Thinking Like a Man


I am flying to Italy today for the first international congress of the Mission of the Immaculate Mediatrix and will be back next Friday. I will try to get some pictures and post them.

I leave you with a reflection on the Theology of the Body, based on an article by Father Brian Thomas Becket Mullady, O.P., S.T.D., which you can find here.

Just after the election I commented on how many Catholics do not vote pro-life because they really don’t want to end abortion as much as they should, one of the reasons being the fact that many of us don’t want to control ourselves.

[w]e must have our contraception and our dirty little fun. Kids must be “protected” from anything that is not “age appropriate,” that’s true, but we wouldn’t dream of depriving anyone of their “rights,” or even presume to know what’s best for society at large when it comes to matters of sexuality.

I will go a step further and critique the whole “new chastity movement.” I use that term so as not to be construed as disagreeing with the “Theology of the Body” of the late and saintly Pope John Paul II. I agree that that a more positive approach to the teaching of chastity is necessary, and that the insights of the Theology of the Body are important. However, some (notice the emphasis) of the promotion of these insights seem a bit gnostic and disingenuous.

I say gnostic, because it is asserted that this new way has been kept a secret until now, and with the new indoctrination all the old problems of original sin, scrupulosity, prudishness and guilt will be minimized. It is suggested that we will be naked without shame almost to the point of original innocence. Who is kidding who?

I say disingenuous, because there is an underlying cause for the new approach that has nothing to do with a “new revelation.” That underlying cause is simply the fact that the vast majority of Catholics refuse to give up their contraception. Some alternative had to be devised, just as some alternative had to be devised for Catholics who refuse to give up divorce and remarriage.

I believe many use Natural Family Planning for the right reasons. I also believe that many use it as a substitute for contraception, because that is the way it has been promoted and because many of us have lost hope that there is an alternative.

I was rather upset about the election, when I wrote that–I really want to refrain from analyzing anyone’s intention–and I am still in substantial agreement with what I wrote. I just want to repeat that my problem has nothing to do with John Paul II’s teaching, but what I always considered to be a misinterpretation of it.

Hence, I was gratified to read Father Mullady’s article on the Theology of the Body, where he points out that some “well-meaning orthodox Catholics” who try to explain the teaching of the Holy Father but do not have the necessary theological and philosophical background, seem to think that John Paul II “given a completely new take on the reality of human sexuality.” In fact, Father Mullady says that “many of these attempts” to explain this teaching by these Catholics “suffer from a lack of clarity, which has led some people to erroneously conclude that John Paul II’s theology of the body is so revolutionary as to contradict Catholic sexual moral teaching.”

At the end of his article Father Mullady writes:

Some proponents of the theology of the body have made the illogical leap from the fact that the body is good and expresses this communion of hearts to the conclusion that by grace man returns to a kind of original justice in which he need not worry about the enticements of pleasure or concupiscence of the flesh. The Pope is clear that one can never return to this state, that the scriptural condemnation of lust refers not to the body or the passions as such, but to the will. One can never act as though one can be free from temptation in this life. Though spousal love is an important part of the healing of the spirit in this regard, it does not entirely do away with our weakness. A proper understanding of the body and marriage gives us hope but not presumption.

I will leave my readers to look closely at Father Mullady’s excellent article to work through his reasoning. I just want to comment in terms of the theme of this blog.

We need to engage in the rigorous intellectual activity that is proper (not exclusively, but particularly) to masculinity. Apologetics does not trump catechesis and theology. The fact that we have a crisis in chastity does not mandate a minimalist presentation of the doctrine that ends by presenting false hopes.

Men, in particular, need to be manly when it comes to chastity; they need to be more heroic. I have always been suspicious of all the hype surrounding the presentation of the Theology of the Body. I don’t doubt anyone’s good intentions and sincere zeal, but I never subscribed to the “theological time-bomb” theory. I fully appreciate the renewed and innovative effort to popularize the beauty of marriage, sex and chaste life, especially among men, but I have always believed a healthy dose of realism and caution relative to original sin is necessary.

At times I think that some of the women promoters of this teaching must still be naïve about men. Father Mullady cautions against a “prolonged physical examination of the body” by means of this teaching, because the fact is we are never going to be “naked without shame.” Shame actually serves the function in our fallen state of preventing us from turning each other into objects, and that’s what happens unless we keep our guard up.

I really don’t believe that men need to sitting around and talking about sex. They think about it enough already. The Church has always taught about the beauty of human sexuality. It just needs to be brought out in the modern context, which is what John Paul II did, and it needs to be brought out in the context also of a complete catechesis. Specialized apologetics is not enough.

We now have specialists in the Catholic Church who are supposed to equip us in a way that we could never be without their special knowledge. I recently read an op-ed in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof called “Learning How to Think.” Kristof says that we genuflect to experts, what they say almost necessarily has a greater impact on how we think than the common sense of the average person, no matter what they have to say. Yet when their predictions are compared to those of non-experts, studies have shown that they are barely more accurate.

I know that forecasting is different than popular apologetics or catechesis, but the temptation is the same, namely to oversimplify or exaggerate with a pragmatic end in view. We are trying to sell chastity to the unchaste and we are trying to package it for the masses. That is commendable as far as it goes, and I will be the first to admit that that is not my forte; nevertheless, what it truly lacking among men is authentic masculinity, one that is eager to meet conflict and overcome it. We should not hope for the day that we will no longer have to fight against temptation; on the contrary, we need persevere no matter what the cost and eagerly do whatever we must to meet that challenge.