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Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Ed Peters

Ah, great, my employee filters won't let me get to it. Have to wait till tonite. Rats.

Little quote? anybody?


He uses Hefner as a launch point. It comes off as a self-conscious grasp for contemporaneity. At any rate, though I'd quibble with a few things he said (e.g., the characterization of HH as an "important historical figure" - at best he'll be a footnote), on the whole his words seem sound.

I could possibly tolerate listening to him again, but I'll never seek out any more clips of him to watch. The whole production comes off as an emergent church infomercial. It's complete with today's pathological drive for contemporaneity, "relevance." There's the packaging as "The Gift," complete with the little slogan below it in ultra-cool lower case letters, the studio audience and the obligatory reaction shots, and of course the constantly shifting camera angles reflective of the postmodernist obsession with perspective. All very contemporary, and thus repulsive.


At least he's trying.

I think it's sad that a good number of Catholics are kicking him right now given all the good work he's done over the years. I'm quite sure that if there's a "better" course out there, it's probably far too complicated for most people to get their heads around and also in all likelihood very dry in comparison to West's presentation.

I'd say, give him a break, he's doing good work.


^On the whole, yes, he's probably doing good work, but I think it could be done better (note: not "better"). The dryness you mention would be a part of this betterment. Part of the weakness of the presentation is that entertainment capacity was obviously part of the calculation. It was decided that it had to be "spiced up," given a "more contemporary" feel. To the extent this worldly frequency is embraced, to the extent it's dumbed down, to that extent the message is trivialized. But of course I am an idealist. Possibly I make the perfect the enemy of the good. And so you might be right!


His aim sure seems good, and he is a terrific speaker. But even in context, the Hefner stuff is off. From his telling, Playboy is understandable and almost forgivable given Hugh's cold parents. Simply not a convincing springboard.


From David: "'s probably far too complicated for most people to get their heads around..."

The Theology of the Body is deep, and the original texts are deep, but I think it's important to note that it was given during JPII's Wednesday Audiences...he was speaking to the whole Church.

"...and also in all likelihood very dry in comparison to West's presentation."

I've had the privilege to hear both Dr. Michael Waldstein and Fr. Richard Hogan speak on the Theology of the Body, and they were both incredibly engaging. I've also heard good things about Dr. Mary Healy's lectures (but I only saw her once on EWTN). I wish more people knew that there were other advocates of the Theology of the Body aside from Christopher West. It's something that has to be handled so carefully, delicately even, because of the gravity of sexuality, and I don't think West is going about it the right way.

Ed Peters

Well, saw it. I thought it was terrific. West got shafted by the MSM.

Mark Brumley


Mark Brumley

Assuming that that is what he said to ABC, he has been gravely wronged.


We've really got to discard the thought that all 'serious' talks have to be given by an awkward don in a crumpled tie, mumbling in front of a Sears photo backdrop. It hampers not only our communication with those who have trouble accessing hidden gems (which said crumpled-tie don could be giving away), but also makes us hold a presentation like this suspect, which is in no way over the top, and doesn't sacrifice clarity for pizazz.

I also thought his take on Heffner was spot-on. He wasn't giving an apologia for Playboy, but explaining where the old guy's thought/reaction was off. Yes, it's understandable--looking even wider into 50s culture, there's plenty to rebel against--but he doesn't go so far as to make it *logical* or *acceptable*. Worked just fine as a study in contrasts.


^It doesn't require going to the opposite extreme to reject this commercialized approach.

Rich Leonardi

Folks, he called for Catholics to complete "what the sexual revolution began" and referred to the "very profound" historical connections between Hugh Hefner, a pornographer, and Pope John Paul II, a vicar of Christ. Can we at least acknowledge the glibness of these statements?

Ed Peters

"Assuming that that is what he said to ABC...."

Yikes, this ISN'T what ABC clipped from? Oh man, then, we still don't know what West actually said to ABC?



I agree with Justin's comment that West got shafted by the MSM. I long for the days before film edits, when two people sat down in front of the cameras and carried on a dialogue, allowing me to draw my own conclusions.


He should have seen the MSM seizing on his use of Hefner a mile away. That is his own fault. Hefner simply cannot be mentioned in any wholesome discussion of human sexuality given the damage he has done to millions of men and women and their understanding of sex.

Mark Brumley

Whatever criticisms people may have about Christopher West's delivery or the style of the video clip or the genre of presentation, if he said to ABC what he says in the clip above, he has simply been misrepresented by the media. It is not right to criticize him for having said things he never said and the points on which some people are criticizing him apart from the problematic claims of ABC News are not major issues.

Look, I think some folks' treatment of Theology of the Body is overdone, and even at times imprudent. But that is not the same thing as characterizing one of its leading popularizers as holding up Hugh Hefner as a hero when Christopher West seems only to have used him as a springboard to a larger discussion.

Was it a mistake to bring up Hefner to ABC at all? In hindsight, it seems it was. But it was a PR mistake, not a theological one--assuming he made only the point he makes in the clip above. West apparently erred in thinking he would be fairly represented by the MSM. That did not happened. Shocker, that.


Jackson - I find it quite difficult to criticize the man for a 'commercialized' apporoach when this 'commercialized' approached has caused millions of Catholics around the world to leave the Church, either into protestantism or sin. If this approach wins some of them back, I have to be behind it.

Rich Leonardi - Hugh Hefner (and many proponents of the Sexual Revolution) saw something GOOD in the body. The problem was that they stuck to this good without pursuing the highest good - God. Thus, the Pope in recognizing the highest good, DID continue what the Sexual Revolution began. Granted, the Pope's formulation of these ideas did precede the sexual revolution. For this reason alone, I would say West was wrong, but not for saying that the Pope taught the fulfillment of what the sexual revolution is ultimately seeking... God.


Oh, and Jackson -

I clicked on your name and visited your T-shirt site. I enjoyed your product, however I question the commercialized approach... :)


^^Bryan, I'm having trouble following your logic. Are you saying that since this (alleged) approach allegedly caused millions to leave, that therefore it's right to use it to bring a few back - while it simultaneously continues to cause many more to leave? This doesn't make sense to me, unless one designs to destroy the Church. I don't think you do, so please clarify, keeping in mind Socrates' maxim: "It is never right to do wrong."

I'm glad you like my stuff. Fortunately, I'm not trying to teach the Theology of the Body there, or any other divine truths!

Mark Brumley

Hmmm. I am having trouble seeing the truth of claim that JP II "taught the fulfillment of what the sexual revolution is ultimately seeking ... God". It seems to me that the statement is either true but trivially so or false and significantly so. At least it seems to demand some qualifications and distinctions.

How is it true that the sexual revolution was ultimately seeking God? And how can it simultaneously be said that the problem with the proponents of the sexual revolution was that they pursued the good of the body without pursuing God? They were seeking God but yet their problem was that they weren't seeking him? I think we need some clarification here.


Jackson - I guess I'm just not seeing why a commercialized approach (if that is what we are calling West's approach) is wrong. It seems to me like it's an effective tool for evangelization. How is using this approach causing people to leave the Church? I'll clarify... a commercialized approach (or any approach for that matter) is neither right nor wrong, but is simply a tool that if used well can benefit the Church.

Mark- Thanks for responding. It's an honor to discuss this topic with a man of your stature. I'll attempt to clarify my statement (which was really me attempting to clarify Christopher West's statement... if you think I misunderstood West's statement please help me understand what he may have actually been saying).

Were the major players of the sexual revolution CONSIOUSLY seeking God? No! Absolutely not. But they recognized that there was something good in the sexual act that had been lost on a culture. Chesterton said, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” I think this sums up a bit what West was trying to say. The problem was not that the sexual revolution tried to pull us out of a "puritanical" outlook on sexuality, but that it stopped far short of what our sexuality points us towards -- which is our ultimate union with God.

I believe it's possible to say that the SR was ultimately seeking God because God is complete and total goodness. I believe it is also possible to say that they pursued the good of the body without pursuing God because after they found a "little bit of Goodness" they clung to it rather than seeking higher degrees of good and absolute goodness. And unfortunately, the "stopping short" has allowed many of the worst aspects of our culture (abortion, contraception, homosexuality, Womynpriests) to creep in and fill that void.

I'm not the best writer but I appreciate you taking the time to have this discussion.

Mark Brumley

Bryan, thanks. I think I cited the Chesterton quote somewhere here in the last few days. I think it is an overstatement--as are many statements of Chesterton, made in such a manner to make a certain point but not to be taken beyond that point.

Perhaps some people who knock on brothel doors are looking for God. Others, for a god but it is the false god of the exalted self, not the true God. Unless the point is what strikes me as a trivially true one, that in every sin we seek what appears good to us and since God is the source of good, in a sense we do "seek God", I don't see the search for God behind the desire for a prostitute. What's more the qualification "in a sense" is a whopper of a qualification here, for "in a sense" Satan was "seeking God" when Satan rebelled. Again, I understand the point but it doesn't seem to take us very far in this conversation.

If one means that some people knocking on the brothel door are genuinely and sincerely but confusedly looking for love, I say, o.k., some are. But some aren't. Some are looking for sheer self-centered pleasure or dominance over others or any number of other bad things. I have to wonder whether divine love is what Hugh Hefner was really looking for, rather than rejecting. Only God knows for sure but there is a lot of evidence to the contrary.

When we speak of JP II and the "fulfillment" of what the sexual revolution sought, I am willing to grant that some people were simply "looking for love in all the wrong places". Some people. But I do not see the sexual revolution as a basically sound movement gone bad or distorted. I see it as a basically bad movement that happened to get one or two things somewhat right and the rest woefully wrong. Some people were just looking for sex. Since sex is inherently good, then it is true to say they sought something that was good. But then so, in a sense, does the sadist. But let's not talk as if sadism is about seeking God and just coming up short. That overlooks or minimizes the element in sadism (and in all sin) of self-love in preference to other goods, including the Supreme Good.

I understand the rhetorical strategy that says, "You want sexual fulfillment? Well, true sexual fulfillment can be obtained only in understanding sex as God as made it." The trouble is, some people don't really want sexual fulfillment as God intends it. And it seems naive to suppose that when you get right down to it, they really do, contrary to what they do and even sometimes what they say.

The claim is made that Hefner was trying to counterbalance sexual "Puritanism". While not denying that something like that existed in some places in American culture, and still does in relatively isolated circles, I simply deny the problem was as widespread as suggested or that a reasonable person should see Hefner's "solution" to it as anything but a rationalization of lust, if that, and the exploitation of women. So I don't really understand his "ache" or to the extent I do, I understand in it the familiar feeling encountered in other sins, the feeling of the god-denying self-centered person, trying to fill his hunger for the infinite by deliberately feeding on the finite self and finite goods rather than surrendering to God. Perhaps, one hopes, that is not present in Hefner's "ache" and he is really just confusedly groping for God when he gropes (and worse) women. I'll let God make that call on judgment day but I will, based on my experience of myself and plenty of other men I know, retain a high degree of skepticism about the broader claim that a search for God's love is behind all of this. If it is, it is so in a way that seems to allow us equally well or better to characterize things, in another sense, as a running away from God's love.

Or at least that's one man's opinion.


Mark- thanks for the reply. I’ll comment on some of your key points. Feel free to respond, but this is it for me. I can’t give too much time to this discussion (and I suspect you probably can’t either).

“Unless the point is what strikes me as a trivially true one, that in every sin we seek what appears good to us and since God is the source of good, in a sense we do "seek God", I don't see the search for God behind the desire for a prostitute.”

Yeah, that’s the point that I’m trying to make, but I don’t really think it’s trivial. If it is true that ‘in every sin we seek what appears good to us’ then we can evangelize others by speaking about what is good, what is better, and what is absolutely good. If a soul can be converted, then I wouldn’t call this truth trivial. This doesn’t mean we should sacrifice talking about the evil present in the world (I sure would love to hear more homilies about Hell, for instance), but I think this method is effective for many people. It softens the blow, so to speak, and opens them up to conversion – at least that’s my theory.

I don’t think I’m in bad company, though. I’m hesitant to go here (because I’ve only read it once and I don’t have it in front of me) but I think Augustine was getting at this in the story of the pear tree in the Confessions. If I recall the story correctly (and please correct me if I’m wrong), Augustine was particularly scandalized by a sin in which he and a couple buddies stole some pears from a pear tree. They did not eat the pears but instead threw them at some animals, or something. So he was upset about this because it seemed that he chose evil for evil’s sake… but he corrects himself and says that he didn’t seek evil (because its against our human nature to seek evil) but that he sought the affirmation of his friends, which is good… the problem with it is that there was a greater good that was absent (deprived), which was absolute goodness – God.

So is there good in a man seeking a prostitute? I think there can be, and if there is, it is such an incredibly small, miniscule good, that is devoid of the greatness that the sexual act is supposed to possess. In other words, there is so much good missing from an act of prostitution that prostitution is evil. Our darkened intellect and weakened will cause us to stop pursuing the great goods and cling to ‘little goods.’ At about 1:30 in the video, West explains that “When the banquet is not presented to us, we inevitably eat out of the dumpster.”

You also said, “I have to wonder whether divine love is what Hugh Hefner was really looking for, rather than rejecting. Only God knows for sure but there is a lot of evidence to the contrary.”

Repeating from my last paragraph, I think Hugh Hefner was looking for Love, but due to his darkened intellect he did not know that the source of Love IS God, and due to his weakened will, he stopped seeking higher goods. And now, he lives in the dumpster of sin.

“But I do not see the sexual revolution as a basically sound movement gone bad or distorted. I see it as a basically bad movement that happened to get one or two things somewhat right and the rest woefully wrong.”

Exactly! It got one or two things somewhat right, at the expense of the incredible goodness that our sexuality was designed to communicate. I think the word “disordered” can be applied to it. It exchanged absolute goodness for miniscule goodness. It exchanged the wedding feast for the dumpster. It exchanged a million bucks for a half of a penny.

Regarding Satan’s fall and a Sadist, I would say that the self love that drove them into sin is good. We really should love ourselves. We should take care of our bodies and our spiritual well-being and we should see ourselves as being created in the image and likeness of God. But we shouldn’t prefer the goodness of this over others. When we do that, the greatest evils in the world occur. Satan’s fall occurred to self love. Woman’s love of themselves might cause them to pick a career over a baby. A man’s love for self might cause him to rape a woman. A sadist’s love of self will cause him to inflict pain on another human being. A pornographer’s love of self causes him to exploit other human beings to put money in his pocket. The love of self is not what is wrong, but that it is not ordered properly in relation to other goods.

That’s really all I got. I appreciate your time, though. I’ll check back for a response, if you have one, but since that’s really the best I can do, there isn’t any sense for me to respond again and repeat myself.

God Bless. I love this blog and Ignatius Press!


"Disordered" and "Rebellious" have seriously different connotations. Perhaps that is one area of difference here. Also, as for commercialization of a message, the problem there is that in our world, the medium is [part of] the message, so compromise in that regard can had difficult ramifications. The preceding conversation has been really helpful. Thanks.

Mark Brumley

Thanks. Of course as I see it the issue is not that the sinful, evil choice entails pursuit of some good in a disordered way; of course it does. There is also the other half of the equation: that in pursuit of that good one chooses the lesser good in preference to God, and one rejects God by choosing something in preference to him. So when we say that the sinner is "really looking for God" we have also to affirm, paradoxically, that he is running away from God, that he is rejecting God. He is "looking for God" only in the sense that he needs God to have even disordered good and he gets that from God.

However, I think the discussion would need to be more involved than you're in a position to make it right now.


True, Mark. After all, Hefner does have a conscience and I'm sure he had to 'run away from it (thousands of times)' during the building up of his "empire."


It's really good to ask ourselves these questions! The way we present sacred ideas is changing the way so much of communication is changing, so it's sometimes hard to weigh the different goods that we're chasing (or running from) when the medi context is all new. Dr. Janet Smith has just added some beautiful ideas to the whole question. What a relief to read such rational and clear analysis of the controversy!

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