In spite of the great respect I have for Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body and the obvious need for this type of discussion in Catholic homes, I have never felt comfortable with the version that Christopher West teaches. I have found his language objectionable and his approach to be insensitive to the need for that veil of sanctity that Christian sexuality requires.
Please hold the tomatoes...I know that I am in the minority. When the subject comes up, I generally just keep my mouth shut because I don't care for the kerfuffle my dissenting opinion seems to cause.
But today, I realized that I walk in excellent company. In addition to my husband (whom I greatly respect and admire), it appears that Dr. Alice von Hildebrand has similar feelings about West's approach to the discussion of Catholic sexuality. This is a pretty big deal for me. Dr. von Hildebrand is a woman I deeply admire. Her writing has inspired me and encouraged me on my Christian journey and she has taught me so much about what a gift it is to be a woman. Her book The Privilege of Being a Woman changed the way I thought about my own value as a female and the gift of my sexuality.
Of course, my words of praise aren't necessary to validate her contribution to the Christian world. She can certainly stand on her own! But reading her response to West's work validates some of my concerns and clarifies some thoughts that I hadn't been fully able to articulate.
After repeatedly attempting to view West's work with an objective and positive eye, I finally gave up. These were not the type of books or videos that I wanted on my shelves. I do not choose to use the language of sexuality that he does. I don't find it helpful to my spiritual, mental or physical life. I don't need to say a graphic or shocking word in order to understand sexuality better or grow in love and intimacy with my spouse. We all know our way around the concepts and have certainly heard our fair share of slang. What we really need is to reinstate a sense of reverence and the sacred back into the bedroom...Not take it out.
Dr. Von Hildebrand said in her interview with the Catholic News Agency:
“My feeling is that Christopher West has become famous because he started discussing the Theology of the Body, which is extremely appealing topic. The difficulty is that, in the meantime, he became so famous that I do believe he has become much too self-assured and has lost sight of the extreme sensitivity of the topic.”
This is “very troubling” because what she calls the “intimate sphere” is something “very mysterious, very profound, something that has a direct relationship with God.”
“My feeling is that his vocabulary and his way of approaching it totally lacks reverence.”
“Reverence is the key to purity,” she told CNA.” The intimate sphere “is not a topic of public discussion” but is “extremely serious.”
“It seems to me that his presentation, his vocabulary, the vulgarity of things that he uses are things that simply indicate that even though he might have good intentions he has derailed and is doing a lot of harm.”
Christopher West’s approach makes him forget that sex is “an extreme danger.” Though sex can be sanctified, that sanctification implies “a humility, a spirit of reverence, and totally avoiding the vulgarity that he uses in his language.”
“I’m shocked and horrified by the words that he uses. His mere mention of Hugh Hefner is to my mind an abomination.”
Read the rest of the article here.
My apologies for offending any Chris West followers. I realize that his candidness has opened the door for productive and healing discussions for many of you. But I must express my extreme relief that Dr. Von Hildebrand, a giant of a Catholic intellect (and heart), has spoken and I do sincerely hope that West's cult of personality is short-lived. For every person apparently helped by his approach, I can't help but think that there is even more harm done in other lives.
Our sexuality is a beautiful gift and one of the things that, when approached properly, sets us apart from a secular flesh-obsessed world. This is not a time in history to move closer to cultural standards but to lovingly protect and preserve all that is pure and good in our sexual lives. Purity does not mean "prude". It describes an approach to intimacy that will withstand the destructive temptations of the world and blossom fruitfully, lovingly and joyfully within our homes.
There are many things on which I agree with Chris West. We are both faithful Catholics who embrace the teachings of the Church with gratitude and love. My objection is to the part of his approach that insists on drawing us back to the 5th grade school yard when we say shocking things to feel a thrill and get a giggle. Can we not teach the truth about the beauty of sexuality without all that?
All right...Throw your tomatoes...But make sure they're charitable tomatoes!