Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Theology of the Body "Smoking Guns" of Christopher West's Theology

From Wade St. Onge at From the Ivory Tower:

Many who followed (or attempted to follow) the Theology of the Body debate that ensued after Dr. David Schindler went public with concerns about the theology of his former pupil, Christopher West, following the latter’s appearance on “Nightline”, were not sure how to sift through all the arguments on both sides and come to a conclusion. Some who may have become leery of his theology or who may have leaned in that direction have since forgotten about the criticisms and changed their minds back. This is understandable considering the support and praise he receives all around us in the orthodox Catholic circles and most especially among bishops (most of whom are as unfamiliar with the content of his teaching as much as his critics are accused of being) and big-name Catholic speakers. Sheer numbers seem to influence most of us.

Even I myself begin to question whether or not my criticisms are valid. However, when I begin to think of the evidence on both sides, my mind often goes back to a few things that confirm my initial position. There are, I believe, some “red flags” that taken together sift through all the many voices and arguments and make a clear case against Dr. Janet Smith’s judgment that the theology of Christopher West is “perfectly sound”. What makes it even more convincing is that most of these have never been responded to or given substantial justification by West or any of West's most prominent defenders.

This is something I was intending to write over a year ago at the “height” of the debate. Thanks to the discussion that broke out after Kevin O’Brien wrote a series of articles on his blog, I was reminded and motivated to finally write it.

A. “Mature Purity” (including West’s doctrines of “Shameless Nakedness” and “The Pure Gaze of Love”).

1. The argument between Dr. Scott Hahn and Christopher West on the set of “Franciscan University Presents” which turned Dr. Hahn into a “closet critic” of West and his theology after West disagreed with Hahn when Hahn said the proper response if he was to see his colleague's naked wife's would be to turn his eyes away.

When Christopher West was a guest on EWTN’s “Franciscan University Presents” a few years ago, Dr. Scott Hahn, who is a regular on the program, got into an argument with him on this very issue. James Simons was in the audience when the program was recorded, and in his article in defense of West, entitled “Should We Look Away or Not Lust?”, he recounts the exchange:

During a university TV interview of Christopher West [actually, a panel discussion on “Franciscan University Presents”] a professor [Dr. Scott Hahn] told West that if he were to see a friend’s wife [the friend being fellow panellist Dr. Regis Martin] naked, it would be his responsibility to look away. West responded, ‘No, it would be to not lust.’ [Hahn] and West took turns repeating themselves until the moderator called for a break in the program.” [1] Drawing upon other accounts, this exchange began when West began speaking about his doctrine of “mature purity”, whereby when we grow enough in chastity, we should dispense with practicing “custody of the eyes” which is merely an initial “negative” step for those in the “purgative stage” of purity, and should instead look upon women and their God-given beauty with the “pure gaze of love”. Considering how contrary this is to the Catholic Tradition (as will be shown later), Hahn objected and told West we could never be sure we were in that state and that we would remain in that state if we gazed. During the commercial break, Hahn had some sharp words for West.

That day, Dr. Scott Hahn became a closet-critic of Christopher West and his understanding of theology of the body, and remains so to this day. In and of itself this is not telling – Hahn could be wrong and West right. But those on both sides of this debate fully flesh-out their positions and attempt to defend their own and critique the other, it becomes quite clear that Hahn represents the orthodox position while West’s position is novel and contradicts the Catholic Tradition.

2. Long-time disciple of Christopher West borders on advocating Christian nudism and other long-time disciples defend him.

James J. Simons, who by his own admission listened to West over 100 times, [2] provided, in the aforementioned article, an apologia for nudism. Simons argued that it is right to baptize people naked in front of an entire church so everyone can see them and it is right for women to read in church topless. He chided men for not being able to look at naked women and not lust, and chided Dr. Scott Hahn for saying that if he saw his colleague’s wife naked the proper response would be to turn his eyes away. He said we should see the naked body as simply a naked body and nothing more, and that to look away when seeing a naked body is actually an objectification of women. [3] Terri Kimmel, who attributes the beginning of her conversion to the listening of West’s presentation of Theology of the Body, [4] defended Simons’ arguments in the combox. [5] “Lauretta”, who has also listened to West over 100 times, [6] likewise defended James and professed the same “doctrine of mature purity”. [7]

It cannot be argued that both James and Lauretta have misunderstood West in the over 100 times they listened to him. Rather, it becomes clear, when listening to and reading West, especially pages 169-172 of the original edition of Theology of the Body Explained, that they have understood him perfectly well. They have just taken his teachings, which he never fully fleshes out and which always masterfully couches in orthodoxy and connects to Magisterial documents, to their logical ends and stated explicitly what West is careful not to present publicly.

Genevieve S. Kineke, author of The Authentic Catholic Woman, which she asked Christopher West to wrote the foreword for, [8] seemed to begin to recognize the problems with West’s theology only when seeing its logical conclusions fleshed out by his disciples: “I am reading this with absolute astonishment, as though enough parsing of texts and clever citations are cause to abandon all common sense … ‘Pride goeth before a fall …’ and I believe only pride could cause a man to think he was beyond temptation in this realm, especially since he’s naturally hard-wired to act on certain stimuli – Saint Francis knew this well, and humbly heaved himself into the thorn bushes rather than taking any chances”. [9] This article made Ms. Kineke realize something may be seriously wrong with West’s theology, and after presumably scrutinizing more carefully the debate surrounding West’s work, continues to offer objections to his errors. [10]

3. The work and writings of West disciple, Father Thomas Loya, including the use of erotic images on the homepage of his TOB website and his advice to Christian men that they “check women out”.

Loya is a faithful supporter of and believer in the theology of Christopher West, something West acknowledges and which seems to be mutual. [11]

Anyone well-grounded in the Catholic Tradition as it concerns purity and modesty will consider the erotic images on Loya’s Theology of the Body website, “Tabor Life”, [12] to be proof enough. The fact that the reader has to be warned at this point that clicking on the website may be an occasion of sin should be a red flag in itself.

For further confirmation, Loya’s advice in the first step of his “See-Pray-Pass On” technique for chastity provides it: “Alright Look at her!! That’s right, look at her!! Look at her butt, her breasts, but don’t stop there. Look at every aspect of her magnificent femininity! Take her in completely and say, ‘How many are your works, O Lord, in wisdom you have made them all!’ (Psalm 103)”. After all, “A true freedom in the Spirit, a true, lasting and integrated purity of heart comes not from ‘looking away’ from the human body. Rather it is in learning to look ‘at’ the human body with the eyes of God, with the deep soul of true Catholicism and the sacramental worldview”. [13] Anyone for whom this may be scandalous should be told at this point: this is not Catholic and is even more scandalous and dangerous because it is being taught by a priest whose work is recommended by Christopher West, whose word of approval is accepted without question by his most devoted disciples...  (continued)


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