Wednesday, June 16, 2010

West's Theology of the Body

I assume we're all somewhat familiar with Pope John Paul II's "theology of the body" (expressed in his Wednesday papal audiences in the early 1980s). Christopher West, a (Catholic) speaker and writer, is perhaps its most enthusiastic and famous proponent. In early 2009, a controversy about his interpretation of JPII's theology erupted after some comments he made on TV. Although his comments were taken out of context and probably misinterpreted, it turns out that he has been making some pretty serious theological errors all along. Dawn Eden, another Catholic speaker and writer, recently exposed these errors and dissected West's interpretation for her master's thesis in theology. Find a summary of it here.


UPDATE: Marcel at Aggie Catholics has responded to Dawn Eden here (thank you, dear commenters, for the link). I need to read more of both JPII and West for myself before I can legitimately weigh in on the questions at hand. That said, I (like Marcel) am inclined to retain my reservations about West, though I will no longer take the entirety of Eden's criticism at face value.

Open question for those who know more West's work better than I do: Does he speak or write at all about the celibacy of priests and religious? More specifically, if "sexual love is the earthly key that enables us to enter into heaven's song," as West writes, then how is it possible that so many saints have been celibate? Perhaps West overemphasizes the (true) image of God as the Divine Lover at the cost of undermining other (also true) ways He reveals Himself to us: as Father, Savior, Good Shepherd, the Way, the Truth, the Life...

Anyway, on a related issue, here is a good reflection from Peter Kreeft on sex in Heaven.


  1. Anna,

    With all due respect I do not accept on face value Dawn's critique of West. She has withheld any real substance in her thesis which she is selling for cash, so one cannot know how she supports her postion unless one pays the admission price. Given the tactics she employs in her summary, I won't pay for the privilege to see the rest, since she gives nothing but opinion to substantiate her accusations.

    What we are fed in the text of her speech is a large body of statements claiming to summarize West's views on a number of points, while citing hardly anything specific he has actually said. Instead, she tells you that West said...or West claims...or West does this or that, but offers nothing from his own mouth.

    One of the best examples is her claim that West promotes himself as the definitive interpreter of John Paul II's TOB. This is a most ridiculous claim, and I am in a good position to refute it.

    While I haven't read every single book he's written I have read many of them. Moreover, I have been actively participating in his Intro to TOB DVD workshops for almost three years now, as well as his "Into The Heart" DVD workshop.

    On top of all that, I spent a week with West and other Catholics taking his TOB 1 Head & Heart Immersion course in March 2010. I have not seen or heard one word from West that even begins to intimate such a claim. Let me add that I experience West as a very humble man, open to questioning himself and admitting mistakes. Indeed, I HAVE witnessed that...and more than once.

    Unfortunately, I must conclude that Dawn joins the ranks of other traditionalist Catholics condemning West without substance. Many of them (not Dawn, I don't think) attack West in proxy to attack - not so opently - John Paul's TOB. However, they all seem to use the same MO. Rarely are specifics given; the handful I've encounted produced only one I find questionable, and perhaps West has changed his views since - I can't say. However, the remaining few I found upon investigation amounted to others reading into West's words the meaning they wish to attribute to him. Context AND how one receives in one's heart the words in dispute have everything to do with their taken meaning.

    This is the rub for me. I read avidly the many criticsms when they began last year, and since I've already written more than I have time for (I'm working) I'll only summarize their collective gist that West sexualizes Christianity rather than the reverse. Their best "evidence" is that he allegedly speaks of the subject in a vulgar and irreverent manner.

    I beg to differ. No one out of a couple hundred people I've encountered via TOB has moved on with such a view of sex as a result of West's work. Furthermore, the only folks who could possibly find his language vulgar and irreverent are those who hold that we shouldn't even be talking about sex to being with, and certainly not in connection with Church teaching. I have seen the posted comments made in support of that statement when I and others pushed these folks to be specific about their claims.

    I am hardly alone in my unhappiness with Dawn.

    Please read for yourself this critique of her thesis summary by another author of TOB, who is not entirely uncritical of West while essentially defending him from her.

  2. Dawn Eden is committing textual eisegesis (reading into the words of Christopher things that are not there) and attacking a straw man. Yes, Marcel at Aggie Catholics has a good critique of her statements here:

  3. Welcome to the blog and thanks for your comments! I have read Marcel's response and am now updating my original post.