REVIEW OF JASON EVERTíS Theology of the Body for Teens: Parent Guide
By Alice A. Grayson
The following is a review of the Parent’s Guide only, which is part of a total chastity program called Theology of the Body for Teens, by Jason Evert, published by Ascension Press, West Chester, PA 2008. This total program is designed for the Catholic classroom, and includes a student workbook and a teacher’s guide. Although Jason Evert is listed as the author of the Parent Guide, the accompanying classroom program includes his wife Crystalina and a Brian Butler as co- authors.
The Parent’s Guide contains eighty-one pages, whereas the student and teacher handbooks each contain two hundred and ten pages. Inasmuch as the Parent’s Guide, reveals the fundamental philosophy of the author, and is the simplest place to begin a review, I have chosen to review the parental guide alone, before looking at the student and teacher components of this program. The other reason a parent guide is so important is that Catholic educators who believe that parents are the prime educators of their children, are prone to refer parents to a parent guide in order for them to evaluate a particular program.
Furthermore, if a parent guide, indicates by its content that the classroom component is not in keeping with the Magisterium of the Church20as described in such documents as Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines Within the Family (1995) and Christian Education of Youth, (1929) it is sufficient to place a thumbs down on the program without pouring over the many pages of implementation of such philosophy.
It is always necessary to review either the parental guide or a classroom program, because although parents are the prime educators of their children, particularly so in the sexual sphere, it is helpful to parents when some educators offer genuine help to parents and reinforce in the classroom in a delicate, positive, prudent, brief and abstract way the same Church teachings they learn about at home. One cannot summarily dismiss every religious program which includes a section on morality.
Therefore the first decision a parent must make is this: Is the curriculum a religious program or is it a compartmentalized program focusing on sexual formation? The magisterium teaches that sexual morality must never be taught apart from the religious program. (TMHS) The very title of this program is tricky. After reviewing the parental guide, I have concluded that Theology of the Body for Teens is indeed a separate “chastity course” showered with theological reference and quotations.
Theology of the Body for Teens: Parent’s Guide represents itself as a reliable professional, authentic understanding of the allocutions of Pope John Paul II on Theology of the Body. This review challenges that assertion.
Jason Evert and his wife Crystalina are the same couple, who do visiting “Chastity” presentations in school assembles throughout the country. A sample program can be viewed at: http://www.catholic.com/audio/chastity/chastity-catholic.mp3. See commentary on that presentation in TOB section.
The Everts maintain a web site called www.PureLoveClub.com and sell a cadre of products including chastity pledge pins and tee shirts. Their use of street language and crass delivery practices of what should be considered sublime truths causes one to doubt the author’s competence to teach the Theology of the Body allocutions of Pope John Paul II. The authors do not have a sufficient grounding of what Dietrich von Hildebrand would call, trembling reverence in the approach to the mystery of human sexuality as created by almighty God.
Fortunately, for the most part, the Parents Guide does not use the same street language as the school presentation. However, if parents hadn’t previewed the speeches of the Everts, they might not suspect from the guide itself that the student treatment is quite different. One carry over is a clue however. The author’s repeated use the term, “have sex” to refer both to pre-marital intercourse and the conjugal embrace.
The Parents Guide certainly says in many places that parents are the prime educators of their children. The guide was absolutely correct when it comments on page one: “If you do not speak to your teens about the meaning of human sexuality and love, the world will fill the void of your silence with a very contrary message.” (P1.)
I appreciate this sort of advice to parents. I believe that the world is a different place than it was when previous generations were raised. Clearly it is true that values are more caught than taught (also mentioned in the guide), but it also is true that values contrary to the gospel are present everywhere. Part of the education of Catholic teens should indeed be an appropriate discipline code and an apologetic of not only what the Church believes and expects, but also the reason why Christianity truly lived is a promise of a life filled with love, peace, and joy.
To the author’s credit, he included many practical insights about love and fostering a love of the virtue of chastity, not particularly found in formal church documents. If only the booklet was limited to these insights. Some examples are:
The text for parents discusses valid concepts of real love, includes quotes from Pope John Paul II and the saints. The text addresses the relationship between love and truth, and that God gave us freedom so that we might choose the good. Freedom without responsibilities is the opposite of love. (Pope John Paul II) Once the truth is denied to human beings, it is pure illusion to try to set them free. Truth and freedom either go hand in hand, or together they perish in misery. (Pope John Paul II)
It appears that the goal of Theology of the Body for Teens is to teach teens that they were made by God for love, and that means to seek and do good for other persons. Our bodies manifest that desire to love and be loved in Christ. Loving, then, embraces the vocation of religious life. The text advises families to foster in their children an active sacramental life in the Church as a means of grace and path to sanctity.
With so many valuable quotes and good practical advice, I believe it is easy for a parent to miss what my earlier paragraphs report about the author’s clouded understanding of the mystery of sexuality as well as the prism by which it is viewed.
First of all, after writing e verywhere how important parents are in the formation of children, the authors have designed a two hundred and ten page structured program of chastity education. Its purpose is to “teach” chastity in a group setting. Traditionally, delicate chastity education by parents is conferred one on one- thus preserving its nature of mystery and intimacy.
In this teen program, the parents’ role is to follow up on what the authors teach- chapter by chapter. Instead of chastity education proceeding gradually, and tranquilly in the home, using real life experiences as a spring board of discussion, the guide has a set curriculum with “canned questions and answers” for parents to use at the end of chapters. This approach assumes that all children be given the same education at the same time. It is invasive, and the program becomes the prime educator-not the parent.
The next point to note about the Parent’s Guide is that the curriculum is designed to teach a particular type of teen- not a teen who is raised properly Catholic. Also- note the teen language below. On page six, the guide describes five “typical” teen comments: They are:
Evert continues to write more troubling descriptions of their typical students throughout the Parent Guide. Samples are:
Evert comments that this is how teens view chastity, and how teens view teachers- as adversarial and old fashioned. (P.13) Note also-pregnancy is a “bad”, coupled with STDs.
Here Evert disrespects the religious education rendered to children by clergy, parents, and teachers. He believes the program will remedy poor religious formation.
Here we see Evert’s desire to become the corrector of his imagined parents’ and children’s concepts of sexuality. This attitude is from Evert’s mentor, Christopher West, who believes the Church was mistaken and oppressive until Pope John Paul II came along. Then, by emphasizing exclusively the goodness of sex, the Evert comes to believe in a Pelagian view of human sexuality. The parent’s booklet repeatedly talks about the goodness of the body and sex. It deliberately overlooks that the mystery of sexuality is also the mystery of iniquity. ( Dietrich von Hildebrand) The topic must always be approached with reverence and purification. As Blessed Jacinta quotes Our Lady, “More souls go to Hell for sins of impurity than for any other reason.”
Evert repeatedly contrasts his concept of teen attitudes as adversarial to that of their parents. Particularly offensive is the comment of page thirty-six. Evert writes, The only reason you should doubt your parenting abilities would be if your teen actually liked your20rules. This is not a description of a peaceful Catholic home.
On page twenty-five we find the author commenting: Because the gift of sexuality is so often misused, many young people struggle with: self-hatred, memories of abuse, sexual addictions, guilt, and insecurity.
On page sixty-three Evert claims: Teens don’t trust God.
The real message that the Parent’s Guide gives parents is that parents are not capable of doing their job, unless they follow the instructions of the expert, Jason Evert. Jason Evert places himself as a teacher and a reformer of parental attitudes and their sloppy child formation. He expects parents to reform according to the Evert’s flawed interpretation of the teachings of Pope John Paul II. The program then proceeds to reform the children, set them straight, and hope that the parents will follow the guide’s instructions.
I contend that if many Catholic students are as ill formed as the author says, then this is exactly where a program for parents is effective. A parental program can build on parents’ sacramental grace, and parents love, live, and teach the Faith in real life situations, carefully and individually. They have the privilege of being reverent, delicate, positive, and prudent. They have the time for integration.
As for the well brought brought-up children, innocent and holy, this program would steal their innocence and take from parents their sacramental rights to delicately, briefly, prudently, and lovingly educate and rear their children in tranquility and holiness. The Evert program is not a program for a holy child, by their own definition.
Furthermore, for the holy child, the motivating force, in grace, for a student to remain chaste in thought, word, and deed, is that their God and their parents believe in them-that they are in close communication, and have grown to love virtue, their family, and their God. It is a mutual level of high expectation- the opposite of the attitudes toward youth which Evert expresses. By the way, inclusive in the Evert perception of the Catholic home is a tacit condemnation of Catholic clergy and the bad way they do “their job.”
Evident of the shallowness of the imagined parent/ child relationship in the Parent’s Guide are the “canned” questions which the parents are supposed to ask their children. I have selected a sophomoric, and sometimes invasive, question from each chapter. See below:
The questions above are not only artificially constructed conversation starters, they reflect a disturbing pattern of values clarification. The Parents Guide implies throughout a mistrust of authority. Instead, the guide is always drawing out children’s feelings as a replacement for authority. Its curriculum is based on a supposed study of the theology of the body as a way to view human sexuality as a need to love, coming from “our own hearts.” What it accomplishes is to value feelings over reason, and sometimes imperfect reasoning over authority.
As early as page two, we find the author’s perspective on authority: All too often, the Church’s moral laws are seen as arbitrary rules passed down from officials in the . Many people experience these teachings as external and even imposed. In the speech presentation of Jason Evert, Evert refers to God as that “stinking Author of love” who was getting in the way of the y oung Jason’s desired pleasure. Evert thinks all teens feel as he did.
While Theology of the Body for Teens: Parent Guide does indeed treat man’s need for companionship and self giving as Biblical in origin, they do not give equal respect for authority for its own sake. The sacrament of Penance is valued, but there is no mention of eternal consequences of mortal sin. Although it is true that the virtue of chastity is ultimately reasonable, it appears from the Parent’s Guide that personal decision making and feelings are the ultimate authority. True child rearing employs both reason and feelings, in submission to legitimate authority.
Dietrich von Hildebrand, when converting to Catholicism, questioned his priest instructor on some mystery he did not understand. His priest reminded von Hildebrand that in order to convert, he must believe all that the Church teaches. His response was monumental: Credo ut intelligam. (I believe that I may understand.) I am fearful that Theology of the Body for Teens: Parent Guide as a curriculum has the order reversed. If the teens understand, they will believe. If they disagree however, they will not believe. This is basically a Protestant heresy and is deadly to the soul.
With the background therefore, of a diminished view of obstreperous teens, and a mistrust of authority, the Parent’s Guide then gives an indication of what sort of teaching they wish to do in the classroom. Pages 31 and 32 report the personal, worldly sexual history story of Jason’s wife, Chrystalina, when she was a rebellious teen. She is repentant of course, but she has revealed to a group, in a public fashion, an intimate personal story of sexual disappointment- so intimate that she names her ex-boyfriend, and eludes to birth control pills- all in front of her husband each time she tells the story in classroom presentations.
The Parents’ Guide also reveals the topics which will be discussed in class. They are fornication, adultery, masturbation, contraception, and pornography. This is a violation of the privacy and innocence of children and is expressly forbidden by the Magisterium, in such documents as Christian Education for Youth (1929) and Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines Within the Family. (1995) Classroom discussion of intimate subjects desensitizes youth and is an occasion of sin. Consider this quote from TMHS:
There is another factor in Theology of the Body for Teens: Parent Guide which is exceedingly disturbing. The program is based on a flawed understanding of human sexuality and it therefore results in sexually stimulating presentations.
The Everts’ mentor for this approach is Christopher West, who has spawned an industry of sex presentations, books, and programs. For example, West calls Catholicism the sexiest religion in the world and asks folks to imagine the naked Adam and Eve as beautiful. West refers to “antiquated” Church teaching relating to sex, with the result that Catholics think of sex as “dirty.” West claims to revolutionize time honored Church teaching on the natural law with his new and creative interpretation of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
Following his guru West, Evert uses Genesis to introduce concepts of the body’s goodness in its nakedness. Like Pope John Paul II, they say that shame came after sin to protect modesty. However, they repeatedly refer back to the body’s nakedness and essential genital differences as the cornerstone to prove that man and woman were made for self-giving love.
For instance, on page eighteen of the guide, we find a story of a crowd of bishops, who see a prostitute pass by. All but one bishop cast their eyes away. The one Bishop Nonnus declares, “Did not the wonderful beauty of that woman delight you?” He says it delighted him and then he wept for her plight. The woman was moved by Bishop Nonnus’s glance (or weeping?) and she subsequently sought instruction in the Faith from the bishop. She became known as St. Palegia. Here we see the misinterpretation of shame. Neither Bishop Nonnus, nor any of the other bishops, had the right to willfully take any “delight” from this prostitute’s revealed body. What probably happened was that the now St. Palegia exchanged eye contact with Bishop Nonnus . This moved the bishop to weep and St. Palegia to cooperate with grace.
Christopher West and Evert fail to understand the teachings of Dietrich von Hildebrand on shame. Von Hildebrand teaches that humans sometimes hide things because they are ugly (an ill deed or a blemish) and sometimes hide things because they are intimate, deep, and personal. Von Hildebrand defines chastity as “that virtue which keeps the sexual secret hidden as a dominion, the disposition of which is in the hand of God.” (Purity) The point is, that the sexual realm of St. Pelagia’s body was designed by God to be a personal secret- God’s secret- the realm of the inner person-thine, not mine. Evert should never give youth the idea that if they work on purity, just like Bishop Nonnus did, they will have the right to view naked human bodies with impunity.Another example of misinterpretation of Pope John Paul II occurs on page eight:
This calling to make a gift of ourselves is stamped into our bodies. In our complementarity as male and female, God has stamped into our design a call to give ourselves to another. A man’s body does not make sense by itself, not does a woman’s body. They make se nse in light of each other. This is a key concept that underpins Pope John Paul II’s landmark work known as the “Theology of the Body.” Simply put, the body is the key to understanding our lives.
Evert then wants parents to ask their children: What do you think of the idea that the male body only makes sense in light of a woman’s?
Evert focuses students on the naked human body, as sexually differentiated, to explain our lives. This is essentially a Freudian error. Von Hildebrand explains that Freud regards the body and the physiological life as the form of the soul, not the spiritual soul as the form of the body. As sensationalism has always done, it constructs man from below, instead of recognizing in the spiritual centre, made in the image of God, the formal actuating principle. Simply put, man is a soul, encapsulated by a body, and not principally a body with a soul component.
Therefore, in the true sense, man, his human personality, his personhood, the unity of body and soul, aided by grace, in freedom, is called to love in imitation of Divine Love. Our nature is “social.” We direct our bodies to do the work of love- to serve, to give, to surrender and reveal, to hug, to touch, and regarding the married state, to cooperate in the Devine plan of marriage. Love is the animating principal, not our bodies, and in particular, not our genitals. There are distinct differences between paternal, filial, brotherly, and spousal lov e. Scriptural passages refer to a spiritualized spousal love of God for man, and man for God, but nowhere does that relate to the physiology of sex. Exemplary of this mystery of God’s love for man are the words: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John: 13)
And yet, the marital embrace is fundamentally sacred and remains in the sphere of mystery. Here it is that man’s soul is uniquely united to his body. Here it is that God’s love “overshadows” spousal love, and children are pro-created because of love. That is the divine plan.
From this understanding of the Church’s teaching, we turn again to the Theology of the Body for Teens: Parent Guide and see that the author views about everything in life in terms of sex, indeed, “good sex.” On page forty-five the author refers to the Holy Mass, and talks about God’s gift of his body. He does not mention “body, blood, soul, and divinity.” He then describes the canopy (baldacchino) over the alter as analogous to the marriage bed. He continues, “In a similar way, a husband and wife express their love for each other through their free, total, faithful, and fruitful gift of themselves. Therefore, this call to love is not only stamped into our bodies, but also the body of Christ in the Eucharist. Evert claims that this is not sexualizing the Eucharist. Oh?
On page fifty-seven Evert discusses religious voca tions and celibacy. Correctly, he says that there is a male and female religious vocation as well as sisters being recognized as brides of Christ and priests entitled to be called “Father.” However again, Evert relates vocations to physical sexuality where he claims: In their decision to renounce marriage on earth, celibates embrace their sexuality and channel that energy toward full communion with God, reflecting in a unique way the meaning of sexuality and self-donation. What sexual energy?
The Freudian themes running through this Parents Guide really hits home on page twenty-six. Evert writes about teens: Christ did not die and rise from the dead so that they could repress their sexuality and simply ‘try their best not to think about sex.’ He did not come to simply redeem their souls and then leave them with a bunch of coping mechanisms to battle temptation.
The dictionary defines “repression” as the rejection from consciousness of painful or disagreeable ideas, memories, feelings, or impulses. Now sexual temptation begins in the mind as exactly a sexual thought or desire which is recognized as against God’s will. This “uncomfortableness” (i.e. guilt feelings) is God’s gift of grace and a formed conscience. The Catholic youth is required to rid the mind of impure desires-to reject them. Theology of the Body for Teens instructs teens to think about sex a lot. It offers no answer to sexual temptation except to go to confession after the=2 0fact.
Whereas spousal love is a particular form of loving, that love is not confined to conjugal sexual expression. The Church has the role models of St. Joseph and Our Lady who manifest perfect spousal love. The Church honors married couples, beyond their child rearing years, who remain faithful and loving. The Church teaches that conjugal relations should be informed by a love which is personal, deep, intimate, total, exclusive, self revealing, sacrificing, and always receptive to God’s procreative will. The Church preserves the truths that both conjugal love and conjugal relations are radically distinct from animal sexual reproduction.
A more accurate name for Theology of the Body for Teens could perhaps be The Sexualization of the Human Personality. This review of the problems of Theology of the Body for Teens: Parents Guide reveals to the perceptive parent a good deal about the authors and their curriculum. A need to critique their actual program is not urgent. If the actual curriculum does what the guide says it does, it should not be recommended to parents and their children should be shielded from participation.
Although Jason Evert and his co-authors cannot be blamed for their good intention in developing this program, I offer them this critique. I remind them of one of the quotes of Pope John Paul II which they have inserted into the Parent’s Guide: Once the truth is denied to human beings, it is pure illusion to try to set them free. Truth and freedom eith er go hand in hand, or together they perish in misery. (Pope John Paul II) I invite Jason Evert and his co-authors to consider studying the writings of Dietrich von Hildebrand for a clearer understanding of the nature of love and spousal love in particular.
As an enticement to them, I close by quoting a passage from Dietrich von Hildeband’s Purity, page seven and eight. It sums up the problem of this program and others which are attempts to popularize and interpret Pope John Paul II’s Wednesday afternoon allocutions. Dietrich von Hildebrand was acclaimed by Pope Pius XII as a “20th-century Doctor of the Church.” Dietrich von Hildebrand’s insights into the meaning of marriage and sexuality not only preserve every doctrine of the Church espoused throughout her centuries of existence, it deepens them. Here, in von Hildebrand , we come to understand the nature of love, of spousal love, and its essential relationship to the marital embrace: