Saturday, May 23, 2009

Christopher West Redox

Christopher West recently gave an interview on ABC's nightline in which he presented some of John Paul II's teaching of the Theology of the Body. The interview got a lot of bad press in the Catholic media, probably rightly so.

Christopher West claimed the interview was cut up and sensationalized by ABC and presented statements out of context. I don't doubt that, but I still think that some of those comments he made would be hard to contextualize and legitimize.

I want to preface my further comments by saying that I don't think I have read anything by Christopher West, though I have listened to a complete audio series of his.

I attempted, at one point, to read the Theology of the Body, but it was a bit too dense to absorb at the time, so I can see how people would want some guides and summaries to it. The problem lies in the fact that the teaching is so monumental that attempts to summarize will invariably water down, or otherwise not do justice to the teaching. I have been a bit leery about some of the things Christopher West has written, and am also a bit upset at the recent interview.

A theologian has recently came out with a statement calling into question Christopher West's theology. This statement seems to articulate many of the concerns I have had with this presentation of the Theology of the Body. He gives many examples of some of the more questionable of Christopher West's statements, but I'll get to the meat of the argument.

In sum, West's work provides a paradigm of what is most often criticized today in connection with John Paul II’s theology of the body–and rightly criticized, insofar as that theology is identified with West’s interpretation: namely, that it is too much about sex and too romantic.

West presents a problem for the Church, not because he lacks orthodox intentions, but because his unquestionably orthodox intentions render his theology, a priori, all the more credible. His work often deflects people from the beauty and depth of what is the authentic meaning of John Paul II's anthropology of love, and thus of what was wrought in and through the Second Vatican Council. It is scarcely the first time in the history of the Church that abundant good will did not suffice to make one's theology and vision of reality altogether true.

West has worked tirelessly on behalf of the Church. However, if his work is to bear the Catholic fruit he so ardently desires, he needs to subject basic aspects of his theology to renewed reflection.

The problem is twofold. First, sex sells. Second, the Church has many who don't agree or practice with the Church regarding her teaching on sexuality.

People want to hear about sex. If you put forward anything, laud it as the Church's endorsement of sex, no matter how accurate that claim, it will sell, and it will attract attention.

Also, there are many people who are not interested in following the Church's teachings on, for instance, contraception or premarital sexual relations. In this case, press surrounding this "Hugh Hefner is my hero," etc. can only serve to muddy the waters.

An authentic understanding of human sexuality does not need a list of do's and don'ts. In fact such a list is probably detrimental to authentic sexuality. I can imagine that most things on the list of acceptable behavior are surely not always acceptable, and it could just cause confusion. The focus of the Theology of the Body coverage needs to change from "the Church (now) says you can _____ with your spouse" to "authentic sexuality can be understood as..."

Or perhaps I'm just a prude.

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