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Wednesday, May 27, 2009



Will have to read Smith in full, but I think her criticizing Schindler publicly for going public is ironic, and I also think any Catholic today who waves the imprimatur as proof of orthodoxy is showing themselves to be either out of touch or grasping at straws. Having lobbed those paintballs, I go now to read...


Fight! Fight!

I want to see Christopher West and Janet Smith vs. Alice von Hildebrand and David Schindler in steel cage tag team match. The winners can claim the Intercontinental Belt of Orthodoxy.

Will Alice counter Chris' Theology of the Body Slam with her vicious Dietrich Maneuver? Will David win the crowd over with his Faint Praise or will Janet smack him over the head with her McGivney chair before he gets the chance?! Tune in to Sunday Morning SmackDown to find out.


Smith's comments seem to me very gracious and insightful when I read them in full. But since she herself says "Sometimes differences are not about substance but about emphasis or semantics," I think she adds weight to the fact that West' approach seems possibly too 'cavalier.' In our culture especially, style becomes part of substance. Which is part of the reason for ABC's spin on the whole thing.

She writes "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. ... West has adopted a style that appeals to a large segment of that population—and even to some who are 'pure and innocent.'" Well, who is NOT confused given the fact the parish essentially offers no teaching? But while I may be too uptight, her defense makes me think those are the same arguments used to press for 'pop' liturgies and gawky Bible translations and emergent churches. Relevance is good, but I can't help but think of Chesterton's comments about how sex needs to be handled like fire. Meeting people where they are--or where they think they want to be--is not always the best tact, or Vatican II would have been a resounding success.

The testimonies of those who have been helped by TOB may be the best argument for it. Another one would be if West takes the criticisms raised to heart when he next reviews his curriculum.

Daniel G. Fink

The following statements, from a study guide obtained at the first of two West seminars I attended, must be addressed by his critics. Has West misquoted, misrepresented, or misunderstood Pope John Paul II?

"Human life, it's dignity, its balance, depends at every moment of history and at every point on the globe on who woman will be for man and who man will be for woman" (10/8/80, Wednesday audience).

Confusion about sexual morality "involves a danger perhaps greater than is generally realized: the danger of confusing the basic and fundamental human tendencies, the main paths of human existence. Such confusion must clearly affect the whole spiritual position of man" (Love and Responsibilty, p. 66).

Pope John Paul II states that the call to "nuptial love" inscribed in our sexuality is "the fundamental element of human existence in the world." If we live according to this call we "fulfill the very meaning of our being and existence." (1/16/80)

West relates that in his "Letter to Families" (par. 19), the Pope states that we cannot understand the Christian mystery unless we understand what it means to be created male and female in the image and likeness of God, called to be "one flesh" in marriage.

Pope John Paul II calls the one flesh union "the foundation of the entire sacramental order" (9/29/82), and that all the sacraments find their prototype in the "one flesh" union of marriage (10/20/82). (The consummation of Christ to His Bride the Church, and the consummation of husband and wife [Eph 5]).

Finally, the Pope states that "the great mystery" of marriage is the "central theme and reality of the whole of revelation" (9/8/82).


With Schindler and Smith I would give props to West for the magnitude of the project that he has taken on, both in terms of synthesizing the theology itself and in taking on the culture where it is to be found. His energy is amazing and I believe his motivation is honorable. But there is a danger in meeting the culture where it is, particularly this one.

I think we need a little perspective. How many thousands of years have human beings reproduced generation after generation? How many times have there been hedonistic cultures that have come and gone? How many times have there been puritanical cultures that have come and gone? The real difference, which has magnified this particular plunge into the hedonistic swamp has been the enabling technology, both anti-reproductive medical and communications. Almost a perfect storm.

The danger in facing down this monster is in accepting the ethos, even in part, that underlies the particular. The so-called sexual revolution was a generation that acted as if they had discovered sex. Along the way these same navel-gazing boomers acted as if they had discovered child-birth, and motherhood and fatherhood, etc., etc. churning out books and magazines and seminars and talks about their discoveries as they moved through life. It has been rather stomach-churning in the aggregate, as if there had not been generations before them that had learned the same things. But those generations had not rejected everything they heard from anyone over 30 when they were young. This deliberate disconnect from parents and the subsequent fragmentation of their own families has produced further generations marked by social/sexual disjointedness and instability, and so many young families today have as likely as not had no guidance or example for how sex and family is done in any semblance of a normal way. Throw in the hatred and mistrust inherent in the feminist movement and its brand of teaching on sexuality and it is not surprising that young people have become unhinged from any kind of sexual stability or normalcy. (Support for same-sex marriage is highest among the young) Toss in a steady stream of sex in advertising, in movies and a multi-billion dollar internet porn industry and the young grow up in a world of constant sexual stimulation and excitement.

So how do you meet that culture with a radically different ethic? One danger is in accepting this culture’s idea of the place, importance and focus of sex in the broader scope of life. Part of the theology of the body is re-setting that context of life. But if you absorb the ethic of the culture, the theology of the body then becomes, at least to some, the Catholic way of doing the cultural thing. And that is where I cringe, when it sounds like another of the boomer’s great self-absorbed discoveries of the past, ie. newsflash, Catholics can now enjoy sex because JPII has given us theology of the body. Not only that but we can seek out the holy grail of the culture, a “great sex life.”

And it is not just about selfishness. Anyone lately who has e-mail has been flooded in the past few years with a plethora of competing pharmaceuticals and devices with the seeming goal (if you listen to the ads) of turning the male part of the population into performing circus bears.

And along the way, this is the same ethic that gives rise to such questions as the sodomy question and the seemingly tepid response. One cannot properly deal with that question without re-setting the entire context of sex in the broader context of life itself. And that means discarding the clamor of the culture about this notion of “a great sex life” as some kind of self-contained goal.

The point is that even the vocabulary is different, so engaging the culture is a tricky business and small wonder West has stubbed his toe here.


Dr. Smith has raised the question whether Dr. Schindler has thoroughly done his homework. Fair question.

However, would he really publish an article that he surely knows will be a lightning-rod, without getting his facts straight? I am inclined to think he knows West's work quite well and genuinely thinks West is seriously misguided.

While there is likely much good fruit from West's work, I think a cogent argument could possibly also be made by others more talented than myself, that there is bad fruit, and it is likely internal, and thus not as noticeable as the good fruit.

Have not saints from the beginning been admonishing us to guard our eyes, both the external and figurative? Are West's ideas at odds with this patrimony?


An imprimatur is not guarantee of theological soundness, in reality. And, in theory, it's still not an endorsement per se, just a statement that the work is not 'contrary to the faith'--right? So, even with a rigorous review process, it's still a 'sounds good to me' scenario.

Just a note. I'm glad someone's sticking up for West.

NW Clerk

How is it that NO ONE has ocmmented on Schindler's MAIN point - that the Fourth Lateran Council condemned any view that does not understand that in an analogy between God and man, there is a DISSIMILUTUDE that is GREATER THAN THE SIMILARITY.

Schindler doesn't use the words "Fourth Lateran Council" but that was the referent of the LAtin in this: " Missing in West’s work is an adequate idea of the radical discontinuity (maior dissimilitudo ) between the divine love revealed by God–and indeed the (supernatural) love to which we are called–and sexual love or intercourse." In addition, the Communio school writes extensively on analogy.

THIS was Schindler's point - that West has REDUCED revelation to HUMAN sexuality, and thus presents a "pansexuality."


"What is puzzling is that an influential scholar chose this moment to issue a sweeping, negative critique of West in such a public forum... I wish, however, he had found another occasion to express his reservations about West’s work."

I don't understand this criticism. West's ABC appearance made him topical, and a scholar like Schindler is addressing a topical issue. That's what good teachers do!

Schindler's "issues" with West might not be a reason to stay away from West, but the quality of his arguments might be. I thought Smith avoided some of Schindler's more damaging criticisms, such as West's bias towards a male concept of shame and the way the "style" of his approach itself reflects an implicit theology.

And I rather doubt Smith's comments about the existence of a Catholic tradition approving an-l sex as foreplay. It's obviously a near occassion of the sin of s-d-my.

West is the biggest man in the TOB apostolate/industry. For too long he's gone without criticism and people seem to treat him as the only authority. I'm glad this debate is happening, but I hope it doesn't burn bridges and friendships.

Too many Catholics have the wrong idea that intellectual criticism is an inherently hurtful enterprise that makes us weak. We can't let piety and good intentions be a substitute for competence, discretion, and wisdom.

Carl E. Olson

For too long he's gone without criticism and people seem to treat him as the only authority.

Dr. Mark Lowery, professor of moral theology at University of Dallas, wrote a piece, "Christian Sex or Sexy Christianity? Christopher West's fascinating, but flawed, take on John Paul's theology of the body," (subscription required) for the Nov. 25, 2001, issue of National Catholic Register, in which he stated:

West, who brings this message to live audiences around the country, shows why the bedroom really needs the Church: Because sexuality has a nuptial, covenantal meaning—mirroring our relationship with God—and so sexuality, by its nature, has everything to do with Christianity. With a delivery that is to-the-point, energetic and, at times, somewhat shocking, West reveals one of John Paul II's many great gifts to the Church: his insight into how our sexuality is not something with which me may do as we please, but is infused with a profound meaning under which we must align ourselves if we are to find genuine freedom and happiness. Our sexuality carries within it a covenantal and eucharistic meaning through which we give the whole self to the other just as the Trinitarian God gives himself totally to us.

Why is the enthusiasm elicited by West's presentations accompanied by some bewilderment? Because he grasps the insight that sex must be Christianized so expertly and poignantly that, at times, he inadvertently goes one step too far—and, if I may say so, sexualizes Christianity.

Put another way, so clearly does he see how sexuality must be taken up into Christianity that he can give the impression that Christianity has been taken up into sexuality.

Fallen Foundation

There's hardly a thing in the material content of West's work that falls into this mistake and, even if there were, it would be of minor concern. Just about everyone, myself included, has at least a few rough edges in the material content of their work. Rather, West's mistake occurs in the formal content he presents—that is, in the overarching lens or perspective through which he lets his audiences see the material content. While giving his audience accurate understandings of material content ranging from the nature of the conjugal act to the meaning of celibacy, there is the lurking danger of conveying that Christianity really is all about sex. Ironically, the central insight that sex is all about Christianity then recedes into the background, as uncomfortable listeners become suspicious that Christianity is being sexualized.

For example, West shows how sexual pleasure is a foretaste of the eschaton—an appropriate suggestion and a good example of Christianizing sexuality. But this is followed with the assertion that “Heaven is the ultimate climax”—an inappropriate suggestion and an unfortunate example of sexualizing Christianity.

What's more, knowing that people will be a bit embarrassed by such imagery, he proposes that the audience's discomfort owes to our seeing sexuality through our fallenness when we should be recognizing that Christ has redeemed sexuality. Doubtless there's truth in that, but it seems more likely that the discomfort is occasioned by West's implication that sexuality is the very foundation of Christianity.

This lurking danger can be allayed by a clear reminder that the truth about sex is not at the foundation of Christian truth. It is as true and as important as other Christian truths, but is not the foundation. The “hierarchy of truths” (Decree on Ecumenism,No. 11) means that, while there are many doctrines that are essential to Christianity, not all of them are equally foundational. This is a critical distinction. At the foundation we find the Trinitarian life, dwelling in us as grace, through the Incarnation.

The sacraments, truths about Mary and the truth about sex are all equally true and equally important—but not equally foundational. West might defend himself by noting how John Paul II speaks of marriage as the primordial sacrament, but even the sacraments are not at the foundation of the hierarchy of truths.

To his credit, West now includes a letter of explanation with his tape series that addresses all the specific complaints that have been coming his way. But those complaints may in fact be manifestations of the uneasiness people feel at having sexuality placed at the foundation of the hierarchy of Christian truths. Grace, not sex, belongs there.

Subscribers to the Register can read Dr. Lowery's entire piece here.

NW Clerk

Thank you, Mr. Olson, for Dr. Lowery's piece. It explicitly backs up the point I made above about the Fourth Lateran COuncil and "maior dissimilitudo."

Sandra Miesel

Dr. Smith's assertion about licit kinds of foreplay is indeed old orthodoxy teaching. It's what I was taught in my pre-Vatican II college theology class on marriage. The priest-professor used to say, "When you're married, you can eat crackers in bed," as a euphemism.

For centuries, the Church was highly suspicious of pleasure in marital relations, doubting that it was possible to indulge without at least venial sin. Romantic dalliance was condemned as "treating one's wife as a harlot." Dietrich von Hildebrand was a pioneer in changing that perception.


In reference to the "Fight, fight" comment, The Personalist Project is presenting Dietrich von Hildebrand on Human Sexuality by Michael J. Healy, PhD and with a response by Christopher West:

Old material shouldn't be credible either (pre-2005) because Christopher West has revised many of his writings from the original text, realizing the necessary edification and clarification of his work. And in regards to Schindler, he too cites old text that were before revision. West, through the grace of God, has realized his errors since he obviously revised his books.

Daniel G. Fink

Thanks also, Carl for Dr. Lowery's contribution.

"There's hardly a thing in the material content of West's work that falls into this mistake... rather, West's mistake occurs in the formal content he presents..."

This helps me see the need for my above citations of Pope John Paul II to be contextualized. I went back to the Pope's concluding Wednesday audience on the TOB (11/28/84) to be reminded that He intended for his papacy to present the authentic interpretation of Vatican II, and that in his own words, the TOB was a response to the dissent from Humanae Vitae, both from within and outside the Church.

The foundation of Christianity is God's accomplishing our divinization through grace, in all the areas that consist in our being created in the "image and likeness of God". That's what no one is talking about...except maybe Carl.

Mark Brumley

Good discussion. Let's keep it up.

Anon. Catholic

Prof. Smith's response, to my mind, does not touch upon the substance of Schindler's critique, but seems to pass it off as flippant criticism, which merely pours salt upon C. West's wound. I am somewhat familiar with Prof. Schindler's work as an accomplished theologian and his articles are far from 'flippant' but on the contrary very measured and reasonable. His critique of West is a serious critique and bears a serious tone filled with much regret that such a critque has to be made. In this light it seems to me quite obvious that Prof. Smith takes serious issue with "the lack of footnotes" and on another occasion calls into question Schindler's thorough reading of West and therefore his scholarship. This is a serious claim against one for who is well accomplished and respected. Smith from this point of view spends the majority of her article defending West, endorsing West, and hardly touching upon the substance of Schindler's criticism. For example the point that Schindler makes regarding a "style of speaking" as a matter of theology. Smith in her comments defending West's style does not mention Schindler's critique. All of this being said, Smith has said that this is only a "partial response" to Schindler. I am looking forward to her full response where she touches upon the substance of Schindler's critique which, as he says, bears in some way upon the whole of West's reading of the theology of the body and the worldview that it entails.

Carl E. Olson

By the way, I really should have noted, in posting a piece of Dr. Lowery's article above, a couple of things: First, Dr. Lowery expresses, overall, great respect and admiration for what West is doing. Secondly, he has made it known that West took his criticisms and concerns very seriously, and subsequently revised his materials accordingly (as one commenter notes above). In fact, I know that West has listened carefully to the concerns and comments of several people (including Dr. Schindler) in the past, and has constantly worked to refine and clarify his talks and materials in light of those conversations. I say this because it is evidence, I think, that West is not, by any stretch of the imagination, spurning constructive criticism or thumbing his nose at the Magisterium, or saying, "Hey, I know it all, leave me alone!" Quite the contrary. And that, in my book, means a lot. It doesn't mean his work is above criticism, but it indicates, as Dr. Smith states, that West is an orthodox, serious Catholic who is striving to do good things the right way. That, need I point out, is likely far more than what the majority of theology professors at Catholic colleges and universities have been doing for the past few decades.

Also, it's not really West's fault, is it, that few others have worked as he has to present the "theology of the body" to a wide audience? As far as I know, he's not keeping anyone from doing same. In fact, I personally know several teachers, speakers, and catechists who have been inspired by West to pursue similar ways of bringing TOTB to average folks. That, I believe, is a very good thing.

Past Master

I have the greatest respect for all the posters here, but I have found West to be a little looney for a while now. Here are my thoughts: West's whole concept of a "Theology of the Body" is strange in the first place. Theology is the study of God not the study of our bodies. I thought that was called biology. Plus when West says "Theology of the Body" West seems to mean "Theology of our Genitalia." What West presents in reality is not so much a theology at all, but rather human sexuality as a mystical experience. But I thought prayer and reception of the sacraments were the sources of mystical experiences, not foreplay, anal sex, and orgasims. Hmmm...I begin to see why West is so popular...he presents a new theology for our troubled, self-centered, and distracted century. West claims that his two heroes are JPII and Hugh Heffner!!!!! What the "heck!" West claims that we are too sexually repressed in our society and that JPII was furthering the sexual revolution. Hmmm...has West seen any tv lately? We are not too sexually repressed as a nation--good grief! The 60s are over, West. Your fight against the "Victorian morals" of the oppresive 1950s are not helpful to modern Americans or to the Church.

I have listened to some of Smith's tapes and I am again left scratching my head. She decrys the evils of contraception very well, but then essentially boils her points down to the idea that Contraception is bad because it seperates spousal unity from reproduction(????), but NFP is ok as Catholic birth control because it leaves unity connected to reproduction(!!!) Whatever that means. How about contraception is bad because it's a sin, an evil action. Or are we too sophisticated as a nation and Church to buy that answer any more?

Ultimately, Smith's point boils down to the "fact" that there are many reasons why Catholics would (and should) want to contracept and that's fine, just use NFP instead so unity and reproduction are not seperated!!! Plus NFP will improve the communication with your spouse.

It seems to me that a theology of virtue might be better for us to focus on as American Catholics, not a "theology of our bodies" as West and Smith present it.

Mark Brumley

Past Master, I am not sure I follow your arguments.

1. There is nothing inherently wrong with a theology of the body, your attempted dictionary rebuttal notwithstanding. We can think theologically about our bodies--that's the point of the "theology of the body".

2. Christopher West did not claim that Hugh Hefner was a hero of his.

3. How about contraception is bad because it's a sin, an evil action. Or are we too sophisticated as a nation and Church to buy that answer any more?. Contraception is bad because it is a sin? So why is it a sin, because it's bad? This helps no one who doesn't already accept the premise that contraception is a sin or the premise that contraception is bad. The point is, why is it a sin? Why is it regarded as a sin? Why is it bad?

4. Ultimately, Smith's point boils down to the "fact" that there are many reasons why Catholics would (and should) want to contracept and that's fine, just use NFP instead so unity and reproduction are not seperated!!! Plus NFP will improve the communication with your spouse. Says who?

Past Master

Few more points: Smith's comments (defending West?)seem to be nothing more than a polite attack on Schindler. The best defense is a good offense, I guess. Defend West and his embarassing interview on national tv by being critical of Schindler. Smith is not focused on issues, only strawmen and ad hominum attacks.

Secondly, there seems to be a perception that West is some kind of pioneer. How so??? Many are acting as if sex discovered for the first time in the 1960s. In reality, it should go without saying that, people have known about sex since the beginning. There is nothing new under the sun--what exactly is West pioneering here? Genital blessings? Mystical orgasms?

Some have suggested that we should overlook West's odd comments because he is trying to teach Christian chastity to a non-Christian audience. My question is why is West trying to reach non-Christians through presenting Christian teachings on sex? Shouldn't he reach non-Christians by teaching them about Christ? It is a shame that once Christians reached non-Christians by preaching love (God is Love), but now we are reduced to reaching non-Christians by preaching sex. This is a very sad commentary on our times--not something West should be praised as a pioneer for. I know St. Francis, I pray to St. Francis, I have a garden statue of St. Francis in my yard: Christopher West is no St. Francis!

Let me clarify my above comments about Smith. What she essentially does is to point out all the bad things about contaception, but then to pull a magician's trick and say that none of those evils can apply to NFP. It sounds (I have heard her tapes) hollow. It is pretty clear that many of the problems she typically identifies with contraception are equally applicable to NFP: she glosses over the similarities with talk about unity and reproduction, communication, and openness to life (as if you are being open to life by avoiding intercourse when your wife is fertile). So she has great points about the many evils of contraception, but I cannot follow her magician's trick of how none of the dirt can stick to NFP. If she would say: contraception is a sin, and abstinance is not....then it would make sense, but she always couches it in language of the unity of the couple--and that sex is for bonding and condoms prevent bonding. It sounds hollow to many, like we are trying to persuade a child not to do something bad by providing him/her with fancy explanations. But we should be big enough to accept no for an answer from God (and His Church) wihtout insisting on philosophical answers before we will listen.

Smith should not be attacking Schindler. West was not a victim of clever editing on the part of Nightline. Everything they showed him saying: he said! Every weird thing he wrote that they quoted: he wrote! If the Church came off in a bad light due to the West interview it is West's fault, not mean editors and not Schindler. If the Church was presented as some sort of weird body cult on Nightline, West should take the responsibility and not pass the buck to others while claiming martyrdom.

An imprimatur does not guarantee orthodoxy, incidently. There are many works from the 60s and 70s that were given imprimaturs that later turned out to be not so theologically sound. West does not gain any charisms because a professor in Boston gave him an imprimatur.

If Catholics focusd more on our litergical and prayer lives, and less on the theology of our genitals, we'd all do better. If Nightline's show on West seemed odd, maybe it's because West's focus is odd. Maybe our society is odd and we'd do best to reject it, rather than attempt to mimic it.

Carl E. Olson

Past Master:

West's whole concept of a "Theology of the Body" is strange in the first place.

The concept and term is not West's, as most people know. It either originated or came to fruition with Pope John Paul II, who used it several times in introducing his five-year-long series of general audiences about the human person, creation, marriage, sexuality, and salvation. For example, this is from his September 12, 1979, general audience:

To this mystery of his creation, ("In the image of God he created him"), corresponds the perspective of procreation, ("Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth"), of that becoming in the world and in time, of that fieri which is necessarily bound up with the metaphysical situation of creation: of contingent being (contingens). Precisely in this metaphysical context of the description of Genesis 1, it is necessary to understand the entity of the good, namely, the aspect of value. Indeed, this aspect appears in the cycle of nearly all the days of creation and reaches its culmination after the creation of man: "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gn 1:31). For this reason it can be said with certainty that the first chapter of Genesis has established an unassailable point of reference and a solid basis for a metaphysic and also for an anthropology and an ethic, according to which ens et bonum convertuntur (being and the good are convertible). Undoubtedly, all this also has a significance for theology, and especially for the theology of the body.

At this point let us interrupt our considerations. In a week's time we shall deal with the second account of creation. According to biblical scholars, it is chronologically more ancient. The expression "theology of the body" just now used deserves a more exact explanation, but we shall leave that for another occasion. First, we must seek to examine more closely that passage of Genesis which Christ had recourse to.

The term appears three times in his next audience, on September 19, 1979. And so forth and so on.

Smith's comments (defending West?)seem to be nothing more than a polite attack on Schindler

Specific examples are helpful. "Seem" is not helpful.

My question is why is West trying to reach non-Christians through presenting Christian teachings on sex?

I may have missed it, but I don't recall reading that West is trying to reach "non-Christians" through his work with TOTB. The comment was made (more than once, in different ways) that West is often speaking to Catholics (and some other Christians) who are damaged or confused due to various things such as sexual abuse, viewing pornography, fornication, and living in a highly sexualized, lust-filled culture.

What she essentially does is to point out all the bad things about contaception, but then to pull a magician's trick and say that none of those evils can apply to NFP. It sounds (I have heard her tapes) hollow. It is pretty clear that many of the problems she typically identifies with contraception are equally applicable to NFP

It's not clear at all. Consider:

The scientific validity of the methods and their educational effectiveness makes them increasingly appreciated for the human values that they presuppose and strengthen, when they are taught and presented in a suitable anthropological and ethical context, according to the wise directive expressed in Paul VI's Encyclical Humanae vitae and so many times explained in subsequent documents of the Magisterium.

Their humanizing character is all the more obvious from the fact that using the natural methods requires and strengthens the harmony of the married couple, it helps and confirms the rediscovery of the marvellous gift of parenthood, it involves respect for nature and demands the responsibility of the individuals. According to many authoritative opinions, they also foster more completely that human ecology which is the harmony between the demands of nature and personal behaviour.

Christopher West? Janet Smith? Nope, Pope John Paul II. He also stated, in that 1996 address to teachers of Natural Family Planning:

But more immediately, your work each day is valuable and sought after in parish communities and in diocesan centres for the pastoral care of the family and life. In this regard, I wrote in the Encyclical Evangelium vitae that "an honest appraisal of their effectiveness should dispel certain prejudices which are still widely held, and should convince married couples, as well as health-care and social workers, of the importance of proper training in this area. The Church is grateful to those who, with personal sacrifice and often unacknowledged dedication, devote themselves to the study and spread of these methods, as well as to the promotion of education in the moral values which they presuppose" (n. 97).

The moment has come for every parish and every structure of consultation and assistance to the family and to the defence of life to have personnel available who can teach married couples how to use the natural methods. For this reason I particularly recommend that Bishops, parish priests and those responsible for pastoral care welcome and promote this valuable service.

Having read both of your comments, I wonder: Have you ever read John Paul II's theology of the body? Or anything by West?


Dr. Waldstein, the noted translator of the new edition of our Holy Father's addresses also brought up some good points in an article today, it can be found here

Past Master


Perhaps there is nothing wrong with thinking theologically about my body...if I am a god. But as it turns out none of us are. Do you see the "argument" now? Opera advocates a kind of theology of our bodies; it becomes problamatic, however, for Catholics, who are not pantheists, to do so.

Contraception is a sin because it violates natural law. That is a traditional understanding. Smith and West focus on violations of unity. When you tell a Catholic mom who is working a full time job and contracepting with her husband that her use of the pill is bad because it violates the unity of her marriage while not being on the pill doesn't, she will smile at you and go right on taking the pill. The answer to the contraception problem isn't lengthy "explanations" from shock-jocks like West. It is Catholic pastors doing their jobs and pointing out that it is sinful. Most Catholics who contracept report in polls that they think they are not sinning to do so. They can do this because they don't hear that it is from their pastors. Talk of unity does not impress those who are not part of the West bandwagon.

As far as your "says who?" comment. Read Pope Paul's encyclical and listen to Janet Smith's tapes. They say who--that's who.

Why does morality have to be justified to the children (the "adults" of today). If people refuse to avoid sin unless they have all the reasons for doing so explained to them, then let them read St. Thomas....avoid the shock jocks.

Past Master


In terms of reading West. I am in the same boat as you are: I have not read his books. As far as reading John Paul II's writings, I have read some, but as you know he wrote a lot. I have not read all of his many writings on human sexuality, which are popularly known by West as the Theology of the Body.

I recall Jimmy Akin in his points on this topic mentioning that one part of what West is doing is attempting to reach non-Christians...perhaps I am in error. I do know several of Smith's followers who make NFP and the theology of the body into arguments for converting to the Church when they talk with non-Catholics. Many Catholics now seem to assume that the "theology of our bodies" is a main part of what it is to be Catholic. A red flag goes up when people say that they joined the Church because of its teachings on NFP. Hmmm...what about Christ, the sacraments, the litergy, prayer??? There are several NFP instructors that I have talked with that rank NFP and the theology of their bodies as large parts of their faith. Hmmmm. I think this could be misplaced priorities when a large part of the importance of the faith becomes our sex-life and not focusing on God as it should be. I understand that sex is great....but when someone asks why we are Catholic or what is good about the Church...NFP and the theology of our bodies should not be a top 100 item, but for several people (mainly women) I've talked with--it's number 1.

As far as Smith goes, her CD: "Contraception, Why Not?" speaks for itself. Listen to it--for the first 45 minutes she tears down contraception (effectively and intelligently), then at the very end of the CD, she says "but none of those arguments can apply to NFP." She has stated that, but she then proceeds to list some subjective reasons as to why not, not objective ones. If a listener were not on her side already, this point (that NFP and contraception are morally different) would hardly be convincing. They are different, of course, but she explains why very poorly. Listen to the CD for yourself. She is especially funny when she says that people should use NFP and not contracept because NFP has a higher success rate. It works better so use it: again...many people use the pill just fine--they don't need a higher success rate. Not convincing!

When Pope John Paul II mentioned the phrase "Theology of the Body" it was in a certain context. From what I gather from people I know who use West's material, West does not provide this context--the impression people get from his talks is that they can use sex as a means of self-empowerment. This is my experience talking to fans of West and reading his material that he puts on the web. He seems to be saying: take control of your body by understanding the theology of your body [Echoes of Genesis, anyone????]. Where is the talk of good and evil, of purity and sin: of 2,000 years of church teachings on chastity. He seems to put control and empowerment above simple morality. As does the modern world, but West gets a pass because his end, in the long run, is a Catholic one. OK

Maybe West's talks are jam-packed with talks about purity and chastity and morality. These points are not the ones remembered by people who attend his talks: they leave thinking about how good their bodies are and how they can be empowered through sex: that is a rather new message for the Church to focus on, but not for the world.

If, however, that's what our day and age needs to hear to avoid sin, then so be it. West's methodology and style may be similar to Opera's, but at least his end-point seems to still be Catholic.

And yes I know JPII used the phrase "Theology of the Body." My point is that the way West markets it is misleading to the average person. JPII did not intend to make an industry out of taking control of our bodies. JPII was really not trying to continue the sexual revolution by baptising it as West's interview with Nightline implies.

Again, my comments are in relation to people I have known over several parishes who use NFP and are fans of West's theology of our bodies. Their understandings do not seem to be the same as JPII: Christianity has always been about sacrifice and self-denial: not self-empowerment and using our sex organs more effectively to grant us more pleasure. Which saint from Church history in their right mind would say use NFP instead of a condom because you'll have fewer kids that way. Well...enter Janet Smith.

--Past Master
(we have to defeat the devil afresh every day)

Past Master


Here is what I read from Akin's page about the audience of West's talks:

"Part of the reason why they're so hard to reach is that they have a pre-existing stereotype of Christian sexual morality that they think gives them a license to tune out anything a Christian says on the subject"

I assumed that people who were tunning out anything a Christian says on a subject would be a non-Christian.

Again--I think we should still focus on Charity (a subject more misunderstood than sex by the modern world)when spreading Christ's truth--not human sexuality. Whether the audience is Catholics who have been sexually abused or non-Catholics.



Past Master


In answer to your "says who?" challenge, you may want to read this article:

An important excerpt from the article is as follows:

"3. Natural vs. Artificial Methods

Defenders of Humanae Vitae protest against a "misreading" that views the encyclical merely in terms of a contrast between "artificial" and "natural" methods of birth control. But this is not a misreading at all; this is the stated message of Humanae Vitae. Consider first the title of the encyclical, "On the Proper Regulation of the Propagation of Offspring." The question is already settled before the discussion has begun: there should be a "regulation"; the issue to be discussed is using "proper" methods.

In fact, the encyclical step by step builds a case for birth control. First it discusses the "serious difficulties" of population, conceding the argument to the population control advocates. Then it speaks of "responsible parenthood," commending a decision to "avoid new births." Then it evaluates means to achieve this goal, condemning "artificial methods" while praising "legitimate use of a natural disposition."

The title of the advisory commission is enlightening: "Papal Commission for the Study of Problems of the Family, Population and Birth Rate." Family, population and birth rate have now become "problems"; they are no longer bona, "goods." The encyclical starts off with a dire warning about overpopulation, and later refers readers to Pope Paul VI's prior encyclical, Populorum Progressio, where we find even gloomier statements about "depressing despondency" caused by "population increases."

Section 20 of Humanae Vitae tells us that the job of the Church towards the faithful is to "strengthen them in the path of honest regulation of birth" while comforting them "amid the difficult conditions which today afflict families and peoples." In other words, "People are miserable, so we will help them regulate births that there might be fewer people to be miserable."

This is a far cry from the attitude of generosity displayed in documents from Pope Paul's predecessors, who continually strove to enlarge the appreciation of fruitfulness. Pope Pius XII's 1958 "Address to Large Families," for example, is a masterpiece that every Catholic family should read and ponder. Compare Humanae Vitae's pinched, meager attitude with Pius XII's lyrical poetry in praise of new life when he calls for "esteem, desire, joy, and the loving welcome of the newly born right from its first cry. The child, formed in the mother's womb, is a gift of God, Who entrusts its care to the parents."


Pope Paul's full encyclical appears here:

So my comment was on good authority as you see. Although I'll grant you, Humanae Vitae was not the most "inspired" of Papal encyclicals.


Past Master
(there's no school like the old school)

Mark Brumley

Past Master, I really don't know what to say to you. Your arguments seem to me to be so convoluted it does not seem as if we can communicate sufficiently well to warrant further discussion.


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