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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Marking Chris West

To my shock and delight, it seems Mark Shea has finally decided to skewer Christopher West. Given Mark's close association with Matt Pinto via Catholic Exchange (Mark is the senior editor, Matt is the unofficial publisher for Catholic Exchange), this is a remarkable turn of events. It is, perhaps, for reasons along this line that we see Shea's attack on West appear not on Catholic Exchange, but at Inside Catholic.

The distancing is all the more amazing when we see the bits of "business" Mark has inserted into the essay itself, subtle parodies of West's own errors.

For instance, in the opening paragraphs, Mark deliberately misrepresents the facts on the "Adamites", in an apparent parody of West's constant distortion of the theological facts surrounding John Paul II's Theology of the Body.

Mark places the Adamites and similar theological nudist movements in post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment, technologically advanced 20th century climate-controlled countries, despite the fact that a simple Google search or a quick perusal of the Catholic Encyclopedia clearly reveals that the Adamite nudists were a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th century heresy.

Why would Shea make such an obvious and easily debunked historical error? Well, we should remember that one of West's central errors, the idea that the Paschal candle is a phallic symbol of some kind, is also an insupportably anachronistic error, the exact reverse of the Adamite error Shea "makes."

Whereas Shea takes an ancient sect and pretends it is thoroughly and only modern, West took a modern heresy - the idea that the Paschal candle is somehow a phallic symbol - and pretended it was thoroughly ancient.

In fact, despite the unsupported statements of people like Christopher West, Janet Smith and Michael Waldstein, no one has produced ANY evidence that the Paschal candle was ever given West's phallic meaning in the first 1800 years of the Church.

Instead, quite the opposite is the case. Due to Dawn Eden's masterful research on the subject, we know that the "Easter candle as phallic symbol" concept was actually developed by one of Nietsche's professors and was popularized by anti-Catholic students of Carl Jung. Eden reminds us that Father Dominic Serra has already described how the fathers of the Second Vatican Council specifically rejected the phallic symbol interpretation West foolishly uses.

But Mark Shea doesn't stop there. He then goes on to an extended discussion of the verb "nake." The parody here is that Mark takes chunks of his own discussion straight from C.S. Lewis' well-known chapter on Eros in The Four Loves without any attribution whatsoever.

This, of course, is a subtle reference to West's habit of taking material like the "Easter candle-phallic symbol" analogy from other modern, copyrighted sources without making any attributions whatsoever, deliberately passing off other people's work as his own. As a senior editor at Catholic Exchange, Mark is fully aware of the need to attribute work, so it's clear that he's making a point about West's unwillingness to do so.

Whereas Mark's unattributed source is the redoubtable C.S. Lewis, West's unattributed sources, at least in reference to the phallic Easter candle, are a series of anti-Catholic Protestants and atheists. Mark thereby quietly reminds the reader of Chesterton's hilarious debunk of the atheist's idea that a church steeple is a phallic symbol.

And Mark uses all of this in a concentrated attack against the memes promoted by West and his acolytes:
This is, of course, what gives the lie to the notion that the account in Genesis is somehow the cause of a Religion of Shame about the Body, and all the rest of the recent rubbish blaming Judaism and Christianity for failing to celebrate unnatural polymorphous perversity and unfettered sexual license....

...As a general rule, the command to clothe the naked is concerned, primarily, not with the need for human warmth as the need for human dignity. Both the Puritan and the Libertine tend to forget this. The Puritan forgets by putting some arbitrary rule above the person's healthy sense of modesty in relation to his culture. The Libertine forgets it by denying that a culture (usually his own) has any language by which virtue or vice is spoken through clothes.
This, of course, is one of the central complaints made about Chris West. When he insists, as he frequently has, that a pure and moral Catholic should be able to look at a naked woman, even someone else's wife, without sin, he has taken up the Libertine's language. Mark Shea neatly skewers West not only through the subtle parody of Westian "scholarship" but also through this overt attack on West's obsession with "Puritanism." Similarly, Shea uses the theme of modesty to skewer West's understanding of the related virtue of continence:
Great fun can be had with all these cultural differences, and Puritans and Libertines have a wonderful time dogmatizing about and ignoring completely the complex interplay of aesthetics, common sense, and morality as they jockey to either raise a fashion to a granite truth of Sinai, or else eradicate the very possibility that modesty is a virtue.
Of course, continence, the virtue by which an engaged couple realizes they should not spend extended periods of time alone prior to marriage, is ridiculed by West as not being a virtue at all. Indeed, West has not only lied about the Catholic doctrine concerning the virtue of continence, he has even gone so far as to pretend Aquinas and JP II agree with him, even though both explicitly state that continence is, in fact, virtuous.

But the modesty and humility that is embodied in continence is precisely what Shea holds up as a virtue here. Indeed, Shea not only holds it up as a virtue, he condemns as "Libertine" those who would eradicate the virtues, as West has tried to do. West has long been chastised for refusing to acknowledge "the complex interplay of ... common sense and morality" and now Mark Shea adds himself to the list of those who take issue with West's approach.

By imitating and thereby parodying Westian errors and plagiarism, by interweaving Westian obsessions into his essay and soundly refuting them, Mark Shea has done a masterful and uncharacteristically subtle job of repudiating the theology of the man who has made millions by distorting Catholic theology.

My hat is off to Mark Shea.


UPDATE: Mark indicates that he didn't have Chris West in mind when he wrote the essay. He claims complete and utter ignorance of what West has to say.

This is kind of sad, since that means he really didn't know the Adamites were an early heresy, not a late one (thus seriously undermining part of his thesis), nor does this senior editor at Catholic Exchange seem to see a problem with lifting C.S. Lewis without attribution. So, while he is ignorant of West's teaching, he is sympatico in his use of research techniques.

In any case, although his comments are, like those of the High Priest, unintentional, they are completely on target. Even in his ignorance, Mark Shea demonstrates that West's "naked without shame" theology is absurd, so that portion of the essay stands. My apologies for incorrectly portraying Mark in a more positive light than he deserves.



21 comments:

Estase said...

Hey Steve,
Are you the same Steve Kellmeyer I knew in bible study at UIUC Newman? Small world! Please follow my offering, www.deniquefossor.blogspot.com

Mark P. Shea said...

Um, I didn't have Christopher West in mind at all when I wrote the piece. I haven't read him and would not have the slightest idea what he had to say about nakedness. He's your obsession, not mine. He still seems like a nice enough guy from what little I've seen of him on video. But the piece was not directed at him in the slightest.

Oh, and Pinto has not been involved with Catholic Exchange, to my knowledge, for eight years.

Given that your central thesis here is completely wrong in its assumptions, you might want to issue a correction--or a retraction.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Oh - so you MEANT to be absolutely wrong about the Adamites and you MEANT to plagiarize CS Lewis?

How embarrassing.
For you.

In any case, your remarks are still on-target about Chris and his theology, so I'll just correct the part about you being smart.

Mark P. Shea said...

What I had in mind was stuff like this:

http://www.exlibris.org/nonconform/engdis/adamites.html

And the sort of utopian movements that turned up in the 19th century as sectarian groups proliferated.

I was unaware that mentioning an idea was plagiarism. Had I quoted Lewis without attribution, you'd have a point. As it was, the definition of "nake" was cited from a standard reference work. My goal was not to rehash Lewis's argument in his own, unattributed, words, but to conduct my own discussion of "Clothe the Naked" with Nake as a springboard. The definition of "nake" or "naking" is not Lewis' personal property. So I did not feel an obligation to mention him just as most people don't feel an obligation to mention Thomas Jefferson every time they express their conviction that "equality" means "all men are created equal".

Somebody capable of a modicum of charity could acknowledge that rather than libelling me as a plagiarist.

Jordanes said...

I thought I'd read many years ago that there were Renaissance Era revivals of "Adamitism." I no longer recall which book it was where I read that, but I note that the Infallible Oracle Wikipedia mentions the later Adamites:

"During the Middle Ages the doctrines of this obscure sect, which did not itself exist long, were revived in Europe by the Brethren and Sisters of the Free Spirit and some Taborites in Bohemia. In the Modern Age some English Dissenters practiced the Adamite doctrine."

Thus it would seem Mark Shea is not mistaken to place Adamites and other nudist movements in post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment, or technologically-advanced 20th century climate-controlled countries.

Jordanes said...

And what do you know, even the Catholic Encylopedia article to which you linked mentions the later revivals of "Adamitism":

"Practices similar to those just described appeared in Europe several times in later ages. In the thirteenth century they were revived in the Netherlands by the Brethren and Sisters of the Free Spirit, and, in a grosser form, in the fourteenth by the Beghards in Germany. Everywhere they met with firm opposition. The Beghards became the Picards of Bohemia, who took possession of an island in the river Nezarka, and gave themselves up to a shameful communism. Ziska, the Hussite leader, nearly exterminated the sect in 1421 (cf. Höfler, Geschichtsquellen Böhmens, I, 414, 431); A brief revival of these doctrines took place in Bohemia after 1781, owing to the edict of toleration issued by Joseph II; these communistic Neo-Adamites were suppressed by force in 1849."

It is you, not Mark Shea, who have erred on this point.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Well, there's the goal you so coyly say you have, and then there's what Lewis wrote.

People can read your work and Lewis' and decide how much overlap there is.

As for charity, I thought I was tremendously charitable. After all, I didn't accuse you of a federal crime or complicity in murder, right?

Mark P. Shea said...

Dialing back from plagiarism to "overlap". That's progress. Thank you.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Would that you were so generous, eh?

Mark P. Shea said...

Given that: a) you are completely wrong about the assumptions you made concerning the genesis of my article; b) you are completely wrong about Pinto's relationship with CE; c) you are, as Jordanes and I pointed out, completely wrong to declare me "absolutely wrong" about latter day Adamite sects; and d) you are completely wrong to expand "passing mention of an idea" into a charge of "plagiarism", it would appear that (as your bitter replies are now making clear) the only *real* point of this post is that you wanted to hit back because I rebuked you for your egregious "Would He?" post with its thick snarky suggestions that somebody should take a shot at Obama--a rebuke I do not for one second retract. Oh, and you wanted to land some more punches on West, your obsession. I think you should just come out and say that rather than leave this silly post standing. The only real logic behind this post is your hatred. You hoped to land punches on West and me. It didn't go so well, so now you continue kicking and biting as best you can. It does not do you credit.

Repent.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Mark...

Where to begin?

1) None of the cites Jordanes supplies are even post-Enlightenment (Enlightenment is generally considered to be mid-18th century), much less post-industrial.

Climate control didn't start until the 1950's. For the millennia prior to central-heating and air conditioning, everyone got warm the same way - they built a fire. Sheesh.

Your premise that the appearance of the Adamites is a consequence of being out of touch with nature is not only absolutely wrong, but plainly and egregiously stupid. Jordanes' and your "defense" of that indefensible thesis is a train wreck.

I was willing to pass it by in silence because it was so ridiculous, but you're too big an idiot to realize it, so you insist on making it an issue.

2) You have long made your reputation, such as it is, on ripping off Lewis and Chestertonian themes and styles. The "nake" bit is just one more in a long line. You are at least a stylistic plagiarist, and with the "nake" discussion, I would argue a substantive plagiarist. Hey, it works for you, you make your dimes by it, so keep your rice bowl, but it's kind of scummy.

3) You have a history of making ridiculous charges and going on ridiculous rants. "Shooting one's own" comes up every time someone you like is criticized, although you certainly have no problem shooting any Catholic who criticizes you or says something you don't like. You attack with outrageous charges, and over-the-top rhetoric, and it is habitual.

Most Recent Case In Point: Since you have on several occasions pointed out that you don't know a blessed thing about Chris West, you aren't in a position to judge whether my concerns about him are just. Yet, that doesn't stop you from pretending that you DO know what's going on.

Typical Mark.
Self-professed ignoramus, but determined to get every statement, no matter how stupid, into print in order to promote yourself.

Your response demonstrates:
1) You don't know history. Neither do your supporters,
2) You don't mind making a living off plagiarizing other people's styles and remarks,
3) You don't like or understand legitimate criticism.

Oddly enough, these charges are IDENTICAL to those made against Chris West, not just by me, but by pretty much everyone who has critiqued him. Go figure.

As for the article, and the comments you have so cleverly provided to enrich it, it stands because it demonstrates the kind of bottom-feeders both you and Chris West are.

Mark P. Shea said...

God bless you, Steve. I'm done here.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

God bless you , Mark.
Always a pleasure to talk with you.
Keep in touch.

Jordanes said...

None of the cites Jordanes supplies are even post-Enlightenment (Enlightenment is generally considered to be mid-18th century), much less post-industrial.

Wrong again, Steve.

"In the Modern Age some English Dissenters practiced the Adamite doctrine."

The Modern Age began after the Enlightenment.

"A brief revival of these doctrines took place in Bohemia after 1781, owing to the edict of toleration issued by Joseph II; these communistic Neo-Adamites were suppressed by force in 1849."

1781 and 1849 are both post-Enlightenment and post-industrial.

Your premise that the appearance of the Adamites is a consequence of being out of touch with nature is not only absolutely wrong, but plainly and egregiously stupid. Jordanes' and your "defense" of that indefensible thesis is a train wreck.

I have not offered any defense of that thesis. I have merely corrected one of your historical errors -- on this point, Mark Shea is correct to refer to more recent Adamites. Contrary to your claim, "Adamites" weren't just an ancient Gnostic sect, nor have you done a thing to disprove what he wrote about comparatively recent Adamites and Nudists. Like I said, it's right there in the Catholic Encyclopedia article to which you linked. It's remarkable for you to accuse someone else of not knowing history when you failed to notice what your historical source says.

Paul said...

My thoughts while reading your blog were "wow, this guy must have talked to "Mark" (I don't know him or you) beforehand and knew somewhat basically that his presumptions were in fact correct or he is even smarter than I could ever ever ever be to pick up on so much of this from Mark's article.

To read the comments from Mark, I feel he could have been far more gracious while just as accurate in expressing that his intentions were different than you deciphered.

Now I just think of him less and of you as too bright for the articles you write about/on! Write some of your own with your depth, let others critique YOU. Obviously, if Mark didn't say, cleverly or not, what you wanted people to know, SAY IT YOURSELF, and keep Mark as a friend!!! Write this article over and leave Mark out of it - well, go ahead and be nice and cite him out of love, but this is all your thought so put it out there as such!

I never like anybody that says this or that is really a phallic symbol - they have an internal paternal problem that needs resolution - in my experiences. Anybody that tells me, were I a saint or not, that I could look at my best friend's wife naked and not sin - is...getting me to sin if I believed him and like a sucker tried it out.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Jordanes,

How about you read the essay Mark wrote? If you do that, you'll see that he specifically denies Adamitism really starts until AFTER climate controlled environments existed.

It is not until after the Reformation, the rise of the Enlightenment, and, especially, the rise of technologies that allow Northern Europeans to maintain a bit of comfiness in chill weather that we start to see the rise of so-called "Adamite" movements (later frankly renamed Nudist movements) that attempt to propose to enthusiasts that our natural state is to walk around without clothes, and that clothes are an unnatural encumbrance on our glorious childlike freedom.

So, he COMPLETELY IGNORES all Adamite movements prior to the Reformation because THEY AREN'T CONVENIENT TO HIS THESIS!

Worse, the point of his sentence, which is the point of roughly the first half of his essay, hinges on Adamite movements not being in contact with nature due "especially, [to] the rise of technologies" that keep us warm.

Until the 1950's, essentially the sum total of that "technology" Mark refers to can be described in the word "fireplaces."

So Mark apparently thinks fire was invented by Diderot or Voltaire, or maybe Henry Ford.

Now, if you want to argue that a couple of minor Adamite movements existed in the Modern Age and I missed them, you go right ahead.

But you can't very well ignore the fact that Mark turned the history on its head. The major Adamite movements were PRIOR to the Reformation, not after it. Mark faked the history to make his point.

Your take on Mark's remarks about Modern Age Adamites is (a) not visible in his essay (he doesn't use the phrase) and (b) absurd, given the rest of what he says.

As I say, I was willing to ignore your objections because I just figured you were tired and hadn't noticed that they didn't make any sense. But if you insist on trying to make your point, feel free.

koncernaleganto said...

Dear Steve,

I'm sure you're familiar with the phrase "the near occasion of sin." In fact, I'd bet you can tell me where the phrase first appeared, and the different shades of meaning it has had through history. You're that smart, and that thorough.

Posting on the Internet is, for you, a near occasion of sin.

I write to you only with concern for your well being. In the context of writing on the web, you lose your self control and your charity.

Even if everything you write on the web is true and correct, you say it with such uncharity that your medium becomes an anti-Christian message, and your point gets lost.

For your own sake you should take down this blog, and go on a year-long Internet fast. Your joy will be great if you do.

Sincerely,
Concerned.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Koncernaleganto,

Sigh.

The original post wasn't meant to be sarcastic or vitriolic.

The problem was precisely that, while Mark's post was a great critique of West (who he continues to claim ignorance of), Mark's post was also wrong on several points of its own.

I couldn't very well praise Mark's post unreservedly when it didn't deserve it.

So, I wrote it as kindly as I could, putting Mark's errors in the best possible light.

I painted the errors as positives, or as positively as I could.
As my lawyer brother says, "When the opposition points out your errors, embrace them and make them virtues."

So, I was applying to Mark the very good advice my brother gave me a few years back.

Now, this put Mark in a difficult position - he either had to stay quiet in order to avoid drawing further attention to his own errors, or he had to repudiate the light I had painted it in and embrace the errors.

Mark chose a middle path - he disavowed both the interpretation I gave the essay AND he disavowed the idea that he had committed any error at all.

Now, I don't mind him disavowing my interpretation - that's an author's right.

But nobody has a right to pretend he didn't make a mistake in representing the facts.

Unfortunately for him, the facts he mis-represented formed the basis for a good part of the point he was trying to make.

So unless the point of the essay is to critique Chris West, the point that survives the loss of the underlying facts is emasculated.

That is, there's not much left of his essay.

And this is the great irony of the situation.

In trying to be kind to him, that is, in giving his essay an anti-West purpose, I salvaged the only purpose the essay can really serve. After all, the facts he presents are fiction and his interpretation of them is, as a result, wrong. So even if his conclusion has merit, there isn't much of an essay left to support it without the interpretation I supplied.

As Mark likes to say, no good deed goes unpunished.

cliff said...

Hey Steve, why don't you take off the kid gloves & say what you really mean? :)

Jordanes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jordanes said...

How about you read the essay Mark wrote?

I did. He doesn't say what you claim he says.

If you do that, you'll see that he specifically denies Adamitism really starts until AFTER climate controlled environments existed.

No, he doesn't, as you quote of his words plainly shows.

"It is not until after the Reformation, the rise of the Enlightenment, and, especially, the rise of technologies that allow Northern Europeans to maintain a bit of comfiness in chill weather that we start to see the rise of so-called "Adamite" movements (later frankly renamed Nudist movements) . . . ."

He correctly says that "Adamite"/Nudist movements didn't really "take off" (heh heh) until after the Reformation. You, however, claim despite the evidence that "Adamite nudists were a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th century heresy" rather than a heresy found in later times. You know it's both, not either/or, and you know there's no continuous link between the extinct Gnostic Adamites and the later manifestations of Adamitism.

So, he COMPLETELY IGNORES all Adamite movements prior to the Reformation because THEY AREN'T CONVENIENT TO HIS THESIS!

Or rather, because they are irrelevant to his thesis.

But then you aren't really interested in whether or not his thesis is true. You merely wish to instrumentalise his essay as another means to attack Christopher West, and while you're at it also get in some jabs at Matt Pinto, Mark Shea, and Catholic Exchange with which you were briefly associated several years ago.

Now, if you want to argue that a couple of minor Adamite movements existed in the Modern Age and I missed them, you go right ahead.

They still exist. In the broader scheme they're minor, of course, as all Nudist groups are, but they're still around and, unlike earlier forms of Adamitism, are not at all marginalised in our modern mortally ill culture.

But you can't very well ignore the fact that Mark turned the history on its head. The major Adamite movements were PRIOR to the Reformation, not after it. Mark faked the history to make his point.

I doubt we can say that the extinct Gnostic Adamites and the occasional medieval manifestations of religious nudism were the "major" Adamite movements. It's doubtful they made much of an impact on history, quite unlike modern nudism, which ensnared millions of followers all over the world. It would appear that the major "Adamite" movements were and are post-Reformation and modern, just as Mark said.

He didn't fake any history. You, however, cited a Catholic Encyclopedia article that provides evidence that helps support what Mark said.

Your take on Mark's remarks about Modern Age Adamites is (a) not visible in his essay (he doesn't use the phrase)

True, he doesn't use that phrase, but he does refer to Modern Age Adamites all the same.