In Defense of Christopher West

There’s a kerfuffle going on in certain precincts of the Catholic blogosphere over Christopher West, the very popular promoter of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Christopher’s specialty, in many ways, is his use of popular culture references to illustrate the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. He does this to illustrate the inadequacies of the culture’s views, and to engage the attention of his audience so that they might be open to the positive view offered by the Theology of the Body. Some of his references and language are out there, and it’s not for everyone. But that’s his style, and it seems to work pretty well.

All well and good. Recently, though, he gave a long interview to some television producers, which they naturally cut and pasted to fit their own agenda, and then sensationalized it in order to get good ratings. Big surprise.

A controversy arose because Christopher made some comments about Hugh Hefner having been motivated to help liberate people from an excessively prudish outlook on sex. In the full context, these comments made perfect sense, but in the interview that aired, they didn’t look good.

This led to a minor flap. Christopher managed to explain the situation, and most people of good will gave him the benefit of the doubt, thanks to his obvious sincerity and his record of promoting Church teaching.

Unfortunately, that didn’t end things. The theologians have gotten involved, and poor Christopher is now in the dock over whether his presentation of the Theology of the Body is faithful to Pope John Paul II’s original vision, and even to Church teaching in general.

I’m not going to go into all that, because it resembles what one of my friends calls “a circular firing squad” — all the good guys are shooting at each other. Talk about no prophet being without honor, except in his home country.

You have to remember what Christopher is doing, and what his audience is. He is like a paramedic, responding to the scene of an accident, trying to stanch the wounds and get people on the road to healing. His audience is the mass of modern men and women who have been sold a bill of goods — a collection of lies, really — about sexuality, and whose lives have been scarred by contraception, pornography, promiscuity, serial cohabitation, using others and being used by them for momentary sexual pleasure. He’s dealing with an entire generation with broken hearts and crushed hopes.

Yes, his approach would not have been used by Pope John Paul. Yes, his language and imagery are pretty edgy at times. Yes, he could probably use to refine his presentations so that there are no theological ambiguities. And yes, if you’re squeamish about sex talk, Christopher is going to be hard for you to take.

But you can’t expect a paramedic to use the same subtle methods as a massage therapist.

The reality is that Christopher’s presentations have changed many lives. There are lots of people whose understanding of their sexuality and of their vocation to marriage or single life have been transformed by his work, and have been given hope for their ability to live God’s plan.

I’m one of them.

I like to think of Christopher as a modern-day version of St. Paul in the Areopagus, as recounted in Acts 17. He’s going in to talk to those who have been propagandized by our sexually damaged and distorted culture, but who are curious about a God who is unknown to them, yet Whose voice still echoes in their hearts. People want to hear more about this God, and some will come to a conversion of their hearts and lives once they know Him.

Of all times, Pentecost season is not time to be getting in the way of the Holy Spirit as He tries to bring the truth to the world. Christopher is doing some hard work for the Holy Spirit, and he’s reaping a harvest for the Lord.

Keep it up.

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