesting we "take it up professionally"? The reality is that it IS a choice of course, of who or what is lord of our lives. But those millions of Christian men would be shocked and dismayed at the suggestion of choosing porn over Jesus. And there's the problem; we are deluding ourselves into thinking a little porn and a lot of Christianity can still fit together in one's life, when the reality is that a little porn is all it takes to wreck the Christian life. I think McGuiness, in his Thought Experiment, is trying to get men to see that there really is a choice to make, with the obvious conclusion that throwing out Jesus to embrace porn ("taking it up professionally") is a repugnant thought to Christian men. We just manage not to think about the choice, and so we remain comfortable in our dual-life. I think he's trying to help men see the choice they've already made, whether it's a little porn ("an amateur") or a lot of porn. And if the choice is made for porn, does it really matter if you've sold your soul for a bit of it or a lot of it?


Anonymous said...

As for West, those are certainly some strange quotes. But, given the misunderstanding (and , I think, misstatement) of McGuiness' article, I would need to see the passages of West's writing in full. But I will comment on the "custody of the eyes" issue that you wrote about. Did he actually write something advising men to look at images of nude women, as you state? In the little that I've read of him, he does suggest that a man who is no longer controlled by lust can be in the presence of such an image without falling into sin, but I would be surprised if he would recommend actually seeking out such images. Are you caricaturing him in this paragraph:

"To the pure, all things are pure" means, if you follow the logic, that I may indeed view pornography if I'm pure. For my own purity will transform everything I do, including self abuse in front of a computer screen.

If that's what he's saying, he's mistaken, but I think you've misstated him. Because the contradiction is obvious: if you're abusing yourself to porn, you clearly are NOT pure, so purity will not transform such an action. This is an example of where I think his critics latch onto something, misinterpret it, and use it to attack West.

Is West not simply saying that one who is pure can encounter such an image without falling into sin? Note, I say encounter, not seek out, because the pure would not seek it out. The obvious example is the story of the three clergymen walking down the street who encounter a scantily-clad woman, and while two turn away, the third speaks with her, and is able to do so because his purity allows him to see her as a person created in the image and likeness of God, rather than just seeing jiggly body parts. He no longer needs to worry about custody of the eyes, beause his eyes are looking at the person, not the parts. And that's what West wants us all to aspire to. Not to declare oursleves pure so we can hunt for porn on the internet, but to reach a state where that is of no interest to us, so that we could speak freely to that woman on the street and minister to her, or so that if an otherwise commendable movie, like say Les Mis, happened to flash a pair of breasts on the screen for a couple seconds, we wouldn't be forced to pass on the movie.

Regarding some of West's defenders, I agree those comments are out of line, but does that taint everything West has done? Do the extreme comments of some rad-trads taint the entire Catholic Church? I think not.

Finally, sorry for the length of the posts. Once I got going, I just seemed to keep going. This might be longer than the original article.


Joey Higgins said...

In particular, the part that is characterized as encouraging men to indulge in porn, is actually sub-titled "A Thought Experiment".

I read the article a few times and while I think I understand what he was trying to get at, the setup was so poor that any redemptive quality that he was trying to get at is easily lost.

If the author makes such a grandiose claim as in the "thought experiment" and insinuates that you should "go big or go home" when sinning to encounter Christ AFTER the author seriously downplayed the grace and healing of confession, it makes it much harder to, "read charitably." How much charity should be given?

Perhaps the author didn't mean what he said, but that doesn't mean he didn't say it. With any writing or presentation, if the majority of the audience is too "unlearned" to understand your point - there's a good chance you didn't make it.