Father Loya: Peer Reviewed

The following is a guest post from Christina Strafaci, who works in the Diocese of Phoenix and emailed me with a proposed comment to my last post in response to Father Thomas Loya’s comment there.  Christina thought her comment might be too long, so she wanted to run it by me first.  I believe it is worthy to be a separate post, especially since it comes from someone who has a graduate degree from the JPII Institute and who teaches Theology of the Body.

Since this post falls into the category of a “response” to the “TOB…Train” article, let me begin by offering my sincerest thanks to you, Fr. Geiger, for your straight-forward insights into this “discussion” that, while not new, has reached fever-pitch over the course of the last twelve months. While I have much more to say on this subject, I will try to restrict my comments to addressing to Fr. Loya’s response to Fr. Geiger’s article – at least in the beginning.

I have a Masters of Theological Studies from the JPII Institute, I have read and studied the series of Wednesday audiences popularly known as the “theology of the body”, I’ve spent five years teaching the audiences to high school seniors each spring, and since last year, I have read every substantial post related to this “discussion” about Christopher West, both critique and defense. (I must add here that I am also grateful for the thesis completed by Ms. Dawn Eden.) I offer this information as evidence that I am not new to the discussion, that I have listened carefully, and that I realize much more is at stake than what has been addressed in the blogosphere.

What I glean from Fr. Loya’s response is that he is proud of Tabor Life’s website, both the medium and the message, particularly its ability to capture visitors’ attention, choir-members and wayward-onlookers alike. Therefore, I’ll cut to the chase: May we not claim that the site’s offering of “one-minute meditations” and “freaky” “flash images” is itself guilty of the same reductionism for which Fr. Geiger is now accused? Fr. Loya defends the intro images to be “a very tiny part” of Tabor Life, and yet this “part” is what first attracts – dare I say, baits – the visitors’ vision. Yet, once again, we’re hearing the defense of having been taken out of context. The site hopes to draw in visitors using sensational headlines, images, etc., not unlike the flat-screens flashing ads in shopping malls. What happens when visitors discover that the real “theology of the body” (versus an interpretation of it) is hundreds of pages of complex reading, requiring prayer, meditation, the Holy Bible and a dictionary? Does this site employ the same “partial representation, selective emphasis and soundbite style” – here, a “technique” applied to the content of the Wednesday catecheses? Examining the images and headlines of the Tabor Life website communicates to visitors that the “theology of the body” is a theology of sex, and it – rather than Christ – is the answer to every question in life. Indeed, (too) many popularizers of the “theology of the body” have selectively chosen what is most popular in the Wednesday audiences – most popular to a secular culture – in order to appeal to listeners, unfortunately to the detriment of the whole. I will not restate here what those more eloquent have already observed on this issue. I would like now to broaden the scope of my comments beyond addressing Fr. Loya’s response and his website.

As Ann Hanincik astutely recalled from Ms. Eden’s thesis, the Wednesday catecheses “cannot be taken apart from the whole Tradition” nor treated as a magic bullet to overcome the very real and deeply-felt effects of concupiscence. But let me go one step further to examine this “taking apart” and its effect on JPII’s catechesis. Recently, I was discussing the audiences with a popularizer (also an Institute grad) who referred to the audiences as “TOB” – pronounced “tobe” to be sure. Now, I am not unfamiliar with the trend of referring to the audiences as “T-O-B”, but this new(er) development captures the essence of my concern: What are the (bitter) fruits of reducing JPII’s five-year-long catechesis in such a way? In all the ways that we see being done today? Is it not the very nature of pornography – as we see every day in this “pornified world” according to Fr. Loya – to fragment the whole, reduce it into little pieces, dissociating the fragments to be objects of use, separate from the unified and meaningful integrity of the whole? Some of my classmates engaged in the work of marriage preparation will protest such a plea for a more holistic approach with the claim that there is not enough time or willingness in their listeners, that “reduction” is absolutely necessary in light of the precious few opportunities they have with engaged couples. This doesn’t change the evidence that in the distillation process applied to the audiences during the past decade, important elements have been lost.

For example, Dr. David Schindler has noted two elements (among others) missing from what has become popular catechesis: the question of filiality and the Marian-feminine dimension. First, the spousal meaning of the body cannot be taken apart from the original, filial meaning of the body:

sexual love as understood in the work of John Pope II must be inserted within a love between spouses that itself takes its most radical meaning from filial relation to God. Sexual-spousal love participates in this more original filial relation to God as its sign and expression, but does so only as consequent to and distinct from this more original filial relation.

It sounds very much like we quickly move past “solitude” in order to get to “unity” as if the former is to the detriment of the latter in the eyes of our students. Second, studying the audiences cannot be taken apart from contemplating the virginal-fruitful embodiedness of Mary, and indeed, must be more thoroughly considered in light of her and what is “revealed” by the feminine:

The third of my criticisms meant to indicate the sense in which the Church’s Marian mystery, and also the feminine dimension, are central for the theology of the body. After Christ, Mary reveals to us most profoundly the “original” meaning of body that needs to remain present within sexual-marital love. In her fiat, we discover the contemplative meaning of the body (Mary “pondered these things in her heart”). In this light, contrary to what is assumed in the dominant culture, women have a naturally more profound sense (than do men) of the implicit, and of interiority or of what develops slowly-organically and from within. Women have a naturally more profound sense of mystery and thus of what is entailed in the unveiling of the body–for example, an organic in contrast to mechanical sense of time, and consequently a different idea of the meaning and significance of nakedness itself.

Is it sufficient to ask for Mary’s protection and intercession, to post an icon of her on one’s website, or even to palliatively mention her fiat and purity in a discussion about the sexual union and then in the same breath, claim that one fully appreciates this Marian-feminine dimension? (It is only on Fr. Geiger’s site and in Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s writings that I have read an adequate probing of the question of veiledness since the question was raised last year.) Our culture disregards, dismisses as weak, and holds in contempt interiority, silence, and contemplation. How has this affected even our own approach to the audiences?

As I stated earlier, I have taught the “theology of the body” and will continue to teach it. Like West, Loya, and catechists across the nation, we are trying to teach calculus to a classroom full of students that never learned how to do basic math. Translation: We expect students to understand the spousal meaning of the body and sacrificial self-gift before they understand their own unique identity as God’s creation, made for union with Him. Praise God for all the good fruit that has already and will continue to come from our efforts, but if consequences of a certain reductionism are coming to light today, why are we – all of us, myself included – reluctant to address and correct our missteps?

In all honesty, I am tired of the hackneyed claim that those who have raised serious concerns, pointed out errors of interpretation, and/or offered constructive criticism are somehow being uncharitable – lacking “charity” in the tenor of their voice, choice of words, whatever. Really? Are we all so thin-skinned? Are we all that full of pride? How many times does the caveat need to be set forth that no one in these discussions attributes to West, Loya, et. al. anything but the desire to bring persons closer to Christ? When will the faithful see demonstrations of humility rather than defensiveness? When are the real discussions going to happen? As much as I dislike this ubiquitous expression, it is time for us to move forward. The content of this response notwithstanding, I have very little interest in devoting my spare time to critiquing Tabor Life, Christopher West, or the current trends of popular catechesis on the Wednesday audiences. I think we’ve all got more work to do, I’m confident that we can do better, and I’d rather be working together with all of these dedicated teachers rather than in spite of them: “I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose” (1 Cor 1:10). Praise God for the gifts of inquiry, intellect, and discernment that He has bestowed upon us. Ad Jesum per Mariam.

Christopher West: Sexualizing Christianity

I recently became aware of an exchange between Dr. Mark Lowery and Christopher West that took place in around the turn of the year 2002.  Dr. Lowery’s assessment of Mr. West’s work was fair.  Like many today, he commended the Theology of the Body apologist for his flair getting across to audiences around the country the reason why “the bedroom needs the Church.”  And like many today, he expressed his reservations about the way in which West “sexualizes Christianity.”  Lowery intimates that a kind of inversion has taken place in West’s understanding of the relationship between sexuality and Christianity:

Put another way, so clearly does he see how sexuality must be taken up into Christianity that he can give the impression that Christianity has been taken up into sexuality.

Continue reading

Compendium of TOB Posts

The following list provides links to all the posts that I have written either here or on Dawn Patrol about the Theology of the Body. I will update the list if I have missed any, or if, God forbid, I add others.

Update: Missed posts added to compendium (dates in red text).

Further Update:  Added posts (dates in green text).

  • “Hope of the World” (November 11, 2008):  The first reference I made to the “new chastity movement” on this blog shortly after the national election in the context of our lack of will to elect a pro-life president in the United States.
  • “Thinking Like a Man” (April, 16, 2009):  Why it is necessary for men to fight the good fight of chastity, rather than hope to be delivered from temptation by a new and holy fascination with the body, as is suggested in West’s presentation.
  • John Paul the Great and Hugh Hefner the Magnificent” (May 8th, 2009):  My original reaction to Chris West’s Nightline interview with a focus on the problem of prudery.
  • “Christopher West’s blind spot:  TOB has to be seen through Church’s historical teachings” (May 14, 2009):  A response to those who say that the critique is an attack on Christopher West and a closer look at the question of “original innocence” and its relation to the effect TOB can have on our redemption.
  • “Schindler’s list: Sparks fly as JP2 Institute dean raps Christopher West for errors” (May 29, 2009):  An analysis of the responses of Professors Janet Smith and Michael Waldstein to the critique of West by Professor David Schindler.
  • “Virgo redacta:  Christopher West and the dangers of overanalogizing Mary” (June 18, 2009):  An attempt to answer the defenders of Christopher West, by addressing some of the specific problems with his presentation, namely,  the phallic symbolism of the paschal candle  and the way that the Blessed Virgin is eroticized by his presentation.  More generally, I touch upon his problematic use of analogy. (See, notation on new information contained in this post).
  • “To Chris West: Enough Already. How about a Response?” (June 24, 2009):  A critique of the methodology by which critics of West are dealt with by implying prudery or animus as a motivation for the disagreement, or that disagreement with West constitutes disagreement with John Paul II.
  • “St. Agustine and the Theology of the Body” (June 27, 2009):  Comments on and several quotations from Msgr. Cormac Burke’s defense of St. Augustine’s views on marriage.  Another critique of seeing prudery where it isn’t.
  • “The Theology of the Body and Courage: Fighting the Real Fight” (July 14, 2009):  Why it is important for men to focus on agape rather than eros.
  • “Martyrs, Mystics and Rhetoricians” (July 31, 2009):  A response to Father Thomas Loya’s defense of Christopher West, with a focus on the hermeneutic of discontinuity manifested by the new “holy fascination” with the body advocated by Christopher West and his followers.
  • Shame on You.  Amen. (September 1, 2009):  Thoughts inspired by a discussion on The Linde regarding the nature of shame and its relation to modesty, with an emphasis on the cultivation of prudence in the face of the American TOB crusade against prudery.
  • Cardinal and Bishop Support Christopher West (September 8, 2009): Text of Cardinal Rigali’s and Bishop Kevin Rhoades letter of support of Christopher West and his work.
  • In Defense of Purity (September 20, 2009):  Introductory post to my commentary on Dietrich von Hildebrand’s work In Defense of Purity, proposed as a sure way of coming to understand the true meaning of the Theology of the Body.
  • In Defense of Purity I (September 29, 2009):  Commentary on the first chapter of von Hildebrand’s book, focusing on the meaning of shame, particularly in its positive aspect, and distinguished from that shame which seeks to protect the person from use, with a particular reference to its correlation in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
  • A Response to Christopher West (October 30, 2009):  My reply to the response to Christopher West, in which he finally breaks his silence regarding the controversy surrounding his presentation of the Theology of the Body.
  • Theology of the Tango? (November 1, 2009):  An example of the American version of Theology of the Body gone off the rails.
  • Christopher West:  Sexualizing Christianity (February 8, 2010):  A commentary on a 2001/2002 between Dr. Mark Lowery and Christopher West, indicating that the recent objections to West are nothing new, and have gone unanswered for years.
  • Sexing Up Canon Law (February 12, 2010): A response to a commenter’s objection to my previous post on the sexualization of Christianity by Christopher West.  Specifically, I focus on the meaning of the canons governing the dissolution of a ratified but non-consummated marriage and what that means in terms of when sacramental grace is conferred in marriage.
  • Father Peter Damian Fehlner on Ratified, Non-Consummated Marriages (February 13, 2010):  The magisterial and theological tradition concerning this question from a professor of dogmatic theology.
  • Theology of the Body:  Of Sign and Fulfilment (March 4th, 2010):  An explanation of the Churches use of theological analogy and the reason why  Christopher West’s use of analogy is theologically incorrect.
  • Christopher West Takes Sabbatical (April 13, 2010):  The announcement from TOB Institute that Christopher West is taking time off to “reflect more deeply on fraternal and spiritual guidance he has received in order to continue developing his methodology and praxis as it relates to the promulgation of the Theology of the Body.”
  • Toward a Climate of Chastity E-Book (April 20, 2010):  Announcement of Dawn Eden’s publication of her master’s thesis on Christopher West’s work as an ebook.  Links provided.
  • Dawn Eden’s Thesis and Defense (June 15, 2010):  Announcement of Dawn Eden’s re-publication of her master’s thesis on Christopher West’s work as an ebook, and the text of the defense of  her thesis.  Links provided.
  • That for Which We Fight (July 2, 2010):  A commentary on two opposing views of feminism with a special reference to Theology of the Body and a recommendation for a balanced approach.
  • Alice Von Hildebrand’s New Essay on Her Husband and Christopher West (July 21, 2010):  A brief announcement and acknowledgement of this blog author’s contribution to the essay.
  • Good Reason Why Not to Have Someone Live-Tweet a Conference. (August 1, 2010):  Some of the sensational and eyebrow-raising tweets from the TOB conference.
  • Theology of the Body and the Mystical, Magical Train (August 5, 2010):  An analysis of remarks and practices of Father Thomas Loya’s pastoral approach to TOB, including his use questionable images and theories concerning admiration for the naked body.
  • Father Loya: Peer Reviewed:  (August 1o, 2010) A guest post from Christina Strafaci concerning the legitimacy of public critique of the pastoral approach of certain TOB evangelizers.
  • More TOB Discussion (August 11, 2010):   A highlight from a discussion between Genevieve Kineke and Heidi Saxton.
  • Where I am at Right Now with Theology of the Body (September 24, 2010):  An assessment of the Theology of the Body debate impasse.
  • Christopher West’s Translation of John Paul II’s Body Language (October 10, 2010):  A response to Christopher West’s assessment of his critics in the light of his charism to popularize the Theology of the Body.
  • The Way of Ugliness (November 6, 2010):  A critique of an aspect of Christopher West’s multi-media event, “Fill These Hearts,” specifically his use of an anti-Catholic movie to illustrate his point that the Church has been filled with prudery prior to the Theology of the Body.
  • Alternate States of Unreality (February 9, 2011):  A reflection on Christian Occultism and its similarities with the current attempt at popularizing the Theology of the Body in the United States.

To Chris West: Enough Already. How about a Response?

I am just following up on the latest developments of the West controversy in which I have been lately involved (pretty severe content warning).

Christopher West, in the last couple of days has been in the Catholic press–not responding to his critics, mind you.  All he says is public relations as far as I can tell.

In Our Sunday Visitor he is quoted as saying:

“Many good people seem unaware of what the great saints have taught about the mystical dimensions of our sexuality. This is where John Paul II’s theology of the body leads us — into the mystical depths of our creation as male and female, and the call of the two to become ‘one flesh.’

In my latest piece, linked to above, I show how West misconstrues St. Louis de Montfort as supporting some kind of holy fascination with the body of the Blessed Mother.  I do this not by quoting West out of context, but by actually showing from the text of the saint that he says nothing like what West suggests.

Then the National Catholic Register, reports the following:

West’s struggle to stem the confusion reflected a desire to both defend his reputation and to prevent a backlash against the late Pope’s teachings, which have begun to enter the mainstream of Catholic catechetics with the encouragement of Pope Benedict XVI.

It is not clear how accurately this statement reflects the actual views of Christopher West; however, there is no question that West and his supporters claim that he is the authority on TOB and that his assertions are compatible with the views of John Paul II.  The above statement goes so far as to suggest that disagreement with West is tantamount to disagreement with John Paul II.   But from the point of the critics the objections have nothing to do with the Holy Father’s teachings, but with the extrapolations of West.

And this is precisely the point of this post.  West and his supporter are avoiding to deal with the substantive issues raised in the critiques.  They say “The critics should have done it privately.”  “They should quote sources.”  When we quote sources they say  we  “are taking everything out of context.”   They tell us “West has good instincts; trust him.”

Unfortunately, they are making this worse for themselves.  I will do everything in my power to see to it that this remains a gentleman’s disagreement.  But I will not be told I am a prude for disagreeing with Christopher West or that I disagree with him because I have a personal animus.  I find this methodology and “strategic management” tiresome, to put it mildly.

Dawn Eden records some of the wearying methodology employed by West to deal with objections to his presentation in her latest post.  I refer to the incident transcribed by her in my latest contribution on her blog.

Pinto Leads the Choir

Matt Pinto, founder and president of Ascension Press, the publisher of Christopher West, came to the defense of his star author the other day.  In the first sentence he resurrected Mark Shea’s “bayonet our own troops” line:

Over the past few weeks, I have watched a friend and fellow soldier in the Church get assaulted by his own troops . . .

There have been various ways in which the critique of West has been handled, but for the most part the thoughtful critiques were respectful and sedate.  In particular, I have made a point of trying to be constructive, as I said:

The problem is that sometimes the combox is too easy a place to lock and load, fire and reload. But the sword cuts both ways: I am not out to sentence and execute Chris West, so don’t suggest that a critique of his thought, even if you disagree with that critique, is an effort to, in Shea’s words, “bayonet our own troops.”

Matt Pinto, it seems, is counting on an easy dismissal of the critics based on the reputation of Christopher West.  He argues that the fruits are good, therefore, there is nothing meriting criticism.  One commenter (Which Fruits Shall We Pick?) notes the weakness of this argument:

For years, people defended the now disgraced pedophile and father of at least one illegitimate child Fr. Marcial Maciel by claiming that he couldn’t possibly have led an immoral life because “the fruits” of his work were so good. No less a Catholic intellect than the late Richard John Neuhaus made this explicit claim in an article still available at Catholic Exchange (a site Matt Pinto helped found). The article, available here http://catholicexchange.com/2002/05/14/93167/ bears a startling resemblance to Pinto’s current piece “By his fruits you shall know him.”

(I am not equating West to Maciel, but rather pointing out that an inadequate defense from 2002 makes a poor model for today).

It should serve as a cautionary tale to Pinto and all those who make the “fruits” argument. To them, I would caution – pardon the obvious pun – that you cannot pick your “fruits.” Are the fruits of those scandalized by West any less valid than the fruits of those who have seen benefit? How shall we weigh these obviously contradictory consequences?

Pinto, a publisher of West’s books and a colleague from West’s Institute has written an interesting response to David Schindler, but at the end of the day, I have a fundamental problem with his premise.

From the long-running discussion, and many people who have commented that West makes them uneasy, or worse, it is clear that there’s an abundant harvest here, at least some serious portion of which is not nourishing. Not all fruits are good. Perhaps those who make the fruits argument should remember Maciel, and, of course, the Garden of Eden…

In any case, Pinto completely avoids addressing any of the substantive concerns raised by the critics, apparently, in the hope of not having to, ever.  For the most part, this tactic will probably  work.  He is shooting the messengers:  “Bad critics. Nasty West haters, all of you.”

Another commenter (Where’s Waldo) asks:

Now that we have heard from West’s publisher, who is next? His literary agent? His copyright attorney? Or his Public Relations firm? Where is HIS response.

Good questions.  How will he respond to Schindler’s offer to discuss this with him over time in the pages of Communio?  I don’t think Schindler will be easily pooh-poohed by West or one of his choir boys.

On Peace Patrol

My latest contribution to the peace process.

In the context of the Holy Father’s remarks it appears to me that this “real and deep victory” concerns the refusal to consent to lust of thought, recognizing its intrinsic evil, but without the transference of the evil of that act onto its object, namely the body of a woman. And the danger of not winning that victory, in Manichaean terms, would be to excuse the sin of lust on the basis that one is overcome by the evil of a woman’s body. At least in this context, there does not seem to me to be a mandate to have a “fascination at the human sexual-body,” just an urging not to allow our rejection of lust to become a rejection of the goodness of the human body.

Thanks Dawn.

The World, The Flesh and the Devil

Throughout the West debate we have talked much about the contributions of the world (Hefner) and the flesh (concupiscence) to our difficulties in dealing with issues of purity, but we seem to have overlooked a very important player in all this:  Big Red.  Funny that.

Actually not everyone has overlooked it.  Animadversions (content warning) has posted an excellent observation on Fr. Brian Van Hove’s blog that could possibly change the way many look at this question.

Though West’s desire to carry out what Hefner began presumes far better intentions than Hefner deserves, West is not totally off the mark if he means to overcome prudishness and unworthy shame.  But the danger lies in stripping us of the inhibitions and sublimations that occasionally protect us from harm.  Insofar as he and Hefner recommend to us more “exposure” both are misguided.  Between the beautiful and the demonic there is no clinically neutral middle.  Our sexuality is anything but “harmless.”

More Back and Forth on Christopher West

Professor Janet Smith Responds to Professor David Schindler.  (Extreme Content Warning.)

Just a couple of comments:

First of all, I think it a bit melodramatic to mention crucifixion.  Why would anyone be publishing books and tape series and traveling the country talking everywhere if he did not have thick enough skin to take some criticism?  As for those who are attacked ad hominum online:  it happens to everyone who has anything important to say. That is not an excuse for bad behavior, just a reminder that it is not a crucifixion.

As one who blogs on chivalry, I put a premium on courtesy, but let’s not get carried away. Vigorous debate is a good thing.

From what I have read of the various blog posts and comments, many persons have approached West before about their concerns, such as the concerns I have raised in my posts.  I have read, for example, West’s response to criticisms about his “Naked Without Shame” tape series” that I found inserted in the tape case. People have been raising these concerns for a long time.  Some of his views are inherently controversial.  One of West’s defenders on this blog argues that West legitimately uses “provocative arguments,” in order to attract the sex-saturated masses.  Chris West is a big boy and can handle himself.  Let’s not make him a victim.

Secondly, my own critique (1, 2, 3, 4) is not at all dependent on West’s comparison of John Paul II to Hugh Hefner, nor on my disagreement with West’s sometimes under-dressed, over-exposed discussions.  The substance of my own remarks remain unanswered–not that I expect to be on Professor Smith’s radar.


West has placed the following statement up on his website:

Dear Friends,

I am aware of the recent criticisms that have been published online over the last week.  I am currrently traveling, but pleased be assured that a prayerful and considerate response is forthcoming.

Sincerely in Christ,

Christopher West.

Hat tip to T. Chan for the West announcement.

Heavier Criticism of Christopher West’s Theological Approach

Dawn Eden sent me this link.  Read it.  (Content Warning:  the author quotes some of West’s more graphic discussion of sexuality.)  I will have more to say when I have time.

In her post on the article linked to above, Dawn says the following:

Last week, I invited West, through his publisher, to respond to Father Angelo Mary Geiger’s post about his approach to teaching the theology of the body, but did not receive a response.