Teen Vogue’s anti-theology of the body

If your daughter has a subscription to Teen Vogue, I would strongly urge you to cancel it. Immediately.

The magazine recently featured a how-to article about a particular sexual act that I will leave unnamed. (Let’s just say that, aside from its myriad other risks, it would leave these girls particularly prone to hemorrhoids.)

I initially didn’t read the article, to avoid giving them clicks, and also not particularly wanting that information in my head. But writing about it, I thought I should know what it said. So I skimmed it.

And now I want to throw up.

Lest you wonder if this was merely a cautionary piece — well, it was not. It was, in fact, a full-fledged endorsement. The phrase “feels awesome” appeared at least three times. Throw in a few “delightfuls,” some “perfectly normal” and the reassurance that people have been doing this since the beginning of time, and you’ll start to get the idea.

These people are not interested in what is best for your daughters.

I brought it up on Facebook, and naturally my timeline is exploding with concerned mothers. Panicked mothers.

I don’t blame them.

What’s a parent supposed to do in a situation like this — in world like this? Do you really need to sit your kid down and have a long talk about each and every sexual variant that crosses their path? Do you have to research the risks, explain in great detail why it isn’t “awesome”?

Do we have to inflict all of this darkness onto our kids?

In a word, no.

In the 30 years I have been speaking on chastity, I have found that leading with warnings — about diseases, risks, pregnancy, even sin — is not particularly effective. It’s negative. It’s dark. And teens, whose neurological capacity to assess risk isn’t even fully developed, tend not to believe us anyway.

So what do we do instead?

We inspire them.

When I was a senior in college, I heard a series of talks on the Church’s teaching on sex and marriage, based in the Theology of the Body. I was completely blown away. It was beautiful. It was about real love — the deepest desire of my heart. It was about the God who loves me, and about the incredible plan He designed for our bodies and our relationships. It uplifted me. It inspired me. It made me want beauty and goodness and truth in my life.

And it helped me to see all of these other counterfeits for exactly what they were. Abuses. The misuse and distortion of something profoundly good.

I am a big fan of crowding out the ugly with the beautiful.

Once teens have a context — once they appreciate the beauty of God’s plan for sex and love — the other discussions get a lot easier. Sin? Easy to understand — taking his plan out of context does damage to ourselves and others, so of course God doesn’t want us to do it. Physical and emotional risks? Same thing.

Most importantly, if they fully understand that sex speaks the language of marriage, they will won’t be so inclined to “experiment.”

Obviously I can’t give you that entire teaching in the 600 words I have here. But I wrote a book that does that. It’s called Real Love, and you can find it on Amazon.

Even if your kids aren’t reading Teen Vogue, kids around them probably are. You need to be proactive.

Get lots of good information into their brains and their hearts. So that when they see the dark stuff, they will recognize it for what it is.

COMING UP: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.