Friday, October 22, 2010

Theology of the Body

The back and forth about Christopher West is continuing. I normally love a good debate and I weighed in on this one a few times. But it is becoming less and less useful and causing many Catholics to lose sight of their real mission. You have Janet Smith writing a long critique of Alice von Hildebrand. She has written several times on this. I think both those women are wonderful teachers of the Catholic morality on issues of sex and procreation. But they have been reduced to nit picking over what exactly Christopher West said and what exactly he meant. I can't help thinking the cause of Christ is not being helped by this.

Most of what I find very beautiful and powerful about Theology of the Body is not part of the disputes. The connections between the way we are made and the way God is are very profound. That God loved the universe into existence and that we are called to love things into existence as well. That sex, marriage, and procreation are at the center of that but the theme is to be found much more broadly. That concept of love as a complete gift of self. That is what the cross was about and that is what heaven is about. This is what we were made for and anything less would be hell.

How many so-called Catholic teachers waffle on key issues of sexual morality? Of those who teach the right morals how many can do it in a way that allows people to see how beautiful it is and how inhuman the alternatives are? These are rare gifts. We don't want the people who have them to be fighting each other over what are basically details.

A lot of the dispute is about teaching style. Christopher West likes to shock people. It gets them engaged and hopefully they listen to the whole thing. But sometimes they don't and they miss important distinctions. I get why he rubs some people the wrong way. But there are a ton of people who would never connect with it if he didn't highlight the contrast between what people think the church teaches and what Theology of the Body really says. Again the hope is they eventually realize the church has never actually been as oppressive and joyless as they thought.

But there are more than a few people who think that and we as church have to take some responsibility for that. Catholic sexual morality has been under attack and often we have not defended it at all. When we have we have often focused too much on the No's and not enough on the Yes's that are contained in it. West focuses on the Yes's while leaving all the No's intact. That is important. There are so many people doing an awful job of explaining this. Why focus on the flaws of someone who is doing it very well?

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