The Christopher West Theology of the Body “Debate”

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I recently posted a video of one of Christopher West’s excellent talks on the Theology of the Body. Some of you loved it.  Others were a bit critical of some of his methods, emphasis, or terminology and expressed such in the comment section. I thought it was a great discussion. There were plenty of other reactions within the Catholic theological bubble against and in defense of Christopher West by many prominent Catholics scholars, theologians, and leaders.

Here’s a good article that sums up the entire episode well. It also has a slew of links at the bottom that point to all of the various commotion I referred to above if you’re interested in reading it all.  I think there are great points made on both sides.

In an interview with OSV, West himself has now responded to it all.

I think the entire episode has been a healthy process (mostly) motivated by love.  Christopher West has even said he has learned from it.

Unfortunately, however, I think a small few in the Catholic community seem to have an aversion to the popularization of anything Catholic.  They do so, perhaps, out of concern that we not change or diminish Church teaching in order to make it more “popular.”  Which is legitimate and should always be a concern.

But we also have to work on making Church teaching relevant and presenting it in a way that opens some minds that have been closed to the Church for decades.  We have to get people’s attention that “hey, what you thought the Church taught about sex and other issues…probably isn’t entirely true.  There’s more…and it’s beautiful!”  And sometimes it takes being a little provocative to get people’s attention.  And I think we can do that while totally respecting and embracing the integrity of Church teaching.

I can’t tell you how many formerly Catholic people I know that insist they “know” what the Church teaches.  Literally every single one of them, I’ve found, actually don’t.  But they’ve long since closed any open doors to even considering the Catholic Church.  We have to find ways to open them back up and lovingly let them know that they’re missing out.  They actually don’t know what the Church teaches.  And if they truly knew what it taught they just might find they agree with a lot more than they thought.

Christopher West has done this very effectively.  Has he been absolutely perfect in doing so?  Probably not – I don’t know.  That’s why these kinds of conversations within our community our good for ensuring we do as best we can.  But let’s remember we’re all on the same side here and that our ultimate goal is to share these beautiful truths with the world.  And to do so, we need to be creative and innovative to better communicate them to a very complex culture made up of very diverse peoples.

Thank you, Christopher West.  And God bless all of those who lovingly support this shared cause.

8 comments Add comment

Blaise Alleyne June 19, 2009 at 6:26 pm

Well said.

Michelle June 19, 2009 at 8:43 pm

Thank you for this wonderful article. We had a coming together at our parish last weekend to think of ways to improve the parish ministries. I left thinking, if we all went back to the basics and started with Catechism classes, maybe we can all get on the same page.

Without all Catholics being on the same page…meaning knowing the teachings of the church, just trying to improve ministries within the church was a big issue.

I say…more catechism class are needed. Who would leave the Catholic Church if they new what they believed…not me!!!!

elena maria vidal June 21, 2009 at 5:03 pm

Hi, Matthew, I have been wanting to stop by and thank you for all that you do to promote authentic Catholic community on the internet. One thing about following the ongoing TOB discussion is that it has led me to some wonderful websites, such as Headline Bistro, which you link to above.

There is no doubt that Mr. West has helped many people and that he is full of zeal for the faith. I have enjoyed his talks on EWTN and thought they were fine. I did not care for his book that I read, but then we are not bound to like every single Catholic book, are we?

What bothers me about this whole episode is that anyone who dares point out the potential flaws in Mr. West’s presentation is attacked and accused of being puritanical or prudish. People should be free to express such criticisms without having their good character impugned.

All the best,

EMV

Linda Coty June 22, 2009 at 6:32 am

Michelle, I totally agree with you on the need & the lack of Catechism classes for adults. In fact, I had been searching for exactly that, in the city I live, only to find out it didn’t exist. So I replaced it with searching the teachings on the web. I’m sure it doesn’t follow the same itinerary as if it were an organized class, but you would be surprised how often it leads me to where I need to be most.

Linda

Easter A. June 23, 2009 at 10:55 am

Matthew,

Thanks for the twitter follow. I would not have known you wrote this article that gives us good insights. Exactly how Christopher did it. By introducing TOB through television, how could other people have known that there is such a thing as Theology of the Body? True, many of the viewers may still not know the good in it, but the initial step was taken: TOB was introduced to them. Who knows, maybe some people got curious and bought and read his books after the interview.

Christopher West on May 30 gave an excellent presentation here in Honolulu, Hawaii. After his talks I approached him to let him know that I was very discouraged about the interview on Nightline. I said I had to pray and discern if should even come. I came. Because God’s spirit stirred in me the truth. I cannot tell you how blessed I was to have heard and witnessed God’s loving message on TOB – not from a book or YouTube, but through Christopher West himself.

God’s spirit is not a spirit of timidity. I am glad he did that interview with ABC.

Sometimes, when we receive God’s message with a thud, many of us are not ready to hear it (not considering the sensationalism). And sometimes, we have to hear with God’s heart to listen and receive the truth. That is why prayer and discernment are so important. If many Catholics were distraught by what Christopher did – including me in the beginning – what more of the world that does not understand the truth at all?

Thank you, Matthew!God bless you!

micaela swift June 25, 2009 at 10:02 pm

Thanks Matt for posting….I think this debate certainly brings to light lots of excellent thinking about this, and good needed discussions.
I agree with C.Wests Theology of the Body, however, I do object to his “style” of communication. I have gone to his theology of the body day retreat, it was great. I have a few of his books, and do read up on what he has to say. The big knot I have with this is that there are some discussions he brings up often and very openly that ought to be held in a “different” type of arena. Certain discussions about sex cannot be put up as a “show” because many times it will be interpreted lopsided, esp by those who are not ‘clearly’ informed about differences between “Agape” and “Eros” and ‘Theology of the body.’I have always, through experience(being very sensitive of the “way” to educate) have known that Sex is a very “personal” issue, and to make it a question-answer setup accessible in a such “public arena”, I think can easily be subject to removing the deep reverence sex deserves and honestly needs according to its theology. Because it is deeply personal, its hard to hold to that reality when you make it very public and ‘open’. Pope Paul II was the genius at doing that perfectly in the public arena….He was a master of ‘Agape’, and he used that wisdom to direct the truths about chastity and purity, rather than going into specific sexually explicit areas of sex.

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