Skip to content

What ‘Openness to Life’ Does NOT Mean

May 8, 2009

ABC’s Nightline has recently portrayed Theology of the Body popularizer Chris West as a “sex guru” who considers Hugh Hefner a personal hero. West was so chagrined he even published a short piece that, while being gracious that ABC let him get his message out, offered clarification on a few points.  Don’t worry Chris.  We know what you meant.

Now, aside from a few obvious mistakes that most Catholics ‘in the know’ will catch right away, there was also something in the video that many Catholics ‘in the know’ might not catch.  At one point the journalist informs us that “West believes sex without the possibility of creating new life is a sin.”  I presume that West doesn’t believe this, but whether he does or not, it is true that this is a common way for people to understand Catholic teaching about artificial contraception.  Such a formulation leads to much confusion.

In the first place, it deals the ‘contraceptive mentality’ debate a blow from which it never recovers. If every act must have the possibility of procreation, NFP is necessarily used with a contraceptive mentality:  the goal is to avoid pregnancy and the Church teaches that every sex act must be open to pregnancy.  People who understand the problem in this way are not willing to allow for NFP use in anything but the direst of situations, and even when they do allow it, their arguments for why it is permissible are so tortured and laborious that they don’t convince anyone.  The Church ends up looking like it is contradicting itself.

Secondly, the Church’s allowance, even encouragement, of NFP ends up looking like a function of NFP’s supposed ineffectiveness.  Talk about “leaving room for God” in the sex act just confuses our critics (not to mention our own people).  They’re likely to say something like, “Sure you can use natural methods, but that’s just because they don’t work.  Your Church says every sex act must have the possibility of procreation.”  This reasoning is demonstrated in reverse when Catholics argue that they can use condoms or the pill because, since they are also not 100% effective, they also “leave room for God to work” if he so chooses.

This is all nonsense of course.  God does not require tiny statistical probabilities in order to make babies.  But the reason that intelligent, faithful Catholics get caught up in such nonsense is that they’ve started with a false premise – namely, that the Church teaches that every single sex act must have the possibility of procreation.

In reality, the Church teaches no such thing.  The Church has no problem with people avoiding pregnancy when the situation calls for it.  Furthermore, as everyone knows, the Church does not discourage sexual intercourse during pregnancy, post-menopause, after a hysterectomy, or in any other imaginable circumstance where a couple is naturally not fertile, including roughly 3 weeks of the average menstrual cycle.

Now, for people who have heard that the Church teaches every sex act must be ‘open to life,’ it is easy to think the Church is going against its own principles here.  I have even had people (Catholics ‘in the know’) explain to me that the reason the Church allows post-menopausal marital relations is that, through a miracle, God could create a baby even in that situation.  Really?  I wouldn’t call it a miracle if a 75-year-old got pregnant.  Let’s look at the limit case here:  what would we call it if a woman who was 6 months pregnant got pregnant?  Not a miracle, but a tragedy – one in which several lives are threatened.

‘Openness to life’ is a lovely phrase for people who are inclined to agree with the Church in the first place.  It indicates a disposition of gratitude and humility, and it means that even unplanned children are valued the same as anyone else, as a gift from God.  If, on the other hand, someone is struggling with Church teaching, or is just plain antagonistic towards it, the phrase can be misleading.  The claim that every sex act must be ‘open to life’ does sound an awful lot like the claim that every sex act must have the possibility of pregnancy, however remote.  But that is not at all what the Church means by it.

All that the Church means is that we are not to alter the sex act to avoid its consequences.  That’s it.  (We can debate the merits of this teaching some other time.  The point here is simply to clarify what the teaching is.)  We are free, in many circumstances positively encouraged, to avoid the sex act in order to avoid its consequences.

This leads us into another area of terminological confusion.  What, precisely, does the Church mean by ‘natural’?  Simply this:  that the sex act is not altered.

NFP works by observation, not by manipulation.  Suggestions that the Church’s allowance of technology (thermometers, hormone monitors, blood tests) for fertility observation makes NFP morally equivalent to artificial contraception miss the point entirely.  Once you’ve determined the fertility, technologically or otherwise, you still have to make the choice:  will we have sex or won’t we?  ‘Natural’ here does not mean the absence of technology; it means that the sex act, if it occurs, is unaltered.  Further to the point, the Church does not allow for withdrawal, even though this requires no technology whatsoever.  The issue, again, is the alteration of the sex act to deprive it of its consequences.

It is always tempting to use catch phrases as teaching tools.  In a way it is inevitable.  Nevertheless, if we are to present Church teaching in a coherent way, we need to teach people more than the catch phrases.  In a culture where Church teaching is so counter-intuitive we need to make sure that at least those who agree with us have got it right.


If you liked this piece, you might also be interested in:

Natural Family Planning Apples to Artificial Contraception Oranges

Catholic Answer and Having Number 3

Is “Sexual Compatibility a Myth:  Some Thoughts on Cohabitation

Avoiding Fallout from Theological Time Bombs

Why Is the Church so Obsessed with Sex?

An interview with the authors of “How Far Can We Go?  A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating

Or any of these.


Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto.  He is a father of two (so far) and husband of one.  He is the co-author of How Far Can We Go?  A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating.

  1. May 8, 2009 9:51 pm

    Intersting post, Brett. Though I’m not married and (I think I can say this with some confidence at age 46) I probably will never be married, I have wondered about some of this in the abstract.

    ‘Natural’ here does not mean the absence of technology; it means that the sex act, if it occurs, is unaltered.

    Perfect, concise explanation. Lots of things fall into place when you put it like that.

  2. May 9, 2009 1:08 am

    Impressive. I came here expecting to see some Greg Pocak-style radical interpretation of Gaudium et Spes to the expense of _Casti Connubii_ (I can never get the double letters in that straight), but got a very pleassant surprise.

    What no one really wants to focus on is what the Church means by “unitive.”

    Liberals will flippantly say something about “we knew that all along,” and then insist that contraceptive sex is “unitive,” but it is not.

    I once argued online with this liberal, pro-contraception, pro-choice Catholic woman who insisted she’d “never heard of” the idea that sex was a sacramental act and that the Church teaches that artificial contraception interrupts the transferral of grace that is intended in the marital bond.

    But that’s what it is. I consider myself a Providentialist: I think one of the basic points of the BIble is that we’re supposed to do what’s right and trust providence, and not in our own understanding.

    But that doesn’t mean I reject NFP: just that I think people should think very carefully if their main reasons for NFP are economic, and that even using NFP requires a trust in providence (for example, trusting that the woman’s cycle will follow the rules: despite all our sympto-thermals and mucous only methods and whatever else, when it comes down to practicalities, all NFP is calendar method).

    Also, even the idea of manipulation is not quite right. NFP manuals prescribe all sorts of “manipulations”: precise conditoins of sleeping and sleep schedule; nutritional guidelines; supplements . It is even possible to use, if a woman has health issues, certain non-contraceptive hormonal supplements to help keep her cycles regular.

    What it is *not* permissible to do is to bring a third party or some kind of interference into the marital bond.

    Prior to reading _Humanae Vitae_ the first time, my main arguments against contraception were derived from C. S. Lewis’s _The Abolition of Man_. Based upon Lewis, and the Bible, and Church teaching, and the teaching of Islam, and the teaching of Hinduism, and the teaching of many pagan religions, it’s perfectly obvious to me that contraception violates Natural Law.

    What I’ve always struggled with is how to explain why NFP does *not* violate Natural Law *without* reference to revelation or sacramentalism.

  3. May 9, 2009 7:44 am

    It’s the difference between birth regulation and birth control.

  4. May 9, 2009 7:44 am

    Great post, by the way!

  5. May 9, 2009 9:46 am

    What a great post and one that I will share with many others. I don’t read this blog all the time, but am about to lead a session on Faith and Social Networking and stopped by to make sure I had the URL correctly embedded… and so glad that I did.

    You make your points well and clarify much that is obfuscated and confused. The sad part is that so much confusion is hard for people to let go of… from either part of the spectrum.

    As someone who got married 2 years ago at the age of 49, when pregnancy was not impossible but improbable, I did get questions along the lines of what the church taught about procreation.

    Too bad I did not have your words at my disposal then. Glad I have them now.

    Thank you.

  6. Brett permalink*
    May 9, 2009 11:03 am

    Thanks all. Please do share this if you find it helpful. There is so much confusion on this topic. It causes division in the Church and weakens her witness. I’d be happy to hear of anywhere else on the internet that links to this.

  7. Peter John permalink
    May 9, 2009 11:50 am

    This was a great post, I will refer back to it.

  8. May 9, 2009 12:29 pm

    Great post, but I confess that I don’t understand what you meant in one section, where you say:

    “The Church has no problem with people avoiding pregnancy. Apart from select portions of a 10-20 year period, we spend our whole lives avoiding it. ”

    I don’t get that; at 46, it has been over 8 years since our last pregnancy, but I’m not avoiding pregnancy. (In fact we’d welcome it.)

    Nor do I think that we will ever “avoid” pregnancy. My wife and I would welcome a child at any age. (We don’t use NFP, nor contracept.)

    What do you mean by “we spend out … lives avoiding it”?

  9. brettsalkeld permalink*
    May 9, 2009 1:53 pm

    You know Ben, on further reflection, I can see that the sentence in question is ambiguous and is not exactly necessary for my argument. I shall rework it when I get a moment. Thanks for pointing out your situation.

  10. Joe Hargrave permalink
    May 9, 2009 2:15 pm

    “It is my policy to not get into debates”

    I love that policy.

  11. May 9, 2009 2:43 pm

    Thanks, Brett.

    Wasn’t trying to start a debate; just didn’t understand the sentence.


  12. Brett permalink*
    May 9, 2009 2:49 pm

    It wasn’t my best sentence. The piece is better for your contribution.

  13. David Nickol permalink
    May 9, 2009 3:14 pm

    All that the Church means is that we are not to alter the sex act to avoid its consequences. That’s it.

    But in a marriage where the woman is past child-bearing age or the couple is otherwise infertile, the consequences of sexual intercourse cannot possibly be pregnancy. So I think you would have to say that “we are not to alter the performance of the sex act in any way that would — whether or not the couple is fertile — interfere with the possibility of pregnancy in a fertile couple.” (And if there were a debate, the question would be WHY.)

    The Catechism puts it this way: “‘[E]very action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible’ is intrinsically evil.”

    This still does not explain why an infertile couple, one of whom was HIV+, could not use condoms to prevent the transmission of the virus, or why infertile couples could not engage in oral sex to completion.

    It seems to me the Church’s basic rule is that there is one and only one place a man may ejaculate, no matter what the possible consequences are.

  14. May 9, 2009 10:10 pm

    @Brett You are right, there is a lot of confusion and ambiguity in the language used in this area of Church teaching, I think it stems from HV and maybe earlier with the phrase ‘open to life’ which is ambiguous because it doesn’t distinguish whether the term ‘open’ refers to biological reality or intentional reality. People are confused by the equivocation inherent also in the term ‘infertile’ which could either mean biological infertility or intentional infertility.

    It seems like in these discussions it would be helpful to go back to the Thomistic language of form and matter.

    @David What you are speaking of would not even be considered a ‘conjugal act’, but more like acts of lust. To use form/matter terminology, the acts (condom or oral sex) are not materially capable of being conjugal acts, of expressing symbolically what genital to genital intercourse is capable of expressing. It fails in the ‘matter’ part of the form/matter equation.

    The contracepting couple, on the other hand, are doing something materially open to expressing that unique spousal love, but their actions fail on the level of ‘form’. Their intention to contracept is at odds with the intention to express that love. So the matter doesn’t receive the proper form.

    As Aquinas said in his ethics, the matter and the form must both be good in order for a human act to be good.

  15. May 9, 2009 10:17 pm

    “It seems to me the Church’s basic rule is that there is one and only one place a man may ejaculate, no matter what the possible consequences are.”

    Are you certain that’s the Church’s rule? I think that’s a common interpretation, and likely the most “naturally ordered”, but I’d be hesitant to call it a rule. Situations like the ones you describe are grey areas which *may* be subject to the consciences of the individual.

  16. David Nickol permalink
    May 10, 2009 12:37 am

    Are you certain that’s the Church’s rule?


    No, I am not certain, which is why I said, “It seems to me . . . ” But Brian Killian’s response would seem to suggest that what I said was correct. And it just occurred to me that what he says might be used as evidence to support Bill Clinton’s saying, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman!”

  17. May 10, 2009 10:49 am

    “What you are speaking of would not even be considered a ‘conjugal act’, but more like acts of lust. ”

    I would question whether such acts would properly be acts of lust. They COULD be acts of lust, but not all instances of non-vaginal sex would be classified as a lustful act. Lust is utterly subjective to intention, specifically requiring an element of objectification. Non-vaginal sex does not always fall into that category.

    “Their intention to contracept is at odds with the intention to express that love.”

    I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. There are a significant number of couples who, out of the fear of pregnancy, believe that contraception would allow them the psychological freedom to express love more deeply for their spouse. Their intention is to express love more deeply. It may be a fundamentally disordered intention, but it is not incompatible with “the intention to express that love”.

  18. May 10, 2009 2:39 pm

    I think Christopher West has phenomenal courage. It was a great thing that he went on this show.

  19. Robert permalink
    May 11, 2009 8:44 am

    I think it was imprudent to bring Hugh Hefner into the discussion at all. Christopher HAD to know that they would distort it.

    That being said, I think the explanation [altering the sex act] in this article is the best I’ve ever seen. Thanks!

  20. JSullivan permalink
    May 11, 2009 9:07 am

    Great post. Thanks you.

  21. May 11, 2009 9:55 am

    Nice work, again.

  22. David Nickol permalink
    May 11, 2009 10:02 am

    I think it was imprudent to bring Hugh Hefner into the discussion at all. Christopher HAD to know that they would distort it.

    In the clarifying statement linked to in the original post above, there is no mention of Hugh Hefner. The closest the statement comes is to try to change the “spin” on calling the Song of Songs the centerfold of the Bible. I don’t believe there was any distortion of West’s comments about Hugh Hefner. And when you’ve talked about Hefner and then referred to the Song of Songs as the centerfold of the Bible, the obvious (and intended) purpose is to compare it to a Playboy centerfold. Clearly West doesn’t mean anything offensive by it, but anyone who took offense can hardly be mollified by this: “Calling it the ‘centerfold’ in Scripture, Christopher intends to redeem the common understanding of the word ‘centerfold,’ which is usually associated in popular culture with pornography.” What can that possibly mean? Calling the Song of Songs the centerfold of the Bible has no meaning whatsoever if it is not an allusion to Playboy centerfolds. A centerfold is “a foldout that is the center spread of a magazine.” In what sense is the Song of Songs like a foldout in the center of a magazine apart from it being an erotic focus, like the Playboy centerfolds?

    Christopher West seems to be a very appealing motivational speaker making provocative statements to get his points across. When you make provocative statements, you’re going to provoke people.

    Incidentally, as far as I know, there is no indication that the lovers in the Song of Songs are married.

  23. grega permalink
    May 11, 2009 10:07 am

    “I think Christopher West has phenomenal courage. It was a great thing that he went on this show.”
    I guess it helps the ‘phenomenal courage’ quite a bit along if one has some serious commerical interest – and yes the courses are mostly SOLD OUT! Not bad at $1100 plus transportation etc.
    – Mother Theresa’s these guys are not – and indeed it seems they are mostly guys on the Board of Directors and of course the usual band of properly conservative Clergy as Advisers.
    Quite frankly this commercializing of church teaching is rather disturbing in my view.
    Brett I assume you have no financial interest in this?
    As I said in another post of you – if it takes a 501k enterprise to communicate HV and TOB to Catholics at around $1000 a pop this has no good future – despite the sweet words and sugarcoating on your part.
    Yes I can appreciate your good intentions Brett but do not be naive – people make good money with this.
    Yes they need nice folks like you to humanize the effort – perhaps you should get at least a free course out of it and tell us about the experience.

  24. May 11, 2009 10:23 am

    This aspect of money and Catholic leaders is a ticking time bomb in several areas. Bill Donahue (Catholic Defense League) makes 343K per year according to a googling of the topic … off the defensive anger issue Catholics…and he can continue that into old age.
    Charity Navigator has a California Catholic Charities director making almost that. You touch on an area that one day will blow up in our faces.

  25. David Nickol permalink
    May 11, 2009 10:50 am

    I guess it helps the ‘phenomenal courage’ quite a bit along if one has some serious commerical interest –

    I didn’t understand the “phenomenal courage” comment, either. Christopher West seems to be in the same mold as, say, Deepak Chopra. I find Deepak Chopra can sometimes be very interesting, so this is not a criticism of Christopher West. It’s just that I can’t imagine either of them would need phenomenal courage to be featured on network television.

    What little I know of the Theology of the Body comes from Luke Timothy Johnson’s critique in Commonweal, which didn’t motivate me to delve deeper.

  26. May 11, 2009 11:40 am

    Bill Donahue is a man of phenomenal courage.

  27. May 11, 2009 12:30 pm

    When his donators that are losing their houses find out what he makes, he’ll need it.

  28. May 11, 2009 12:44 pm

    He deserves every penny for his ministry of protecting us and our children from chocolate Jesuses and nasty films such as The Golden Compass.

  29. May 11, 2009 12:58 pm

    I like that you are NFP without the nonsense of the post menopausal miracles (they were meant within the Bible to predict or rather prepare for: Mary’s more miraculous birthing of Christ and they stop after that is accomplished/none in the epistles) and you stand for NFP without the divorce stats angle which never has respect for the spouse who suffered the divorce innocently and continued to will the marriage at the cost of not remarrying. The Catholic pharisees never look that far when they tout such things. Dawn Eden is another Catholic blogger who stands for the NFP idea without using it as a talisman that makes the sermon on the mount unnecessary. Usury was once the same talisman with Bishops and saints decrying whole towns as being filled with usury for doing things that are now accepted as normal. I read both your pieces and while not in your camp (but in Bernard Haring’s), I applaud your arrival as a breath of fresh and intelligent air in this area.

  30. grega permalink
    May 11, 2009 1:10 pm

    “You touch on an area that one day will blow up in our faces.”
    I have to say I was honestly blissfully unaware of these sort of ‘conflicts’ until I clicked on the Chris West Link and got to realize that these people all but slapped a ‘Trademark’ on John Paul II words.
    Yes it seems a number of them make a rather comfortable living doing this. And yes I agree this will not work out well in the long run and is perhaps the kind of ‘bomb’ that Brett was insinuating in his earlier post
    Our evangelical friends certainly have developed this sort of ‘business model’ to perfection – big surprise that a bunch of conservative American Catholics take it to a new level.
    They will hurt the effort of the many honest “non commercial” American conservative Catholics more than they will ever realize.

    But hey nothing new under the sun – Jesus Christ had to take the whip to the Temple…

  31. David Nickol permalink
    May 11, 2009 2:13 pm

    post menopausal miracles (they were meant within the Bible to predict or rather prepare for: Mary’s more miraculous birthing of Christ and they stop after that is accomplished/none in the epistles)

    Most of the Epistles (certainly those of Paul) predate the Gospels. They just happen to be placed after the Gospels in the New Testament.

    It would be difficult to argue that, say, Sarah conceived in her old age to predict or prepare for the Virginal Conception as related in Matthew and Luke.

  32. May 11, 2009 2:30 pm

    Grega and others:

    I don’t think the problem is as sinister as them stealing JPII’s words. I think most of the famous Catholics (like West and Scott Hahn, who has a far higher speaking fee if I recall than the one given here for West) start off out of a genuine desire to spread Catholic teaching in an effective way.

    I do think the problem does reflect a lack of emphasis, particularly among conservative Catholics, of Gospel poverty. For some reason, we don’t hear too much about how the laity is supposed to be poor, other than vague declarations which allow us to continue to be comfortable.

    So the high speaker fees I think are symptom of a much larger problem in Catholic culture.


    How dare you mock Bill Donohue. We Catholics should certainly give him that high of a salary. Otherwise he’ll leave to take one of the many posts he’s been offered, such as General Manager of the Detroit Lions and CEO of either AIG or GM.

  33. May 11, 2009 3:35 pm

    While I do agree that the commercialization of evangelism is a scandal, I’m not convinced we have any moral authority to condemn those who so choose to do so. Do we know precisely what their motives are? Are they using the proceeds of commercialization to make the message more visible than if it were simply a grassroots effort? Are they taking a high salary, but donating a significant amount to charity or reserving it for the education of their children?

    That is ultimately between them and God and not for us to decide.

  34. Kevin permalink
    May 11, 2009 3:36 pm


    I notice your lack of understanding of TOB doesn’t prevent you from commenting about the TOB. Luke Timothy Johnson on TOB in Commonweal. Is that a caricature? I wonder why LTJ doesn’t like the teaching of the Supreme Pontiff?

    It appears LTJ follows his own magesterium, certainly not 2,000 years of Christian tradition or the bible.

  35. May 11, 2009 3:39 pm

    “For some reason, we don’t hear too much about how the laity is supposed to be poor, other than vague declarations which allow us to continue to be comfortable.”

    Are we supposed to be poor, or poor in spirit? If we are required to be materially poor, then who ministers to the wealthy, who frankly need evangelism even MORE than the poor sometimes?

    I’ve known some wealthy Catholics who live the Gospel message much better than some of the poor ones I know.

  36. grega permalink
    May 11, 2009 3:48 pm


    as you know this enterprise is well beyond ‘Speaker Fees’. They offer courses and charge good money for the pleasure – you can even ‘graduate’ sort of and make your way up towards a higher level of appreciation regarding Theology of the Body? They even quote TOB like Scripture – what do you know we become ‘evangelized’ from within.
    This seems by the way like the sort of thing that our not so good “friends” over at Scientology have down good.
    If the 501k TOB Institute Folks really care so deeply you would think they would get around finding ways to spread the good word free of charge – am I missing something?
    Is the Theology of the Body indeed so difficult to comprehend that it takes in essence highly payed Spiritual Consultants to facilitate it? If this is the case (as I wrote earlier) this whole effort is so very doomed it is not even funny.
    The people hurt by this are by the way not liberal leaning semi-secular cradle Catholics like myself but the many sincere deeply obedient more traditional and conservative leaning American Catholics who are swindled out of money for the simple pleasure to follow indeed pretty clear church advice. Advice they likely would have followed in the first place.
    You know Brett did us the favor and decoded church position very nicely in his post – free of charge -those all excited about NFP should print it out distribute it freely.
    Before publication perhaps Brett would like to modestly reword chestnuts like this:
    “Further to the point, the Church does not allow for withdrawal, even though this requires no technology whatsoever.”
    Yes great to bring it further to the point neither technique nor technology are encouraged. I am sure this will be a real winner with the average Catholic.

    I say you conservative Catholics save the $1000+ and donate it towards the millions of hungry children around the world.

    “How dare you mock Bill Donohue. …he’s been offered, such as General Manager of the Detroit Lions and CEO of either AIG or GM.”
    :)very good.

  37. May 11, 2009 4:21 pm

    Whether you’re conservative or liberal, presumption is unjust. Let’s not be quick to judge motives or intentions.

  38. David Nickol permalink
    May 11, 2009 7:21 pm

    I wonder why LTJ doesn’t like the teaching of the Supreme Pontiff?


    Although I can’t speak for Luke Timothy Johnson, my guess is that he disagrees with some of the non-infallible teachings of John Paul II based not merely on academic knowledge (of which he has a great deal) but also based on his actual experience as a husband and father.

    Disagreeing with something a pope said does not become any more serious when you refer to the pope as the “Supreme Pontiff,” although I will grant that it sounds more serious.

  39. May 11, 2009 9:04 pm

    Thanks for mocking me and whatnot.

  40. grega permalink
    May 11, 2009 11:20 pm

    I did not intend to mock you and apologize if you perceived it that way. Same goes to Brett.
    For me there is a profound difference between actual catholics who attempt to make this challenging concept work within their marriages and evangelical Catholics like West who make it work for their bottom line.
    Honestly Zach did you check out the link to the TOB Institute before you praised Mr.West for his courage?
    A lot of hot air for PR sake – West and the gang talk about REVOLUTION – give me a break.
    For me it makes actually perfect sense that Mr. West would elude to Mr. Hefner – Sex sells after all very good for both of them. These guys recognize and appreciate their shared “Genius” – yes I am a bit cynical here. Likely the Theology of the Body Institute started innocently enough and they got a bit carried away. But still courage is the wrong word for Mr. West’s appearance on ABC.

  41. May 12, 2009 8:39 am


    If you’re going to object to any organization which charges money for providing in depth education on a topic, then you’re essentially attacking the whole idea of education as it exists in our society. If you’re attacking only the paying of money to learn about Catholicism, then you’re attacking the theology undergraduate and graduate programs that half the contributors on this site are or have been enrolled in.

    If, on the other hand, you’re making some sort of claim that the theology of the body is some arcane concept which is only accessible for $1000 courses, then your claim is peculiar in the extreme, since a few moments looking about is all it takes to ascertain that West and others have written scads of books which are available for free at many parish and even public libraries, that there are any number of blogs that write about the topic on the internet, and that generally speaking if one wants to spend one hundred hours reading in depth writing about the theology of the body one may do so for little or no money.

    One hopes that you shall not next begin to argue that because some priests take groups of parishoners off on guided two week tours of the Holy Land for $4000/person that the Holy Land is a racket which no one is allowed to know about without coughing up cash…

  42. May 12, 2009 9:39 am

    You wrote: “It would be difficult to argue that, say, Sarah conceived in her old age to predict or prepare for the Virginal Conception as related in Matthew and Luke.”

    I think a Father of the Church argued it but since I could not remember the exact source, I did not refer to an author. For God to have suddenly required the Jews to believe with no preparation within their history that Mary gave birth by the Holy Spirit is a bit abrupt and Scripture says that “God ordereth all things sweetly”.

    To say what you did above, you need to see the average Jew then as being only lightly aware of this series within the OT. Being without the printing press, TV, Radio, internet….they were people of scriptures whose contents were more alive for them than for us because their consciousness did not have all these other sources that we do….and many of us moderns meet the Bible at Mass for one hour and then proceed in the ensuing week to meet with the TV for ten hours. I’ve read the Bible cover to cover and still it shares my consciousness with many other things which was not the case with the Jews of that time.

  43. grega permalink
    May 12, 2009 10:53 am

    this is a free country – I am all for free enterprise and have no principle problem with people coming up with ways to make a living utilizing their god given talents. But certainly conflicts of interests do arise.
    I pointed out that a word like courage perhaps is not the first that would come to mind describing Chris West’s appearance in the Media.
    Yes I view him as conflicted because of the commercial ‘educational’ enterprise benefiting from his media exposure.

    “if ..some sort of claim that the theology of the body is some arcane concept which is only accessible for $1000 courses”
    I actually said the opposite. For me TOB is pretty straightforward but it is not some kind of new gospel.
    Fact is both Humanae Vitae and Theology of the Body are not accepted by the majority of Catholics – in my opinion for a number of real and valid reasons. We can go on and on about this and likely will.
    Sure one can look at that issue along the lines of the TOB Institute and try a little harder to educate and motivate and create understanding and reword and popularize.
    In my view catholic societies around the world (particular in Latin America) are living proof that it did not require the musings of a charismatic celibate polish catholic to point out the great joys of our religion.
    I am by the way all for tours to the Holy Land , Lourdes you name it at whatever price folks are ready to pay- pilgrimages are a wonderful catholic tradition.

  44. Brian Killian permalink
    May 12, 2009 10:54 am

    I’m not getting this hostility to West making money. Laity are supposed to be poor? HUH? I don’t know about you, but my bishop isn’t giving me any money to support my family.

    I have five kids, do you realize how much money it takes to raise a family with 5 kids? It’s Expensive! As far as I know, only the bishops have the duty to proclaim and teach the Gospel for free with no strings attached. For the laity, we have a right and a duty to make money.

    Does it really matter if we sell books on theology as opposed to, say, computers? Or maybe this is just envy because West has a successful business is making good money?

    As for TOB, I’m not a huge of fan of West’s version of it because like the centerfold remark, I think he might fall into some of the literalism that some protestants in the bible-and-sex business make. For me, the most authentic ‘theology of the body’ is seen in Pope Benedict’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est.

  45. May 12, 2009 12:07 pm


    Well, as you say, if your primary issue is simply that you think the Church is wrong about birth control (that “celibate polish catholic” happened to be our pope, you know, the successor of Peter and leader of the Church on earth) then we hardly have the space or motive to discuss your objection fully here.

    But in that case, your objection is not to how but the TOB Institute charges for courses, nor with whether West is courageous or not. Your issue is simply that you disagree with the Church and wish to mock those who believe differently.

    In which case, you could simply say that and not waste words directing sarcasm either at West or at Brett who wrote a rather cogent post.

  46. grega permalink
    May 12, 2009 3:56 pm

    I agree with you and many others that Brett wrote a couple of cogent posts – and said so earlier.
    While I shared my personal point of view regarding Birth Control in Brett’s first post related to the issue of NFP, this issue is indeed not at the heart of the little discussion here.
    As I pointed out Brett decoded catholic teachings just fine free of charge.
    The people around the Theology of the Body Institute are not the first nor will the be the last who find a nifty way to commercialize religious education in the name of the Lord.
    As bill bannon pointed out some do take issue with this approach. But hey why am I not surprise that such things do not bother you.

  47. May 12, 2009 4:11 pm

    Seems to me that many posters here have some sort of a burr under their saddles with the Church’s teachings on birth control. Sounds like they’re using that disagreement with the magisterial teachings of the Church to attack TOB. That saddens me, because it is so plain to me that the Church is correct on this issue.

    I didn’t always think so — as a convert who entered the Church in 1996, this particular teaching didn’t make any sense to me at the time. But I resolved that I would try to understand why the Church taught against artificial contraception and in the meantime obey the Church’s teachings. (Thankfully, we have four children as a direct result!)

    What I found was that when I surrendered my will to the Church, it opened up my heart to understand Evangelium Vitae and Humanae Vitae in ways that I just didn’t see prior to this time.

    All of that said, there are things about the marketing of TOB that have concerned me. There’s something that is not quite right about the way in which it is presented. For years I have wondered to myself, “OK, what is so complicated about this teaching that requires courses and seminars, etc., etc., etc.? — What am I missing? What’s all the hub-bub?”

    The Nightline piece has further fueled my doubts, frankly. The whole obfuscation about the centerfold comment, seems … well … duplicitous. Clearly he was referring to Playboy magazine. Further, I agree that these comments by Christopher West call into serious question his prudential judgment.

    It pains me to criticize Christopher West in this manner. It really does. Because I think he is doing good by explicating a teaching against artificial contraception that really and truly needs to be better taught. For over 40 years the Church (with notable exceptions) in practice has treated the teaching of Humanae Vitae like some crazy aunt who should be hidden from view. That’s a huge tragedy.

    That one of the few men who has picked up the dropped torch and run with it turns out to be possibly seriously flawed, is a disaster.

  48. John Zmirak permalink
    May 13, 2009 6:53 pm

    I have my own differences with Mr. West, and I think that Catholics who give money to non-profits like the overpaid Mr. Donahue’s should do what everyone else does–and READ THE LEGALLY REQUIRED DISCLOSURE STATEMENTS ON THE INTERNET that say how much a given charity’s staffers are paid. Then they can decide if the organization is worthy of their gift. But Catholics complaining that other Catholics are making a decent living promoting the Truth are nothing more than crabs in a bucket. Their envy is palpable, and their grousing helps illustrate why Catholics, as 25% of the population, have maybe 2% of the influence, while our Jewish brethren (who generally root for each other to succeed) have at least 25% of the influence, with 2% of the population. They don’t see other, more successful Jews and start accusing them of betraying the Torah. We should make like the Jews, and help each other. L’chaim, everybody.

  49. Brett permalink*
    May 13, 2009 10:14 pm

    Thought some readers might be interested in this:

  50. May 14, 2009 9:04 am

    Check American Papist blog and the long thread this very thing you mention caused. Gluttony..a mortal sin according to St. Thomas (in the ST on temperance)… would never get this attention despite a widespread overweight problem in the US. Aquinas held that gluttony could be committed by quantity, speed of eating, eating too soon vis a vis the normal time, too great insistence on quality,and sumptuousness…costly. Ergo speed eating done by many teens would have been for Aquinas a mortal sin problem…..and not a soul in the Church talks of it. But a thread on sex gets 175+ comments. Hence the widow Hildebrand ought not draw too much weight from 95% of men reporting sexual sins. It seems we are oblivious to the other sins anyway due to lack of discussion or encyclicals on the other sins in the first place.


  1. Christian Practices in a Consumer Culture « Vox Nova

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: