Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Christopher West Criticized

Christopher West, a well-known speaker on Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” appeared on ABC’s Nightlight last Thursday night that can be found here. Interestingly enough, the next day on The Catholic Guy show (3-6 Central Time on Sirius 159/XM 117) Lino Rulli made a prophetic statement by saying that he would be surprised if West was not criticized because of his comparison of John Paul II and Hugh Hefner.
Sure enough in an article by the Catholic News Agency (found here)there were several criticism not just on the comparison but about West in general. In the article Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, critiziced West saying that, “his approach has become too self-assured. She criticized his presentations as irreverent and insensitive to the ‘tremendous dangers’ of concupiscence [the tendency to sin].” She criticized West’s vocabulary and apparent lack of reverence. There were also criticism by Mary Shivanandan, a theologian who authored the book “Crossing the Threshold of Love: A New Vision of Marriage in the Light of John Paul II’s Anthropology and Fr. José Granados, a theologian who co-authored with Supreme Knight of Columbus Carl Andersen a book on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body titled “Called to Love.”
This is interesting because I also have heard criticism of Christopher West from another source because he was not “scholarly” enough. I disagreed then and I disagree now.
The Theology of the Body is a series of speeches given by Pope John Paul II over a period of several years. In the TOB, John Paul II revealed God’s plan of sexuality. The church teachings on sexuality separately were like puzzle pieces. They were confusing, hard to understand and very easy to over look. JPII took these separate puzzle pieces and put them all together and revealed a beautiful masterpiece.
That masterpiece, as beautiful as it was, was still confusing and difficult for us average, run of the mill people to understand. Seriously—have you ever tried to read JPII?? It can be like reading stereo instructions. Christopher West is like an art museum tour guide who is showing us the beauty of this painting and explaining it in terms that we can understand. Oh sure, a professional art type person could listen to his interpretation and be critical of it. The professional art type person isn’t who Christopher West is speaking to though.
The teachings of the TOTB should not be contained in some class room or on some scholar’s bookshelf. The TOTB needs to be proclaimed to the people on the street. It is more important now than ever that people understand the Church’s teachings on sexuality and understand how beautiful it is. It’s important to know that the Church teaches that sex is beautiful and sacred and not “an extreme danger” as Dr. von Hildebrand calls it.


  1. Very good post Jamie... and spot on. I haven't read a ton of West's stuff, but the fact that he's making Catholic Theology and JP II's writings accessible (and even promoted on a major media outlet like ABC) should be applauded.

    There's always critics though. Some people are upset because we do "Theology on Tap" in bars. I usually tell them to chill-ax and have a beer already.

  2. I think Christopher West does great work. I'm glad he's making it accessible. And he is an authentic witness to what he teaches. I've met him a couple of times. I have the highest esteem for him.

    At the same time, he's not alone in spreading the message of TOB anymore. And it shouldn't surprise anyone that others will do it with more precision than West. This will be welcome.

    Unlike JPII, West's specialty was not philosophy or the mystical spirituality of St. John of the Cross. Therefore, it makes sense that others versed in these areas would have something else to contribute... both in terms of precision and depth.

    Sometimes the popularization -- not by West so much as those who have listened to West, maybe in a cursory way -- has been a bit superficial.

    I had someone recently describe Titanic as a movie steeped in TOB themes. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. What, exactly, do people mean when they see TOB expressed in every story with a romantic theme? It gets pretty sloppy.

  3. I am confused about the "lack of reverence" comment. Christopher West devoutly kneels before the Blessed Sacrament praying before and after every talk.

    I had misinformed conceptions before attending his TOB talks and when blown away by a prayerful, humble man and theologian. A rare combination.