Monday, June 1, 2009

Dialogue On West Continues

Now Michael Waldstein has written a piece about the Christopher West controversy and criticisms.
To answer all of Schindler's objections would require a response too lengthy for the moment; the fact that he cites no texts from West's work on which to base his four main objections also makes a response difficult.

Let me take a single example of Schindler's critique to show how it misses its target: Schindler claims, "West misconstrues the meaning of concupiscence" by denying the permanence of "objective" concupiscence. In fact, West does not contradict the Catholic teaching that concupiscence and the fomes peccati (the tendency to sin) are objective consequences of the Fall that remain in every human being until death. He is correct in diagnosing strong Jansenist influences in the American Catholicism of the early Twentieth Century, which have historical roots similar to those of Puritanism. Jesuit seminarians, when they took a bath, had to scatter charcoal dust on the surface of the water so that they would not see their own genitals and become sexually aroused. The appropriate dress for attractive women according to the same spirit would be a black cardboard box. This Jansenist negativity, which is still deeply rooted in some conservative Catholic quarters of the United States (much less in Europe), is profoundly opposed to the pedagogy of the body proposed by John Paul II.

John Paul II considers true growth in virtue not only possible, but necessary for every man and woman. This is the authentic teaching of the orthodox Catholic tradition in contrast to Jansenism: Also in the sexual sphere, true growth in virtue is possible; virtue can overcome the tendency to sin, though objective concupiscence and the consequent danger of sin remain real. The path to virtue leads through deep awareness of the spousal meaning of the body and through authentic growth in love. "Love, and then do what you want!" says St. Augustine, who is (wrongly) invoked as the father of both Puritanism and Jansenism. These are the truths West highlights in his writings and presentations. I doubt that Schindler denies these truths, but his critique of West sounds almost as if he does.

There are circumstances that make the vehemence of Schindler's condemnation of West somewhat understandable. As the Provost/Dean of the John Paul II Institute in Washington, Schindler has the responsibility of protecting the name and reputation of this Institute -- a great common good. Although getting the Theology of the Body message out to the very large audience on Nightline was potentially an important moment in Catholic evangelization, the distortions have the potential of harming not only West's reputation, but the Institute's as well. If Nightline is right, one would expect the main textbook at the John Paul II Institute to be The Joy of Sex According to John Paul II, edited by David Schindler and Hugh Hefner (centerfold included).
Yet, it is exactly at the point when the defense of a great common good becomes pressing that care needs to be taken so that one does not trample on particular persons, especially when doing so seems to be an effective means of achieving one's end.

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