Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Dawn Eden vs. Christopher West Part 2

In her thesis, Dawn lists ten themes that she says are the major themes in Christopher West's work. She also listed them in the talk she gave at her defense (near the bottom of that page).

Her listing of these themes raises the question: how did she determine that these themes are in fact the major ones of West's work? She doesn't explain her criteria for selecting them.
This leads to the further question: do these ten themes in fact represent the distillation of West's work? If West himself were to summarize his work in ten themes, would he choose these or something else? Do these themes really capture the essence of his work? Are there others that could have been included? West is basing his themes on John Paul, and several other important themes could be noted, such as the communion of persons, spousal meaning of the body, shame, receptivity, celibacy for the sake of the kingdom, the new evangelization and the culture of death, and most importantly, the theme of self-gift.

If Dawn wants to critique all of West's work, she needs to be absolutely sure that she is presenting his work accurately. Her synthesis is certainly open to debate. My personal opinion is that she's selecting themes that better suit her criticisms of West, and omitting others that are more fundamental but not so open to criticism. This leaves Dawn's thesis vulnerable, since her critique assumes her reading of West corresponds to what he is actually saying, but it may not. Again, this relates to the difficulty I mentioned in my first post, that Dawn has taken on a project that's so broad she can't do it justice.

20 comments:

Barbara said...

It would be helpful if you would show how you think Dawn is incorrect in her selection of themes. You ask a lot of questions but then do not answer them.

Lots of us out here in Catholicland have been growing more troubled by West in the last few years. I have found Dawn's scholarship to be remarkably good. We certainly don't want to seem to be shutting her down prematurely because she has the courage to buck a current trend. The only trend we all should care about is staying with the Church.

Best always,

Barbara Nicolosi

Sr. Lorraine said...

Thanks for your comments, Barbara. It's always good to hear from you! I've always liked to hear your take on things.
The only reason I started to comment on this issue is that Dawn herself opened it up to the Catholic blogosphere. My intent is not to shut her down, but to respond to her own invitation for feedback. I think it would be great to have a conversation about the issues that she raises. I would imagine that Dawn herself knew that by making her work public, she had to expect both positive and negative feedback.

I did indicate in my post some of the themes I think are more foundadtional to TOB itself and the way West presents it, especially the freedom of the gift. Waldstein says in his intro to TOB that the idea of the gift is the "guiding star through TOB."

maryvictrix said...

Sister,

Certainly, Dawn was prepared for critique when she wrote her thesis. I am sure you will not hear any complaint from her, or from the rest of West's critics for that matter.

We would just like to see solid research met with the same. You insinuate that there is reason to believe that Dawn's assessment of West is inaccurate and yet you don't even begin to suggest why that might be the case. Saying that West's work is evolving is saying very little that is relevant if you don't get down to specifics.

The internet has been bubbling with the concerns of West supporters over the work of Alice Von Hildebrand and Dawn Eden, but I have not seen anything that deals with any specific questions. This is stunning to me.

Sr. Lorraine said...

To Maryvictrix,
Thank you for your observations. I did get some nasty comments from one critic of West, which I deleted. I also said some prayers for that person, who seemed to be full of anger and bitterness.

I sent 5 pages of more detailed feedback to Dawn directly.
In my next post (above) I begin to get into some reasons why I think Dawn's assessment of West's work does not do it justice. The burden of proof is on her to show that West's teaching is problematic. The first step in doing that is to make certain her presentation of his work is accurate. As I note in my next post, just to take one issue, West does not blame the Church for prudishness, etc.,as Dawn claims, but traces the root of it to both Manichaeism and Cartesian dualism.

I'm just saying that the issue is more complicated than Dawn's thesis makes it out to be.

maryvictrix said...

Sister Lorraine,

Thank you. I am interested to read more.

I think the burden of proof lies with anyone who attempts to interpret the Theology of the Body. One must show that what they propose is consistent with the hermeneutic of continuity, especially when concerns to the contrary have been registered over and over again for many years.

The revolutionary character that has been attributed by West to Theology of the Body and the frequency with which he contrasts it to the method of chastity formation that existed before JP II's work, suggests he believes that the Manichaean demon has entered the Church also. He has said as much in his many references to Catholics' alleged discomfort with the body and sexuality.

You will find that in her thesis Dawn acknowledges West's commitment to battle Manichaeism and dualism alongside the Church. How well he has succeeded and to what extent he believes that the Church's approach to chastity prior to JP II was sound is another matter.

Yes it is complicated. I will agree with you on that much.

I also believe that the questions you deleted are relevant--just for the record.

God bless you.

gsk said...

On the question of being "revolutionary," I read a book on John Paul II years ago (before his death, actually, by a Polish author, I believe -- wish I could remember). He was trying to make the point that the Holy Father's view towards Jews was revolutionary -- that he had Jewish friends, visited synagogues, prayed for our "elder brothers in the faith," etc. etc. It was quite a tribute, but in order to make his point he had to assure us that the Church was previously grievously anti-semitic. He illustrated with pogroms, examples of prejudice, showing Churchmen ranting, and all the rest. In that sense, the greater his praise of John Paul, the more his damning of the pre-JP2 Church by contrast. Were there anti-semitic Catholics? Of course; just like there have been Jansenistic prudish Catholics. It's hard to stick just to what the Church teaches, and then there's been little that's revolutionary since, well, the Incarnation. Thanks for a hosting great discussion, Sister.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Hello Maryvictrix,
Yes, it is true that anyone proposing a method of understanding TOB has to provide a rationale for what they're doing.
But my comment about the burden of proof was in the context of the thesis. If Dawn's thesis is that West's method is defective, she has to prove that. In doing so, the indispensable condition is that she represent his thought accurately.

Besides the mention of Manichaeism in two quotes from West (which Dawn cites in another context), Dawn does mention on page 71 that West has been concerned about Manichaeism. That's very true. But Dawn is bringing it up in another context, about the role of sexual desire in marriage, etc., and doesn't seem to consider it when she talks about West's discontinuity.
The tendency toward Manichaeism is always a reality. In light of the priestly sex abuse scandal, we can see another manifestation of it. As I mentioned before, the disdain for the body associated with Manichaeism can lead also to sexual license.

Barbara said...

Thanks as ever, Sr. Lorraine. I am happy to see this kind of dialogue finally happening somewhere. It is very appropriate that the forum is being hosted by the Pauline family.

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.

Best,

Barbara

Barbara said...

Pt. I.

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.

Barb N. (Part II below)

Sr. Lorraine said...

Dear Barb,
Thank you for your very insightful comments! I think I may have inadvertently deleted one thinking it was a duplicate, but now I'm not sure. If I did I apologize!

You raise a lot of great points. The loss of control issue is an interesting one. I think that the whole issue of concupiscence and lust is one of the key things that need to be clarified.

Barbara said...

Sister - You can delete Pt. 1. I had gotten an error message after I posted the long post and so I sent it again as two. I may have made some edits in between.

Thanks for your kind words. I'm basically only getting involved here because I think Dawn's thesis has some very worthy and insightful points and I would hate to see them glossed over. It takes a lot of courage for someone to stand up against someone everyone around is hailing as a new guru.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Yes, I fully agree that it does have good points. In particular, her clarification about the paschal candle symbolism was quite good! I didn't mean to cast it in too negative a light.

Mamie Farish said...

My husband and I have been teaching RCIA for nine years now. During this time we've taught TOB concepts by using Steve Kellmeyer's Sex and the Sacred City. It's basically a mini-RCIA course that has integrated TOB concepts. We've appreciated this study, dubbed it the "Baltimore" TOB Catechism because it is simple, less than 100 pages, easy to teach, and inexpensive. We've combined it with Kellmeyer's Artfully Teaching the Faith." Our slide presentation may be viewed on http://www.scribd.com/doc/34595819/TOB-Retreat-using-Sex-and-the-Sacred-City.

Anonymous said...

Of course, Kellmeyer has disavowed TOB completely now:

"I no longer make TOB recommendations because its a shibboleth, and most of the stuff out there isn't worth the time. TOB is a lot more useless than people think.

JP II bloviated a lot in those TOB audiences. George Weigel, the man who made such a big deal about TOB, was and is a sycophant who used the access he was given to JP II to become "respected." The more of Weigel I read and hear, the less I respect.

You're much better off just studying the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Read the writings of the saints. JP II was a nice man and all, but when it comes to TOB, there isn't really much "there" there."

https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=5774317&postID=3201107394051380651

Mamie Farish said...

Nonetheless, Sex and the Sacred City is a wonderful study that integrates TOB concepts in less than 100 pages. We like it because it follows curricula that is used so often in parishes world-wide: who is God, who are we, The Fall, the Incarnation, Sacraments, vocations of Marriage and Priesthood, Family Life. Of course there's more to TOB, but for an overview of Catholic Faith that integrates TOB, this is a marvelous gem of a study.

I understand Steve Kellmeyer's frustrations with the currentTOB leadership that does not include people with different views. He has a valid point. But--as for my husband and I--we need to teach this to people who do not have an understanding of the Catholic faith, or who do not know about TOB. We're thankful to Steve for his wor, and hope he continues the good fight, to be of good cheer, and to continue to offer excellent studies.

Anonymous said...

"to be of good cheer?"

Steve Kellmeyer?

Really?

Mamie Farish said...

Hi Anonymous,

Yes, Steve is a man of good cheer, I've met him, his wife and family. They are delightful. Also, praying for "good cheer" for all TOB contributors is a good thing to do, I think ; - ). Now, on with teaching & loving, and spreading the Good News of Christ....

Anonymous said...

If Steve is really of "good cheer," he would do well to stop his nasty comments about anyone who disagrees with him and show a bit of Christian decency!

Mamie Farish said...

Actually, I was thinking if he wanted to, he ought to do an expose on the Catholic publishing business! You know, I don't think he cares; he's had it with the Catholic speaking circuit and everything that goes with it. I think he's said that several times. It's unfortunate because he is a gifted teacher. I will continue using his book to teach others about TOB, and am looking forward to the upcoming educators to help me and my husband to teach.

Mamie Farish said...

You know, there's been too much controlling, people too easily incensed. I like West's contribution in evangelizing the crowds. He needs to make some corrections, but I'm sure he can do it. I like other contributors of TOB, as well. Right now I'm enjoying Carl Anderson's Called to Love and his other book on Our Lady of Guadalupe. New material. New insights. As a teacher of RCIA, Kellmeyer's book Sex and the Sacred City is a gem and still timely. It isn't dated, in other words. We need more books like that. I'm a teacher, looking for systematic teaching of concepts/principles. I so much hate the packaging of today's educational materials--most of which I can't follow curricula development. In addition to poor teaching materials, we have another problem. It's more than simply teaching. I'm a Creighton Model FertilityCare practitioner. I just visited today a parish where I want to offer services. However, the parish needs support ministries for its moms: young mother/father play groups, Elizabeth Ministry... We need these ministries to help our young families. Also, what kind of young adult programs are offered in parishes? Movie night? Coffee shop? What do we offer our single women who have had unhealthy relationships, and are approaching 30,40,50, and feel that the church offers nothing for them? When men shows them interest, often they revert to their old ways, only to be disappointed again. How can TOB be a message of hope and communion for them? I did see that there was a program on that topic at the TOB conference, something that may be useful to help these women we often see. Then, let's talk about the college-aged kids who believe they are right to stand up for gay marriages. Any way to calm the waters, diffuse the heat and anger? There's so much here, lots of new opportunities to use our imagination, expertise, and to learn from one another.
So, that's my reflection, and tomorrow is a new day with new graces renewed, to get back in the trenches, bringing Christ to others-- with or without the help of Catholic publishers, authors, speakers, bloggers...

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