|Christopher A. Ferrara|
|REMNANT COLUMNIST, New Jersey|
Christopher West at a recent Theology of theBody road show in Hawaii.
(Posted 07/01/09 www.RemnantNewspaper.com) Christopher West’s appearance on Nightline, during which he praised Hugh Hefner and asserted that John Paul II advanced the sexual revolution “in the right direction,” is but the latest in a long series of scandals arising from West’s promotion of “John Paul II’s Theology of the Body” (TOB). [Caveat: I am forced to quote some of that scandalous material here—not for the sake of multiplying scandal, but rather to demonstrate its existence as a warning to Catholics to keep themselves and their children away from this man’s morally offensive presentations, and those of his fellow “experts” in TOB.]
Based on his rendering of John Paul’s 129 deeply obscure audience addresses filled with the Pope’s clearly personal “reflections” and “meditations” as a private doctor, West has turned TOB into a veritable branded product, complete with a Christopher West logo, which he markets in every conceivable venue with all the fervor and conviction of the late TV pitchman for OxiClean. And the marketing pays off big: a million books and three million audios sold. Yet another success story in Neo-Catholic Land.
TOB, West exclaims, “has already begun a ‘sexual counter-revolution’ that’s changing lives around the world. The ‘fire’ is spreading and in due time we can expect global repercussions.” Not impressed? Wait, there’s more!: “Brace yourself! If we take in what the Holy Father is saying in his Theology of the Body, we will never view ourselves, view others, view the Church, the Sacraments, grace, God, heaven, marriage, the celibate vocation…we will never view the world the same way again.”
Oh come off it, will you?
The brilliant David L. Schindler, for one, has had quite enough of West, who was one of his students ten years ago at the John Paul II Institute. After the Nightline appearance, Schindler wrote a subdued and (in my view) overly respectful but devastating critique of West’s “work,” including this catalogue of some of the countless examples of his former pupil’s notorious gutter-mouth at work (which I have separated into bullet points for easy reading). The following are not to seen by children:
· suggesting that a man and woman bless their genitals before making love;
· blessing the ovaries of women in his classes;
· advising young men in college and the seminary to look at their naked bodies in the mirror daily in order to overcome shame;
· using phallic symbolism to describe the Easter candle;
· criticizing “flat-chested” images of Mary in art while encouraging Catholics to “rediscover Mary’s … abundant breasts” (Crisis, March 2002);
· referring to the “bloodied membrane” of the placenta as a “tabernacle” (Colorado Catholic Herald, 12/22/06);
· stating that, while “there are some important health and aesthetic considerations that can’t be overlooked,” “there’s nothing inherently wrong with anal penetration as foreplay to normal intercourse,” (Good News About Sex and Marriage, 1st ed., emphasis in original), though qualifying this in the revised edition and stressing the subjective dangers of lust in such activity;
· and, on Nightline, praising Hugh Hefner for helping rescue sex from prudish Victorian attitudes, saying that there are “very profound historical connections between Hefner and John Paul II,” while emphasizing that John Paul II took the sexual revolution further and in the right direction.
Predictably enough, Janet Smith, the doyenne of neo-Catholicism, rushed to West’s defense against Schindler. “I want to add my voice to those who are enthusiastic about the West/Theology of the Body phenomenon,” she writes. In Neo-Catholic Land, you see, one must always applaud and defend the latest “phenomenon,” for phenomena and movements, rather than traditional Roman Catholic doctrine, dogma and liturgy, are what neo-Catholicism is all about—first and foremost the meta-phenomenon of Vatican II.
But what can one say in the face of the damning evidence Schindler presents? One can only cavil about “context” and offer, as Smith does, the lame excuse that “it is important to keep in mind… who West’s audience is. It is largely the sexually wounded and confused who have been shaped by our promiscuous and licentious culture.”
Poppycock. Smith knows quite well that West is not speaking to little groups of sexually abused people in hushed tones in the privacy of their homes or in small meeting halls. He shoots his big mouth off and struts the stage in front of cameras and large audiences of well-adjusted Catholics, including parents who have had to flee the room in horror with their children. He plies his trade on his website, on EWTN, on YouTube, on network radio and television. He wants the whole world to hear his “message,” and millions have.
Schindler, in a terribly difficult position because he is criticizing one of his own students, nevertheless has the integrity and the concern for souls to declare that West’s statements “indicate a disordered approach to human sexuality. An objective distortion in approaching sexuality does not cease to be such simply because it is theologized.” Spot on.
The necessary implication of Schindler’s assessment is that West himself is inflicting a form of sexual abuse on his listeners. And indeed he is. Running amuck with the all-but-impenetrable ambiguities of the original audience addresses, which he has no authority to interpret for anyone, West has turned the Pope’s “reflections” into the neo-Catholic novelty I explored in EWTN: A Network Gone Wrong: the “sexualization” of Roman Catholicism by elevating the physical aspect of marital relations to the level of a quasi-sacrament.
“Sex is holy,” West assures us, along with a host of neo-Catholic TOB apostles vying for the pulpit on EWTN and elsewhere. These include the equally foul-mouthed Gregory Popcak, whose work is heartily endorsed by West. Popcak’s utterances have included the filthy and blasphemous suggestion on EWTN (“The Abundant Life,” broadcast of November 15, 2001) that married couples pray a “Lover’s Prayer,” in which they “say something like ‘Lord, help me to kiss her with your lips. Help me to touch her with your hands and to love her with your undying passion….”
According to Popcak the answer to Deepak Chopra’s question “Does God have orgasms?” is “Absolutely yes. My own faith tradition teaches that God is a lover and that the cosmological orgasm physicists refer to as the Big Bang… is the model for human sexuality. Who wouldn’t give their eyeteeth for a night like that with their beloved?”
West gleefully offers the following disgusting endorsement of Popcak’s book “Holy Sex”:
Think of this book as Thomas Aquinas meets Dr. Ruth and enjoy…. Popcak goes right between the sheets, shall we say, providing a very frank, honest, and practical discussion of the sexual joys and challenges of the marriage bed…. Give Holy Sex a prayerful read and you will be on your way, as the good doctor puts it in classic Popcak-style, to “a toe-curling, eye-popping, mind blowing, deeply spiritual, and profoundly sacramental sexuality.”
“Dr. Ruth,” in case anyone doesn’t know, is Ruth Westheimer, the Jewish TV “sex therapist” whose presentations are so sexually explicit that not even West would dare quote them. Yet West is delighted by a book that (so he claims) somehow combines her obscene approach with the teaching of the Angelic Doctor.
At any rate, the Magisterium has used a number of terms to describe the sexual act, but “holy” has never been one of them. The physical act involved in reproduction (as distinguished from the soul infused at conception) can no more be holy than eating a good meal can be holy. Both are bodily goods, but goodness and holiness are two different things—a distinction that has been lost in the general conflation of grace and nature in post-conciliar thinking.
Further, the sexual act involves a dark mystery to which West is apparently oblivious. As Pope Pius XI observes in Casti Connubii, a classic statement of traditional Catholic teaching on human sexuality: “the very natural process of generating life has become the way of death by which original sin is passed on to posterity…” (Casti Connubii, n. 14).
The sexual act, while of course not evil in itself, is nevertheless by the divine command an instrument for the transmission of death itself and the corruption of human nature on account of Adam’s transgression, even though it also results in the creation of an immortal soul. Then, of course, the sexual act is fraught with our inherited concupiscence. Hence as John Paul II himself admitted in his audience address of October 10, 1980: “Man can commit this adultery in the heart also with regard to his own wife, if he treats her only as an object to satisfy instinct.” (There is nothing new here, as the Church has always spoken of the right use of the marital privilege, and the avoidance of a lustful abuse of it.) For these reasons alone, any attempt to declare the sex act “holy” is offensive to pious ears at best.
And if “sex is holy” (as opposed to being a mere bodily good) why does the Catholic mind reel in horror at the thought of Our Lord or Our Lady engaging in even legitimate nuptial relations? Why is the celibate state exemplified by Christ Himself and the very Mother of God higher than the married state according to Sacred Scripture and all of Tradition? Why will there be no “holy sex” of any kind in heaven, if holy it is? The answer is that the sexual act is a lowly and passing thing of this world to which a penalty must attach because of original sin, and that in the divine plan it will never be anything but an ephemeral aspect of earthly existence having no part whatsoever in the life eternal of the blessed.
But the answer to the problem of Christopher West is really much more basic than all this. Has our sensus catholicus been so dulled, our standard of decency so abased by forty years of novelty in the Church and depravity in the culture, that we cannot muster enough outrage to declare that someone who says the things that West says is simply a vulgar pig who should be silenced by ecclesiastical authority for the good of souls?
As for the “theology of the body,” I see no duty to pay it any mind in the absence of a binding Magisterial pronouncement on what, if any, binding doctrinal content is to be found in 129 talks filled with such tentative expressions as “It can be said,” “we can think,” “can convince us,” “seems to confirm this,” “it can be affirmed,” “it is admittedly not possible to amplify this implication too much,” and “we are trying to penetrate the specific meaning of these words and these chapters.”
As even TOB enthusiast George Weigel has written: “A small, even microscopic percentage of the world’s Catholics even know that a ‘theology of the body’ exists. Why? The density of John Paul’s material is one factor; a secondary literature capable of ‘translating’ John Paul’s thought into more accessible categories and vocabulary is badly needed.” (Witness to Hope, p. 343).
I rather doubt that theological truths of momentous importance for the Church and the world were left unspoken for nearly 2,000 years, only to emerge suddenly in “John Paul’s thought” by way of little-known addresses so “dense” they need to be “translated” by “secondary literature.” Yet the lay “translators” of TOB preposterously “interpret” a series of opaque commentaries as nothing less than the hope of the world in our time, the implication being—and this is classic neo-Catholicism—that the Church’s teaching on marriage and procreation before Vatican II was all pretty much worthless.
The Magisterium does not teach by “secondary literature” written by “translators.” It teaches by unequivocal pronouncements of Popes and Councils concerning what Catholics must believe. No such pronouncements have been forthcoming on this nebulous subject.
Much less does the Magisterium teach through the likes of Christopher West, the self-anointed lay prophet of a novel theology he seems to think is the Church’s only claim to credibility concerning marriage and procreation. As one tribute to him explains:
Christopher West was not always a spokesperson for the teaching of the Pope and the Catholic Church…. A very passionate but not exactly chaste young man of 21, Christopher nearly left the Catholic Church because what he considered the repressed and antiquated teaching of the Church against contraception. But before checking out of the Church of his youth, West decided to allow the Church a chance to explain herself…. [H]e read Pope John Paul II’s 129 Wednesday audiences on the theology of the body. “They changed the way I see the whole universe,” said West. “I knew then that I would spend the rest of my life studying the pope’s theology of the body and making it accessible to others.”
We see here the essence of neo-Catholic arrogance and selective deference to the Church: the sadly deficient Church was given a chance to explain herself and—lo and behold!—the Church restored her claim to allegiance with the novel remarks of John Paul II, which this layman will now “make accessible” to the world.
And this from a man who finds deep meaning in rock music and the movie Spiderman III (which he admits has occupied his thoughts for several years), publicly brags about his own rock drumming, and pounds his chest to the beat of a U2 song while belting out “DEE-SIIIII-RE!” to illustrate one of his excruciatingly sophomoric “theology” lectures.
In a video available on his website, West expresses sympathy for Katy Perry, the rock star whose lesbian-tinged hit “I Kissed a Girl” represents, according to him, an example of how rock music explores themes “from the depths of the human heart…” whereas “saccharine Christian music” is “afraid to go there.” West contends that because Perry was “raised in a Christian home” in a “repressive Christian atmosphere” in which “her parents forbade her to listen to anything but Christian music,” she just had to turn to rock and roll to express how “deeply wounded” she is. West admits he is “only guessing” about Perry’s “repressive” upbringing, but this does not prevent him from calumniating her parents on the World Wide Web.
To appreciate how “deeply wounded” poor Katy is, West suggests watching her video on YouTube in which she is “in bed with one guy, thinking about this other guy” or another video in which “she is cutting herself with this knife, blood is all over her cleavage.” We must not condemn this sort of thing mindlessly, he insists, but rather try to understand its meaning concerning the wounding of Perry’s soul by her Puritanical upbringing. “I am sick and tired of this Puritanical BS that passes for Christianity!” he declares to his worldwide audience.
And this is the man who peddles the product called “John Paul II’s Theology of the Body”® to audiences filled with impressionable young Catholics. Have good Catholics completely lost their minds? Even if there were bona fide Catholic doctrine to be found in the “theology of the body,” could the situation in the Church have become so parlous that we would have to learn it from an oversexed man-child with a dirty mouth?
No matter what his intentions, Christopher West’s “mission” is but another sign of the apocalyptic decline of our time in the midst of the worst crisis in Church history. West deserves prayers for his conversion and repentance no less than the public condemnation his scandals require. And may God bless Dr. Schindler for having the courage to speak out against this wildly popular false prophet who was once his student.