Thursday, June 17, 2010

Talking About Sex

The Christopher West controversy is on again. West is taking a sabbatical. Dawn Eden has taken same shots while he is gone. Marcel from Mary's Aggies has responded in his absence. I think a lot of what is behind all the critique of West is his style. The content is mostly quite orthodox. He opposes contraception, premarital sex, gay marriage, masturbation, pornography, female ordination, etc. So why does he get so much heat from conservative Catholics? It has to do with the way he talks about these matters.

Look at any news story about anything related to sex. What happens? The story tries to exploit sex as it talks about sex. It tries to be pornographic while still having the guise of news. People want the titillation of sexual talk and sexual pictures without the guilt of watching something clearly pornographic. News shows get ratings when they do such sexual pseudo-news so they do a lot of it. Look at any major news website and you will see a few stories that have very little news value but give an excuse for injecting some smut into the show.

A good example of this was Nightline's piece on Christopher West. ABC didn't think it's viewers would be interested in a new development in Catholic theology. They thought people would watch because it was about sex. But West plays that game too. He mentions pop culture icons like Hugh Hefner and tries to do it in a shocking way. He explains it so that what he is saying is Catholic but the initial hook is designed to appeal to our baser instincts. It is not to surprising that ABC did not make all the right distinctions. They summarized his position by saying Hugh Hefner was one of his heroes. He claims he never said that and I believe him. But a comment like that is to much for a reporter to resist in this kind of a piece.

I am not saying the bulk of what West says has this problem. Every now and then he crosses a line. It bothers people. It causes them to view their entire message with extreme suspicion. It is a message they really should embrace. The church needs the laity to understand and defend Catholic sexual morality. He has done more to help with that then anybody I know over the last 13 years. He has made mistakes but I would say they are fewer and further between than most people who teach on the topic.

One of the unfortunate effects of getting people excited about Theology of the Body is they share what they have learned before they have really understood what is being taught. They often get it wrong. The line that West crosses once in a while they go way over. They have an immodesty to their sexual talk and they give West full credit. We need to rejoice in the good that has been done and help them to mature in that area as well. We do not need to write off the whole thing as evil. I mean they are following a teacher approved by bishops using material written by a pope. They could do worse. They could do a lot worse.


  1. I totally agree Randy. West has been studying and teaching TOB for quite a while now--at least 10 years I'm sure, probably more like 15. He is doing awesome work, and while I respect Dawn Eden, I question the prudence of dedicating one's entire master's thesis to criticizing West's work.

  2. I like most of what I know about Dawn as well. I did hear her book suffers from some of the same issues. I was told it was strictly for girls because some of the things she describes are going to get a boys mind going places it should not. I have not read it so I could be completely wrong. But if that is true she may have crossed some of the same lines that West has crossed. It is easy to do.

    I did put 13 years in the post because I looked it up on his website. He started speaking on this in 1997.