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Thursday, August 05, 2010
Eden on West on JPII on TOB
You either know what I mean by that headline or you don't.

For those who do, there is a good discussion going on over at Sr. Lorraine's blog. The discussion centers around the Theology of the Body movement in the Catholic Church, and specifically, Christopher West's interpretation of John Paul II's work in the area of sexuality. The (great and wonderful....in case anybody wants to know what I think of her...) Dawn Eden has recently completed a Masters thesis critiquing Christopher West's work. Because West has attained to celebrity status in the American Catholic Church, Dawn's thesis is being met with what seems to me to be knee-jerk dismissal, and even hostility.

I don't really have too much of a dog in this race. The theology of sexuality is not my area of expertise or training. But, I did do a fairly rigorous study of JPII's writings on sexuality as regards art for my work in Hollywood. Also, I have been a catechetics teacher for ten years, and before that was a member of a religious community for ten years, and before that, I did study Catholic theology and philosophy for four years as an undergrad.

I am always leery of the panacea impulse in the Church. Bandwagons and circumspection don't often co-exist. I have used West's work with my catechumens, basically because they couldn't seem to plumb and appreciate JPII's work. Maybe that should have been a red flag right there. Maybe this subject isn't one that tends towards being popularized. Anyway, here is my comment from the discussion at Sr. Lorriane's blog.

I have found JPII's insights on shame to be brilliant and helpful. Love and Responsibility is a tough work, but I was very glad that I made myself plow through it. I have used many of his ideas with my students especially in the area of the ethics of using the human body in art. Unfortunately, unaided, very few students/catechumens are able to derive anything cohesive from the work. This opened the door for West to enter in and make himself a go-between. This seemed to me to be good - until the work of mediating became a whole cottage industry and West himself a celebrity needing to push past clarifying the Pope into waters he wasn't prepared by training to navigate.

I see West's efforts mainly helpful for people who are completely new to Catholicism, or who have been poorly catechized. He seems to have mastered over-simplification of teaching to people who are looking for that in the realm of sexual behavior. I teach RCIA and I know that very often, our catechumens just want to know what the Church says they can or can't do. Christopher West is there with a helpful list.

Success has encouraged Chris to push more and more into developing an always more populist approach to the Theology of the Body. I find the results of the straining after populism in some TOB speakers to be lacking in reverence, and even crass. As St. Paul said, "Some things should never be mentioned among you." I also like Emily Dickinson here: "They speak of hallowed things aloud, and embarrass my dog."

I would also suggest that the new evangelization doesn't mean finding a populist approach to dogma. My sense of what the Pope meant by the term is that we need to find new forums for the same message.

In the interests of putting something specific out there for people to debate.....I think one of West's most troubling over-simplifications surrounds the issue of the lack of conscious control that surrounds sex. In one talk I heard him give, Chris seemed to want to eliminate the loss of control as always being akin to the sin of lust. This is an error. There is a lack of control that humans can experience that proceeds from joy. Laughter is the same kind of lack of control. It isn't sinful for human beings to desire the lack of control that comes from joy.

But even this error isn't original to West. St. Augustine had the same fear of sexual desire. He wrote that Adam had perfect control of all of his body's functions. In other words, Adam never laughed?

Finally, one of the things that has made me circumspect about West's work is the way that it has been championed by the disciples of the now disgraced sexual pervert Fr. Maciel. Regnum Christi and Legion of Christ sycophants like the National Catholic Register have been a huge part of the cheering chorus for TOB and West. This isn't Chris' fault, but he would do well to extricate himself publicly from all the tentacles of the very bad tree of Maciel.

There is room in the Church for Dawn Eden and others to question and challenge any popular movement that purports to popularize Catholic theology.
I mean to impute no ill motives to West or TOB here. Basically just inviting more discussion. (If people can't do that without insults than they should delete their comments before I do.)