Institute Research Fellow Christopher West recently began a six-month sabbatical from teaching and travel for personal and professional renewal. The Institute’s Board of Directors and Christopher have mutually agreed to the time away.
While the Institute regrets this interruption to upcoming 2010 events, we will continue with our roster of education and outreach programs, and will offer other faculty members and Theology of the Body instructors for teaching during this time.
Christopher is taking this leave to attend to family needs, and 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 (Emphasis mine).
Pray for Mr. West. I believe this hiatus from teaching and speaking is a good thing that may be very profitable to him and to those over whom he has an influence. I would submit, however that it is not only his “methodology and praxis” that he needs to reflect on. His content needs some review as well.
In his long-awaited reply to his critics, West honestly admits that he did not want to say anything until he had received the all clear from the bishops, a boon given in abundance by Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Rhoades. While the bishops’ endorsement is significant, it does not mean that West’s teaching is magisterial or that it is on the level of those who themselves hold the teaching office of the Church. Even a theologian who has gained the endorsement of a pope, such as Hans Urs von Balthasar or Cardinal Walter Kasper, is not considered above respectful criticism when he articulates views that may legitimately be shown to be difficult to reconcile with the Church Fathers and Doctors.
West is gracious for thanking his supporters, but his reference to the “profound consolation” proffered by the faithful is a bit off-putting. He has chosen the path of controversy of his own volition, and for him that it is a matter of truth. Speaking the truth has its consequences, as does making mistakes as a teacher. It must be difficult to the focus of so much criticism, so I do pray for him. Nevertheless, he is considered, the authority on Theology of the Body, even more so now that he has been so strenuously defended. Constructive criticism is in order.
The Pivotal Obfuscation
In my opinion, his concentration on the question of concupiscence is, for the most part, a straw man. It seems evident that since Cardinal Rigali has blessed his entire work without qualification, West considers it is sufficient to reply to what he considers the central issue of contention. Thus, he conspicuously omits any discussion his crusade against prudery or of any of the practical matters that have been dealt with at length by the critics (e.g. the phallic symbolism of the paschal candle, his treatment of interlocutors, his interpretation of his writings of the saints). I will even grant that the question of concupiscence is central to the discussion. However, West mischaracterizes the objections of his critics. Continue reading →
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.”
Okay, I am glad that a Catholic apologist gets some major exposure in the mainstream media, and I want to repeat again that I believe that those who are popularizing the Theology of the Body are good people and well intentioned. Nevertheless, I take exception to the presentation of Christopher West in this latest interview, precisely for the reasons given in my last post on the subject.
One commenter on that post asserted that the “naked without shame” doctrine contained in the popular catechesis of TOB is really only a “marketing hook,” and that very few, if any, believe that TOB is being proposed as a means of reclaiming original innocence, as suggested by the article I linked to by Father Brian Mullady.
In yesterday’s interview posted on the ABC News website Christopher West compares favorably Pope John Paul II and Hugh Hefner, founder and publisher of Playboy Magazine:
“I actually see very profound historical connections between Hugh Hefner and John Paul II,” said West.
And it’s not just the red slippers?
“No, it’s not just the red slippers.” Each man in his own way, West insisted, rescued sex from prudish Victorian morality.
On Hugh Hefner: ‘I Understand His Ache’
“I love Hugh Hefner,” said West. “I really do. Why? Because I think I understand his ache. I think I understand his longing because I feel it myself. There is this yearning, this ache, this longing we all have for love, for union, for intimacy.” Continue reading →