Saturday, March 10, 2012

Christopher West the Decontextualizer, part 3

Just three paragraphs from Christopher West's Theology of the Body Explained and a bit of incentive to look things up sets you on a roundabout expedition from one corner of TOB to another, from one snippet of the CCC to another snippet of an encyclical, and you sit there trying your dangdest to square things up and see how exactly this part is being used with the other part and how the whole lot is being whipped along to segue into the author's desired, very biased end. It's a real education.

Christopher West the Decontextualizer has a twin whose name is Christopher West the Recontexualizer. To the degree that one rips, so to the same degree does the other fuse. It's so bewildering that it makes you wonder if the Theology of the Body Institute has a team of monkeys collecting random phrases from John Paul's audiences with a great big board in the room with categories of "possible usage" under which they pin said pulled phrases at random, 24/7.

Take a gander at the first paragraph, taken from page 168 of Christopher West's Theology of the Body Explained:

True to their name, these books contain great wisdom. They reveal an intimate knowledge of the human heart and even develop a specific moral psychology. In this way, the Wisdom books "are close to that call of Christ to the 'heart' that Matthew has handed down to us." Even so, John Paul says that with the "one-sided" admonitions that often make woman out to be "a downright seducer of whom to be aware," the Wisdom texts do not change man's ethos in any fundamental way. "For such a transformation it is necessary to wait until the Sermon on the Mount." For example, whereas the Wisdom texts offer understandable admonitions such as "Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman" (Sir 9:8), John Paul says that in the Sermon on the Mount Christ invites us "to a pure way of looking at others, capable of respecting the spousal meaning of the body."


There are three paragraphs from that page which I want to go into, but let's be boring and go at it one paragraph at a time, in sequential order. The first five quotes in the first paragraph above are taken from the TOB Audience 38 (September 3, 1980), which has the first title, Shift in the Center of Gravity. John Paul speaks about the "shift of the meaning of adultery from the "body" to the "heart"." After this he goes on in the same audience to speak about The Wisdom Tradition. (You can read the entire audience right here, and I recommend it just for its own sake.)

So West begins with describing something of the particular ethos of the Wisdom texts: "They reveal an intimate knowledge of the human heart and even develop a specific moral psychology. In this way, the Wisdom books "are close to that call of Christ to the 'heart' that Matthew has handed down to us.""

The quote he pulls - "are close to that call of Christ to the 'heart' that Matthew has handed down to us." - is from #5 of the 38 audience. Here is the chunk from which it is taken (this translation is from the CNA site and not the book in front of me because I don't want to type it all out):

The sense of the Wisdom texts has a prevalent pedagogical significance. They teach virtue and seek to protect the moral order, going back to God's law and to widely understood experience. Moreover, they are distinguished for their special knowledge of the human heart. We can say that they develop a specific moral psychology, yet without falling into psychologism. In a certain sense, they are close to that call of Christ to the heart that Matthew has handed down to us (cf. 5:27-28), even though it cannot be affirmed that they reveal any tendency to change ethos in a fundamental way. The authors of these books use the conscience of human inner life to teach morals somewhat in the sphere of ethos historically in action, and substantially confirmed by them.


Alright, so, to quote again, Christopher West takes the sentence from the above context and writes:

"True to their name, these books contain great wisdom. They reveal an intimate knowledge of the human heart and even develop a specific moral psychology. In this way, the Wisdom books "are close to that call of Christ to the 'heart' that Matthew has handed down to us.""



Doesn't get across the riches of John Paul's words, but nothing wrong. It's okay. West then carries on with these words:

Even so, John Paul says that with the "one-sided" admonitions that often make woman out to be "a downright seducer of whom to be aware," the Wisdom texts do not change man's ethos in any fundamental way. "For such a transformation it is necessary to wait until the Sermon on the Mount."


He's quoting from #4 now. Again, nothing wrong there. Except that John Paul does not call the texts one-sided outright in the way which West does. What he says is this:

What strikes us immediately in these admonitions and advice, appearing for example in Proverbs,(1) Sirach(2) or even Ecclesiastes(3), is a certain one-sidedness they have in that the admonitions are above all directed to men. This can mean that for them they are particularly necessary. As far as woman is concerned, it is true that in these warnings and advices she appears most often as an occasion of sin or as a downright seducer of whom to beware.


After speaking about there being a certain one-sidedness in that they "are above all directed to men", and not in that they "often make woman out to be "a downright seducer of whom to be aware," what does John Paul speak about? West just determined the way in which the texts are "one-sided" didn't he? What is it that West does not include here about the Wisdom texts and which John Paul talks about in the same #4? Oh, those pesky texts in which the eulogies are sung about the beautiful virtuous wife who is the perfect companion for her husband:


Yet one must recognize that besides the warning to beware of woman and the seduction of her charm which lead man to sin (cf. Prv 5:1-6; 6:24-29; Sir 26:9-12), both Proverbs and Sirach also praise woman who is the "perfect life companion of her own husband" (cf. Prv 31:10ff.). They likewise praise the beauty and graciousness of a good wife who can make her husband happy.

"A modest wife adds charm to charm, / and no balance can weigh the value of a chaste soul. / Like the sun rising in the heights of the Lord, / so is the beauty of a good wife in her well-ordered home. / Like the shining lamp on the holy lampstand, / so is a beautiful face on a stately figure. / Like pillars of gold on a base of silver, / so are beautiful feet with a steadfast heart. / A wife's charm delights her husband, / and her skill puts fat on his bones" (Sir 26:15-18, 13).


Ah! Don't those words just make you love the beautiful virtuous woman? Ah! They most certainly do. Those words describe her beauty, do they not? Yes, they most certainly do. And they sing her praises. It makes you want to marry one! But Christopher West had me thinking those Wisdom writers were bound to miserable Lust with their turning their eyes away from the shapely woman and all!

After quoting from #6 (man he jumps around a lot!), "For such a transformation it is necessary to wait until the Sermon on the Mount.", West goes on to say:

For example, whereas the Wisdom texts offer understandable admonitions such as "Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman" (Sir 9:8), John Paul says that in the Sermon on the Mount Christ invites us "to a pure way of looking at others, capable of respecting the spousal meaning of the body."


Yes, the Wisdom texts offer understandable admonitions (but never sing the praises of the virtuous woman) such as "Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman".

That comes from #5. What does John Paul say?

In Wisdom tradition a frequent admonition contrasts with the above praise of the woman-wife: it is the one that refers to the beauty and graciousness of the woman who is not one's own wife and is the cause of temptation and an occasion for adultery: "Do not desire her beauty in your heart..." (Prv 6:25). In Sirach the same warning is expressed in a more peremptory manner: "Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman, / and do not look intently at beauty belonging to another; / Many have been misled by a woman's beauty, / and by it passion is kindled like a fire" (Sir 9:8-9).

The sense of the Wisdom texts has a prevalent pedagogical significance. They teach virtue and seek to protect the moral order, going back to God's law and to widely understood experience...


Oh, so there's something more rich and complex going on here, eh? There's a contrast to be found in the Wisdom texts, between the upright beauty of the virtuous wife and the seductive beauty and charm of the the woman who is not one's wife. That the adultery spoken of is in contrast to the virtue of marriage. Interesting...these Wisdom writers had something going for themselves in their wisdom as they waited for their Savior...

So that is the ethos that had to await the transformation that came from the Sermon on the Mount! Now, where were we? Oh yes, West said this:

For example, whereas the Wisdom texts offer understandable admonitions such as "Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman" (Sir 9:8), John Paul says that in the Sermon on the Mount Christ invites us "to a pure way of looking at others, capable of respecting the spousal meaning of the body."


So whereas the Wisdom texts, according to Christopher West, "offer understandable admonitions" about turning your eyes away (because they only knew lust), John Paul says that in the Sermon on the Mount Christ invites us "to a pure way of looking at others, capable of respecting the spousal meaning of the body."

Looking, looking, looking for the source of that last quote...oh wait, West isn't quoting from TOB here. He's decided to pull a quote from the encyclical, Veritatis Splendor and slam it against the TOB quote!

How about that!

Christopher West the Decontextualizer, meet Christopher West the Recontextualizer.

So the Veritatis Splendor quote - what's the context from which he quoted?

We'll look at that in the next post, won't we! Because it's late and I want to go to bed - but before I do, I'm going to drink another beer! Goodnight!

15 comments:

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Hey, Paul--

Inquiring minds want to know:

IS there a "certain one-sidedness" in the Wisdom texts, or not???

There doesn't seem to be a point to your, uh.... point.

God bless you,

Deacon Jim Russell

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

The imagery of a team of monkeys in the Theology of the Body Institute alone would have earned you that beer. Having read the rest of your post, I think you deserve another one! I don't usually hang around for "Bible study" (even if it's on a Catholic blog), but now I want to read some Sirach on my own.

Looking forward to the Veritatis Splendor quote! (I actually read that one. LOL!)

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Btw, Paul--regarding this particular criticism of West as "recontextualizer"--you may as well be criticizing JPII, as he does *exactly* the same thing.

I can see your next headline: *JPII* the "recontextualizer"...

If making conceptual connections between/among a wide array of sources in a small chunk of text is somehow a *bad* thing, then JPII himself is a "worse" example than West....

God bless,

Deacon Jim Russell

jvc said...

A true tour de force.

The problem, of course, is that you could replicate this examination 1,000 or 5,000 times over. It is impossible for me to pick up West's work without detecting his specialty of subtle errors.

I've thought that a good idea for a blog would be for someone to systematically go through every citation of a West book to find the real context for each of his hyper ellipsied quotes.

The work would be practically endless. In fact, it would probably make more sense to do a meta study on his errors with quotations rather than to try to study each error on its own.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Jvc: Perhaps it would be simpler to go straight to the heart of the matter and examine W***'s personal issues. I can't remember who took a similar approach to Ayn Rand, reading her novel Atlas Shrugged in the light of her mental illness--but he certainly cut through the Gordian knot of her errors quicker than any critic of Rand who charitably (but mistakenly) began with the assumption that he was dealing with a mentally sound opponent. (See what I did there, Stilwell?)

I oridnarily don't care about the people behind the ideas (especially when the ideas are easy enough to shoot down), but given how deeply, deeply wounded W*** himself seems to be, it actually seems in order here.

Paul Stilwell said...

Deacon Jim, you said,

"Hey, Paul--

Inquiring minds want to know:

IS there a "certain one-sidedness" in the Wisdom texts, or not???

There doesn't seem to be a point to your, uh.... point."

I clarified the text in the post to show what the point is.

Speaking of points, I'm reaching a low point of tolerance towards you. If you keep at it you can forget about commenting.

jvc said...

I laughed at the second comment by Deacon Jim. One of the reasons I might want to do a blog just about West is that chronicling the response by his supporters is just as hilarious as anything out there.

Yes, West is just like JPII. They're practically clones, man. Is there any argument from the West supporters that would not be laughed out of a Logic 001 course? Time to step up your game.

Paul Stilwell said...

"If making conceptual connections between/among a wide array of sources in a small chunk of text is somehow a *bad* thing, then JPII himself is a "worse" example than West...."

Except that JP II's conceptual connections enrich their sources and make them more profound. Whereas West just destroys.

jvc said...

I'm actually not so sure it is a good idea to ban Deacon Jim. He is such a poor spokesman for West that he ends up doing more harm than good, especially when persons like Paul and Wade, men with real hunger for the truth and the theological training to back it up, have time to respond.

Unfortunately, while evil never sleeps one cannot really expect persons like Paul and Wade to spend all their time trying to correct the teachings of West. It would be nice if professional theologians could spend more time doing so, particularly the ones trained in Hildebrand's work.

Deacon Jim Russell said...

Hi, Paul--the reason I said I didn't see a "point" to your point is because you make clear that West's view is this: ***True to their name, these books contain great wisdom. They reveal an intimate knowledge of the human heart and even develop a specific moral psychology. In this way, the Wisdom books "are close to that call of Christ to the 'heart' that Matthew has handed down to us."***

West is by no means disparaging the Wisdom books, nor is he "recontextualizing" the kind of "onesidedness" JPII references, for the very *kind* of "admonitions and advice" to men that seems one-sided to JPII *is* the "warnings and advices" regarding how "she appears most often as an occasion of sin or as a downright seducer of whom to beware." Paul--notice how the phrase "admonitions and advice" is totally echoed by "warnings and advice"--the connection is right there in ToB....

There's simply nothing amiss here, Paul. West's point is the same as JPII's--namely that the beauty of the wisdom "tradition" remains incomplete *until* they find real fulfillment in the "ethos" found in Matthew.

West isn't trying to "mask" the positive nature of the wisdom books, for he *begins* the quote you cite with an *acknowledgement* of the beauty found therein.

God bless you, Paul,

Deacon Jim Russell

Wade St. Onge said...

Paul: "Speaking of points, I'm reaching a low point of tolerance towards you. If you keep at it you can forget about commenting".


Well, not to toot my own horn, but yours truly predicted on this very blog that this would happen almost two weeks ago: see comment #9 at
http://spikeisbest.blogspot.com/2012/02/tob-debate.html


And Paul, you'll have to let me know if the second part comes to pass as well: "And after you ban him, get ready for an onslaught of private messages - which will continue even when you tell him you are not going to read them and ignore them. He gets obsessed".

Wade St. Onge said...

jvc: "One of the reasons I might want to do a blog just about West is that chronicling the response by his supporters is just as hilarious as anything out there".

That really is the best part. Our tireless intercessor and blesser provided me with the material for one of my best blog articles:

http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2012/02/tob-west-fanaticism-and-catholic.html

Paul Stilwell said...

Wade, yes, I do indeed remember...I haven't taken the first step yet, as can be seen by Deacon Jim's latest comment, but I was close. Not yet...yet...we'll see.

...Deacon Jim, West's "acknowledgement of the beauty found therein" is, like his saying they "offer understandable admonitions" a complete condescending joke simply to cover himself and to cover the fact that he completely misrepresents the texts, not solely for that end alone, but so that he can use said misrepresented texts for his own biased end of his teaching of "mature purity".

Don't bother saying anything else in return for I won't publish your comment on this matter. I notice how you argue, and it's consistently...how does one say? Pointillist? Like you purposely refuse to follow what anyone is saying and answer by jumping from one point to another without any discernment over how each point is related to the other, as long as that isolated point serves you as a weapon of contradiction.

Wade St. Onge said...

After reading this article, I decided to refer back to the broader context in TOB to see what was said in subsequent chapters (audiences). After going through it, I can't say I completely fault West here. If you take TOB as an isolated document, I can see how you can arrive at the doctrine of "mature purity". On the other hand, JP2 does not really teach the doctrine - even though it is possible to come away with this understanding.

But here's the thing - you can't take TOB as an isolated document. You must interpret it in light of the broader Catholic Tradition. Where West goes wrong is that he does isolate TOB from the rest of Tradition, absolutizes it, comes away with misunderstandings, and then cherry-picks from the sources of Tradition to support and buttress his interpretations while ignoring substantial portions of the Tradition which contradict his interpretations and leave them unresolved.

jvc said...

I haven't studied the Medjugorje issue much, and I haven't read Wade's writings on it, but I can see how its supporters are winning out by the sheer relentlessness of their advocacy. As I said above, evil never sleeps. While supporters of the Church's teaching on marriage will find time and energy here and there to articulate the true position on these matters, people like Deacon Jim will take substantial time away from being a father to 11 growing children in order to surf the web in support of a rogue theological revolutionary. That's time and energy you can't buy.