Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Christopher West

I first heard about Christopher West's appearance on Nightline a few weeks ago, but it wasn't until last week that I (a) saw the actual segment for myself, and (b) learned that many in the Catholic blogosphere have subsequently released the hounds on him.

Here's the segment in question:

Contrast that with this:

West has been getting pilloried by many fellow Catholics — treatment which is, in my opinion, grossly unfair.

If ABC's portrayal of West and his understanding of Catholic theology and sexuality were accurate, and if none of his statements had been taken out of context, it would be justified to give him Hail Columbia.

But it's not, and many of them were; and thus it isn't.

Recently Professor David Schindler offered a strong critique of West here, to which Professor Janet Smith (for whom I personally have tremendous respect as a Catholic moral theologian) and Professor Michael Waldstein offered their respective responses in defense of West's work here and here.

The best critique I've come across is from Jimmy Akin, who rightly cuts West a lot of slack:

Christopher West has a difficult job. As a chastity speaker, he's got to juggle several things at once:

1) He's got a very sensitive subject
2) On which different audiences have different sensibilities
3) The audience that most needs his message is very hard to reach
4) Part of the reason why they're so hard to reach is that they have a pre-existing stereotype of Christian sexual morality that they think gives them a license to tune out anything a Christian says on the subject
5) To reach this group you have to effectively batter your way past this anti-Christian prejudice and get them to take you seriously while simultaneously
6) Not offending the sensibilities of those who already take Christian sexual morality seriously
7) Some of whom have rigorist views on the topic

Through my job, I occasionally give chastity talks to junior high and high school teenagers, and thus I found myself nodding my head repeatedly as I read through this list.

Communicating the message of chastity takes a lot of thought and preparation — not to mention prayer — and figuring out the best way to do so is something I'm continually revisiting. (It's for this reason that when I do give chastity talks, I prefer that kids' parents be present also. Aside from the fact that parents are their children's primary educators — especially when it comes to such a crucial subject matter as sex — it also gives me a chance to hear feedback from moms and dads, which greatly helps me assess the degree to which I was able to "juggle" the various things on the aforesaid list.)

While I think it could be said that there are some "issues" with some aspects of Christopher West's speaking style — referring to Song of Songs as the "centerfold" of the Bible, for example, which Jimmy Akin addresses in his critique — in the end I agree with him that "West is a man on the side of the angels, and he's an effective speaker who has done a great deal of good."

1 comment:

The Dutchman said...

I watched it all and read it all.

West is shallow, reduces things perhaps past their simplest expression, juvenile in his speech, almost infantile in his love of sexuality. He is as eager and sincere as a puppy dog. If this message brings people closer to a correct and fulfilling understanding of the potentialities of human sexual love — so much the better.

David Schindler is a prig and not worth listening to. (I grieve for the woman married to him.)

Dr. Janet Smith is, as always, the voice of reason. Damn, if she isn't the very voice of reason.

You want to see the Theology of the Body in action, talk to our mutual friend. (The one who was a lesbian in college and is Catholic and married now.) Having been 180° out on sexuality, she is now dead-on. I know of no one who desires more to be flesh-of-one-flesh with her husband,gives herself more completely, and is more fulfilled than her. No one needed to explain the Theology of the Body to her, she lived all the mistakes and, simply by bringing her Catholic faith into the bedroom, has figured it all out.