Saturday, February 16, 2013

One Man's Heaven is Another Man's All-You-Can-Eat Dessert Buffet

OK, if my favorite punching bag Matt McGuiness has written Part Three of his three part "A Second Look at Porn" first, there would probably have been no public outcry.  Because on the surface Part Three (like Part Two) simply seems to be saying "Porn bad; God good."

But for me it's the most bizarre thing he's yet written.

The entire article is framed by a Freudian notion that true satisfaction is the fulfillment of infantile desires.  From his pop culture reference to breast feeding which opens the article, to a truly strange paragraph near the end, a telling anecdote in the middle really conveys where McGuiness, and I think most of the Westians, are coming from.

As I pointed out this week, the Westians' view tends to be nominalistic and opposed to the sacramental theology of the Church.  It tends to be Gnostic and places too much emphasis on experience.  It ignores the fact that the moral law is intrinsic to God and not extrinsic to Him or arbitrarily imposed upon us from without; it assumes that morality is constraining and misguided.  It gets a lot right, but its tone is wrong from start to finish, and I think its goal or purpose is wrong because of these errors.

But what I hadn't really seen until now was how absurdly childish and simple the view of the Westians - or at least Matt McGuiness - is.

Here's heaven according to McGuiness ...

We were talking about those moments in life that are really great. It might be a conversation with a friend, the birth of a child or a U2 concert. For Tommy it was a piece of chocolate cake. The cake-ness we experience now is great – there's no denying it – but it has limitations: finite cake, finite appetite, what have you. Cake is God's life in us and every other good thing. But in Heaven it's infinite cake. As Tommy put it, “Heaven is the whole cake, so the hunger for cake can always be instantly satisfied. We'll want the cake in Heaven as much as we want it now but it will be always in front of us.” It's the same cake.

Heaven, then, is having your cake and eating it too; it is gorging on cake.  Heaven for McGuiness is not the renunciation of disordered desire, nor is it the satisfaction that arises from focusing your desire on a greater good.  It is wallowing in your desire; it is perpetually indulging your desire; it is an eternity of sucking on the Great Teat.

This is McGuiness' problem.  It's not bad theology as much as it is a really skewed view of the role desire plays in our lives.  Desire for McGuiness is, as Freud would quite accurately say, infantile.

But for me the most telling paragraph of all is this one near the end ...

The evil of pornography does not reside in the beauty of women, but in that it hijacks our need for intimacy, for communion, for beatitude and it diverts us from our destiny in Christ. The “thought world” of porn would have us believe that we must choose between the flesh and lust (hedonism) on the one hand, and dis-incarnate purity and beauty (angelism) on the other. This is the lie of Manicheanism: that the flesh has nothing to do with purity and goodness.

Now, who on earth is going around saying that "the evil of pornography resides in the beauty of women"?  This isn't just a straw man McGuiness is replying to, it's a bogey man.  Is the problem of porn the fact that its "thought world" forces us to choose between hedonism or angelism?  In what strange Bizarro world does this dichotomy rise up from the philosophy of porn?  Do we have to keep hearing from the Westians that the Manicheans are wrong when they say that the "the flesh has nothing to do with purity and goodness"?  We all agree that the flesh is not the true enemy; it is not utterly depraved.  There are no Manicheans on this bus.  Stop fighting with them, and stop thinking that your critics are all somehow condemning the flesh and the desires of the flesh, or the beauty of women.

This is such a telling paragraph, and it fits right in with the odd notion of heaven as an all-you-can-eat dessert buffet.

Matt, I know I'm hard on you, and I know you're not a bad person or a false Catholic.  I can tell that from your writings.  I know you're mistaken and I know it must be frustrating to hear so many people on the web tell you that.  In fact, much of what you say is right.  You are right, for example, that desire is made, ultimately, for God.

But sexual desire has a very definite and particular purpose for which God has designed it.  Sex is for the marital act - an expression of love between a husband and wife who are permanently joined together through the sacrament of Matrimony, an act that symbolizes and prefigures the nuptial of the Second Coming, and that is open to making babies.  That's it.

And it's a lot better than gorging on chocolate cake.

Because, strangely, your heaven would be my hell - would in fact be any man's hell.  If all the Kingdom is made for is for self-indulgence, then it's a deep dark Kingdom indeed, and it smells everywhere of loneliness and regret.


And, dear readers, if there is any way I could sum up the approach of Christopher West and his followers, it would be this- it's all an elaborate and emotional attempt to have your cake and eat it too.  That's a very understandable and human hope, but it's the antithesis of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.

ADDENDUM: It occurs to me that readers may respond, "The chocolate cake thing is just a metaphor!  It's just a way of saying Heaven satisfies all of our desires!"  And I get that.  But it's a very bad metaphor, and it reveals the mistaken attitude toward desire that gives birth to it.  Where is renunciation in all of this?  Where is sacrifice?  Where is the attempt to channel or control our desire, an attempt our life in Christ demands that we make?  All of this is lacking, and that's why I say that this whole scheme of things that McGuiness and West are peddling is immature and infantile.


Paul Stilwell said...

I can haz Tiramisu pleaze?

Our desire for communion cannot be reduced to terms of "satisfaction", nor to terms of "satisfaction to no end" - or Barnes' "more, more, more".

Within us is the desire to give - an eternal positive - and to have that giving of our dignity reciprocated, and thus have our dignity confirmed, indeed, the truth of our eternal being put beyond all shadows, eternalized, by way of "conversation" - conversation with God, face to face. We are not satisfaction receiving objects.

The Westians enforce the starvation diet because they focus on desire. And in doing so they reduce desire to something it was never meant to be, nor is, nor can be.

They cannot emphasize something without simultaneously de-emphasizing it. The Church teaches that porn is a serious sin. The Westian says, "Yes! It's so serious; so very, very, very serious because it's about the eternal sign of the Bridegroom, etc. and this is why it is so serious!"

Thus the Westian teaches that when you commit sexual sin at least you are in touch with your desires and will come to know the Bridegroom, unlike those Pharisee rule-followers.

These posts of yours Kevin are a boon.

jvc said...

It's more of the same nonsense that our sins are merely incomplete goods. That seems to be the only message the Westians really try to carry. And it fails on every level, each time it is tried. Leftists and Westians alike have been trying to "immanetize the eschaton" for a couple centuries now, and as far as I can tell paradise has failed to appear.

Chris said...

McGuiness's last installment really just seems to be a regurgitation of West's latest book. Herein there is a classic "tactic" by West and company: redefining a concept, e.g., communion, to their definition, then claiming legitimacy because they are using a recognized concept/word. And the reader may not even recognize the switch because the new definition is proposed early on and has some truth to it, making it easier to digest. But the erroneous part or the part that appeals to our baser side can make its way in.

Dogmatix said...


Beautifully put:

Within us is the desire to give - an eternal positive - and to have that giving of our dignity reciprocated, and thus have our dignity confirmed, indeed, the truth of our eternal being put beyond all shadows, eternalized, by way of "conversation" - conversation with God, face to face. We are not satisfaction receiving objects

Their's is a most unfortunately repackaged heresy that did the "rounds" in the post Nicene (325AD) period. Speaking of the Valentinians, St. Iraneus says:

Having "no comprehension of the Unbegotten" they "take the likeness of man to pieces, and rearrange the gems, fitting them together to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox".

As if that wasn't enough, they:

"(D)eclare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skilful artist constructed [...] and by exhibiting the jewels deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king's form was like."

Lord forgive them, for they know not what they do!

Brian Killian said...

In McGuiness's article, 'cake' is a metaphor for everything that is good and positive in our experience of the created world. It includes friendship, music, etc. His point being that Heaven must bear some relation to whatever is good that we experience in our present form of existence, otherwise there would be no continuity between the present and the future.

I ithink McGuiness gets it right at the beginning of his article (part 3) where he is careful to distinguish between the sexual urge, and our desire for the infinite. He clearly doesn't want to reduce desire to the sexual urge. And he correctly states that our sexual desire needs to be examined in light of our desire for the infinite.

The problem is that later in the same article, he seems to slip back into conflating those two distinct desires. When he say "Lust, what are you really about?" he is implying that there is something good in lust, that there is a possibility of us merely misinterpreting it. But of course, by definition lust cannot be like that. There's nothing positive in lust that will suddenly reveal itself if we just look harder at it.

Likewise, when his friend found liberation from addictive behaviors through authentic friendship, it wasn't because he finally realized what he was really looking for in those addictive behaviors, it's because real relationship and charity tends to extinguish those kinds of self-centered habits.

The problem is not one of interpretation, but of revelation. There is no continuity between sex as lust and sex as sign other than the physical actions themselves. You can't get from one to the other.

Michael Griffin said...

Praise be Jesus Christ. Thank you for your writings. "Medieval prostitutes were required by law to dress distinctively so that a passer-by could easily identify which women were or were not for sale.... distinctive band or tassle... face made up...." I had a fun single life & ultimately tried to marry & have a family. I failed but had fun. Go USA. Mark 10:18 "Jesus answered him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." I am watching Mother Angelica on TV. Go Mother Angelica. Go sports athletes. Saint Mary Magdalene pray for us & may Jimmy Hendrix rest in peace. -Michael. Amen.