Support This Website! Shop Here!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

West and Hefner: Together Again

Did you ever wonder where Christopher West got his rave about Hugh Hefner? You know, where did he get the idea that Hefner was really just trying to free America of its nasty, horrible, evil Puritanism past? Why, he got the idea of Hefner's heroic work from Hugh Hefner himself! As a couple of commentators over at the Claremont Institute fondly remember:
The "Playboy Philosophy" may have been verbose but it was fascinating, especially if you were thirteen. Hefner painted a grim picture of the sexual landscape of early-sixties America. America was, we learned, dominated by Puritanism. Books were censored. A few jurisdictions banned, or purported to ban, the sale of contraceptives. Archaic laws against oral sex were on the books in many states, and married couples were hauled off in chains for violating them. Puritanical prosecutors and judges lay in wait to punish anyone venturing to engage in sex that was not of the approved sort. With hindsight, this was an odd perspective on the America of that era, but it described our junior high schools pretty well, and we bought it.

While railing against the Puritanism of present-day America, Hefner described the world that was struggling to be born. A world where sexual gratification was available to everyone (at least everyone who could afford a car and a stereo), and freely consenting girls would be standing on every street corner. We know now it didn't quite turn out that way, but at the time, it sounded good to us...
Now, read Chris West's take on Hugh Hefner below. Notice how he simply transcribes Hefner's false rendition of American society. Hooked by the uncritical delight of a schoolboy, he swallowed Hefner's perspective hook, line and sinker:
When asked why he started Playboy magazine, Hefner said it was -a personal response to the hurt and hypocrisy of our Puritan heritage.- Hefner elaborates: "Our family was ...Puritan in a very real sense.... Never hugged. Oh, no. There was absolutely no hugging or kissing in my family. There was a point in time when my mother, later in life, apologized to me for not being able to show affection. That was, of course, the way I’d been raised. I said to her, ‘Mom, ...because of the things you weren’t able to do, it set me on a course that changed my life and the world.’ When I talk about the hurt and hypocrisy in some of our values - our sexual values - it comes from the fact that I didn’t get hugged a lot as a kid" (interview with Cathleen Falsani,

When I first read this I wanted to weep for this man.... We as Catholics actually agree - or should agree - with Hugh Hefner’s diagnosis of the disease of puritanism.
Catholics should agree?
With Hugh Hefner???

Hefner was and is a pornographer.
That is, Hefner was and is a liar.

As a professional liar, Hefner understood that in order to make his pornography acceptable, he had to be the underdog. He had to be in titanic struggle against overwhelming odds, a David against a Goliath. Males who wanted to see naked, sexually available woman, but knew they shouldn't, needed a rationale for opening the pages of his magazine. Hefner gave them one. He invented the idea of a puritanical America.

To a junior-high school student whose grasp of America history is as good as his grasp on the virtue of continence, the David-vs.-Goliath meme provides a good philosophical rationale for checking out the centerfold's feminine fundamentals. Not that teenage boys need such rationale, but it's nice to know there is one.

For those teenage boys who read the Playboy articles so that they could maintain a pretense of intellectual motivation, Hefner's concepts were as necessary as the centerfold. Let's go back to the political analysis for a moment:
... It turned out that we weren't the only ones who absorbed and internalized the Playboy Philosophy. As the years went by, it became harder and harder to find much in America that could be described as Puritanical. Even in the junior high schools. By the early 1970s, there was probably no proposition that commanded more universal assent than "two consenting adults." The key moment was probably 1965, when the Supreme Court ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut that a state could not constitutionally ban the sale and use of contraceptives. It was in Griswold that the Court first discerned a "right of privacy" in the Constitution. Justice Douglas wrote: "[S]pecific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance."
Now, notice. This essay is not written by a bunch of religious people with an ax to grind. In fact, near the end of the essay, the authors state, "Understand that we haven't really changed our minds about the "consenting adults" principle since our junior high school days."

To repeat, none of the authors at the Claremont Institute have ever heard of Chris West. But as political analysts, they do have an adult grasp of American history. And they find people who buy into Hugh Hefner's version of American history to be juvenile at best.
Griswold was pure Hefner, in the sense that it dealt with one of those outrageous, archaic laws that were regularly castigated in the Playboy Philosophy

In reality, the State of Connecticut made no effort to interfere with the use of contraceptives; the statute was on the books but was not enforced. Griswold was commenced by a group of students at Yale who conceived the lawsuit as a class project....
This is the Puritanism that Chris West is fighting? The puritanical attitudes that West selflessly saves all of us from? Where on earth did Chris West get the idea that America is Puritan? Apart from Playboy's philosophy columns, what evidence does he have that it was Puritan at any point since about 1750? Yet, is this not the Chris West meme? Does he not continually decry the fact that America was (or worse, is) a grim placed dominated by Puritanism, an America from which he saves "countless" - countless, I tell you - countless couples? (we know it's true because neither he nor his supporters ever actually bother to count them).

Recall again Chris West's mantra on Nightline: "Hugh Hefner is my muse... I see historical connections between Hugh Hefner and John Paul II."

Even the New York Times recognizes the essential difference between a Hugh Hefner supporter and a Hugh Hefner detractor:
As a cultural force, however, Mr. Hefner still divides the country — 56 years after Playboy’s first issue. To his supporters, he is the great sexual liberator who helped free Americans from Puritanism and neurosis. To his detractors, including many feminists and social conservatives, he helped set in motion a revolution in sexual attitudes that have objectified and victimized countless women and promoted an immoral, whatever-feels-good approach to life.... He recently filmed a Guitar Hero commercial, holding the pipe he gave up after a suffering a small stroke in 1985. (emphasis added)
Read West's words again. On which side of the New York Times' line does Christopher West fall? When even the pagans recognize that Hefner was bloviating, to what extent must we accept his ideological step-child's musings on historical themes?
The point Christopher made—but which wasn’t included in the Nightline piece—was that, as Catholics, we agree with Hugh Hefner’s diagnosis of the disease (i.e., a puritanical rejection of the body and sexuality is utterly contrary to Catholic faith), but we radically disagree with his cure. Christopher told the Nightline correspondent that the Theology of the Body is the true cure for the disease that Hefner diagnosed. These distinctions were lost in the seven-minute piece that ABC aired. Indeed, Nightline made it sound as if West considered Hefner a "hero" of his, which he certainly never said.
West didn't say Hef was his hero. He did say Hef was his muse. The New York Times almost precisely defines the Chris West meme: Mr. Hefner is to be applauded for helping "free Americans from Puritanism and neurosis." Chris West insists Hugh Hefner diagnosed the disease - Hef, not Christ, not the Pope, but Hugh Hefner is the physician who made the correct diagnosis. Hefner is the first person to spring to Chris West's mind when viewing the "Puritan" landscape he sees, a landscape he sees through Hefner's glasses. Indeed, to an aspiring rock star like Chris West, Hugh Hefner, the Guitar Hero advocate, embodies every hormonal teenage boy's dream. His philosophy, his take on history, is worth musing upon.

The Catholic Faith is the Truth, with a capital 'T.' To the extent that any fact of life is mis-represented, it is not Catholic. So, not only are distortions of theological facts to be avoided, but so are distortions of history.

So, let us make a quick summary of major Westian distortions:
Christopher West distorts the story of the bishops and the prostitute in order to promote his own version of Catholic theology.
Christopher West distorts the writings of St. Louis de Montfort in order to promote his own version of Catholic theology.
Christopher West directly contradicts Aquinas on the question of whether continence is a virtue.
Christopher West directly contradicts John Paul II himself, as he speaks in the TOB audiences, on the question of whether continence is a virtue.
For our spiritual edification and delight, Christopher West promotes a liar who pretended to be a Carmelite mystic and who brands Christianity "Christo-fascism."

I have heard, with my own ears, Christopher West say in a public talk, "When it comes to sexuality, the Catholic Church's understanding is about at the level of a teenager."

Now we see laid out even by the pagans, even by pagans who have never heard of Chris West, that West's version of history is just absurd, held only by acolytes of Hugh Hefner.

The worst heresies were created by men who adhered closely to Catholic doctrine in most of what they did. But these heretics, influenced by the age in which they lived, insisted that the Catholic Faith change, even if just a small bit, to accommodate their own distorted understanding of the facts.

Look at the Hefner/West version of history.
Then look at an historian's version of history.

Which will you buy into?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Don't Go West, Young Man

It is common knowledge that Protestants who hold to sola fide (faith alone) salvation have enormous problems with Scripture. Why? Because the only time the words "faith alone" appear in Scripture is in the letter of James (2:24), where James says "We are not saved by faith alone."

Yet, despite this problem, our Protestant brethren - with the best of intentions - hold that as long as you make a saving statement of faith, you will be saved, your life will change, all things will be different for you. Indeed, Luther held that, once you gained the perspective of Christ, you could no longer commit a sin that would damn you.

Chris West is now in similar straits and for similar reasons. His recent reply places him in direct and immediate contradiction to both Thomas Aquinas and his only non-scatalogical muse, Pope John Paul II. West says:
In the language of St. Thomas Aquinas, a person who can successfully restrain himself from sin is “continent” but not yet virtuous. Continence falls short of virtue since virtue presupposes a right desire, and this is lacking in the continent person (see Summa, Prima Secundae, q. 58, a. 3, ad 2).
Wow! Chris West even quotes the title in the Latin!
I wonder if West really knows any Latin?
But, more to the point, does Aquinas really say continence is not a virtue?
Well, let's look!
First Part of the Second Part (i.e., Prima Secundae)
Question 155
Article 1. Whether continence is a virtue?

Objection 1. It would seem that continence is not a virtue. (Readers of Aquinas already know the gig is up. Whenever a Thomistic objection holds to one position, it is a given that Thomas will demonstrate the opposite is the case).

On the contrary,
Every praiseworthy habit would seem to be a virtue. Now such is continence, for Andronicus says [De Affectibus] that "continence is a habit unconquered by pleasure." Therefore continence is a virtue. (See?)
That's gotta sting.

"But wait! Read on, Kellmeyer! Don't you realize that Aquinas contradicts himself just a paragraph later?"
I answer that, The word "continence" is taken by various people in two ways. For some understand continence to denote abstention from all venereal pleasure: thus the Apostle joins continence to chastity (Galatians 5:23). On this sense perfect continence is virginity in the first place, and widowhood in the second. Wherefore the same applies to continence understood thus, as to virginity which we have stated above (Question 152, Article 3) to be a virtue. Others, however, understand continence as signifying that whereby a man resists evil desires, which in him are vehement. On this sense the Philosopher takes continence (Ethic. vii, 7), and thus also it is used in the Conferences of the Fathers (Collat. xii, 10,11). In this way continence has something of the nature of a virtue, in so far, to wit, as the reason stands firm in opposition to the passions, lest it be led astray by them: yet it does not attain to the perfect nature of a moral virtue, by which even the sensitive appetite is subject to reason so that vehement passions contrary to reason do not arise in the sensitive appetite. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 9) that "continence is not a virtue but a mixture," inasmuch as it has something of virtue, and somewhat falls short of virtue.
Now, it is true that Aquinas distinguishes two forms of continence: the continence of venereal pleasure versus the continence of resisting the passions through the use of reason. The first is a virtue, the second... well, here's where it gets interesting. Aquinas points out that the Philosopher (Aristotle) didn't think the second was a virtue. But what does Aquinas himself, enlightened with the light of Christ through baptism in a way the Philosopher never was, what does our baptized, enlightened Aquinas say?
If, however, we take virtue in a broad sense, for any principle of commendable actions, we may say that continence is a virtue.
And, we would be remiss if we did not point out yet another reference from Aquinas:
First Part of the Second Part
Question 109
Article 10: Whether man possessed of grace needs the help of grace in order to perservere?

I answer that, Perseverance is taken in three ways. First, to signify a habit of the mind whereby a man stands steadfastly, lest he be moved by the assault of sadness from what is virtuous. And thus perseverance is to sadness as continence is to concupiscence and pleasure, as the Philosopher says. Secondly, perseverance may be called a habit whereby a man has the purpose of persevering in good until the end. And in both these ways perseverance is infused together with grace, even as are continence and the other virtues.
Now, THAT leaves a red mark. Quite painful.

"Wait, Kellmeyer!" comes the call. "You're cheating! West doesn't even refer to Question 155! Or Question 109, for that matter! He's telling us to look at Question 58, Article 3! That's where Aquinas contradicts himself and agrees with Chris West!"

Oh, yes, of course. My mistake. How stupid of me. I should look only where Chris points and nowhere else, lest I become confused. Let's go take a look at the question that is so much more on point to whether or not continence is a virtue.

In West's reference, Question 58, Aquinas asks "Whether virtue is adequately divided into moral and intellectual virtues?" That answer is certainly going to be more relevant to the question of whether or not continence is a virtue than anything Aquinas might have to say under the heading "Is continence a virtue?"

[Note: A reader pointed out that the original section below, which had originally observed that continency was not mentioned in Q 58, was based on an erroneous translation. After having found a correct translation, I modified the section below accordingly.]

So, when we turn to Question 58 we see... "continency is not a perfection of the sensitive appetite... so continency and perseverance are not perfections ... [or] virtues" and he uses the continent man as an example to demonstrate the lack of virtue in continence and perseverance.

"Ah! So Aquinas does contradict himself!"

Well, no.

Many people think Aquinas uses the word "continence" in two ways, but he doesn't. Rather, he uses the word "virtue" in two ways. For Thomas, "virtue" can mean "habit" or "virtue" can mean "perfection." The difference is one of duration. A good habit, continued long enough, will lead one to perfection. So a virtuous habit perfects the man who practices it.

However, even before the habit perfects the man, it is still a habit - a virtue.

When Thomas denies that continence and perseverance are virtues in Question 58, but affirms that continence and perseverance are both virtues just a little later in Question 109, and again in Q. 155, he is not contradicting himself. Rather, in Q. 58, he specifically says "continency and perseverance are, however, perfections of the rational faculty."

A continent persevering man displays a virtue of rationality, logic, intellect. The continent man knows when he is in danger, so he runs from it - that's virtuous. The only reason we can't call continence a virtue in the sense of final perfection is due to the fact that the man still has strong passions at all. But since it isn't the role of continence to regulate the passions, but only the reason, continence is not a full moral virtue - it cannot accomplish the perfection of the man on its own.

While continence perfects rationality (and virtues always perfect something), it can't touch the passions, it can't get at one piece that isn't yet perfected, because that's simply not the job of continence. And because it perfects part of man, but does not by itself completely perfect him, in that sense alone it is not a virtue.

Hmmm... is there anything here which may confirm this reading? Well, Aquinas does differentiate here between two kinds of virtue: moral and intellectual.

Why is this important? Well, because Aquinas told us in question 155 (not that Question 155 is relevant, of course, but humor me), that both Aristotle and the Fathers of the Church said of continence "yet it does not attain to the perfect nature of a moral virtue."

"See, Kellmeyer? That means continence is not a virtue at all!"

Well, no, not exactly. As I was saying, Aquinas points out in Question 58 that there are two kinds of virtues: moral and intellectual. Moral virtues perfect appetites, intellectual virtues perfect reason.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church names only four moral virtues: justice, fortitude, temperance and chastity (CCC #1807-1809, 2345).

However, the CCC goes on to list several other virtues: religion (2096), prudence (1806), solidarity (1942, 1948), truthfulness (2486), poverty (2833) and of course, faith, hope and love (theological virtues). None of these virtues are called "moral virtues." But they are all virtues, nonetheless. Indeed, CCC #2349 even says:
2349 "People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single." Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence (emphasis added):
There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses, the second that of widows, and the third that of virgins. We do not praise any one of them to the exclusion of the others. . . . This is what makes for the richness of the discipline of the Church.
So, according to the CCC, continence is a virtue - it is the lived virtue of chastity.

"No, you're wrong, Kellmeyer!" comes the reply. "What about all the John Paul II quotes that West supplies! John Paul II clearly contradicts Aquinas and the CCC, so JP II and West are right, and you are wrong! Continence is NOT a virtue!"

Oh, contraire, mon frere! Let's look at a what JP II actually says:
In keeping with what has already been said, today we will take up the analysis of the virtue of continence. Continence, which is part of the more general virtue of temperance. Continence consists in the capacity to dominate, control and direct drives of a sexual character (concupiscence of the flesh) and their consequences, in the psychosomatic subjectivity of man. Insofar as it is a constant disposition of the will, this capacity, merits being called a virtue. ...
"STOP IT! That's raising actual welts!"

Well, yes, it is.

"Why are you beating one of our own?"

"Are you alright Chris?... Don't worry, dear. I'll make the bad man go away..."

While someone ministers to Chris, let's consider the Pope's words again. John Paul II is simply quoting Aquinas here, without direct attribution to the Summa. Aquinas spends all of Question 155 Article 2 discussing how continence is part of the general virtue of temperance. There's no contradiction between Aquinas, who calls continence a virtue, the CCC, which calls continence a virtue, and Pope John Paul II, who calls continence a virtue.

"Kellmeyer, you are taking the Pope out of context. What about this passage, in which Pope John Paul II clearly tells us we can overcome concupiscence and be free of its effects?"
... In the light of these considerations it is easy to understand that continence is not limited to offering resistance to the concupiscence of the flesh. But through this resistance it is open likewise to those values, more profound and more mature, inherent in the spousal significance of the body in its femininity and masculinity, as well as in the authentic freedom of the gift in the reciprocal relations of the persons.
We are continuing the analysis of the virtue of continence (emphasis has been added by that lustful, evil Kellmeyer. West rightfully warns us that anyone who opposes his interpretations is lustful and evil; they have not yet become one of "the pure ones", i.e., the Catharii, or in modern parlance, a faithful Westian. Be WARNED!) in the light of the doctrine contained in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae. It is well to recall that the great classics of ethical (and anthropological) thought, both the pre-Christian ones and the Christian ones (St. Thomas Aquinas), see in the virtue of continence (Kellmeyer is so evil) not only the capacity to contain bodily and sensual reactions, but even more the capacity to control and guide man's whole sensual and emotive sphere. In the case under discussion, it is a question of the capacity to direct the line of excitement toward its correct development and also the line of emotion itself, orienting it toward the deepening and interior intensification of its pure and, in a certain sense, disinterested character. ...
.. The Encyclical Humanae Vitae devotes due attention to the biological aspect of the question, that is to say, to the rhythmic character of human fertility. In the light of the encyclical, this "periodicalness" can be called a providential index for a responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Nevertheless a question such as this one, which has such a profoundly personalistic and sacramental (theological) meaning, is not resolved only on this level. (See? Are you READING this Kellmeyer?)

The encyclical teaches responsible fatherhood and motherhood "as a proof of a mature conjugal love." Therefore it contains not only the answer to the concrete question that is asked in the sphere of the ethics of married life but, as already has been stated it also indicates a plan of conjugal spirituality, which we wish at least to outline. ...

If this salvific fear is directly associated with the negative function of continence (that is, to resistance with regard to concupiscence of the flesh), it is also manifested and to an ever greater degree as this virtue (grrr...) gradually matures as sensitivity filled with veneration for the essential values of the conjugal union: for the two meanings of the conjugal act (or, to use the terminology of the previous analyses, veneration for the interior truth of the mutual language of the body).

On the basis of a profound reference to these two essential values, that which signifies union of the couple is harmonized in the subject with that which signifies responsible fatherhood and motherhood. The gift of respect for what is created by God enables the apparent contradiction in this area to disappear and the difficulty arising from concupiscence to be gradually overcome, thanks to the maturity of the virtue and the power of the Holy Spirit's gift. (See, See? Concupiscence CAN be permanently overcome!)

6. If it is a question of the problem of so-called periodic continence (or recourse to natural methods), the gift of respect for the work of God helps, to the greatest extent, to reconcile human dignity with the natural cycles of fertility, that is, with the biological dimension of the femininity and masculinity of the couple. This dimension also has a significance of its own for the truth of the mutual language of the body in married life.
Well, no, that's not what the Pope is saying.

The problem here is partly one of perception. Years ago, a psychologist did a study in which a group of college students were told an expert, a Nobel prize winner, was going to give a lecture in his area of expertise and they were invited to attend. The lecture, given by an actor, was actually just a pile of gobbledy-gook and catch phrase. It made no coherent sense. Yet, when asked afterwards, all the students said the speech was incredibly profound and deeply insightful. It was certainly difficult material, and merited more profound meditation and study, but everyone affirmed they had definitely benefited as a result of hearing this brilliant man's lecture.

Perception. The students were told the speech had content and the speaker was an authority. They believed it. As a result, when they didn't understand what the lecturer said, they didn't attribute the fault to the lecturer or the material, but to themselves. They just weren't as bright as the "Nobel prize winner." If they just studied more, they would be fine. And they certainly were not going to let on that they didn't get it.

God bless John Paul II, but he was a long-winded man. He took very simple ideas and expressed them in highly complex, often needlessly technical language.

Chris West has built a career off of taking his personal theology, imposing it on John Paul II's obfuscating language, and claiming his "insights" are wonderful simplified versions of JP II's work, specially designed for the common man.

The passages above demonstrate the problem in spades.

The first two paragraphs with bolded remarks simply say "NFP is not just a biological action. You have to approach it with the right intention."

The next two paragraphs just say, "As long as you recognize and respect, as long as you are willing to embrace, the possibility of becoming a parent when you have sex, and you recognize that the physical union with your spouse is meant to be holy, you are ok. Don't be a glutton."

That is really all that is in there.

Chris West makes several references to JP II's writings.
He claims those references support his theology.

How far are you willing to trust a man who mis-directs you on Aquinas (see above), who misrepresents the writings of John the Stylite in order to twist the story of the bishops and the prostitute to his own liking, or who debases the writings of St. Louis de Montfort?

How much do you trust Chris West, a man who actively promotes a New Age spiritualist, a woman who lied about her Carmelite background, a woman whose community is associated with at least one attempted suicide, a woman who praised Buddhism for its corrective to "Christo-fascism"? West was enthralled by her, unable to leave his car as he listened again to her tape set.

Chris West advocates the pursuit of a new purity, a new Catharism. There are the enlightened, the Westians. Then there are the slobs, the rest of us who don't understand his special knowledge.

It is interesting to note that the Westian controversy over the propriety of anal sexual activity was also associated with the original Catharii. The term "bugger" is, according to the semi-reliable Wikipedia, derived from the fact that, like the Westians, the original Catharii also had fewer inhibitions about anal sex than unenlightened Catholics.

The rest of us, unenlightened, lustful, evil slobs that we are, do not have the purity of the Westians. That's our problem, really. We're prudes, snobs, Puritans, Manicheans, and we eat Cheetohs for breakfast. We disgust them. Worse, when we point out their errors, we abuse them. Swine like us shouldn't poke our noses into their pure knowledge, especially in public forums. We should strive to emulate them, pure and holy examples for us all. Don't pay attention to what the texts say - let them interpret the texts. The Westians will make it all clear.
I thought that continence arose from one's own powers, which I did not recognize in myself. I was foolish enough not to know . . . that no one can be continent unless you grant it. For you would surely have granted it if my inner groaning had reached your ears and I with firm faith had cast my cares on you. (St. Augustine, CCC 2520).
Priests face east when they celebrate the Mass because the Fathers have long held that Christ will come from the East at the Parousia. Priests don't face to the West because the West is associated with error, deception and, ultimately, condemnation. Take the advice of the Fathers. Don't go West, young man.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


With the new note on Anglican admission into the Catholic Church, a couple of thoughts come to mind.

The "personal ordinariate," a new version of the personal prelature, admits two laudable goals, one stated, one left unstated.

The stated goal is that it permits the Anglicans entering the Church to retain the customs of prayer and spirituality that they have maintained since their break with Rome under Henry VIII. By itself, this is to be expected. Similar kinds of situations have been worked out over the course of the last two millennia with every group that has ever broken off. Even the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankar rites, having distinct histories of fission and fusion, have also their distinct rites.

The second point is touched on rather tangentially by the canonist Ed Peters when he says the Church is moving away from geographic territories and towards social groupings.

This "social grouping" will create problems down the road, of course, but it isn't noticeably different from what's happened in the United States for the last 50 years.

In medieval Europe, the king may have his private chapel, but Sunday Mass was in the cathedral, and everyone attended, from prince to pauper. That kind of Mass hasn't been seen in the United States in a long time. Today, the rich have their parish church, the poor have theirs, and never do the twain meet. Indeed, when the poor dare to enter a rich man's church, their faux pas is made clear. In much the same way, the poor look askance at anyone daft enough to drive their Beemer to the run-down urban church in the heart of the 'hood.

But, given the who the TAC are and what they represent, the second message is much more interesting.

The TAC love the traditional liturgy. They love chant, the priest leading the people towards the heaven of the altar, the communion rail. They hate guitars, clown noses and insipid liturgy.

The bishops of England have long tried to keep the TAC out of the Church, for fear that a half-million serious Catholics might upset the balance of power. The Holy Father just did an end-run around them.

But it isn't just around them. Think of all the bishops in the developed countries, bishops in the United States for instance, who don't like Summorum Pontificum, who put various illegitimate impediments in place, bishops who just don't understand that the current Novus Ordo liturgy is a thing made for children, not adults.

With the new structure, a structure that could easily be used by not only the SSPX, but many, many other groups, the Holy Father has the ability to do an end-run around recalcitrant bishops throughout the world.

From the descriptions so far, the new Anglican format seems to be essentially a quasi "religious order" that's organized not by vows or living together in stable community (e.g., cloister), but rather by traditional spiritual practice.

Could the Ecclesia Dei groups around the world ultimately be set up in a similar fashion?
If bishops continue to be recalcitrant towards the Holy Father's wishes, there's no reason they couldn't be.

This bodes exceedingly well for Extraordinary Catholics, that is, the Catholics who follow the Extraordinary Form. Indeed, it bodes well for ALL faithful Catholics.

For myopic bishops?
Not so much...

UPDATE: I've had some questions concerning John Allen's report that the Vatican note compares the "personal ordinariate" to military dioceses in structure and lack of geographic containment.

While this comparison is certainly true of the governing structure, it should be remembered that this structure is quite different from the military diocese in terms of its purpose.

The military diocese exists to minister to a highly mobile population. The spirituality of that population can be very much in conformance with that of the rest of the population it exists within, but the governing structure is set up to handle the mobility problem that military service presents.

The population of a personal ordinariate, on the other hand, might be geographically quite stable, its population very unlikely to move at all. It exists in order to protect a specific approach to spirituality common to a widely dispersed group of people, it protects that spirituality from "outside" interference or suppression.

Thus, the personal ordinariate is, indeed, expressly designed to keep its members out from under the thumb of the ordained men who would otherwise oversee those members. In this regard, the personal ordinariate is actually quite a lot closer to the status of a religious order, if only because (a) religious orders exist to protect and promote specific spiritualities and (b) the local bishop has extremely limited ability (read "none") to interfere with the spiritual life of the order.

There is, of course, one exception to the similarity between religious orders and personal ordinariates. A bishop can invite in or kick out any religious order in his diocese. A diocese does not have a religious order within its boundaries unless the bishop invites it in. It can only operate within the boundaries of the diocese until the bishop kicks it out.

That same bishop has absolutely no such control over the members of a personal ordinariate.

John Allen may (or may not) realize this, but for political reasons he may be choosing to remain publicly silent about this aspect of the personal ordinariate. Certainly the bishops recognize what Pope Benedict has done, but they also have good reasons for not drawing public attention to this aspect of the new structure. And, of course, the Vatican is diplomatically silent about this aspect as well, choosing to emphasize the form of the governing structure, while delicately describing the purpose without reference to the local bishop.

I am certain more than one of them will be very interested in seeing what other kinds of personal ordinariates get set up. This just doesn't bode well for local bishops who continue to defy the Pope.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sects, Lies, and the Wild, Wild West

"Recently, while preparing for a long drive, I decided to look through my old collection of tape series for something to listen to (yes, I still have a cassette deck in my car). My eyes landed on a box set called "Passion for God" by a Carmelite Abbess named Mother Tessa Bielecki."
That's how Christopher West began his newspaper column's recent two-part series discussing "Mother Tessa's" thoughts on sex and St. Teresa of Avila.

Given that this is part of his "old tape" set, it's clear that West has spent a lot of time contemplating Mother Tessa's wisdom. Indeed, while he does not refer to her Spiritual Life Institute by name, in his talks, he often holds up as an example a remarkable order of monks and nuns living together in celibate community. Yes, once we discover this community, empowered by Pope John XXIII's personal permission, headed by Discalced Carmelite Father William McNamara and the Carmelite abbess, Mother Tessa, we are taken aback by the breathtaking break with the whole history of monastic life that it represents.

But, we are taken aback even more when we discover that "Mother Tessa" is not now, nor has she ever been, a Carmelite nun, much less an abbess, that the community was not, in fact, set up with the advice of Pope John XXIII, and that none of the men and women there, apart from Fr. McNamara, is under binding vows to the Church.

The truth about the community came out more than 20 years ago, when the September/October 1988 edition of Yoga Journal ran the following letter correcting the inaccuracies in its laudatory portrait of "Mother Tessa":

I am responding to an article in the March/April [1988] issue of Yoga Journal entitled “Everything and Nothing.” Misinformation in an article is bad enough, but total inaccuracies in glaring, large print are more than I can ignore. As a retreatant in 1970 and 1971 and a member of the Spiritual Life Institute from 1972 until 1975, I would like to clarify a few points.

  1. Tessa Bielecki is not, and never was, a Carmelite nun. She has no formal affiliation with any authorized religious community. In 1974, Tessa and Father William decided it would be nice if the community wore robes to community prayer. A Carmelite nun who was in residence at the time designed and sewed robes and woollen capes. We all joked about being “monks and monkesses.” In 1975 Tessa decided that all women in the community should wear headscarves and began signing her letters “Mom.” A split in the community occurred in 1975, and five of the 10 members left. The day I left I witnessed a remaining community member taking a vow of obedience to the Spiritual Life Institute. That was the inception of a probationary period for aspiring community members and the taking of vows. It was several years later that I first saw Tessa referred to in print as “Mother Tessa” and the institute associated with the Carmelites.
  2. Tessa was born in September 1944. This is 1988. If it is true that she is now returning to the world after 27 years, then she was 17 when she became a contemplative. Since she was 22 when she met Father William, That’s very unlikely.

The evolution of mythology is fascinating, and I have watched with interest and some dismay the develping myths and mystique of the Spiritual Life Institute. The community I first visited in April 1970 was a loosely organized interdenominational contemplative group with Father William McNamara as spiritual leader and Tessa Bielecki as gardner, business manager and chief cook. Back then, the permission from John XXIII to start a “new order… which would bring the message of the contemplative life… and which would be composed of both men and women” was a brief papal audience in which John XXIII approved Father William’s desire to begin a more strictly eremetical community. Father William’s original community was comprised of three male religious, each of whom lived in an individual hermitage along Oak Creek in Sedona, Arizona. The community disbanded when one of the members ran off with a local woman.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this and other articles published about the Spiritual Life Institute has been the lack of response from former community members or communities involved in the not-so-glorious side of the institute. One ex-member who attempted suicide after rejections and ostracism by Father William wrote a thinly veiled novel about her bitter experience, but her religious community never spoke out against the institute. As far as I know, the Carmelite nuns have never issued a statement protesting Tessa’s self-designated Carmelite status. I almost wrote a letter in response to a National Catholic Reporter front-page article several years ago, but didn’t.

Father William McNamara is a powerful, charismatic man. Even these many years later, I hesitate to sign my name to a public statement against the Institute because I still fear the powerful impact of Father William’s wrath.

The mythology that the Spiritual Life Institute has created for its beginnings and its present may be harmless but… The Spiritual Life Institute is just another flawed, many-faceted sect; Tessa is still a Polish-American girl trying to believe that she is another Teresa of Avila; and Father William McNamara is a charismatic priest whose charisma has a dark and possibly dangerous side.

Cynthia Davis

Flagstaff, AZ

That, of course, is just the beginning. In the interview with Yoga Journal that the letter references, West's publicly endorsed "abbess" avers that Buddhism is a great counterweight to "Christo-fascism." In this light, it is, perhaps, also useful to notice who Mother Tessa's friends are. Consider this summer 2009 event:
  1. Time: All day event
  2. Summary: In the Shelter of Each Other
  3. Location: Upaya Zen Center
  4. Description: Morning: Participants will begin the day with movement practice led by Zuleikha. This will be followed by teachings on aspects of female power by Jane Fonda, Rabbi Malka Drucker and Roshi Joan. Afternoon: Participants move into two groups: Barbara Tedlock (Mayan shamanism and power); Tessa Bielecki, Jean Wilkins (Christianity, Buddhism, women and power). Evening: Colleen Kelly explores the I Ching. Roshi Joan weaves the day.Upaya Zen Center is hosting “In the Shelter of Each Other Women’s Retreat: Power, Compassion, Resilience and the Shadow” July 16-20, 2008.The instructors are Roshi Joan Halifax, Zen teacher; Jane Fonda, social activist and actress; Mayumi Oda, social activist and artist; Zuleikha, dancer; Tessa Bielicki, co-founder of The Desert Foundation; Cynthia West, poet; Rabbi Malka Drucker, founder of HaMakom; Barbara Tedlock, specialist in Mayan shamanism; Colleen Kelly, I Ching teacher; Marty Peale, field naturalist; Beate Stolte, vice abbot, Upaya Zen Center; Jean Wilkins, Yushin Hieleman and Jisen McFarland, Upaya Zen priests. Call for exact times of morning, afternoon and evening events. $450 for nonmembers; $400 for members; Web site is; e-mail or call 505-986-8518.

We should also take note of the fact that Father McNamara, Tessa's spiritual mentor, recommends praying the Our Father backwards. He asserts that the more spiritually mature a person is, the less s/he needs the Eucharist. Father McNamara is also of the opinion that "Jesus didn't institute a sacrament of the eucharist (sic), he entered into the sacramentality of the universe."

Make of these statements what you will, but it cannot be denied that Tessa's spiritual formation is certainly something Pope John XXIII, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI would find... remarkable.

Now, in fairness, it should be noted that today, Tessa Bielecki advertises herself as having left the Carmelite community. In fact, Tessa seems to have "left the order" at about the same time her instructor, Father McNamara, was allegedly laicized. Perhaps the Carmelites finally got tired of the personal use Tessa (and by proxy, Father McNamara) was making of the Carmelite name. But, as the recent workshop announcement testifies, that hasn't stopped her from being advertised as an authentic teacher of Carmelite spirituality, not only on her own authority, but also on the authority of none other than that paragon of Catholic catechesis, Mr. Christopher West.

Despite her endorsements by the inestimable West, Tessa Bielecki appears to be a New Age leader of a non-Catholic "ecumenical" cult who massages St. Teresa of Avila's Catholic mysticism into something that Jane Fonda would find acceptable. This is the spirituality that Christopher West not only finds personally enthralling, it is the spirituality he explicitly recommends to other Catholics, Catholics who have far less theological training than he.

As I've noted earlier, Christopher West has a well-documented past with cult movements. He also has a history of "adapting" stories to his particular use.

Most famous, of course, is his version of the story of St. Pelagia and St. Nonnus. His "adaptation" of the spiritual conversion and subsequent life of that holy woman is substantially different from the actual historical account handed down to us by John the Stylite.

Similarly, West's rendition of the writings of St. Louis de Montfort, are, as Father Angelo Mary Geiger points out, starkly different from anything St. Louis de Montfort actually wrote.

Now we find Christopher West endorsing "Mother" Tessa Bielecki, who has, herself, taken certain... liberties... with the writings of St. Teresa of Avila. Well, and with the use of the name "Carmelite" in general. And with essential historical facts, for that matter.

A couple of possibilities follow:
1) Christopher West had no knowledge of Tessa Bielecki's dissimulation. Conclusion: Christopher West's grasp of Catholic theology is such that he was successfully taken in by the spiritual writings of a marginally Catholic "business manager and chief cook" pretending to be a nun.

2) Christopher West knew of Tessa Bielecki's dissimulation, but chose to ignore it because her marginally Catholic theology fit in with his own highly idiosyncratic interpretation of John Paul II's teachings. Conclusion: let us pass on in silence.

It is certain that Cardinal Rigali had no knowledge of Chris West's predilections in this matter. However, it does raise the question of how reliable West's recommendations are when it comes to his other "spiritual lights," his other... muses, as it were.

Taken together with his other very personal renditions of history and doctrine, it also raises the question of how we are to approach his take on any Catholic doctrine or any point of Catholic history he claims to raise.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Tales From The Cult

He grew up in a stereotypically uptight Catholic household, was a drummer in a rock band, and had a transformational religious experience in his early 20s. After writing a book that received national attention and a Catholic bishop's imprimatur, he founded a movement that swept across the country gaining numerous adherents. It made him a millionaire.

If you think I'm talking about Christopher West, you're wrong.
I'm talking about his spiritual grandfather, Larry Tomczak.
Who is Larry Tomczak and why would anyone consider him Chris West's spiritual grandfather?

Therein lies a tale...

Back in the 1970's, Larry Tomczak was a young midwestern Catholic man who underwent a Pentecostalist conversion experience, becoming "born-again" without leaving his Catholic faith. He used his experience at Pentecostal churches to become a major player in the then burgeoning Catholic charismatic movement. In fact, the man from Cleveland, Ohio founded and oversaw charismatic communities through the same Sword of the Spirit umbrella community (search the PDF in this link with the phrase "Mother of God community") that saw Ralph Martin found the Word of God community.

Despite extremely dodgy liturgical theology, his autobiographical national best-seller, Clap Your Hands, received an imprimatur from Cardinal William Baum.

Why would the Cardinal do such a thing? Well, the charismatic movement was the latest theological fad in a Church whose leaders were trying to speak to the culture, to be really "up-to-date." Tomczak's book really appealed to the nation's young adults. Liturgical theology was in upheaval anyway. So, why not give it an imprimatur?

Tomczak moved to D.C. in the early 1970s, founding the nondenominational communities Take and Give (TAG) and People of Destiny International (PDI). Ultimately, however, the dulcet sounds of his own voice seduced him.

By 1982 he had left the Catholic Church to co-found Sovereign Grace Ministry. By sheer coincidence, PDI and Sovereign Grace Ministry were based in Gaithersburg, Md. -- where the Mother of God Community was and is based.

And, again by happy coincidence, the Word of God community which took its philosophy in part from Tomzcak's theology, was the progenitor for the Mother of God community. All of these Tomczak-inspired communities subscribed to the same "headship" principle of "shepherding", a principle that in the 1980's caused many Catholic bishops to become wary.

As it happens, the Mother of God community's "shepherding" technique was so heavy-handed that, despite initially receiving the approbation of the local bishop, it eventually invited a Washington Post series on the "Catholic cult" aspects of the community.

It was this series of articles that first brought Christopher West national exposure. He became the "star" stool pigeon in the series, whose progress out of the community was followed in breathless detail by WaPo reporters. Before the series was finished, West had, with characteristic understatement, made the claim that the Gaithersburg Catholic religious community had raped him.

So, as this thumbnail history shows, Christopher West not only has a Catholic charismatic background, his charismatic background is shaped by a "shepherding" technique developed by a Catholic apostate. It is a set of techniques that turns spiritual direction into a mockery of the real thing, and religion into a mockery of Catholicism.

Given this, is it any wonder that Chris West's view on sexuality is somewhat... different... than the view of Catholics who had a less severe upbringing, people who did not grow up in a cult atmosphere? Can the cult's attitude towards its own members explain why Christopher West seems to view Hugh Hefner as a kind of hero or saviour, someone who is somehow spiritually on par with John Paul II? Does West, like Tomczak, carry so much baggage from his cult past and family upbringing that he simply cannot properly explain the Catholic Faith?

It is certainly the case that Larry Tomczak eventually left the Catholic Faith, although the man who was once endorsed by many Catholics, both lay and ordained, remains a very successful speaker and presenter even to this day. But programs which appeal to the nation's youth have a habit of going astray.

We have not only seen this with Tomczak's version of the Catholic charismatic movement, we also saw the same thing with the Lifeteen movement which was so heavily promoted by various Catholic leaders, both lay and ordained, because it so "energized" Catholic youth.

There, too, we saw a movement whose founders regularly misrepresented Catholic theology and liturgy, but whose defenders explained those "minor" mistakes away by pointing to all the "good" it accomplished, all the orthodox teachings it did present, and the thousands of youth who returned to the practice of the Faith because of it.

But, where are those episcopal and lay Lifeteen cheerleaders now? To whom have they apologized now that Lifeteen's founder is excommunicated and defrocked and its movement become non-denominational? How many Catholics now carry a distorted understanding of what liturgy should be thanks to Lifeteen's "minor" distortions?

How many times do we have to go through this?

Lest this essay be seen as a pure slam of the Mother of God community, which still exists, it should be pointed out that the Mother of God community began a series of reforms the same year the WaPo series was published.

Indeed, within a few months of the WaPo articles (and before the reforms began), Christopher West would leave the Gaithersburg's community "cult" behind to begin his study of Catholic Faith at the John Paul II Institute in Washington DC.

Upon his graduation, someone would secure this unknown graduate with a freshly-minted MA in theology a speaking gig at an international theological conference in Brazil.

The rest is, as they say, history.

At least some members of the Mother of God community, the community whose spiritual life had been approbated by bishops, exposed by a national news series in the secular media, then reformed by those same bishops, were undoubtedly proud of this happy achievement.

But, it should also be noted, today, not all members of the reformed Mother of God community are happy with Christopher West's teachings. Indeed, at least a few of the current members at the highest levels of the community are quite concerned with both the content and the method of West's presentations.

In that regard, it is difficult to know what to make of yet another set of happy coincidences: Ralph Martin, the founder of the Word of God community, is now an associate professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, along with former MoG community chair Mary Healy, current MoG chaplain Father Francis Martin and current Christopher West associate, Dr. Janet Smith.

Dr. Smith, it may be remembered, is not only a professor at Sacred Heart seminary, she is also an instructor for the corporation West created, the Theology of the Body Institute, which sponsors West's pricey courses. She collaborates with him in leading TOB Institute seminars, although she innocently failed to mention her work with him when she first began writing in support of West's teachings.

So, who is for Chris West and who is against him?

Well, the lines seem pretty clear.
The people who taught him theology are very concerned.
Many of the people who benefit from his association are not.

To Learn More about Christopher West's errors, click on Chris and the Cult.